Jerry Coyne: Either Culpable Ignorance, Or Else … ?

Share

Update again, 10/20/11: I bid a hearty welcome to visitors from Dr. Coyne’s website. (I appreciate the link, Dr. Coyne.) He seems to have a policy of not allowing my comments to remain on his site, except for those that he can twist to suit his own purposes, as I have indicated in my earlier updates here. For that reason I will not be trying to join your conversation, but you’re welcome to join mine, or (since he brought it up) my take on God and genocide. Disagreement and debate are quite welcome here, under the reasonably civilizing terms of what I call the “Starbucks Standard.” (Discussion on the God and genocide article closed automatically 90 days after publication, as is my policy for all blog entries.)

***************************************** 

Update, 3:45 pm, 8/4/11: See below concerning Dr. Coyne’s “judicious silence” in response to most of this.

***************************************** 

Update 2, 4:10 pm, 8/4/11: Dr. Coyne wrote in response to a comment of mine,

It’s “Coyne”, Gilson. You can’t even get my damn name right. You hurtin’ for trafffic?

I answered him with a comment of apology for my iPhone’s auto-correct function changing it (from “Coyne” to “Cony”) and for my not noticing that before I hit the “post” button. As of right now it appears he deleted my comment, making it appear I made that mistake out of ignorance or stupidity. That’s dishonest and dishonorable. I call you out on that, too, Dr. Coyne.

************ End updates; original post follows************

Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist and author of Why Evolution Is True, has observed (quite empirically and scientifically) that he can do good, even though he is an atheist. This made the pages of USA Today. It’s not clear to me what made that such big news. Coyne places it in context of the evolution controversy:

As a biologist, I see belief in God-given morality as American’s biggest impediment to accepting the fact of evolution. “Evolution,” many argue, “could never have given us feelings of kindness, altruism and morality. For if we were merely evolved beasts, we would act like beasts. Surely our good behavior, and the moral sentiments that promote it, reflect impulses that God instilled in our soul.”

Coyne tells us this is wrong; it could not be God who did that. I got word of this article from SteveK, who emailed me with it and added, “Coyne is out of his league.” I agree. Jerry Coyne is an outstanding biologist who has stepped outside of his field of expertise, and it shows. I want to speak directly to him now.

Dr. Coyne, your acknowledged excellence as a natural scientist does not extend to matters theological or philosophical. On at least one matter in this USA Today article you are demonstrably wrong. You point to multiple allegedly immoral acts of God in the Old Testament, and say,

Now, few of us see genocide or stoning as moral, so Christians and Jews pass over those parts of the Bible with judicious silence.

Judicious silence? My own recent articles on this topic run to some 9,000 words, plus hundreds of comments in conversation with skeptics and atheists. Included in those 9,000 words are reviews of two books on the topic, which in turn cite dozens of other books and articles. These books, one of which was written by the president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, are quite in the mainstream of Christian discussion. A few years ago Timothy Keller, the prominent pastor of a church of 5,000 in Manhattan, included discussion on it in his bestseller The Reason for God. We are not being silent on this. You are, in other words, utterly wrong. Yet you speak as if having authority on the subject.

It seems to me there are but two options. Either you misstated the facts because you do not know what you are talking about, in which case you have taken up a voice of authority for no good reason; or else you knowingly, intentionally misstated the facts. Maybe there’s a third option. If so please let me know. I am unable to think of what it might be, other than culpable ignorance on the one hand or else lying on the other. Neither of those fits your position as a respected scientist and academic.

Dr. Coyne, I call you out on that.

I was surprised by your cavalier handling of the Euthyphro dilemma, the issue from Plato you relied on (though not using its name) to try to prove that “morality itself — either in individual behavior or social codes — simply cannot come from the will or commands of a God.”

I understand the limitations of a short print article. You can only say so much, and it is necessary to condense a point. Still you simply cannot pretend that you have authority to use language like “simply cannot” here. You cannot honorably and in good conscience pretend that you have the last word on the subject. You cannot pretend that Christians and Jews have never noticed the Euthyphro question, or that we have never offered a theistic solution (here, for example). What does a scientist and professor have to do with pronouncing an issue like this settled: an issue that is out of your field, and on which you have not even acknowledged the ongoing conversation?

Dr. Coyne, I call you out on that.

I am sure that as a researcher you understand the value of thinking for yourself. I would venture to guess that you think skeptics and atheists are more free-thinking than religious people. In view of that I want to call you out yet one more time. Your USA Today article is a re-hash. It’s nothing but Internet atheist talking points. It’s all been said before, and answered, and said, and answered. Do you have any original thoughts on the subject, I wonder? Can you think freely about these things?

As for your ability to do good, and secular morality in general, I leave you with a comment I myself have borrowed, although unlike you I will identify its source, Romans 2:14-15:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

Theologians down through the centuries have recognized this passage and others like it as teaching “common grace.” It is one of Christianity’s core teachings; were you even aware of it? (Is this, too, part of your range of culpable ignorance?) The Bible itself tells us we can recognize and practice moral good without knowing the Scriptures. It also tells us we can be immoral. You have shown us you can be moral as an atheist, which is no surprise; it’s a perfect fit with Christian theology. You have also shown us you can be unoriginal and either dishonest or else authoritatively (and therefore culpably) ignorant.

It’s not the least bit impressive, and I don’t know why we Christians ought to let you get away with nonsense like this.

The other day I urged Christians to refuse to pretend to know what we do not, partly because that kind of behavior contributes to an anti-intellectual mood in culture. You, Dr. Coyne, are contributing to anti-intellectualism the same way. And by your example in this article you are not noticeably contributing to any improvement in ethics.

134 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    Excellent.

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    The whole piece is so bad that a proper qualification would probably get me banned from commenting on this blog. Nevertheless, I would like to juxtapose two bits just to highlight how irrational Prof. Jerry Coyne and his ilk are when it comes to grounding morality.

    So where does morality come from, if not from God? Two places: evolution and secular reasoning. Despite the notion that beasts behave bestially, scientists studying our primate relatives, such as chimpanzees, see evolutionary rudiments of morality: behaviors that look for all the world like altruism, sympathy, moral disapproval, sharing — even notions of fairness. This is exactly what we’d expect if human morality, like many other behaviors, is built partly on the genes of our ancestors.

    Chimpanzees act morally. Fine. Chimpanzees also act immorally. How do you distinguish the moral from the immoral acts? According to the distinguished Professor by… evolution. Huh? And secular reasoning, let us not forget the secular. Doesn’t Prof. Jerry Coyne deny Free Will? I suspect that reasoning was forgotten somewhere along the way.

    And really, isn’t it better to be moral because you’ve worked out for yourself — in conjunction with your group — the right thing to do, rather than because you want to propitiate a god or avoid punishment in the hereafter?

    Amazing. One can work out for oneself what is moral — and the addition of “in conjunction with your group”, almost as an afterthought, is really telling — but God forbid should He dictate to us what we should do. Let us all look up to the shining example of chimpanzees; I am sure Prof. Jerry Coyne could learn a thing or two from them. If morality is a matter of knowledge, amenable to rational inquiry, then it stands to reason that God should know better than ourselves, right? Nah… much better to give in to the dictates of evolution than to His dictates and “work out for ourselves” whatever is best for us. Now, a hardened cynical like me would say that “working out for ourselves” is just a travesty of utilitarian morals, itself a travesty of morals, and ultimately, it devolves into a power struggle. The Christian in me would simply point out that Satan did exactly that (minus the evolutionary thingy) and politely murmur that satanic romanticism runs very deep in our culture.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    I got an email from an unnamed correspondent asking, “Haven’t you made biological arguments against evolution? Aren’t you violating your own standards here?” The answer is that I avoid making arguments in the realm of biology because it is not my field. There have been rare exceptions. When I do make an argument, I make an argument and base it on evidence. If Jerry Coyne had made an argument, that would have been one thing, but he made pronouncements instead. There is a huge difference.

    The same email asked what qualified me to speak on philosophy and theology. My answer is that my arguments and the evidence I cite are my qualifications, or else I have none.

    The difference with Jerry Coyne is that he is speaking as if from a place of authority, as a scientist and a professor. He adopts the easy, confident manner of the expert, who can command respect and expect others to believe him just because of his expertise. When writing a short piece for a popular publication like USA Today, the expert need not cite all his sources and reasoning, because his expertise is considered sufficient for the purpose.

    But when a professor speaks ex cathedra, as it were, on a topic of which he knows so little, he prostitutes his position as an academic and violates his own integrity.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    G. Rodriques,

    Good points. This thing of Coyne’s was wrong on so many levels…

  5. Sherlock says:

    To my mind, the person that has perspicaciously decimated the argument that it is simply part of the logic of evolution/the logic of human history that human societies will naturally become more moral is Orthodox theologian and philosopher, David B. Hart. I came to that conclusion after watching the following debate and reading a few of his books and articles:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI4uh0FKIrg&feature=channel_video_title

    From the description of the video (just replace or juxtapose “Dawkins” with “Coyne”):

    “[The following is from an interview with Reform magazine, after Hart won the Michael Ramsey prize for his book, “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies”]

    Reform: “In praising your book, Atheist Delusions, Rowan Williams pointed to its illumination of ‘how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine.’ Is that what you set out to show?”

    Hart: “Well in part, yes I think so. One of the odd things about a great deal of the New Atheist literature and the literature that has cropped up in its margins is an unawareness of the contingency of cultural values — it’s peculiar. People like Richard Dawkins — asked, if the world was purged of all religious belief, what would it be like, he says, it would be a paradise.

    And as he goes on to explain why he thinks this, it’s obvious he believes that there are, just out there in the world, a set of values that are independent of any historical tradition; that are recognisable and available to every reasoning mind; and that society would naturally happen upon if it weren’t distracted by the idiocies of religion and dogmatism.

    Yet if the cultural experience of late modernity has proven anything, it has proven that this sort of bland moral optimism rests upon nothing at all. And many of the moral truths people like Dawkins take for granted are available to them because they happen to live in a society whose history was shaped by beliefs that they now abominate.” ”

    And after reading several of his First Things articles and books on the topic, I simply cannot take such “New Atheistic” evolutionary and historical accounts of the origins and sustaining pillars of social morality seriously.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share..

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Dr. Coyne’s response to this was:

    I’m not going to deal with the many “refutations” of my piece that are appearing on Christian websites, but I do call your attention to the huffy lucubrations of Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian, who says that I willfully ignore an important “solution” to the Euthyphro dilemma. What is it? It’sWilliam Lane Craig’s argument (similar to that of Polkinghorne given above) that God by definition can’t mandate anything immoral (see Eric MacDonald and Greta Christina’s takes on this). If God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites, then by golly they deserved it!

    If he thinks mocking Craig’s answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is all that’s called for in view of what he’s written, then he’s free to think that. You can decide for yourself.

    But I do appreciate irony. He said Christians were “judiciously silent” about God’s actions in the Old Testament. I spoke of how that charge was either culpably ignorant or else intentionally dishonest on his part. Notice how judiciously silent he is in response to that. And on his unoriginality. And on his failure to acknowledge the ongoing conversation on the Euthyphro dilemma (whether he agrees with Craig and Polkinghorne or not). And on his prostituting his authority as a professor of biology to present himself as an authority on everything else in this piece he wrote.

  7. SteveK says:

    Dr. Coyne,

    As a biologist, I see belief in God-given morality as American’s biggest impediment to accepting the fact of evolution

    The *empirically-observed*, *science-based* fact of evolution is no threat to belief in God. Have you ever heard of Theistic Evolution, Dr. Coyne?

    No, it’s the unscientific, anti-realist and ignorant musings dressed up in an attempt to make them *appear* scientific/realistic/informed that are the threat here.

    Fortunately many of us can see through the heavy makeup and the costumes – and the ignorance. Who are you trying to kid, Dr. Coyne with this opinion piece dressed up to look like it has scientific backing, or that it meshes well with reality? It doesn’t. So to Dr. Coyne, I say this:

    As a Christian, I see belief in a worldview (the blind watchmaker view) that science can neither prove nor disprove – a worldview that is the result of sinfulness and pride – to be one of the biggest impediments to accepting the fact of Christianity.

  8. Victoria says:

    Those who know God (the God of the Bible) best trust Him the most – I think most Christians would tend to agree with that – as our walk with God grows in depth and intimacy, when we truly know Him as both Adonai and Abba, things like the Euthyphro’s Dilemma seem foolish and unwarranted. God Himself is the definition of what is good – His character IS good, his decisions pure and just, and He never acts out of character. We don’t always understand Him, but we can always trust Him. I know that this is an experiential statement rather than an objective one, but it is one of the blessings of the indwelling of the Spirit of God when a person trusts in the LORD Jesus for redemption and justification. God is Who He says He is in Scripture.

  9. Tom I am shocked by your tone in response to Coyne. You were practically in his face (so to speak) calling him out for lying (well almost). In the christian apologetic community we have always bent backward to be respectful even when it hasn’t been earned then you wrote this

    “Your USA Today article is a re-hash. It’s nothing but Internet atheist talking points. It’s all been said before, and answered, and said, and answered. Do you have any original thoughts on the subject, I wonder? Can you think freely about these things?”

    Wow. Sounds a bit harsh but also to the point and all I can add to it is

    Bravissimo!! This is one of the best responses I have seen in a long time to the new atheists. We have confused western civility and decorum with Christian straight talk for too long in the apologetic community. We have forgotten that when we answer people they are not the only ones listening. The world has begun to think that our soft, mind our Ps and Qs response is because we can’t answer forcefully.

    facts are Coyne WAS straight out lying about the Christian community never addresing those issues. The only fault in your response was that you gave him a way out for some imaginary third position when it would have been quite fine to leave it at the only two options – that he is either lying or is dreadfully uninformed. however I don’t find the latter feasible and being that uninformed would still indicate a gross intellectual dishonesty precisely because Coyne point blank indicates a knowledge of what Christians avoid which they haven’t.

    So I want to thank you for the tone and the style .before I even attempt to add my own reasons why Coyne is completely garbled in his thinking and way out of his league showing he may have a specialty but it does not translate into a logical thinking process.

    In large part the new atheists are selling themselves as the mentally superior and laying down that emperor with the new clothes tactic is their best gambit. calling out the lack of thought and frankly when called for even ridiculing it is necessary for those watch. Again – Great Job!

  10. Can someone explain this to me?

    “Your USA Today article is a re-hash. It’s nothing but Internet atheist talking points. It’s all been said before, and answered, and said, and answered. Do you have any original thoughts on the subject, I wonder? Can you think freely about these things?”

    I don’t get it. Someone said something similar on Coyne’s discussion thread about the William Lane Craig argument, and I don’t get that either.

    The standard arguments are the standard arguments because they work (at the very least, they work in the minds of their adherents). Do you expect Coyne to invent something just for the sake of having invented something when (at least in his own estimation and that of his colleagues) the current arguments do the job? Do atheists expect Craig to invent a new solution to Euthyphro when (at least in his own estimation and that of his colleagues) the current arguments do the job?

    How is that different from saying, “Your description of the properties of water are the standard chemist’s trope. Two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen? Have you no original thoughts?”

    I obviously (if you know me) understand the value of originality in art, and even in coming up with new areas and angles of research. But I don’t really see it in describing something as it is (or, again, at least as one thinks it is). So I’m just looking for a bit of an explanation on this point, and it doesn’t really matter what side of this debate it comes from.

    I’m not that bright, so go easy on me.

  11. I’ve followed on his moderated thread again with your explanation of what happened with the mispelling and I stated I think you nailed him on intellectual dishonesty. We’ll see if he continues along the same lines. I’ve never been impressed with the intellectual honesty of atheists so I don’t expect much but it is good to see it out in the open. This one does wonders at proving the point.

  12. SteveK says:

    Three Ninjas,
    My brief response is this: The reason is that Coyne’s “standard arguments” do not address the answers that Christian’s have put forward in response to those arguments. They simply repeat the argument as if nobody has said anything noteworthy on the topic.

  13. Crude says:

    The standard arguments are the standard arguments because they work (at the very least, they work in the minds of their adherents).

    I don’t think Tom is saying that the problem here is merely bringing up the argument. It’s with suggestions that Christians ‘pass over these parts of the Bible with judicious silence.’, as if they haven’t tackled these issues head-on for centuries. It’s with bringing up the Euthyphro dilemma and acting as if there have been no replies to the dilemma going back centuries.

    Imagine if I said that “when atheists who insist that atheists can be moral are faced with the historical acts of Stalin and Mao, their response is judicious silence”. Presenting the examples as knock-down unanswerable and unanswered objections – and doing so knowing full well that there are answers, even if I disagree with them.

    That’s where I think Tom’s ‘talking points’ charge comes from. It’s exactly what he said: A rehash, presented in a way that (purposefully?) pretends that no replies have been offered, or even attempted.

  14. SteveK says:

    Three Ninjas,
    Someone gave an example (I don’t remember where, or who) of a Christian doing what Dr. Coyne is doing and how it is wrong.

    If a Christian’s “standard argument” against evolution is this: “The existence of apes demonstrates that evolution can’t be true”, then they are woefully misinformed about the topic. It’s misinformed because that argument has been addressed by people who understand the science of evolution. The educated person who repeats the argument looks silly by comparison.

    So when Dr. Coyne puts forward the Euthyphro dilemma as an argument against God, then he is guilty of being woefully misinformed about the topic and he looks silly. It has been addressed by people who understand Christian theology and the bible in the context of history. Dr. Coyne is out of his league.

  15. Do you expect Coyne to invent something just for the sake of having invented something when (at least in his own estimation and that of his colleagues) the current arguments do the job? Do atheists expect Craig to invent a new solution to Euthyphro when (at least in his own estimation and that of his colleagues) the current arguments do the job?”

    No what we want (but in my case don’t really expect) is for atheists, particularly ones claiming they are good without God, to not fabricate that there is silence on an issue as Coyne in his article out and out lies.

    SteveK is right Coyne is out of his league. the Euthyphro dilemma provides no such dilemma to the monotheistic self existent God of the Bible.

    The Euthyphro dilemma may have been a dilemma to Plato and his concepts of polytheism. It has no bearing whatsoever to monotheists and is not worthy of even being called a dilemma. For a monotheist God does not choose morality because of its virtue. It cannot and does not exist as a standard apart from himself as the originator of everything. Morality is what God by his essence makes it not what Coyne labels morality. Therefore God cannot be called upon to do immoral acts because it is not in his nature to do so. Being self existent there is no temptation on his part to do so, being timeless there is no time for him to do so and being omniscient there is no new piece of new information for him to change his mind about his own forever held notions of what and who he centrally is.

    So the whole question is total nonsense when proposed to the concept of a self existent Immutable God. Shocking to many people who have not studied the Bible God has a number of things he cannot do. lie and change who he is are listed clearly as two such things. God does not adhere to a morality before or outside of himself. He is the ruler to the measurement.

    All Coyne can do is claim that what God does at times cannot be considered to be moral and he does the the same thing his atheists comrades claim Christians do in regard to design in the universe – appeal to incredulity.

    He uses his ideas about morality and then supposes there is no imaginable way that God could be moral to be involved in certain actions. Because he can’t imagine it it must be immoral. Later on he claims that morality based on reason is superior because it is malleable to new situations and changes in culture and in so doing betrays his earlier rationalization that immoral actions he sees in the bible can be taken as such regardless of the cultural differences. In particular Coyne argues for a morality unlike anything in the Bible or in society where who does what is never an issue but only the act itself.

    Thats right. Morality has always modified itself to who is doing what. A man who owns a piece of property has moral rights that the person who does not own property cannot claim for it. A man may marry a woman at any time unless he has already married one. A man may sleep with a woman who he is not wed to and be wrong in the Bible and be blessed for sleeping with the same woman as much as he wants if he is married to her. A levitical priest may take some of the offering given to God and put it on his table to eat where such an action by anyone else would be considered a sacrilege. Actions in society and in the Bible are routinely based on who is doing what. You are free to express your contempt of me as long as I don’t hold the Gavel in court. You are wrong to cut me off in traffic if you don;t like the way I drive unless your car happens to be a police cruiser. The tired Talk origin bullet point argument is that if God commands the death of someone it makes him immoral yet no theist has ever held that God doesn’t have property rights over his own creation and no atheist can make a compelling argument that God should surrender his rights over any of his own creation on any logical or moral grounds. Men don’t have the right to end a life they never created. the same cannot be said for God. The atheist merely begs for God to be brought down to their own level and if he isn’t then they charge him with immorality for exercising his rights and MORAL OBLIGATIONS to be exactly that – God.

  16. Steve Ruble says:

    Coyne: …Christians and Jews pass over those parts of the Bible with judicious silence.

    Gilson: Judicious silence? My own recent articles on this topic run to some 9,000 words, plus hundreds of comments in conversation with skeptics and atheists. … We are not being silent on this.

    I agree, there are many Christians who talk and write at great length about the slaughter of the Canaanites and the rather repellent legal codes depicted in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, a surprising number of people who call themselves Christians have never heard of these things. Of course, many people who call themselves Christians are pretty unclear on many of the most basic doctrines of the churches to which they belong – try asking your average parishioner about the Trinity, or what a sacrament is – but nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that many Christian shepherds have somehow avoided informing their flocks about the more distasteful episodes in the earlier books of the Bible. (I suspect this is not as common among non-secular Jews, but I don’t know many non-secular Jews.) My point is, saying that “Christians and Jews pass over those parts” is not a silly claim, if you don’t insist on interpreting it as meaning “every single Christian and Jew everywhere all the time,” but rather in its more obvious rhetorical sense of “Christians and Jews in general”. If you take it as “Christians and Jews in general”, or “the majority of Christians and Jews”, it’s debatable – that is, there is a fact of the matter, but you’d need some evidence to demonstrate it – but it’s not prima facie wrong.

    Moreover, even those Christians like Gilson who do write thousands of words about the genocides etc. of the Old Testament do pass over those passages in judicious silence when it comes to deciding what it is right for us to do. No Christian that I know of presents such actions – actions praised and commanded by God in the Old Testament – as things that we should strive for and emulate today. Jesus may be held up as a moral exemplar, but Joshua is not. Few Christians seriously ask God to rain fire and brimstone on sinners, and the majority of Christians – that I know, anyway – look askance at the suggestion that various natural disasters could be the deliberate work of God. And very few Christians indeed advocate a rigorous and thorough application of the laws or moral recommendations you can find in the Bible. But such things were, of course, commonplaces in the Old Testament – and the New – and the fact that we no longer even attempt to defend them as moral ideals demonstrates Coyne’s point: we don’t get our morality from the Bible, or from religious doctrine. If we did, Gilson wouldn’t need to write 9000+ words defending the idea “that it is rationally possible to hold to the goodness of God in the OT; that it is a belief that can be held without contradiction.” If our morals were derived from religious foundations, such a defense would be absurd – a powerful argument, I think, in favor of Coyne’s position.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    Steve Ruble,

    Moreover, even those Christians like Gilson who do write thousands of words about the genocides etc. of the Old Testament do pass over those passages in judicious silence when it comes to deciding what it is right for us to do. No Christian that I know of presents such actions – actions praised and commanded by God in the Old Testament – as things that we should strive for and emulate today.

    It’s not judicious silence when we write and speak about it, and conclude (based on evidence and reasoning) that these were sui generis or given for different contexts.

    The reason we need to write so much about this is partly because the historical and cultural contexts are important, and because the distance from our situation to those situations is so great.

    Another reason we need to write so much is because it’s a matter of historical fact that our practical morality has been derived from Christian foundations, contrary to your assertion. Read Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World, on this.

    A little knowledge of history never hurt anyone, right?

    Another reason we need to write so much about it is because some people have trouble thinking it through. For example:

    Jesus may be held up as a moral exemplar, but Joshua is not.

    There’s a reason for that. More than one, actually.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    Crude and SteveK, thank you for answering the “re-hash” question. You’re exactly on target with what I meant.

    But there’s something else, besides. It has to do with Coyne’s being out of his league. If I were to write to USA Today and say (per ThreeNinja) that water is two parts hydrogen and one part water (not by weight, of course), USA Today wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) print it, even if it were recently discovered information. Why not? Because I’m not a chemist, a little investigation would reveal that everything I had to say about it was derivative, and there would therefore be no reason to think I actually knew anything about it.

    Jerry Coyne is a biologist, not a moral theorist. Everything he had to say about moral theory was derivative. For those two reasons alone there is no reason to think he actually knows anything about moral theory.

    I’m not just wondering why USA Today printed it, of course. I’m wondering why a professor would write about something concerning which there is no evidence he has much depth of understanding.

  19. Steve Ruble says:

    It’s not judicious silence when we write and speak about it, and conclude (based on evidence and reasoning) that these were sui generis or given for different contexts.

    So if you were, say, compiling a list of moral precepts and virtuous behaviors inspired by the Bible, would you include the need to kill the enemies of God? Would you include the various crimes that merit stoning? Or would you judiciously leave those things off of the list? Obviously, since you think those things were “sui generis or given for different contexts” you don’t think that they apply to we modern folk. But that is precisely Coyne’s point! You don’t treat the Bible purely as a source of moral guidance; instead, you treat it as something which contains moral guidance, but which requires the application of evidence and reasoning – by you – in order to determine which parts are moral guidance for us, and which parts we should not treat as indicative of what is moral. Quite simply, you are taking the moral system that you already have and interpreting the Bible so it can be read as endorsing the things you believe are right. Of course, it’s a two way street: I’m sure you would say that many of the things you think are right are derived from the Bible, but I’m also sure that you do not think that every moral precept one might derive from the Bible is right.

    … it’s a matter of historical fact that our practical morality has been derived from Christian foundations, contrary to your assertion.

    Let’s suppose that you are correct. What would it matter? It’s a matter of historical fact that our practical science of chemistry has been derived from alchemical foundations, but that doesn’t imply that you could get very far trying to use alchemy in a modern laboratory. (Although I suspect that you could, if you tried, find many pieces of alchemical literature that contained true and useful claims, and you could no doubt find ways of explaining away the parts of the literature that were clearly incorrect.) The form of argument you are offering here is actually called the genetic fallacy (although you are using it backwards, which is rather novel). It’s true that one can trace portions of our moral system back to Christian foundations, if one is so inclined, but one can also trace portions of moral systems we find utterly repugnant – antisemitism, for example – back to Christian foundations, so it’s obvious that “Christian foundations” in themselves don’t exercise many constraints over the form of morality in a culture. Something else must be the source of the difference. Again, this is Coyne’s point.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Steve Ruble, even though you used the words, you missed the part about evidence and reasoning.

  21. Richard Wein says:

    Hi. I haven’t commented here for a long time, but I followed a link from Coyne’s blog, and couldn’t resist.

    You object that Coyne didn’t mention the counter-arguments to Euthyphro, but are we obliged to mention counter-arguments to the ones we’re making, even if we think they’re hopelessly bad? I don’t think so.

    I appreciate that those who approve of the counter-arguments to Euthyphro will feel aggrieved that they weren’t mentioned, just like creationists feel aggrieved that their arguments don’t get mentioned in biology books. And I dare say moon landing deniers feel aggrieved that their arguments aren’t usually mentioned when moon landings are discussed.

    If you think it’s OK to omit mention of hopelessly bad arguments, then the dispute here is really over the quality of the arguments. And I think arguments like the one that you linked to have no merit at all.

    The argument begins as follows (and this part is approved by Craig):

    (1) God is, by definition, a maximally great being.
    (2) This entails His being metaphysically necessary and morally perfect.

    Let’s say we accept (1) for the sake of argument. (2) does not follow. But the more fundamental fallacy of all such arguments is that they start off with a semantic (definitional) premise about the meaning of a word, and end up treating it as substantive fact about reality. It’s a kind of fallacy of equivocation, unwittingly reinterpreting the meaning of the premise during the course of the argument.

    You can’t infer a substantive fact about reality from a mere semantic premise about the meaning of a word. That’s absurd. To infer a substantive fact about reality, you need some evidence or evidence-based premise about reality. Coyne is quite right to dismiss this sort of evidence-free argument out of hand.

  22. Richard Wein says:

    Tom wrote: “Jerry Coyne is a biologist, not a moral theorist. Everything he had to say about moral theory was derivative.”

    It was an opinion piece, not an academic paper. Yes, to people who know anything much about the subject it contained nothing new. But I expect it may have been of interest to readers less familiar with these issues.

    Coyne’s philosophy may be “naive” but his views are often nearer the mark than some professional philosophers. Given the enormous range of contradictory views among professional philosophers, it’s clear that a lot of professional philosophy is misguided. And in my view that’s because many philosophers don’t take a sufficiently evidence-based approach. Coyne’s scientifically-trained intuition is often a better guide to truth than the arguments of (some) philosophers.

    Of course, sometimes intuition can lead you astray, because the truth is not always intuitive. And I think Coyne does take an over-intuitive and mistaken view of morality. But theologians also base their mistaken view of morality on intuition, and then concoct bad arguments to justify it. (So does Sam Harris by the way.)

  23. Steve R Frankly I think your real knowledge of Christians is about as good as Coyne’s and thats not a slap its just a statement of fact based on your posts. Do you know how many Christians have been on Bible reading plans? how often Christians are encouraged to read through the Bible? Millions of Christians even used published reading plans to get through the ENTIRE Bible in a year?.

    Then how could you claim that it is

    fair to say that many Christian shepherds have somehow avoided informing their flocks about the more distasteful episodes in the earlier books of the Bible

    When did you interview these many shepherds? Where is this data? or are we just supposed to believe it because you “think its fair to say”? How are these shepherds avoiding the distasteful portions if they are encouraging their people to read the WHOLE bible (I’ve never seen a reading plans that skip verses)

    On your issue of Coyne not really fabricating. Sorry Coyne’s statement is a lie and the dodge you have suggested for him doesn’t work.

    Now, few of us see genocide or stoning as moral, so Christians and Jews pass over those parts of the Bible with judicious silence

    Coyne CLEARLY here is suggesting not that Christians don’t know that such verses exist. He is saying they are silent because they are aware of it and they are silent because they know genocide and stoning is seen as immoral.

  24. Sherlock says:

    >”I’m wondering why a professor would write about something concerning which there is no evidence he has much depth of understanding.”

    Because scientists qua scientists take themselves to be and are taken by the general public to be the ultimate voices of reason on everything.

  25. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I made the mistake of visiting Prof. Jerry Coyne’s blog and read the comments on the linked thread; what came to my mind was J. Swift’s description of the yahoos.

    The new atheists’ arrogant ignorance is appalling, but what strikes me the most is their blindness to the consequences of their own position. Nietzche, a man of true genius and with whom I disagree violently on just about everything, understood not just the profound inversion of values introduced by the historical event of Christianity, but also understood the consequences of rejecting it. For the new atheists, who limit themselves to regurgitate old arguments dating back to the 19th century, he would reserve only scorn and contempt, for he understood clearly that there is a chasm between true unbelief and mere atheism, of the contented bovine sort, that simply dismisses away God as an illusion and blithely goes on believing that it can still cling to the values of the old Christian morality. If we are nothing but the random product of blind forces, then there is no rational bound to the will, and what monsters can an unfettered will produce? If history is anything to go by, those monsters are many and really, really monstrous. Nietzche’s protest is real and significant, propped by his immense intellectual courage in facing the abyss. The new atheists? Intellectual pygmies whose cultural miseries are an accurate index of the disjoint state of large swaths of our society.

  26. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Steve Ruble:

    You don’t treat the Bible purely as a source of moral guidance; instead, you treat it as something which contains moral guidance, but which requires the application of evidence and reasoning – by you – in order to determine which parts are moral guidance for us, and which parts we should not treat as indicative of what is moral.

    If I understand what you are saying, Christians know this for hmmm… say, 1900 hundred years? But thanks for your generosity in enlightening us. It is a skill you may have heard of: it is called “reading”. I forgot where I have read or who remarked it, but strip a new atheist of his drab philosophy, and you will find a biblical literalist that shames all young earth creationists put together — a paradox worthy of Chesterton! And Christians are not Jews; the old testament is to be read in light of the life and redemptive death of Jesus Christ. And no, this is not an invention of modern theologians pressed by the progress of science and the moral superiority of free thinkers, as the Apostles and St. Paul did it all the time.

    I suspect that these simple and rather banal observations, having been repeated ad nauseam, will simply fall on dead years, but what the heck, it costs me nothing in trying.

    Quite simply, you are taking the moral system that you already have and interpreting the Bible so it can be read as endorsing the things you believe are right.

    This is false and demonstrably so. And if you think that specifically Christian values are just there to be discovered, independently of any historical and cultural contingencies, then you are deeply mistaken. Any decent history book should disabuse you of that illusion.

    It’s true that one can trace portions of our moral system back to Christian foundations, if one is so inclined, but one can also trace portions of moral systems we find utterly repugnant – antisemitism, for example – back to Christian foundations, so it’s obvious that “Christian foundations” in themselves don’t exercise many constraints over the form of morality in a culture. Something else must be the source of the difference. Again, this is Coyne’s point.

    That “Christian foundations in themselves don’t exercise many constraints over the form of morality in a culture” is demonstrably false; but this is not really important to me. The important fact is that you and Prof. Jerry Coyne miss the point completely. Tom Gilson forcefully made the point in his post that it is a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that all people, atheists included, can act morally and, at least in part, can distinguish moral from immoral acts. The real question is what grounds or justifies the difference between moral and immoral acts. Given the new atheist’s dogmatic adherence to scientism and their general rejection of Philosophy and Metaphysics in particular, their project is doomed to miscarriage. If two rational men arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions on some moral issue (for example, the abortion debate) who gets to decide? And what is this famous source of morality that you so confidently proclaim we can find? If you respond evolution or any sort of scientific findings then you simply do not know what you are talking about. Anyway, how in God’s name can you derive an ought from an is? On an atheist and naturalist world view, on what grounds can you justify an *objective* morality? How does it differ from mere utilitarianism? And if it does not, how will you prevent from devolving into a power struggle as all utilitarianism is wont to? Is there even an *objective* morality on an atheistic, naturalist world view? If not, why do the new atheists so loudly denounce the presumed villainies of God in the old testament? And even if there is such a morality, why should we even follow it, if it happens to go against my own private interests? What is its binding force? And if it does not matter a single iota, as we will all be dust in the ground in a matter of years, why should I even care?

    These are deep and difficult questions and I am not asking them of you to get a direct answer. What I am trying to say is that instead of throwing around what for the most part are sophomoric objections that can only convince the already converted, the new atheists should try to answer these questions for their case on morality to have any traction.

    Note: in saying that the new atheist’s objections are sophomoric, I do not mean to imply that there are no objections to theism in general and to Christianity in particular, with real meat in them.

  27. Obviously, since you think those things were “sui generis or given for different contexts” you don’t think that they apply to we modern folk. But that is precisely Coyne’s point! You don’t treat the Bible purely as a source of moral guidance; instead, you treat it as something which contains moral guidance, but which requires the application of evidence and reasoning – by you – in order to determine which parts are moral guidance for us, and which parts we should not treat as indicative of what is moral.

    Actually Wrong. We don’t apply a separate morality to interpret the context. The context is explicit in the Bible itself. Your claim of failure to emulate the actions of God is without merit because you ignore that in The Bible there are a number of actions that if we were to emulate we would under its own definitions be blasphemous. In both old and new testament there are things that only God has the rights to. This is so central to Judaism and Christianity that is embarassing to have to point out. Nowhere in old or new testament in modern times or Biblical are we told that we can emulate the rights of God. So this constant claim that there are actions that we would not emulate and that our failure to even want to emulate then makes some point is inaccurate.

    There is no blanket command of morality in the Old testament as you imply for genocide. As is common with atheists you are cherry picking verses to get there. You take isolated and rare incidents from the thousands of years in biblical history when it was called for by God (where only he on the basis of supposed omniscience could make such a call) and pretend that they are universal even in the old testament. You take a legal statue in some verses and then go on to ignore that even in the old testament it was rare for a person to have been stoned and the pattern of the Old testament itself suggests mercy was far more common place than strict application of the legal statute. How often do we see people stoned even in the Old testament for adultery? or sabbath violations? In fact just as with Jesus and the woman caught in adultery death sentences were rarely carried out for any sin. Jesus as the Christ is fashioned on David a known and forgiven adulterer. For hundreds of years Israel was guilty and preached to by prophets for sins worthy of death in the israeli statutes but God called for repentance for hundreds of years rather than death.

    if you/Coyne want to be taken seriously by Christians and religious people who are still the vast majority then you need to address yourself to the entire realities in the Bible not selective slice out passages while ignoring several others. There is no universal command or morality to “kill the enemies of God” not even for Jews that do not accept anything in the New Testament. You have us and them confused with Muslim extremists. Not now and not then. Israel lived peaceably with some nations around them for many centuries at a time and they did not worship The God of the Jews.

    This is why Tom stated Coyne is out of his depth as most atheists are. They for the most part have little depth in their understanding of the Bible except to grab verses here and there to get to an assumed from the beginning talking point.

  28. SteveK says:

    I made the mistake of visiting Prof. Jerry Coyne’s blog and read the comments on the linked thread; what came to my mind was J. Swift’s description of the yahoos.

    I did the same. The sad part is that so many think Coyne hit a home run with his opinion piece.

  29. SteveK says:

    Being good without God is like being heavy without gravity.

  30. By the way to those coming over from Coyne’s site. Welcome. You will find that your posts don’t disappear over here unless you get way out of line. Coyne showed me the metal of his intellectually honesty when he made a point about Tom not knowing how to spell his name right and then proceeded to delete multiple posts explaining why it was misspelled by the auto correct function.

    Apparently you can be good as an atheist. You just don’t have to be bothered with intellectual honesty on the small stuff. 😉

  31. SteveK says:

    The quote below is directed at the popular new atheist books. I think you will find that it also applies to Coyne’s opinion piece.

    Theodore Dalrymple (atheist):
    The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14

  32. kevinj says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    If we are nothing but the random product of blind forces, then there is no rational bound to the will, and what monsters can an unfettered will produce? If history is anything to go by, those monsters are many and really, really monstrous.

    I am failing to see your point here. I would doubt most of those monsters did what they did knowing it was evil but instead at most taking the “break eggs to make an omelette” approach that some evil is necessary to prevent a greater one.
    Whether they truly believe that or just managed to convince themselves of it to excuse their actions is debatable.

    Likewise your statement

    If two rational men arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions on some moral issue (for example, the abortion debate) who gets to decide?

    seems to ignore that exactly the same process occurs when interpreting the bible. When should mercy be applied as opposed to the “strict application of the legal statute”?
    Is slavery a bad thing? Both the UK and USA had long theological debates about it leading up to the end with both sides coming up with evidence supporting their case.

  33. Steve Ruble says:

    G. Rodrigues and Mike Anthony, I’m curious about your reactions to each other’s comments. You quoted the same passage from my comment and responded, respectively, “If I understand what you are saying, Christians know this for hmmm… say, 1900 hundred years?” and “Actually Wrong.”. You must be responding to different aspects of my comment, but I really can’t tell what exactly either of you are trying to say.

    …the new atheists should try to answer these questions for their case on morality to have any traction.

    Ah, you must be using “new atheists” in the same rhetorical way that Coyne used “Christians and Jews”… Unless, of course, you are simply ignorant of the fact that many New Atheists have written many words in response to those questions. Why, Sam Harris just published an entire book about the topic!

    I’m not particularly impressed with the assertion that my remarks are demonstrably false (sans demonstration), nor with the generic dismissal of atheists as ignorant of your scriptures. The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of Christians, as well as atheists, who find aspects of the morality of the Bible repellent; I would recommend picking up Thom Stark’s book The Human Faces of God if you don’t believe me. And, of course, there’s good old Spong, and Rob Bell, and any number of others, who certainly can’t be dismissed as ignorant, yet come to conclusions about the morality of certain scriptural events which are quite different from yours. Clearly, either you or they are imposing their own moral system on the Bible and interpreting it as they like. Why should outsiders suppose that you are doing it right, while they are doing it wrong?

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard, this is just wrong:

    Let’s say we accept (1) for the sake of argument. (2) does not follow. But the more fundamental fallacy of all such arguments is that they start off with a semantic (definitional) premise about the meaning of a word, and end up treating it as substantive fact about reality. It’s a kind of fallacy of equivocation, unwittingly reinterpreting the meaning of the premise during the course of the argument.

    Here’s why. The question is whether the God of Christianity exists, and whether the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) provides information concerning the possibility of his existing. If the ED shows that God cannot exist, then that’s what it shows. But to do be relevant here it has to show that the God of Christianity cannot exist. Therefore one starts by positing the God of Christianity and then asks whether the ED applies validly as a defeater to that position.

    You can’t infer a substantive fact about reality from a mere semantic premise about the meaning of a word. That’s absurd

    What’s absurd is your thinking that. When a defeater D for some proposition P is proposed, the person proposing D must show that D actually defeats P. The meaning of P is relevant to that, is it not?

    You accuse Craig of equivocation, but you are the one who has shifted terms. The ED is an argument that God cannot exist and be the author of morality. To answer it, Craig does not have to show that the God of Christian theism exists. Rather the burden is on the one proposing ED to show that the ED proves the God of Christian theism cannot exist.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Further:

    You object that Coyne didn’t mention the counter-arguments to Euthyphro, but are we obliged to mention counter-arguments to the ones we’re making, even if we think they’re hopelessly bad? I don’t think so.

    It depends on (a) whether there is any substantive disagreement on the subject; (b) whether one considers oneself to be omniscient on the subject, and (c) whether one wants to be responsible and handle the subject with integrity or not.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Again to Richard Wein, on this:

    Coyne’s philosophy may be “naive” but his views are often nearer the mark than some professional philosophers.

    So? Does he know what he’s talking about or not? The evidence shows that he doesn’t. I’ll grant there are some professional philosophers who are even more mixed up than he is. Does that give a biologist with no expertise in the field the right to pretend he’s an authority?

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    I sympathize with you over the sensations you must have felt while reading the comments at Coyne’s site.

    What strikes me as singularly ironic and tragic is the bold confidence with which they ignorantly propound obvious falsehoods about Christian belief while telling one another that Christians are ignorant and wrong.

  38. Trey says:

    I also ended up here from a link on Coyne’s blog. While I am a big fan of Coyne’s book WEIT and think it is one of the best books on evolution for the lay person I have never been much of a fan of his blog which for my personal taste is too militant in its advocacy of atheism. Having said that I do think Coyne’s USA Today piece was very rational and well reasoned and Coyne is under no obligation to mention counter arguments however spurious so as to present all sides to the argument. For instance, some of the ‘justifications’ I have read here and elsewhere for the ‘genocidal’ acts committed in the Old Testament are so incongruent and irrational that I don’t see it as a slight on Coyne’s part for not bothering to mention them. We can try to justify the unjustifiable all we want but the simple truth is truth is that man frequently ascribes the motivation for his deeds to a God in order to gain legitimacy for his actions. That was as true in the Old Testament times as it is now.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    kevinj,

    You say that G. Rodrigues’ point on determining moral conclusions applies equally to interpreting the Bible. You fail to see that on the major moral issues, like slavery, there are right answers and wrong answers. Some people got the answers wrong, but it’s clear from the Bible itself that they did. Based on naturalistic evolution, is there a really wrong answer to the slavery problem? No fair saying there is social agreement on some answer, by the way, because that wasn’t the question. Suppose there is social agreement: is it possible for that agreement actually to be wrong? Not on naturalistic evolutionary terms. Evolution is the process by which what is came to be from what was. That’s all. What was, was, and is no more, and that includes behaviors and beliefs about behaviors. Our behaviors and beliefs about behaviors today are but a snapshot in that process. Someday what is now will become what was. And that’s all.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Steve Ruble, you ask,

    Why should outsiders suppose that you are doing it right, while they are doing it wrong?

    To which I answer, why should outsiders suppose (as Coyne does) that theirs is the only right answer, when theirs is but one of many?

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Trey, the only argument of Coyne’s that you mention here is one that he very clearly misused in his article. Can you do any better than that?

  42. but I really can’t tell what exactly either of you are trying to say.

    thats alright mate. Come back when you’ve finished your English classes. Meanwhile claiming that you can get nothing from either response is just disingenuous mental laziness. I can’t take that commenttseriously. I used no big words that you might not understand.

    I’m not particularly impressed with the assertion that my remarks are demonstrably false (sans demonstration), nor with the generic dismissal of atheists as ignorant of your scriptures.

    As we are not generally impressed with the demonstrably proven ignorance on said scriptures. I don’t know where atheists get the impression that we need for them to be impressed. We are not the minority viewpoint they are.

    Clearly, either you or they are imposing their own moral system on the Bible and interpreting it as they like. Why should outsiders suppose that you are doing it right, while they are doing it wrong?

    Ah the old if someone agrees with me I must have a valid point gambit. comes complete with the I can just point to them as rebuttal for seconds. So for scientists that do not believe in naturalistic evolution we can just point at them and you will accept that as a rebuttal and the establishment of a valid point??

    that was easy. We’ve already done it and met your standards for the establishment of a legitimate point.

  43. For instance, some of the ‘justifications’ I have read here and elsewhere for the ‘genocidal’ acts committed in the Old Testament are so incongruent and irrational that I don’t see it as a slight on Coyne’s part for not bothering to mention them.

    Well

    A) Coyne isn’t getting heat for not mentioning “them “but for rather bare faced claiming they do not exist but are met with only silence – a clear lie

    B)its merely empty rhetoric to label something as incongruent and illogical without demonstrating it as such.

    Lets get past the fluff and get down to proving it

    Under what moral or logical rule is God not able to take back a life that he gave? Don’t give me the standard incredulity answer. Tell me why God is evil because everyone dies. I’d like to see the congruency of that argument and its “logic”.

    We can try to justify the unjustifiable all we want but the simple truth is truth is that man frequently ascribes the motivation for his deeds to a God in order to gain legitimacy for his actions. That was as true in the Old Testament times as it is now.

    ahhh but thats not the context of the biblical narratives. the context is when God ACTUALLY is behind the deeds . When men ascribe the motivation for their deeds to God is a completely separate context which the Bible also does address.

    You haven’t proven that if God does exist that it would unjustifiable to take back life that is his. We can’t keep ducking in and out of the premise. If an atheist wants to claim that the God doesn’t exist and therefore the Bible is fiction then thats fine and dandy with coherence. What isn’t coherent is to start jumping into the argument that if he does this or that then he is this or that without taking into account what the existence of God would mean to the argument itself. Atheists duck in and out for emotional impact but its illogical.

    So IF God does exist then would he have moral rights to the life he gives? and if not the logical argument would be?

  44. G. Rodrigues says:

    @kevinj:

    If we are nothing but the random product of blind forces, then there is no rational bound to the will, and what monsters can an unfettered will produce? If history is anything to go by, those monsters are many and really, really monstrous.

    I am failing to see your point here. I would doubt most of those monsters did what they did knowing it was evil but instead at most taking the “break eggs to make an omelette” approach that some evil is necessary to prevent a greater one.

    I am failing to see your point here. No, I am not being facetious.

    If two rational men arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions on some moral issue (for example, the abortion debate) who gets to decide?

    seems to ignore that exactly the same process occurs when interpreting the bible. When should mercy be applied as opposed to the “strict application of the legal statute”?

    The problem applies to *any* moral quandary and puzzles will arise whatever your moral theory is — that much is obvious. My question was poorly formulated — in writing it I was thinking of some moral theorists that defend that what is morally right, and ultimately what justifies it, is what perfectly rationally people would agree to. The main point on that paragraph was not an epistemological one, of how we come to know, or how we can know what is moral, but the problem of justifying and grounding morality itself. Or in other words, how in an atheistic, naturalist view, can you convince anyone that there are objective moral values and objective moral duties that we ought to follow.

    Is slavery a bad thing? Both the UK and USA had long theological debates about it leading up to the end with both sides coming up with evidence supporting their case.

    Yes, to the first question (but I suspect you already know that). And yes, the Bible was used to uphold slavery and many Christians committed many atrocities — which by the way, is precisely what Christian doctrine predicts. But anyone reading those debates will come to understand how *thoroughly* the case for abolishing slavery, even its very persuasiveness, is grounded on Christian morals and, taking the longer view, on certain derived metaphysical presuppositions. At the root is the dogma that all men are created equal and in the image of God, and because of *that*, they have an inherent worth. This is a metaphysical assumption derived from a religious dogma of a very specific religion, not an historical inevitability that would be hit upon by dint of the sheer power of reason. Do you think it is a mere coincidence that the great attackers of slavery in the 16th and 17th century (note the centuries) in the imperial powers like Portugal and Spain were Priests? Unprovable as such speculations must be, do you really think that an atheist in the 19th century, qua atheist, with Darwin’s theory on one hand and his free thinking on the other, could make a persuasive case for the abolishment of slavery? And it is all good and well to carp on Christianity’s responsibility for slavery, sitting in front of a computer, in an affluent society with access to cheap consumables that were probably produced by children at the tender age of 10, in some miserable cubicle in far away China or India, for a salary barely enough to eat a hot meal a day. Or to stay closer to home, when certain academics defend eugenics what do you think that is, but an extreme form of instrumentalization of human life? Slavery, my friend, has many faces, it is still with us and the debate is not over.

  45. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Steve Ruble:

    You quoted the same passage from my comment and responded, respectively, “If I understand what you are saying, Christians know this for hmmm… say, 1900 hundred years?” and “Actually Wrong.”. You must be responding to different aspects of my comment, but I really can’t tell what exactly either of you are trying to say.

    If I understood Mike Anthony right, there is absolutely no contradiction between what he said and what I said. As for what I said, wasn’t it obvious? Since the core truth of Christianity is that the historical person known as Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died for our sins, he is also the ultimate prophet and interpreter, and thus the Old Testament must be read in light of his life, his example and his teachings. When for example, the Gospel writers quote some Old Testament prophecy and say that it is being fulfilled in Jesus what do you think they are doing?

    Ah, you must be using “new atheists” in the same rhetorical way that Coyne used “Christians and Jews”

    I used the term “new atheists” for two sorts of reasons. First “new atheism” is a recognizable cultural movement and many of its prominent representatives style themselves as “Brights” or “Gnu atheists”. Second, because I am explicitly trying not to lump all atheists together. There are strong atheist philosophers and they present a tough case. Alas, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Sam Harris or Jerry Coyne are not among them.

    Unless, of course, you are simply ignorant of the fact that many New Atheists have written many words in response to those questions. Why, Sam Harris just published an entire book about the topic!

    Fair enough. In the strict logical sense, that is an answer to my query. The problem is that Sam Harris’ book — I presume you refer to the “The Moral Landscape” — either does *not* answer my questions or the answer there is answers nothing. His whole theory is so bad, that responding to it is an exercise in masochism (yes, I know, I am biased and you are not impressed by my dismissals).

    I’m not particularly impressed with the assertion that my remarks are demonstrably false (sans demonstration), nor with the generic dismissal of atheists as ignorant of your scriptures.

    I did not know I was trying to impress you. But honestly, were you not impressed even in the slightest by my awesome intellect, the dazzling power of my rhetoric, the impeccable logic, and last but not least my Adonis-like beauty?

    The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of Christians, as well as atheists, who find aspects of the morality of the Bible repellent; I would recommend picking up Thom Stark’s book The Human Faces of God if you don’t believe me. And, of course, there’s good old Spong, and Rob Bell, and any number of others, who certainly can’t be dismissed as ignorant, yet come to conclusions about the morality of certain scriptural events which are quite different from yours. Clearly, either you or they are imposing their own moral system on the Bible and interpreting it as they like. Why should outsiders suppose that you are doing it right, while they are doing it wrong?

    I should remark that the point I was trying to make in the paragraph to which you respond to was not how we come to know what is moral or immoral, but how we can ground or justify morality, so for my immediate purposes your question is wholly misguided.

    But I will answer your question with another question: since atheists do not compose a monolithic block doesn’t the same question apply to them? Shelley Kagan for example is a consequentialist, but in his debate with William Lane Craig he defended that moral duties are what perfectly rational people would agree to. So what is an outsider to make of this? If even a single atheist does not seem to have a coherent moral theory, should I thereby dismiss atheism as simply wrong? How do atheists settle the issues between them? Presumably by debate, but given that some of the fundamental starting positions are different they are bound to disagree on some issues. But even though they have disagreements, what they share is presumably more important and relevant, namely, the rejection of any God whatsoever and all that it entails. Guess what, the same with the Christian community at large.

  46. Charlie says:

    “”Being good without God is like being heavy without gravity.””

    😀

  47. kevinj says:

    @Tom Gilson

    I am not sure how you conclude it is clear slavery is wrong from reading the bible. There are specific references to it none of which condemn it. Which is why there was much quoting of the bible on both sides of the debate at the time and why, among others, the C of E got compensated for giving up their slaves.

    Although the modern reading of the bible is clear on slavery being wrong this is a modern viewpoint.
    Just as wiping out the Cathars would hopefully be frowned upon now but was sanctioned at the highest level at the time.

    Based on naturalistic evolution, is there a really wrong answer to the slavery problem? No fair saying there is social agreement on some answer, by the way, because that wasn’t the question.

    My position would be based around our common, fairly recent, origins with our ability to reason extending the emphatic qualities which are needed for small group co-operation to larger groups village/country/world. I accept though that would not be considering convincing by some (or many).
    However even though i don’t like some of the implications of this looking at the history books and even the world today it seems supported by the evidence. While reason can allow us to function in larger groups it can be just as easily led astray with one of the most effective mechanisms being to identify the in and out groups. Slavery being a good example of this with the tradition evolving (in the west) from being:
    slavery generally ok
    slavery ok as long as it isn’t Christians.
    slavery is disapproved of.
    slavery is something which should be actively stopped.

  48. Bill R. says:

    What if someone tried playing Coyne at his own game? Imagine an editorial containing the following:

    While some evolutionary explanations for biological phenomena are true (accidentally, of course), naturalistic evolution cannot possibly explain the biological diversity we observe today. For example, abiogenesis (the origin of biological life from non-living materials) cannot be explained by evolution, because evolution requires a self-replicating system (coupled with a selector), and there is no such system outside of the biological realm. Also, the rate of speciation during the Cambrian explosion was orders of magnitude larger than the maximum rate possible with natural selection operating on random mutations. Now, few of us see the possibility of any natural explanation for abiogenesis or the Cambrian explosion, so chemists and evolutionary biologists pass over these events with judicious silence.

    – Yrrej Enyoc, Ph.D. in Philosophy

    Should Dr. Enyoc be taken to task for his faulty assumptions, mischaracterizations, and an outright lie? Of course! And so should Dr. Coyne.

    Note: I have no problem with evolution as a scientific explanation of the origin of the species, or with research into the origin of life (some of which is currently going on in the lab I’m in!) or the Cambrian explosion. Of course, finding a natural explanation for an event does not eliminate the need for a supernatural explanation for that same event.

  49. SteveK says:

    kevinj

    I am not sure how you conclude it is clear slavery is wrong from reading the bible.

    Skipping past the controversy for a moment, I think it’s safe to conclude that it’s either morally good or it is not. You can argue that one of you is mistaken about your conclusion, but you can’t (I hope you won’t) argue that it’s neither good/evil, or that it’s both good/evil.

    Now, where might we go to find the answer? God, Dr. Coyne or ???

  50. Although the modern reading of the bible is clear on slavery being wrong this is a modern viewpoint.

    Really?

    1 Corinthians 7:21-23

    Come again or do you not see in those verses clearly where the Bible instructs anyone that can free themselves to do so and directly bestows on all believers that they are free men. Would it do so if it was considered to be a good practice?

    See why we say atheists are out of their element? you are totally unaware that the New testament elevated all to an equal status in several passages and it was that old teaching that inspired William Wilberforce after becoming an evangelical christian to lead the charge against the slave trade in England.

    Now you may complain that this verse reference believers but since Christianity was offered to all regardless of race, social status or country origins it logically puts all on the same level and devastates any underlying justification for slavery itself. This is no recent modern teaching. Its nearly 2,000 years old and the core of it moved many people to proceed against more recent forms of slavery.

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    A modern viewpoint? Where’d you get a laugher like that from?

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course I know the answer to the question I asked in #52. You got it from the same place everyone learned that people in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, that Vesalius was persecuted for performing dissections, that Bruno was burned at the stake for his scientific activities, that the church suppressed Copernicus’s findings, that Galileo’s writings were placed on the Index of forbidden works, that the medieval church held back all knowledge of classical literature, that the church said women have no souls, that Christianity has been bad for the Western world in every other way besides. You got it from the all-too-rampant historical misinformation that permeates education in the English-speaking world.

    It is all laughable if one has actually read responsible histories. What is not laughable is how many think it is anything but laughable.

  53. Trey says:

    @Mike Anthony:

    I am not trying to make an argument from the standpoint of incredulity but rather from rationality. If we say that God is all wise, a God of justice, omnipotent, immutable then that is the standard to which we should hold him. If you take the story of 1 Sam 15: 3-35 out of its historical setting, would you really stand in support of someone who committed genocide, who slaughtered not only enemy combatants, but women, children and nursing babies on the grounds that God commanded him to do it? I would not and such an act would be universally condemned as morally reprehensible. How about Numbers 31: 17-18 where an all wise God appears to sanction the enslavement and rape of young virgin women captured as prisoners of war; and Deuteronomy 22: 23-24 where God supposedly commands that both the victim and perpetrator of rape be stoned to death.

    No amount of theological gymnastics can side step the difficulties that these passages pose if they do in fact originate from an immutable, just, all wise, benevolent God. So did God in fact issue these commands or did man seeking to legitimize his beliefs and actions ascribe them to God? The answer is inescapably clear to me.

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    If you take the story of 1 Sam 15: 3-35 out of its historical setting…

    Huh!?

    If you take eliminate the explanation for any decision made by any person, would you agree with their decisions?

  55. Trey says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I do not follow you. I was trying to get him to see the story for the tragedy that it is by imagining it as happening in a contemporary setting. But even in its historical setting the story is morally reprehensible and the slaughter of women, children and nursing babies was an act committed by man and not one sanctioned by any God.

  56. Tom Gilson says:

    Well, Trey, I yield. You have pronounced the answer. There is no God, as presented in the Bible. I will proceed to change the name of my blog, or maybe shut it down altogether. Thank you for enlightening me. Could you now explain why no one gave me such information sooner?

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    Okay, seriously. I am really not at all impressed by bare assertions like you just made, especially ones that openly exclude contrary information.

  58. Trey pardon me if I first take out the garbage you just attempted to sneak in for emotional impact first and then we can get down to Samuel 15. first its only in your own mind that keeping the women alive for themselves implies rape. Get your own mind out of the gutter. Israelites routinely took foreign women AS THEIR BRIDES when they were of age. The whole point of keeping the virgins was that they were fit to wed. It would hardly make sense to worry about that if they were about to be raped. Learn to think beyond your bias and at least try to apply yourself to the culture of an ancient text. Get some other talking points besides talk origins – The passage implies no such thing as rape of young girls in Numbers 31 and neither does Deuteronomy 22 which CLEARLY refers to consensual sex with a woman that was married (thats right a bethrothal was as good as married).

    Did the Bible call for Israelis to honor a bethrothal. Yes it was Holy. though the law called for death there seldom were such executions. Mercy was often extended. I’ve covered this in an earlier post but you just chose to ignore it. Theres no need for theological gymnastics. You just fibbed on the text because you thought rape sounded so emotionally charged. Common anti God rant technique. Now onto Samuel 15 –

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    I think it would be well to keep in mind what I wrote about this earlier: The short answer to these questions is that there is no short answer, and any purported short answer is bound to be facile, uninformed, or (at best) incomplete. For example, as Mike has correctly indicated, the Israelites were taking brides. In our culture that means something completely different from what it meant then, and its moral import has to be considered in view of God’s progressive work among humans. Read the book, or other related contextual research, or else don’t pretend you know.

    Mike, lest I was unclear, this was not intended as any criticism of what you have said here, but I do want to note that we can’t expect blog comments to provide enough information on these things, when it really takes a lot more than this.

  60. Now Trey make up your mind what you want to debate. Observe the flip flop.

    I am not trying to make an argument from the standpoint of incredulity but rather from rationality. If we say that God is all wise, a God of justice, omnipotent, immutable then that is the standard to which we should hold him

    Him right? HIM. Not anyone else. Lets hold HIM to a standard. God Right? I got you at that point then observe you doing your own flip to muddy the waters

    If you take the story of 1 Sam 15: 3-35 out of its historical setting, would you really stand in support of someone who committed genocide, who slaughtered not only enemy combatants, but women, children and nursing babies on the grounds that God commanded him to do it?

    So now you are off of God now and onto someone else saying they were told by God. See why I say make up your mind about what you are debating?? talk about gymnastics which contortion of yours do you want me to tackle first?

    Before you run ahead to give me some modern day political statement lets deal with the text first. Lets assume an entirely atheistic stand point that 1 Sam 15: is a fictional story. You should be happy with that right?

    Now here is a novel approach to literature. Find out what it is about before you make application from it

    What happens in the fictional story? Is it a story about a man CLAIMING HE was told to do something by God? NO. the story is that he WAS told to do something by God. In reality (within the context of the story) HE WAS told by God. Get the picture – not alleged.

    Remember you are claiming to not be arguing on incredulity but on rationality. So let us say SINCE THATS THE STORY YOU ARE REFERENCING that God has told the person to take those actions- really. Then the responsibility is on God. is it not? like you said lets hold him to a rational standard since you claim not to be arguing on incredulity or emotion

    Now Can you finally answer the question does God have the right to take a life that he has given? Because regardless of the emotion of this situation in Samuel people die every day to the tunes of tens and hundreds of thousands. Does he as God get to determine who lives or dies Trey? and if he doesn’t have that right as God please explain to us all on RATIONAL grounds why he should morally relinquish that right and we should all live forever?

    As another of your atheists counterparts might say I am not impressed with your incredulity despite claiming not to be appealing to it. Moral people despite your viewpoint can believe in the death penalty. So please explain to me why men can determine without knowing the future , without knowing thoughts, without knowing all the facts that someone should die but the immutable (your words) omniscient timeless God who knows everything about a set of people and their future cannot make decisions in exceptionally rare moments in the BIble. because thats the story in Samuel 15.

    Logic please. Not emotion.

  61. Mike, lest I was unclear, this was not intended as any criticism of what you have said here, but I do want to note that we can’t expect blog comments to provide enough information on these things, when it really takes a lot more than this.

    Agreed but unfortunately its these issues that are at the heart of Coyne’s assertions so what would the discussion be about if not this? but it does become pointless at some point and its just about there for me except for the issue of whether God to the atheist at least should he exist has the right to say when we die. after that I would have bowed out anyway.

  62. Trey says:

    @Tom:
    I am not an atheist just someone who has recognized for some time now that the bible is a very human book that reflects a lot of man’s historical biases and prejudices.

    @Mike Anthony:
    Your response is completely unintelligible to me. The bible was not written by God – it did not materialize out of thin air nor did it fall from the sky accompanied by a booming voice. Fallible men wrote it, fallible men translated and copied it, fallible men decided what books were included and excluded from the canon and it is fallible men who interpret it. So when the bible says God said, or God did or God commanded it is fallible men who are making those claims. It is therefore not surprising to me to see stories where God sanctions the treatment of women as second class citizens or where God endorses slavery or where God commands genocide. Even allowing for a more generous reading of Numbers 31 it is still a morally horrendous story involving the slaughter of all save for a few. I suppose those who hold to a traditional interpretation can take comfort in the fact that God at least saved the children…who were female…and virgins.

    My previous question still stands.Is there anyone here who would endorse the actions of someone who committed genocide, the killing of not only enemy combatants, but women, children and nursing babies in the 21st century on the grounds that God commanded it? If you cannot then it is acknowledgement on your part that genocide is morally wrong.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    Trey, you’re trying to turn a complex situation into a yes-no black-white question. Can’t be done. See the links I’ve given. I’ll remind you also of this one again, the start of a series of posts on the topic.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    You say, “The bible was not written by God.” I say, see above.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    You are, in other words, assuming the conclusion in your premises. That’s circular. If you want to be responsible with it, try it this way:

    IF the Bible was not written by God, THEN fallible men wrote it, fallible men translated and copied it, fallible men decided what books were included and excluded from the canon and it is fallible men who interpret it; and THEN when the Bible says God said, or God did or God commanded it is fallible men who are making those claims.

    But IF the Bible was inspired by God (no one claims it was written by God), then none of the rest of what you said follows. The question is not going to be decided by your pronouncements, and they’re just not going to fly here, so please be careful with them.

    (By the way, “Bible” in this context is a proper noun. It is the title of a particular book.)

  66. Trey says:

    @Tom:

    I fail to see the complexity and possible nuances that could justify the slaughter of non-threatening women, children and babies. It IS a black and white issue for me. It is WRONG. Plain and simple. I am sorry that it is not a settled issue for you and something that you and apparently others here need to grapple with.

    BTW my statement that the authorship and compilation of the collection of books called the Bible was done by man is a statement of fact. Your declaration that the collection was inspired by God is a theological statement.

  67. My previous question still stands.

    It doesn’t.
    If you refuse to answer questions you don’t get to demand that yours be answered. Thats not the way it works around here. The verses you brought up have a clear God context. Even if you believe they are nothing more than literature you still must in intellectual honesty answer the points within the context of the supposed literature. Until you can answer those questions we have nothing more to discuss.

  68. BTW my statement that the authorship and compilation of the collection of books called the Bible was done by man is a statement of fact. Your declaration that the collection was inspired by God is a theological statement.

    Trey it is FACT that The Bible was inspired by God your declaration is just rhetoric

    There. See how easy it is to make declarations? Now since there really doesn’t seem to be anything you want to do more than that I withdraw on the grounds that it is immoral and black and white wrong for me to waste anymore time

  69. Richard Wein says:

    Tom wrote:

    Here’s why. The question is whether the God of Christianity exists, and whether the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) provides information concerning the possibility of his existing. If the ED shows that God cannot exist, then that’s what it shows. But to do be relevant here it has to show that the God of Christianity cannot exist. Therefore one starts by positing the God of Christianity and then asks whether the ED applies validly as a defeater to that position.

    I was just addressing the 6-point argument as given. Is it successful in justifying its own conclusions? Whether it succeeds in escaping the ED is another question.

    What’s absurd is your thinking that. When a defeater D for some proposition P is proposed, the person proposing D must show that D actually defeats P. The meaning of P is relevant to that, is it not?

    My point was that you cannot infer a substantive fact from a premise about meaning alone, as this argument attempts to do. You also need at least one substantive premise or evidence.

    If you look at the argument up to (3), only (1) is a starting premise, and it’s a purely semantic one. (2) and (3) are alleged to follow from (1). No substantive premise is given. Yet (3) is a substantive conclusion. So the argument attempts to derive a substantive conclusion from a semantic premise alone.

    BTW I know you have a lot of people to respond to, but please try not to jump too quickly to conclusions about what I mean. If it seems I’m saying something obviously absurd, then you probably haven’t understood me.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    Trey,

    You don’t know the history, you don’t know the comparative literature, you don’t know the facts, and apparently you haven’t taken time to read any of it. You fail to see it because you don’t know the gross hyperbole often used in battle reports in the Ancient Near East, you don’t know that the very few cities where total destruction was ordered were military garrison cities with very few “non-threatening” persons, you have no appreciation for the horrific effects of sin, you don’t realize how death is a part of God’s plan not just for those killed in battle but for every person who has ever lived, and that justice is final in the future state, not in this life. There is more.

    Your black-and-white position is ironic, in view of the accusation so frequently raised against Christians that we’ve made up our minds and won’t listen to the facts.

    This is quite interesting, too:

    BTW my statement that the authorship and compilation of the collection of books called the Bible was done by man is a statement of fact. Your declaration that the collection was inspired by God is a theological statement.

    I didn’t contest your statement that the authorship and compilation was done by man. I agree that is a fact. In the recent context I didn’t even declare that the collection was inspired by God. I said you were begging the question (arguing circularly) by pronouncing that it was not and then drawing your set of conclusions based on that pronouncement. My point in that comment was not that God inspired the Bible. It was that you were arguing fallaciously and that you ought to examine your own method of coming to conclusions. That’s another facet of the same thing I was just talking about with respect to the Ancient Near East.

    What, by the way, is a “theological statement” as opposed to a “fact”?

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard Wein,

    This is a good point:

    BTW I know you have a lot of people to respond to, but please try not to jump too quickly to conclusions about what I mean. If it seems I’m saying something obviously absurd, then you probably haven’t understood me.

    I’ll try to keep that in mind. It’s easy to get in too much of a rush, and I apologize for that.

    Now when you said,

    I was just addressing the 6-point argument as given. Is it successful in justifying its own conclusions? Whether it succeeds in escaping the ED is another question.

    There was something there that I really don’t understand, in the context of our previous discussion. You had said it was “a more fundamental fallacy” for Craig to “start off with a semantic (definitional) premise about the meaning of a word, and end up treating it as substantive fact about reality.” I answered by explaining why that was not wrong in this context. Now you say in answer to my answer,

    I was just addressing the 6-point argument as given. Is it successful in justifying its own conclusions? Whether it succeeds in escaping the ED is another question.

    I don’t see how that connects with the question you yourself raised and I responded to, even in the context of the rest of your comment. I could use some help with that. Meanwhile I’ll note that whether it succeeds in escaping the ED is the only question: if Christian theism escapes the ED, then the ED is done, as far as Christian theism is concerned. It’s over. I think you probably see that; I hope you do, at any rate.

    My point was that you cannot infer a substantive fact from a premise about meaning alone, as this argument attempts to do. You also need at least one substantive premise or evidence.

    Did Craig infer a substantive fact from a premise about meaning alone? I don’t think he did that. He derived his inferences from “maximal perfection.” Secondly, the ED is taken to be a defeater for some being “God.” What does the ED take to be the meaning of that word “God,” and doesn’t it treat that word “God” definitionally too? I just can’t see how Craig has committed some “more fundamental fallacy” this way.

    Of course I’m sure you saw that the 6-point argument there is not Craig’s; his short version is in the response below it.

  72. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, I realise the 6-point argument is not Craig’s. But I’m discussing it because it’s the clearest one on the page you linked to, and Craig approves of it. That’s the argument I criticised initially and have continued to address. Also, I’m only addressing points (1)-(3) because I say that the argument is fatally flawed by the time it gets to (3), so it doesn’t matter what comes after that. The final conclusion is dependent on (3), so if (1)-(3) is invalid, then so is the whole argument. If the argument is invalid, then it’s not a successful response to ED. So we can limit our discussion to (1)-(3).

    If you don’t think the maker of argument (1)-(3) has done a good job, and so don’t want to defend that particular version of the argument, please say so.

    I’ll consider another version of the argument as long as it’s short and clear. But I don’t think Craig’s comments on this page constitute a clear argument.

  73. Tom Gilson says:

    Fair enough. I could have linked to a better page. I’m on my mobile again now, so I may have to try later for another link.

  74. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Richard Wein:

    I hope Tom Gilson does not mind my barging in, but you may also want to take a look at a slightly different tack on the problem from a Thomist perspective:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

    The first four paragraphs contain the essence of the response. The rest of the post is also interesting and relevant, but also touches on issues like Divine Simplicity which while held by Thomists and the Catholic Church is, for example, rejected by William Lane Craig, along with a jab or two against Theistic Personalism. But for the most part you can leave all this aside and still get a good idea of why Euthyphro Dilemma does not present any substantial problem to Christianity.

  75. Crude says:

    Some quick comments.

    * I’m surprised that so much effort is being put into defending Christianity against the ED, and not into attacking Coyne’s crappy estimation of morality. Does anyone else see the problem with saying that atheist/secular morality is great because it can change as necessary? Why is Coyne getting a pass on this?

    * I’m also surprised to see no one pointing out that the ED is a red herring anyway as an argument for atheism, because accepting either ‘horn’ of the ED still leaves theism as possible. Take the first horn and you have something close to the Islamic God. Take the second horn and you have a lesser god, but a god all the same – and an affirmation of platonic goodness in the process (which is every bit as contrary to Coyne’s metaphysics as Christian theism is.) All this while noting, again, that the Christian God evades the ED anyway.

    * In fact, arguably, Coyne’s take on morality ends up being similar to taking a horn of the ED itself. The main difference being that Coyne takes the first horn, except instead of the command coming from any God, it comes from men. And this is supposed to be an improvement?

    Basically, why are you guys letting yourself be sandbagged into going on defense, when your opponent is leading with his chin? Here’s hoping clearing up the ED is only a prelude to cleaning this guy’s philosophical clock.

  76. SteveK says:

    Crude,

    In fact, arguably, Coyne’s take on morality ends up being similar to taking a horn of the ED itself. The main difference being that Coyne takes the first horn, except instead of the command coming from any God, it comes from men. And this is supposed to be an improvement?

    Exactly! The ED doesn’t disprove God’s existence and it doesn’t show that God is immoral. We know that it only mentions 2 of the 3 (or more) possible ways to explain the relationship between morality and God.

    I’ve said before that if any of the 3 options are true then non-believers are still in trouble according to the Gospel.

    With that said, the first question that must be answered is “Does God exist?”, and not “Can I be good without God?”. It’s like asking how best to arrange the chairs on the Titanic instead of finding out FIRST if the ship is sinking.

  77. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for linking to a clearer page. But that page only attempts to offer a third alternative (to the two of ED). It doesn’t attempt to argue that the alternative position is true (apart from some references to the Bible and “Christian teaching”). There’s no argument from “maximal greatness” or anything of that sort. My post was a criticism of that argument, not of the third alternative itself.

    Having said that, to show that ED is a false dilemma you only have to show that there’s a reasonable third alternative. You don’t have to show that the alternative is true. So even if the original (12-point) argument was invalid, the position it was attempting to argue for could be a good response to ED. I failed to see that before, and I think this may have been at the root of our talking at cross-purposes. I was concentrating on just the argument, while you were thinking of the broader picture.

    Do you want to make any other attempt to defend the argument, or shall we move on to the question of whether the third alternative is even a reasonable one?

  78. Richard Wein says:

    SteveK says:

    Exactly! The ED doesn’t disprove God’s existence and it doesn’t show that God is immoral.

    It’s not normally claimed to do either of those. It’s claimed (e.g. by Coyne) to show that God can’t be the source of morality.

  79. Richard Wein says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    Thanks for the link to Feser’s page. I must say I found his ideas thoroughly misguided. He says that he bases his position on a certain metaphysical view (which I’m unfamiliar with). But if that view leads to such misguided conclusions, then so much the worse for the metaphysics.

  80. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Richard Wein:

    Thanks for the link to Feser’s page. I must say I found his ideas thoroughly misguided. He says that he bases his position on a certain metaphysical view (which I’m unfamiliar with). But if that view leads to such misguided conclusions, then so much the worse for the metaphysics.

    Just for the sake of my curiosity, what misguided conclusions? And if you are unfamiliar with his metaphysical position, are you sure it leads to whatever misguided conclusions you think it does?

  81. Steve Drake says:

    G. Rodrigues,
    Richard Klein says above he’s unfamiliar with Feser’s metaphysical view. One then wonders if metaphysics is not his (Klein’s) strong point?

  82. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Crude (#78):

    Excellent points. In my own defence I could point out to my posts #2 and #27.

  83. Crude says:

    It’s not normally claimed to do either of those. It’s claimed (e.g. by Coyne) to show that God can’t be the source of morality.

    If Coyne is claiming that, he’s dead in the water immediately – one horn of the ED grants God as the source of morality, but simply suggests the source is in a way arbitrary. Morality is God’s will, whatever that is, even if it changes drastically. The other horn appeals to a transcendent, objective, fixed but impersonal source of morality – and it’s still in conflict with Coyne’s metaphysics. The man is not a platonist of any kind, much less a moral platonist. Neither horn does what Coyne, as you view him, hopes to do – and again, this ignores options that avoid both horns of the ED.

    What’s more, Coyne goes on to argue that “secular reasoning” can act as a ‘source’ of morality. But if the reasoning of some man or group of men can qualify as a source of morality, why can’t reasoning by – or even facts about – God qualify? Coyne never says, because there is no way to include one but exclude the other. As I said, Coyne is going on about the ED, then essentially impaling himself on a horn of a lesser ED dilemma anyway.

    Really, if Coyne is trying ‘to show that God can’t be the source of morality’, he’d end up saying something like this: “God, a being of infinite knowledge and power, is incapable of deciding for us what is moral and what is not. But Sam Harris probably can.”

    All this, and a take on moral development that’s either wildly misinformed or flat-out dishonest.

    But if that view leads to such misguided conclusions, then so much the worse for the metaphysics.

    So if you don’t like the conclusions, the argument can’t work? Maybe we can use that reply to the ED itself, eh?

  84. Crude says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    No defense needed. That sounded a bit cranky on my part, as if I was lecturing Christians here. I think explaining why the ED fails, and why it doesn’t do what people think it does, is important. But frankly, Coyne left himself wide open to some ferocious criticisms – and there’s a dire need to scream those criticisms from the rooftops.

    But hey, if I feel that way, I should be doing it however I can, right?

  85. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard Wein,

    I have debated Euthyphro often enough previously. My purpose in this article was to expose Jerry Coyne’s intellectual irresponsibility in brushing off Christians’ thinking on multiple issues, only one of which was Euthyphro. If you disagree with me on that, you’re welcome to make your case. In order to do so you will have to show that there is no serious Christian thinking on Euthyphro (or one of the other subjects I mentioned). Your conspicuously insubstantial answer to Edward Feser does not amount to any such demonstration. By asking me whether I can prove Craig’s approach is a sound one, you are shifting the burden; for the relevant question in light of Jerry Coyne’s article is not whether I can demonstrate the validity of Craig’s approach, it is whether you can demonstrate Christians have made no serious contribution to thought on these topics.

    The ball is in your court. To repeat, lest it was unclear: the point I made in this post was that Coyne was intellectually irresponsible to communicate (explicitly or implicitly) that there was nothing to be said, on multiple issues, from the Christian perspective. If you want to show that he was not intellectually irresponsible in doing that, please go right ahead and try.

  86. Tom Gilson says:

    I’d be interested along with this to hear your answer to Crude. Coyne defended atheistically-grounded morality while attacking theistic morality. He showed no awareness of how Euthyphro could point right back at him. Was he incompetent, was he dishonest, or do you have some more favorable way to explain it?

  87. Crude,

    To be honest with you I am at a loss my self. Someone will have to fill me in on how ED is even a dilemma. To me it just smacks of not understanding the concept of the word God. I can understand how in the Ancient Greek world of polytheism this was a problem but it isn’t for monotheism and particularly not for Biblical monotheism.

    I know there is the temptation to answer back a philosophical question as if its a deep issues with more philosophy but there are times when Just straight Bible does so much better than vain janglings.

    God for the Christian is immutable not whimsical. His is timeless and his knowledge is the same. His thinking is not linear its immediate and ALWAYS in the now (because he is timeless). He knows everything and always has. He’s weighed everything and always has (without linear thinking).

    Goodness is what he has always been and will always be. It didn’t exist before him or without reference to him – nothing did.

    So when we ask

    Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

    we imply a false choice. The two are valid. Both horns present no challenge to an immutable, timeless, non linear thinking God.

    God is who he is and good because he has always known the choices that always existed out of his own mind and has always known the best from his own mind.

    So there is no OR in the false choice – the answer is both. The false dilemma sneaks into the minds of men because they anthropomorphize how a timeless omniscient God thinks. God’s goodness proceeds from his divine wisdom and purity that he has always had because he is God. It is not and cannot be whimsical because being timeless he can’t be whimsical , it is not without praise worthiness because it proceeds out of his divine wisdom and purity and it makes goodness itself proceed from who he is.

    I am not seeing any contradiction, dilemma or independent existence of goodness besides him the way that the Bible relates to God.

    To me its seems simple and elementary – once I realize who god is and don’t try to make him some superior projection of Human thinking or wisdom. He created our linear way of thinking. Its not his ways or thought as even the Bible tells us point blank.

  88. Crude says:

    Tom,

    Was he incompetent, was he dishonest, or do you have some more favorable way to explain it?

    Honestly, I don’t think Coyne is even aware of what I’m pointing out.

    When I talk about the dishonesty or incompetence, it’s in his implying/pretending that if say… William Wilberforce argues against slavery, he’s doing so because of secular pressure. To hear Coyne tell it, I get the impression he’s saying there are secular arguments against slavery – but none for it, and any change for the “better” is due to ‘secular reasoning’. Or that the people struggling to find Christian justifications for southern slavery weren’t motivated by secular concerns, and the people who found Christian condemnations of southern slavery were working off secular commitments.

    That bit I haven’t focused on, because it’s just so damn obvious. The ED is a little less so, because it’s almost traditionally treated as ‘a big problem for theism’ – and I think it’s hit the point where people just reflexively make assumptions about what the argument is supposed to show. I think Christianity evades the ED, but my point here is that you can impale yourself on either horn of the ED and you’re still left with a theistic/non-materialist morality, and one that still knocks Coyne’s “alternative” out of the water. (Which amounts to, ‘We can do whatever we want whenever we feel like it if we think is best.’ And ‘See, there are secular governments and there’s no chaos in the streets!’ Hey, there’s no chaos in the streets in North Korea either, I guess they’re a stellar example of secular morality, eh?)

  89. Incidentally the only potential downside I can see from my above post is that perhaps someone would think – “will then God doesn’t get credit for choosing goodness in the same way that we get credit for choosing to do good”. In a sense that would be correct . rather he gets it from the choice being central to his character – a much deeper place.

    I’ll use my children as an example. I never made a choice to love them. The choice would not occur to me. It was like taking my next breath. That was set in my character before they were born. Do my children not think that my character in that regard is praise worthy even though I never made the choice? hardly. It deepens their appreciation for who I am.

  90. Sherlock says:

    Crude, would you consider posting your above criticisms at Coyne’s blog, or do you think that that would largely be a waste of your time?

    I’m not all that familiar with Coyne, but just going off of a ten-minute gloss of his blog, he seems to be operating at a higher level of discourse than people of the PZ Myers/Dawkins variety, though not by much. From what I’ve gleaned, he appears to love mocking the serious study of philosophy, theology, and biblical hermeneutics (see his recent, choir-preaching rant on biblical “literalism”), while not letting that get in the way of him grappling with philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical issues, on which he fancies his inquiries to be profound and his conclusions to be final. He even fancies himself competent enough to take on extraordinary theologians like David B. Hart on matters of basic Christian history (see the link in his recent).

    Frankly, I am astounded by such a mentality. How can PhD-holding, self-styled “skeptical” scientists speak so confidently from ignorance in a public setting, especially on issues where only a modicum of a genuine willingness to learn would have easily rectified the errors?

    I myself suffer from a chronic fear of not knowing what I’m talking about, so this mentality of Dawkins’, Myers’, and apparently Coyne’s is utterly incomprehensible to me, in the sense that I’ll never know “what it is like” to think as they do.

  91. Crude says:

    Crude, would you consider posting your above criticisms at Coyne’s blog, or do you think that that would largely be a waste of your time?

    Waste of time. His comments section is a cesspool, and he’s notorious for bringing down the hammer on commenters he disagrees with. He is welcome to do so, but I won’t pretend there’s anything to be gained from talking to him on his turf.

    Look at how he treated Tom, who’s ten times the gentleman I am and who made substantive points of his own.

    How can PhD-holding, self-styled “skeptical” scientists speak so confidently from ignorance in a public setting, especially on issues where only a modicum of a genuine willingness to learn would have easily rectified the errors?

    Because he’s playing to a particular crowd. Namely a crowd that’s just as ignorant as he is, who does not care about the deeper details, and who have express social and political motivations to promote the idea that the ideas they disagree with aren’t worth serious engagement.

    How can a man stand in front of a crowd, chanting slogans and whipping them up into a frenzy over a subject that is nuanced and complicated? Easily, if the man is just trying to fire up a mob or persuade people to his view, right or wrong.

  92. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    I have debated Euthyphro often enough previously. My purpose in this article was to expose Jerry Coyne’s intellectual irresponsibility in brushing off Christians’ thinking on multiple issues, only one of which was Euthyphro. If you disagree with me on that, you’re welcome to make your case. In order to do so you will have to show that there is no serious Christian thinking on Euthyphro (or one of the other subjects I mentioned).

    I didn’t undertake to show that your general claim was false, only to refute one of your arguments for it. (Namely, your argument from the existence of a particular response to ED, the one you cited.) If you don’t want to defend that argument, that’s your prerogative.

    However, in showing that the reponses you’ve cited to ED are not worth taking seriously, I also give some evidence against the general claim, albeit maybe not compelling evidence. I also cast doubt on your judgement on this question, and therefore also on any claim you make to there being other serious responses to ED.

    I’ve shown that an argument forming a large part of the first response you cited was not worth taking seriously. As I acknowledged in my last post, I haven’t yet addressed the more important question of whether the alternative offered (to ED’s two) is even a reasonable one. I’ll briefly do that now. My objection to the alternatives offered (both Craig’s and the one you linked to subsequently) is that they appear to be vacuous. The meaning of statements like “Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…” is opaque, and the writers have made no attempt to explain the meaning. Opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

  93. Crude says:

    I also give some evidence against the general claim, albeit maybe not compelling evidence. I also cast doubt on your judgement on this question, and therefore also on any claim you make to there being other serious responses to ED.

    Where? In your imagination?

    So your move here is that to provide any evidence at all – even if not compelling evidence, and even if this evidence is little more than an unsustained objection – that someone is incorrect, ‘casts doubt on’ a person’s judgment on a question, and therefore any claims that replies to a question exist?

    You keep on playing games that, when applied to Coyne, guts his views on these matters.

    As I acknowledged in my last post, I haven’t yet addressed the more important question of whether the alternative offered (to ED’s two) is even a reasonable one. I’ll briefly do that now. My objection to the alternatives offered (both Craig’s and the one you linked to subsequently) is that they appear to be vacuous. The meaning of statements like “Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…” is opaque, and the writers have made no attempt to explain the meaning. Opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

    Er, have you even read what these writers have to say about God’s character, why it is immutable, and what that means? They absolutely ‘attempt to explain the meaning’ of these concepts, in detail. What part of ‘immutable character of God’ is throwing you here? This one isn’t particularly hard. If you find yourself confused by a term, why not simply ask what it means or attempt to read up on it further?

    Responses like these indicate you either lack the means or the willingness to engage these and related arguments – and thus, we need not take you seriously.

    Really, trying to bluff your way past engaging these arguments won’t fly here. Most of us have actually read Feser, Craig, Koukl, etc in detail on these topics. Pleading that these guys “have made no attempt to explain the meaning” behind topics like the immutable character of God is a joke and a half.

  94. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Richard Wein:

    My objection to the alternatives offered (both Craig’s and the one you linked to subsequently) is that they appear to be vacuous. The meaning of statements like “Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…” is opaque, and the writers have made no attempt to explain the meaning. Opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

    “Appear to be vacuous”? Appear? “The writers have made no attempt to explain the meaning”?

    Sigh. I would answer you, but opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

  95. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard Wein,

    The claim I made in the blog post was that Jerry Coyne was intellectually irresponsible. With respect to the ED, I said that he was irresponsible to imply that there is no serious discussion taking place on the Christian side of the question.

    You say now that you have set out to refute one of my arguments for that claim, namely, the blog page I linked to. I willingly concede that the blog page I linked to there does not represent Christianity’s best thinking on the topic. I have already conceded that, in fact. It’s unclear to me why you think there remains something to be argued there.

    Surely you know that a mistaken link on a blog post does not prove that no serious Christian thinking exists on the topic. If you think you have “shown that an argument forming a large part of the first response you [that is, me, Tom] cited was not worth taking seriously,” you are barking up the wrong tree. You showed that an illustration I gave in support of that argument was weak. You have not done so with the second illustration I gave, and you have not done so with the one G. Rodrigues supplied.

    You certainly don’t show it by adding,

    My objection to the alternatives offered (both Craig’s and the one you linked to subsequently) is that they appear to be vacuous. The meaning of statements like “Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…” is opaque, and the writers have made no attempt to explain the meaning. Opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

    Opaque to whom? Many people describe Kant’s Critique as opaque. By your standards, he wasn’t a serious thinker. But some have been able to understand him. When they see it written, “Kant is opaque and therefore not worth listening to,” they smile. They only burst out with a belly-laugh if they’re someplace where laughing out loud won’t disturb others.

    I linked to short web-based discussions on Euthyphro. I was unable to come up with a link to a book you could read on the web, where writers have gone further into explaining their terms. Would you like me to send you an Amazon sales page? Or why don’t you follow the link to my own discussions on Euthyphro, which I gave you earlier?

    Now I remind you again, you claim that Coyne did nothing irresponsible when he ignored all serious Christian thinking on the ED. To support that claim you must show that there is no serious Christian thinking on the ED. The ball remains in your court.

  96. Richard Wein says:

    G. Rodrigues says:

    Sigh. I would answer you, but opaque responses need not be taken seriously.

    What was opaque about my response? What didn’t you understand? I thought my meaning was pretty clear, but if not, just ask and I’ll clarify it.

  97. Tom Gilson says:

    If I may answer for G. Rodrigues, it’s not that your meaning was hard to understand. It’s more like, “I can’t figure out why anyone could possibly believe that this ‘opaque’ argument has the slightest value in it.”

    (Sometimes sarcasm needs to be explained to some people.)

  98. Tom Gilson says:

    I suppose it’s even possible your 6:55 am answer was sarcasm on your part, Richard. If that was your intent, then what’s lacking is the set-up, the part where you make it clear that you know what’s going on before you sarcastically act as if you don’t.

    I’m serious about that, by the way; it wasn’t just a jab. I walked away from my computer after my last comment, and I thought, “What if Richard was trying to be sarcastic in response to G. Rodrigues? If so, it didn’t work at all well. Why not?”

  99. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    I have often found that the new atheist culture can hardly sustain parody or apprehend irony. Ideology, in its shallower versions, is particularly destructive of the ironic, and much could be said of the cultural misery of new atheism. But we must endure our going hence even as our coming hither, and against the villainies of the spirit that degrade mankind, sarcasm is our last — and it is hard not to fall into despair and add “the only” — civilized weapon.

    Or in direct response to the questioner, and again to quote from King Lear, nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

  100. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    I haven’t read Kant, but I dare say he made some attempt to explain his meaning. If you understand the statement (“Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…”), feel free to explain its meaning. Or show me how you can get from this alleged fact to any moral truths. (But I don’t think you’ll be able to do that until you’ve said what it means.) Until then I have no reason to take your objections seriously.

    Now I remind you again, you claim that Coyne did nothing irresponsible when he ignored all serious Christian thinking on the ED. To support that claim you must show that there is no serious Christian thinking on the ED. The ball remains in your court.

    There’s a difference between “support” (give some reasons) and “show” (give sufficient reasons to make the case). I only claim to have given some reasons in support of the view that Coyne did nothing irresponsible in this respect. I don’t claim that the reasons I’ve given are sufficient on their own to make the case. But they might be sufficient when combined with other reasons that people may already have.

    I do claim that, all things considered, I have sufficient reason to judge that Coyne did nothing irresponsible in this respect. To make that judgement I don’t have to have read every Christian response to ED. I can extrapolate from what I’ve read to the judgement that there’s unlikely to be one that merits mention. In the unlikely event that one such exists, Coyne can be excused for being unaware of it, given that in my experience apologists always reference responses that don’t merit mention.

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    If you have no argument to support your claim that Coyne did nothing irresponsible, then I think we can call the question resolved.

    • Your difficulty understanding “morality is grounded in the immutable character of God” is no argument.
    • Your oblique reference to something you’ve read somewhere, from which you think you can extrapolate to the conclusion that probably no Christian thinker anywhere has explained the theistic position on ED, is no argument.
    • Your cumulative case that depends on “other reasons that people may already have” is really no argument.
    • Your lack of any substantive response to the several links we’ve provided you on the ED is no argument.

    I’m not saying you can’t try again, but as of now you have precisely zero argument in support of your position. If it remains that way—and I’m tempted to extrapolate right now myself and make a prediction on that, but I’ll resist—then the question also remains settled: there is no excuse for Coyne’s mishandling of the ED.

  102. Richard Wein says:

    Here in Britain sarcasm is often met with sang-froid. The sarcast wants to see an emotional reaction. Why give him that pleasure?

  103. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    No argument can be made against vacuous platitudes. I suppose that’s why they make effective apologetics.

  104. Victoria says:

    It seems to me that one problem with the ED, and the skeptics’ use of it (as with all atheistic arguments, actually) is that it does not recognize the Christian Theist’s starting point: namely that of Divine Revelation – that God has revealed Himself to us (in many and various ways no less 🙂 ), through General Revelation (the book of Nature), in human history (and recorded in His written Word – the Bible), and ultimately by stepping into space and time and human history in the person of Jesus Christ. These are the starting points for all reasoning in Christian Theism. On top of that, for those of us who have been redeemed by faith in what Jesus did for us, we have the internal witness and understanding of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
    They ask for the Christian viewpoint, and then complain when we give them an answer that does not fit within their atheistic worldview. One thing that participating in this blog has hammered home for me is the truth of Romans 1:18 ff and 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 – atheists just don’t get it, and unless they are willing to swallow their misplaced and willful intellectual pride and hatred of God, they never will.
    When Plato formulated the ED, he had a concept of God that came from his own fallen, finite and fallible reasoning, not the Christian concept given to us by God Himself.

  105. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard,

    So then we are agreed you have no argument in favor of your position. Name-calling at our position is no argument, either. That kind of behavior does not speak in favor of your position, and it doesn’t speak highly of your approach to a discussion, either. Thus it appears you really do have nothing substantial to offer in favor of what Jerry Coyne wrote in that article.

    That settles for good, then, the question of whether he was being intellectually responsible or not, at least as far as your take on it is concerned. Thank you for your contribution to that conclusion.

    Victoria, those are great points. Thank you for that.

  106. Steve Drake says:

    @Victoria#107,
    Yes, a matter of presuppositions, or starting point. If man presumes that human reason and human senses are a generally reliable means to truth, then mankind is left with no other explanation than that of William Provine:

    Evolutionary biology…tells us…that nature has no detectable purposive forces of any kind…Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance…There are no purposeful principles in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable…(Provine, ‘Progress in Evolution and Meaning of Life’. In Evolutionary Progress (ed.sMatthew H. Nitecki) Chicago University of Chicago Press, 47-74.

  107. SteveK says:

    I can extrapolate from what I’ve read to the judgement that there’s unlikely to be one that merits mention.

    If the all-seeing Wiki mentions them, are they worth mentioning?

    It’s one thing to not mention them. It’s quite another thing to pretend they don’t exist (as you and Dr. Coyne did). It would make more sense to say they exist, but that you (and Dr. Coyne) don’t agree with them. Why don’t you do that?

  108. Victoria says:

    @Steve (hey, didn’t I just see you on the other thread? 🙂 )

    Yes, I think we can agree that human reason and wisdom is finite, fallible and fallen (corrupted by sin).
    However, I think it is not so much our ability to acquire knowledge and figure things out that is unreliable (the progress of science and technology would not happen if we couldn’t get the physics right) as it is our wisdom – interpreting what we learn in the context of the right metaphysics, if you will – Romans 1, for example, indicates that it is a matter of willful pride and hatred of God, as I said in my earlier post, that is at the heart of the problem – unregenerate, fallen man will not have God as sovereign over him, and thus will deliberately interpret the book of Nature using a worldview that rejects God. Certainly we are capable of getting the ‘operational science’ right – ‘origins science’ is another matter – it has to be built on the operational science and observations of the past – even if we get this right, fallen man will not see this as a pointer to Creation and its Creator (regardless of the process and time span questions).

  109. Steve Drake says:

    Victoria,
    But I guess the question is whether ‘physics’ can explain all of reality? This is the naturalistic position, that all of reality can be explained by the laws of physics. Do you see a problem with this?

  110. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Richard Wein:

    In your post #103 we can find this pearl:

    I haven’t read Kant, but I dare say he made some attempt to explain his meaning. If you understand the statement (“Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God…”), feel free to explain its meaning. Or show me how you can get from this alleged fact to any moral truths. (But I don’t think you’ll be able to do that until you’ve said what it means.) Until then I have no reason to take your objections seriously.

    You assert very charitably that Kant, whom you have not read, made an attempt to explain himself, but I dare say that for those you have read and disagree with, you have not made the least effort in understanding them and instead evade with charges of “no argument can be made against vacuous platitudes”, without giving us a single argument for why they are vacuous. But this is hardly surprising. In post #23 you write,

    Coyne’s philosophy may be “naive” but his views are often nearer the mark than some professional philosophers. Given the enormous range of contradictory views among professional philosophers, it’s clear that a lot of professional philosophy is misguided. And in my view that’s because many philosophers don’t take a sufficiently evidence-based approach. Coyne’s scientifically-trained intuition is often a better guide to truth than the arguments of (some) philosophers.

    which clearly hints at your naive philosophical prejudices.

    I applaud, and even envy, your sang-froid, but your responses so far amount to exactly nothing. Ex nihilo nihil fit, so do not expect much more than sarcasm, which, rather than trying to elicit an emotional response, is there to illuminate the “nothing that is”.

  111. Victoria says:

    @Steve RE #112
    I didn’t say that physics can explain all of reality – just saying that even as finite, fallible and fallen human beings, we have been able to make sense of the book of Nature. Don’t take my use of a specific example as a generalization.

    The rest of my post explains what I was getting at….

  112. Steve Drake says:

    @victoria#114,
    Are we truly able to make sense of the book of Nature as you posit? Is man with his powers of reason able to make accurate statements about the ultimate truth of reality?

  113. Victoria says:

    @Steve
    [Victoria puts hands on hips, blows her bangs out of her eyes…]

    Arggghhhh! I’m not talking about ultimate reality here; our ability to think rationally is not so corrupt that we can’t study the natural world and discern its ‘laws’, and then apply what we learn to engineer technology from it, for example. Please go back and read the rest of my post (#111) and stop assuming things that I never implied

  114. Steve Drake says:

    @Victoria,
    (sighs heavily, pulls his shirt away from his chest, checks to make sure he’s feeling cool with the current condition of his home or office A/C, adjusting such as required, puts his hands in a defensive posture anticapating a unonbservant attack or challenge that he has assumed things that you never implied.

  115. Steve Drake says:

    Contemplates Vicoroia;s ability to thing rationally thee? Wow, Let us thing rationallhy then?

  116. Steve Drake says:

    @Victoria;arrghhh#116,
    If study the of natural laws and their applicaclations.?

  117. Victoria says:

    @Steve
    Are you typing under stress? Your posts are becoming incoherent. Chill out 🙂

  118. BillT says:

    Another dreary performance by another atheist. Richard Wein embarrasses himself and Coyne in the process. Not only does he repeat Coyne’s dishonest omissions but he does it in the face of repeated explanations none of which he even attempts to address seriously. He quite literally proves Tom’s original critiques of Coyne to be valid. Makes you long for DL.

  119. Tom Gilson says:

    Steve Drake,

    Are we truly able to make sense of the book of Nature as you posit? Is man with his powers of reason able to make accurate statements about the ultimate truth of reality?

    Yes. Being made in the image of God means (among other things) that we can make sense of the book of Nature. If not then even Scripture is meaningless, for after all, how often does it point to nature, and what we know of nature, to make its points?

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    I agree with you, BillT, except I’m not sure he added anything to Coyne’s embarrassment, if Coyne were capable of being embarrassed by his own performance as he ought to be.

  121. He quite literally proves Tom’s original critiques of Coyne to be valid. Makes you long for DL.

    Oh my. Who would have thought a few weeks ago we’d be making that observation 🙂 because I do agree. I’m not sure Richard has really said anything substantially different than “you have no point because I say you don’t”

    True enough there were times when DL wasn’t quite so transparent.

  122. Steve Drake says:

    [email protected],
    Yet man is not able to make accurate assumptions about Nature. His assumptions are tainted with presuppositional considerations. Being made in the image of God assures us that we can interpret nature correctly without any bias? Oh my? I must be in the land of OZ, click, click, I want to go home.

  123. Tom Gilson says:

    Click, click yourself. Your triumphalism is both premature and unbecoming.

    Look out the window. Is there a sky out there? Are there trees? Can you give an accurate answer to either of those questions about the truth of nature?

    And doesn’t your skepticism undermine more than you want? If we are absolutely unable to interpret reality, why does that inability extend to interpreting the reality of Scripture?

  124. Richard Wein says:

    Tom,

    There’s nothing that can be said in response to a vacuous platitude except to call the proponent’s bluff by challenging him to explain its meaning or show how it supports the case. You’ve ignored that challenge, so there’s nothing more to say. Goodbye.

  125. Richard Wein says:

    I may look a bit silly coming back after saying there was nothing left to say. But I thought of something that might help you to see this from my point of view.

    Suppose an atheist claims that there can be morality without God, merely asserting that “Morality can be grounded in evolution”. Would you consider this a serious argument? (I wouldn’t.) Wouldn’t you consider it vacuous? Wouldn’t you think he has an obligation to say what it means for morality to be grounded in evolution, or how morality can be grounded in evolution? (I would.)

  126. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course. You can read the links I provided you for those things as related to theism. It was missing from the first link, perhaps. It’s not missing from Thomas Aquinas (or Edward Feser who interpreted him), whom you brushed off without providing so much as a hint of the same kind of explanation you accuse us of failing to provide—something to indicate there was some serious thought there, that is. Your answer went like this:

    Thanks for the link to Feser’s page. I must say I found his ideas thoroughly misguided. He says that he bases his position on a certain metaphysical view (which I’m unfamiliar with). But if that view leads to such misguided conclusions, then so much the worse for the metaphysics.

    You tell us you don’t understand the metaphysics that undergird another explanation we’ve provided, but it’s wrong anyway for reasons you do not state, so it can’t be an explanation. What if your unfamiliarity with it means that you are unequipped to assess it? (That’s what “unfamiliarity” usually means.)

    I have no idea whether you think the explanation you demand is missing from the Greg Koukl article I linked to. You justy ignored it. Same for the articles I linked to here on my blog. So here’s the form of your argument with respect to those articles:

    You: “I call for an explanation of how God could ground morality.”
    Us: “Here are several articles where you can find it.”
    Your response to those articles: ” ” (silence)
    You: “How can you think you’ve presented any kind of serious argument when you refuse to offer any explanation for how God could ground morality?”

    You are telling us that we have made mere assertions without explanations. You’ve ignored the greater part by far of the explanations we’ve provided, but you say we haven’t made any explanations. Do you realize how that looks from our point of view? We give you what you ask for, you ignore it, and then tell us we can’t give you what you ask for. Something’s missing there, my friend, and it’s not our explanation.

    You raised a great question when you used evolutionary morality as an illustration. Nick Matzke said in effect that a blog was a difficult place to lay out a full evolutionary morality position. That’s a fair statement. He recommended I read Mary Midgley and Melvin Konner. I could have said, “I disagree with their conclusions, so therefore, so much the worse for their metaphysics.” I could have whined about how Matzke didn’t provide me the full explanation I asked for. Instead I read, and I responded, almost 5,000 words.

    I suggest you do the reading, just as I did the reading, and then do the serious thinking that follows. Unless you prefer to just pronounce yourself right without regard for the facts as you have been doing.

    You are saying in effect that theism has no heritage of serious thinking or reflection on ethical matters. Do you have the slightest idea how ridiculous that makes you look?

    Here’s the deal, Richard. You say we haven’t explained how God could ground morality. In an earlier edit of this comment I said you were wrong. I have changed my mind. It’s more accurate to say that you have refused to make or to show yourself qualified either to be right or to be wrong. I don’t know if you know enough about these topics to be wrong about them as topics per se. Your wrongness precedes that, in your presuppositions and in your approach.

  127. Tom Gilson says:

    Finally, recall what I have repeated to you several times. The claim I made was that Coyne was intellectually irresponsible to imply there was no serious thinking by theists on these several issues. You defended him on just one of those points (what do you think of the others, by the way?). Your claim in defense of Coyne was that there is no serious thinking by Christians on the ED. The burden is on you to demonstrate that claim.

    The best you have done has been to say that Aquinas must be wrong because you’re unfamiliar with his metaphysics. Or his metaphysics must be wrong because you don’t like his conclusion. (It’s really quite unclear what you were trying to get to there.) As “best” goes, that’s really, really, really, weak. But it’s still better than your second best, which has been to ignore the other evidence I’ve offered you for the existence of serious Christian thinking on the ED. Neither of those responses even gets to the question, which in this case is not whether theists are right, but whether we have something to contribute to the discussion, something that Coyne should not have implied was absent.

    You’ve helped confirm the conclusion I started with, which is that Coyne was intellectually irresponsible.

  128. Doug says:

    The classic Euthyphro Dilemma: “Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” has never been a problem for Christianity throughout history. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that it doesn’t “stick” in the twenty-first century.

    It’s basic weakness (keeping it from being a challenge to Christianity) is that it poses a problem only to gods created in the image of man. The God of Christianity is “bigger than that”.

    Jerry Coyne’s summary of the ED is an exercise in question-begging that (even so) cannot possibly bring us to Coyne’s conclusion, i.e. “God cannot be the source of morality” — a conclusion that is well beyond the reach of the dilemma altogether, and not even remotely an honest assessment of the history of thought on the matter (as the O/P clearly states).

    Morality is quite similar to rationality: both are quite difficult for us to explain. But just as the fact that there is no “science of rationality” (because, indeed, rationality is above, beyond, and a pre-cursor to “science” — i.e., we have no understanding of understanding) does not imply that rationality is illusory (in spite of eliminativistic rhetoric), the fact that there are challenges to understanding the underpinnings of morality does not in any way put constraints on those underpinnings.

  129. Holopupenko says:

    Tom:

    I’m not picking on you, but I am being picky about the careful use of terminology: metaphysics is one of the classical “speculative” or “theoretical” sciences (knowledge for it’s own sake), while moral philosophy is one of the “practical” sciences (knowledge in support of action). Metaphysics studies being in it’s broadest sense as shared by all existents and it studies ultimate principles of being and causality; moral philosophy studies the acts of moral agents per their natures. Moral theology is a mixed science studies the acts of rational agents as informed by revealed knowledge correctly interpreted.

    I say this to urge the caution of good distinctions, because Christians often err in generalizations that God is the source of morality, as if that’s a direct connection or as if it’s Scripturally-based… neither of which is the case. The only way you can correctly state God is the source of morality is in an analogous sense, which is much, much richer: the Ten Commandments are not imposed by an external puppeteer. Doug is correct (although I could nip at his heels a bit): Euthypro is no “dilemma” for critically-thinking Christians, while it will always be a problem for atheists.

    Richard Wein is not a serious interlocutor per your calling him on it as based–partially–on the self-admitted ignorance of the referenced material. The sad part is he permits that ignorance to animate his personal opinions. (By the way, that he implies theism has no heritage of serious thinking or reflection on ethical matters is not just silly or ignorant–it’s stupid.) I suggest, as with Coyne, you not waste your time addressing silliness generated by people way out of their depth. Finally, I find laughable Coyne’s claim that he can do good as an atheist: the empirical evidence on which you called him out here (e.g., dishonest and irresponsible) surely points in the opposite direction, doesn’t it?

  130. BillT says:

    “I may look a bit silly coming back…”

    Looking like the understatement of the year.

  1. August 4, 2011

    […] on Christian websites, but I do call your attention to the huffy lucubrations of Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian, who says that I willfully ignore an important “solution” to the Euthyphro dilemma.  […]