“Deepest Feelings” or Right and Wrong?

I didn’t catch this exactly enough to quote it all, but it went something like this. Mark Halperin was on one of the morning shows this morning, discussing the (apparently) surprising pushback the Obama administration has been getting this week, since announcing there would be only narrow exceptions to the new federal requirement that insurers give away contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. The effect of the ruling is that many Christian organizations, especially Catholic ones, will be required by law to violate their own doctrines and standards.

(It’s an outrageous decision. Not just Catholics but also Evangelicals, Jews, and even Muslims are lining up against it. See more on that here, and sign the Declaration while you’re at it.)

In the meantime I want to dwell on something Halperin said, if I heard him right (and I’m pretty sure I did). This is not about politics but about an all-too-common view of reality, one with far-ranging effects. Paraphrasing, he said that the Administration had been unprepared for what happens when a decision pushes up against people’s “deepest feelings,” and that it was important for the Administration to show that this decision is right for women and right for our country.

Do you see what he did there? He set up a political decision as being a matter of right and wrong, while relegating religion to “deepest feelings.” Feelings, by definition, aren’t right or wrong. Feelings aren’t matters of public knowledge, either; that is, we can know something about a feeling, or what may be causing a feeling, but the feeling itself isn’t something that’s potentially true or false for anyone but the person who feels it. I don’t have to debate with you whether my foot hurts or my stomach feels full, and you don’t have to convince me to share your feeling that the room is too cold where you are.

“My foot hurts” is true for me but not for you: your foot probably doesn’t hurt, and if it does, it’s not the same hurt. “I’m cold” is true for someone reading this blog but not for me: the room here is quite comfortable, thank you.

What Halperin thinks is that the goodness of this decision is in the realm of public knowledge. It’s an existing truth, something the Administration must make the public understand. It’s true for everyone. Religious objections, meanwhile, are private, merely feelings, true only for the ones who feel them.

He’s partly right: the decision’s goodness is something that can at least potentially be known. That’s because morality is something that can be known. I am quite convinced that he’s wrong on its moral status, but he and I likely agree on this: if he’s right about its morality, he’s really right, and if he’s wrong, he’s really wrong.

He is completely mixed up, however, on religion being a matter of private feelings. It is at least potentially a matter of public knowledge, and it is absolutely a matter of truth or falsehood. If God’s Word is from God, then it is truly from God and not something someone privately feels is of God. If it’s not from God, then it is truly not from God no matter what anyone feels about it.

Now, here’s the kicker: religion is not a private matter. It is not to be relegated to private spaces, it is not irrelevant to public discussion. It belongs, as Neuhaus said, in the public square, along with all other matters of belief, opinion, and knowledge. This is not a case of political or social facts against religious values. It is a matter of debate over what is actually true.

I could go on, but let me recommend a reading list instead, because you really need to study this. There is considerable cultural weight leaning on the side of “religion is about private feelings.” You need to learn to see that for what it is, to understand where it came from, and to know why it’s not true. I recommend three books. Which one is best? Which one should you start with? I don’t know. Read all three at once—they’re all excellent and important—or read them in any order you choose. Just read them.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard

 

 

Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power by J.P. Moreland (the first third is most relevant to this topic)

 

Total Truth (Study Guide Edition / Paperback Edition): Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey

 

 

Comments 86
  1. Tom Gilson

    I haven’t changed my policy concerning political discussion here, which says, “This applies to comments regarding political parties or candidates, and to specific pending legislation. It does not necessarily apply to social issues that may come up for governmental consideration.”

    I am not opening up a general forum here, however, on the current Administration or any of its members. Feel free to discuss the policy I’ve mentioned here, or especially feel free to discuss the spurious fact-value distinction I’ve focused on here, but keep political personalities out of it, please. That’s how I have run this blog, and how I will continue to run it.

  2. Sault

    Now, here’s the kicker: religion is not a private matter. It is not to be relegated to private spaces, it is not irrelevant to public discussion.

    How does one decide what religious beliefs should be exempt from government legislation and which ones shouldn’t?

  3. Holopupenko

    Thanks very much, Tom, for posting on this direct assault upon freedom of conscience: the world prefers–even demands–“out of sight, out of mind.”

    Obama asserted the following in 2009: speaking specifically about his planned health reforms at Notre Dame, he said: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause.” Yeah, right. Liar.

    BTW, did anyone catch O’Reilly last night when he implied “Million Moms” was un-American for asking JC Penny to remove homosexuality cause-celeb Ellen Degenerate as their spokesman? (He said, “that’s not American…”) Then, Bernie Goldberg called a “certain strain” of conservatives “bigots” about the same thing. Both these guys earned the PINHEAD++ award last night.

    One more note: on the “legislate beliefs” issue, indeed they should never be legislated… but if a religious “faith” precepts include sex with children or human sacrifice or necrophilia, then the state does have an obligation to protect citizens. The problem is, secularists, who have disordered formations, will then conveniently extend that to other issues, e.g., homosexuality is a “safe choice,” Christians are bigoted and dangerous for opposing homosexuality. Even the efforts of Christian programs that help homosexuals overcome that very difficult disorder are viewed as “dangerous.”

    Isn’t it far, far more true (even if one ONLY considers the body count) that atheism and its associated animating -isms–like philosophical naturalism–the true, objective dangers? Didn’t you sum that up in a nice post about the denigration of humanness by means of naturalism a short while ago?

  4. Sault

    Religious beliefs should absolutely never be legislated. Not for, not against, and not otherwise. Period.

    I didn’t phrase that very well. Let me try again –

    What actions, informed by religious beliefs, should be exempt from government regulation and which ones shouldn’t?

    For instance – peyote is an illegal substance, yet at least one religious group receives an exemption to use it in their religious ceremonies. Is this exemption valid?

    A second – the LDS faith (Mormons) were required to stop the practice of polygamy before Utah was allowed to join the Union. It is not only a part of their belief system, however, it is intrinsic to their faith – the current revelation is that it will be practiced and that it must be practiced in the afterlife, even though it is currently not practiced in the here-and-now. Should Mormons be allowed to practice polygamy as their faith dictates?

  5. Holopupenko

    Let’s first start by legislating against the lowest end of the spectrum: eliminate dehumanizing and dangerous atheism, infanticide (a.k.a. abortion), as well as homosexual “marriage.” Then we’ll move way up the moral ladder to consider polygamy and smoking peyote. At least the LDS believes in the sanctity of marriage and fidelity to ones spouse(s). Atheism, on the other hand, eliminates objective moral standards outright in favor of force/power… with millions of bodies to prove it.

    What Sault has stealthily inserted into the discussion (given his track record here, I’d say it’s largely based on self-serving ignorance) is a fallacy: he isn’t well-formed enough morally (i.e., a moral relativist) to distinguish right and wrong in the first place. He then transfers his own weakness upon society, implying that since it’s difficult (or, per moral relativism, impossible) to draw distinctions, everything should be permitted under legislation… with, of course, the usual bone thrown in (“as long as it hurts no one”… yeah, right: ask an aborted baby or Terri Schiavo) to cover his extremist tracks. And then, to top it off, this moral relativist becomes a cry-baby when he himself is unjustly hurt or if it suits his personal agenda.

  6. SteveK

    Sault,

    What actions, informed by religious beliefs, should be exempt from government regulation and which ones shouldn’t?

    If you use the US Constitution as the standard, then nothing is off limits. The US Constitution itself can be done away with entirely by way of the current legislative and judicial process.

    So…when you speak of “should” what moral rule are you referring to? Let’s start there.

  7. Sault

    So…when you speak of “should” what moral rule are you referring to? Let’s start there.

    That’s the thing… I’m not entirely sure.

    It’s not about a religion asking to force their morals on other people… it’s about asking to be exempt from government legislation. Is that a correct statement?

    If that is correct, it seems reasonable to ask what the difference might be between exemption from requiring the Catholics to supply contraceptives and an exemption from requiring the LDS to limit their marriages to two people… they’re both Christian, they’re both legitimate churches (no “Flying Spaghetti Monster”), they both base their values upon the same sacred text, etc.

    My next question is what differentiates a Christian exemption from an Islamic exemption (different religions, different sacred texts, but both are at least legitimate institutions)… just so you see it coming.

  8. SteveK

    Sault,

    It’s not about a religion asking to force their morals on other people… it’s about asking to be exempt from government legislation. Is that a correct statement?

    Both come about through legislation so I don’t see any difference. They both are morally virtuous – or maybe they are not – how can you tell?

    Does human law determine what is virtuous? If so, then anything human law can accomplish must be virtuous. Are you prepared to accept that in light of government endorsed slavery, aggression, abortion, etc?

    On the other hand, if virtue is grounded in something other than human law or human desire, then humanity should defer to that grounding source on all matters of morality and virtue. Legislative practices would also defer to that same source.

    What do you suggest as a grounding source, Sault, and why?

  9. Sault

    What do you suggest as a grounding source, Sault, and why?

    Over the past few days I’ve come to the realization that I can’t provide much more than moral intuition as a reasoning for my ethical standards. I thought that I had a more rigorous definition than that – I’m not sure that I do now. That’s partly why I’m asking questions instead of boldly making statements, as has been my wont.

    On the other hand, if virtue is grounded in something other than human law or human desire, then humanity should defer to that grounding source on all matters of morality and virtue. Legislative practices would also defer to that same source.

    Are you saying that there should not be a separation between church and state?

    I’m going to assume that is what you are basically saying – that our country’s laws should be informed by Christian religious beliefs.

    What happens when Christians disagree? Again, to take the case of traditional Christian marriage being one man-one woman, and the other of the Mormon plural marriage. Who wins?

  10. SteveK

    Sault,

    Are you saying that there should not be a separation between church and state?

    Do *I* think there should be a separation? Yes. Does Christianity think there should be a separation? I don’t think Christianity has anything to say about it specifically although I could be wrong.

    I’m going to assume that is what you are basically saying – that our country’s laws should be informed by Christian religious beliefs.

    While some are sure to object, I would tend to agree because I think Christianity provides the best explanation for the moral source that ought to inform our lives. Naturalism has no moral source other than it’s own natural desires. Atheism is the same. Other worldviews are on the table for possible moral sources – at least until you examine their view of reality. That narrows down the list quite a bit.

    Does that mean I want a Theocracy? Heavens no! Does that mean we pass every law possible informed by Christianity just because we want to promote virtue and morally good ideas at every turn? No again! The less laws the better, I say. Stick to the important things. Individual freedoms are a virtue and some things are best left to individuals and communities without the law intruding on that.

    Some laws are purely utilitarian and specific to the society. Christianity would have nothing to say about those laws. But what we MUST NOT do is pass laws that promote evil and encourage immoral ideas.

    What happens when Christians disagree?

    When Christian’s disagree, it is within the context of like minded people seeking a common understanding of the same reality, rather than people with conflicting worldviews seeking common ground of conflicting realities. The latter is logically impossible.

    I fear we may be getting off topic??

  11. SteveK

    Also, Sault, the only people who think Mormons are followers of Christ are Mormons. The distinction is found in the differences, not the similarities.

  12. Hausdorff

    Holopupenko (comment 7):

    Atheism, on the other hand, eliminates objective moral standards outright in favor of force/power… with millions of bodies to prove it.

    I’m wondering if you can expand on this statement. How exactly do you connect “millions of bodies” to atheism? Atheism is simply the lack of belief in God. Being an Atheist does not mean that you are a murderer, thief, rapist, devil worshiper, or anything else. It simply means that you don’t believe in God.

    BTW, I hope you are not simply going to point to a person who is atheist who did something horrible and claim it is BECAUSE they are atheist without further evidence. Plenty of horrible things have been done by Christians, it does not follow from that that Christianity is the reason they did it.

  13. Holopupenko

    Hausdorff:

    You’re kidding, right? Atheism, for the USSR (was) and for China (is), the official animating principle behind Marxism/Leninism… and it continues to be so for similar regimes throughout the world. I’ve provided direct references to that here several times, so I’m not going to repeat them. Moreover, your implied equivocation with Christian’s doing horrible things is nonsense on its face: Christianity has no animating principle for those “horrible things”; rather, it has broken sinners doing those things well enough, thank you very much, by going against Christ, i.e., by going against their own animating principles. Finally, did you not read Tom’s post from about two weeks ago regarding the dehumanizing results of philosophical naturalism? It’s the atheistic worldview that is deadly–literally in both the spiritual and operational senses–which the numbers bear out.

    Oh, forgot one thing: “Being an Atheist does not mean that you are a murderer, thief, rapist, devil worshiper, or anything else. It simply means that you don’t believe in God. Wrong. “Atheism” is not merely a passive non-belief in God. I leave it to Tom’s earlier posts to deal with that. You miss the point completely: Atheism animates a mindset that permits or even justifies “horrible things,” Christianity does not. I can’t believe you missed that.

  14. d

    Holo,

    Granting for the sake of argument, that atheism is the animating principle that caused the 20th century’s more gruesome genocides – you still can’t discount the role of modern technology played in the body count. Can you honestly say any of the ancient Popes, Christian rulers and Kings, etc would not have racked up similar body counts in the name of Christ, had they had the technological means? I doubt it.

    And I have to chuckle at this a little bit..

    You guys spend so much time arguing that, in principle, atheism can’t rationally animate anything… anything normative that is.

    So as per your own arguments, any atheist – be he a Marxist, Communist, Fascist, or just a genocidal maniac – who claims that their philosophy or desires should be acted upon, is acting incoherently with respect to their atheism. They have no rational basis for their position.

    On the other hand, you defend Christianity by saying there’s no animating principle within it that can rationally justify the kinds of atrocities that some atheists committed.

    So it seems we’re in the same boat (a position entailed by previous views you have espoused about atheism and naturalism). Neither belief can rationally justify “horrible things”.

  15. d

    And for what its worth, the body count of the Taiping Rebellion was enormous – the second deadliest conflict of all time – and atheism had nothing to do with it.

    In fact, its instigator was a Christian, though a rather bizarre and crazy one.

  16. Hausdorff

    I am new here, so I apologize for rehashing old topics and missing old discussions.

    My point in saying the thing about Christians doing bad things was that it would be unfair for me to make the claim that since Christians do bad things, Christianity is bad. It is poor logic. Your reaction to it shows that you did get my point. I was not trying to make the claim, I was trying to demonstrate that the claim is unfair.

    For all I could tell, this is exactly what you were doing to atheists. Atheism and atheists are bad because I have this pile of bodies. That is poor logic. It turns out you were saying more than that, fair enough. This is why I asked for clarification.

    If I wanted to claim that Christianity is bad I would have to provide more than just a list of things that Christians have done that is bad. I wouldn’t make such a broad claim by the way. I don’t think Christianity is all bad and I don’t think Christians on the whole are bad (in generally they seem to be nice people in my experience), but I do have some issues with it. For instance, you seem to think I’m evil simple because of my being an Atheist.

    I don’t think I understand what you mean when you say “Atheism animates a mindset”. Perhaps it will be explained in the link Tom provided, I hope to be able to get to that and read it at some point today, but for now I just wanted to make this point.

  17. Holopupenko

    d at 17:

    A speculation (re: technology… “I doubt it”) does not an argument make. You seem to think that merely by posing it, that your “point” carries some weight or is profound… or true. Sheesh. (What ever happened to your scientistic idolization for “proof”?)

    Apart from the utterly baseless speculation that “Popes” would NOT have contained themselves with modern technology and apart from your implied transfer of moral categories to inanimate objects, PLEASE study some logic: we’re not interested in your verbal Shamanism.

    Housdorff @ 19: Point taken. Thank you.

  18. d

    Holo,

    Actually, for your “argument” to have any force at all, you need to demonstrate that the scale of an atrocity is a function of the belief in atheism, not a function of technology, population levels and other any other probable factors.

    Until then, YOU are just speculating – and its perfectly fair that I reject your speculations for speculations of my own.

  19. Tom Gilson

    What, d? Are you saying people don’t kill people, guns and gas chambers kill people? Does Mao get off the hook on account of his superior organizing capabilities and weaponry?

    That’s reprehensible. I’m stunned. I’m about to barf.

    Don’t do that to us again, okay? Don’t do it to yourself, either. Think before you post such putrid nonsense again.

  20. Tom Gilson

    You have to distinguish between two things here. Holopupenko has referred to what animates the scale of these atrocities. You’re talking about what allows for their scale. Those are two different questions.

  21. Tom Gilson

    d, in response to this:

    You guys spend so much time arguing that, in principle, atheism can’t rationally animate anything… anything normative that is.

    So as per your own arguments, any atheist – be he a Marxist, Communist, Fascist, or just a genocidal maniac – who claims that their philosophy or desires should be acted upon, is acting incoherently with respect to their atheism. They have no rational basis for their position.

    I happen to agree with you that atheism doesn’t animate any atrocities. It permits them. What animates these things is corrupt human nature, which, when unrestrained by considerations of God or moral accountability, when cut free from all sense of transcendent morality, and when it holds enough power, will do exactly what it wants to do.

    Atheism “animates” actions only metaphorically; literally it is rebellion against God and/or unrestrained corrupt human nature that produces these horrors; but rebellion against God and the casting off of moral restraint are typical concomitants of atheism. They go together. They do not (need I be this obvious?) travel alongside with biblical Christianity.

  22. Tom Gilson

    Anyone who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ in the 19th century was not a Christian of any stripe. He was just bizarre and crazy.

  23. d

    Tom,

    We’re talking about what accounts for scale here.

    Earlier Holo asks us to consider: “Isn’t it far, far more true (even if one ONLY considers the body count) that atheism and its associated animating -isms–like philosophical naturalism–the true, objective dangers?”

    Holo thinks atheism (and its associated -isms) are the “true dangers”, based on “body count”. This implies that:

    a) either atrocities are more probable on atheism
    b) or that they occur on a bigger scale (i.e. a bigger body count).

    But we’ll just consider (b) for now, because he specifically mentioned “body count” above.

    To make a statement either way you need to know (at the very least):

    – What is the body count throughout history of Christian atrocity?
    – What is the body count of atheist atrocity?

    But that’s not all. Comparing those raw numbers is wrong and is akin to looking at the difference of the real GDP today and the real GDP of 1935 as proof of economic growth. One needs to consider other things too, like population levels.

    As a percentage of the population, the scale (body count) of the atrocities might not be that different, and for lack of a better word, be “expected”. IIRC, the Crusades keep pace with most modern wars when one looks at casualties by % of the population.

    And even if there is a difference in body count, does the fact that some conflicts were Christian and others were atheist account for the difference? That hardly seems plausible. Or is it something else, like technology, geopolitical factors, wealth, etc?

  24. d

    Atheism “animates” actions only metaphorically; literally it is rebellion against God and/or unrestrained corrupt human nature that produces these horrors; but rebellion against God and the casting off of moral restraint are typical concomitants of atheism. They go together. They do not (need I be this obvious?) travel alongside with biblical Christianity.

    I know more atheist moral realists than I do anti-realists – and I think that pattern even holds within the ranks of academic philosophy. This idea that atheism casts of moral restraint is an unfortunate conclusion of a particular school of atheist thinkers, and eager-to-believe-it theologians – but its hardly a conclusive or even probable fact. This is something that can be studied empirically, btw – and has been to some extent – I don’t think studies bear your conclusions, at least not in such a way that can support such simple conclusions.

    On the other hand, moral superiority and certitude also seem to be an equal danger to moral indifference, and acts as excellent fuel for injustice and atrocity.

  25. d

    You have to distinguish between two things here. Holopupenko has referred to what animates the scale of these atrocities. You’re talking about what allows for their scale. Those are two different questions.

    You’ll have to explain that one to me… perhaps with a less metaphorical and fuzzy word than “animates”. Do you guys mean “causes”, “motivates”, “allows”, or something else entirely?

  26. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    You guys spend so much time arguing that, in principle, atheism can’t rationally animate anything… anything normative that is.

    So as per your own arguments, any atheist – be he a Marxist, Communist, Fascist, or just a genocidal maniac – who claims that their philosophy or desires should be acted upon, is acting incoherently with respect to their atheism. They have no rational basis for their position.

    You are betraying your own cluelessness. Again. To animate a given action and to have a rational basis to justify said action are two completely different things. So yes, you are right, that (many) atheists have no rational basis for (many of) their positions, but this issue is orthogonal to what animates, in the sense of inspiring, of providing a grounding in terms of desires, ends and goals.

    So it seems we’re in the same boat (a position entailed by previous views you have espoused about atheism and naturalism). Neither belief can rationally justify “horrible things”.

    No, we are definitely not on the same boat. While naturalistic atheism does not per se justify atrocities, it permits them and paves the way for them, in the sense that, as Holopupenko pointed out, it degrades humanity and the rational foundations for sound morals, while at the same time providing absolutely nothing, literally nothing, to occupy the place of that which it rejects. Nature abhors a vacuum and what will fill it? Atheist body-count provides the answer. Whatever scraps of morality naturalistic atheists choose as their own are completely ad-hoc so as to provide a posteriori rationalizations for their own preferences and to top it all off, borrowed from Christianity in the first place.

    – What is the body count throughout history of Christian atrocity?

    – What is the body count of atheist atrocity?

    You do not want to make this comparison. Atheist toll is higher by several orders of magnitude. But that is not the most important point, as the death of a single innocent man is a tragedy and a sin against God.

    I know more atheist moral realists than I do anti-realists – and I think that pattern even holds within the ranks of academic philosophy. This idea that atheism casts of moral restraint is an unfortunate conclusion of a particular school of atheist thinkers, and eager-to-believe-it theologians – but its hardly a conclusive or even probable fact.

    The idea that the equivocal, anecdotal evidence of a single person, trumps the de facto empirical evidence provided by concrete atheist regimes is nothing but wishful thinking on the part of eager-to-believe-it said person.

    This is something that can be studied empirically, btw – and has been to some extent – I don’t think studies bear your conclusions, at least not in such a way that can support such simple conclusions.

    Historians have by now a considerable insight on what permitted the genocides in atheistic regimes like the former USSR, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and similar regimes. Reading them is highly educational.

    On the other hand, moral superiority and certitude also seem to be an equal danger to moral indifference, and acts as excellent fuel for injustice and atrocity.

    You do have a flair for accurately describing your own side of the barricade.

  27. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    You are betraying your own cluelessness. Again. To animate a given action and to have a rational basis to justify said action are two completely different things. So yes, you are right, that (many) atheists have no rational basis for (many of) their positions, but this issue is orthogonal to what animates, in the sense of inspiring, of providing a grounding in terms of desires, ends and goals.

    You’re not getting it. If THAT’s what “animate” means, then in that same sense, its fair to say Christianity has “inspired” many atrocities on similar scales as atheism – even if those inspirations don’t rationally follow from its principles. The Taiping Rebellion, the Holocaust are clearly animated, in part, by Christianity, in that sense.

  28. Sault

    Naturalism has no moral source other than it’s own natural desires. Atheism is the same.

    First, what is the difference between naturalism and atheism? If you’re using the term naturalism, shouldn’t the opposite philosophical position be supernaturalism?

    In an attempt to educate myself, I went to a Creationist Wiki, but unfortunately came across this statement –

    Supernaturalism is a fundamental premise of theism. Theists by definition hold to a supernaturalistic worldview which stands in contrast to the atheistic premise of naturalism, which denies the existence of any supernatural phenomena.

    If supernaturalism “animates” theism, then shouldn’t naturalism be what “animates” atheism?

    Part of the reason that this is important is that supernaturalism is not synonymous with theism, just as naturalism is not necessarily synonymous with atheism.

    For instance – one could hold the belief that there are spirits in the afterlife but not in God/gods/deities of any form (ie, ancestor worship, for instance). On the other hand, if I hold the philosophical position that God is actually an n-th dimensional being responsible for our creation who interacts with us in a way that our puny minds and science cannot yet understand, then I am a naturalistic theist.

    Supernaturalism is not synonymous with theism, and naturalism is not synonymous with atheism.

    What, d? Are you saying people don’t kill people, guns and gas chambers kill people? Does Mao get off the hook on account of his superior organizing capabilities and weaponry?

    Hmm. Aren’t we attempting to criticize the philosophy behind the actions, rather than simply playing a numbers game? Is it any more a moral crime that millions were killed rather than hundreds of thousands, or thousands, or even hundreds? No matter the body count, surely it is the actions themselves that are horrific!

    I don’t think that anyone would argue that what Mao did was acceptable – the question is whether his philosophy should be held accountable for his actions.

    And isn’t that what you, Tom, and you, Holo, are doing? You are blaming the philosophy for the actions of an individual. Not only that, you are blaming the premise of a philosophy for the actions of an individual’s philosophy.

    Let’s follow the argument. Communists killed people, therefore Communism is responsible for their deaths. Communism is partly based upon atheism, so atheism should be held accountable for those deaths, too. Naturalism “animated” this form of atheism, so it is naturalism that is actually responsible for the murder of millions.

    Okay, let’s do it again. G. Rodriguez said mean things to me and hurt my feelings. G. Rodriguez is a Christian, so I must hold Christianity accountable for my pain and suffering. Since Christianity is “animated by” theism, then all of theism should therefore be held accountable for the actions of G. Rodriguez.

    Isn’t that silly? Isn’t that unreasonable? Let’s try again.

    Guns kill people. People justify owning guns with the Second Amendment. Therefore the Second Amendment should be held directly accountable for all firearm violence in the United States. I could stop there, but let’s keep going – if the Constitution and Bill of Rights were created by Christians, then I should hold Christianity (then theism, and even supernaturalism I suppose) accountable for every single firearm death.

    I know that the Bible says that children may be punished for the sins of their fathers, but (and I hope that this isn’t too much of a presumption) I think that the scripture saying that everyone is punished for their own sins is the prevailing view among Christians.

    If that is the case, then why should a philosophy that a murderer’s (or mean ol’ G. Rodriguez’s) philosophy is based upon be held accountable for the sins of its “child” philosophy’s adherent?

  29. d

    Historians have by now a considerable insight on what permitted the genocides in atheistic regimes like the former USSR, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and similar regimes. Reading them is highly educational.

    Yes, is was the same school of communism that gave birth to those regimes – something a great deal more than mere atheism – not naturalism, or secular humanism, or much of anything associated with your average modern naturalist or their worldviews.

  30. Melissa

    Sault,

    You have managed to completely mangle the argument. The reasoning that animated atheist atrocities is:

    There is no God therefore there is no measure of good and bad apart from human desires and goals and humans have no intrinsic value. My goals require that I kill millions of people. Given atheism there is no reason why I should not kill millions of people to achieve my goal.

  31. Sault

    There is no God therefore there is no measure of good and bad apart from human desires and goals and humans have no intrinsic value.

    Mangled it is not – population x does not believe in God (or at least our version of God) and so may be persecuted or exterminated. Abrahamic religions have been calling each other “pagans” since their inceptions to justify their actions against each other.

    Either we must hold atheism and theism equally accountable for the acts of the adherents of the philosophies that depend upon them, or we cannot hold them accountable at all.

    Which shall it be?

  32. Melissa

    Sault,

    The difference is is that the atheists reasoning above is valid according to their worldview.

  33. Tom Gilson

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Atheism is not responsible for the acts of its adherents, and neither is theism. The adherents are responsible for their acts.

    Still the isms are relevant. Given that human nature is wont to abuse power (Lord Acton was right), what is it that will restrain that nature and guide the powerful toward proper use of their power?

    The U.S. Constitution was in many ways the first to effectively balance power so as to limit the possibility of power being abused. (Not entirely the first; one could go all the way back to at least the Magna Carta for that.)

    But where there is unrestrained power, then what could possibly hold it back except for a person’s strength of character with respect to moral norms? And what do theism and atheism supply to that end? Theism supplies the transcendent norms and the guarantee of accountability to all persons, no matter what their state in life. Atheism supplies … what? … to the powerful, to persuade them not to abuse their power?

    I would argue that theism also provides a connection to truth, and to the True One, who will directly help the person grow in character. You need not agree with that, though, to recognize that it at least provides a lot of incentive in the form of norms and accountability.

    So what then about theists who have abused power? Sure, it’s happened, though never on a scale approaching that of what atheists have done. Do we blame theism? This is where you got it wrong, Sault. Look at what theism is. Look specifically at what Christianity teaches about loving all including one’s enemies, and about the freedom of conscience and belief. When theists have abused their power, it was because they were ignoring aspects of what they claimed to believe.

    It was not theism that was responsible. It was the persons who were responsible. And when persons ignore what God says, be they atheist or theist, they may act out badly. No surprise there.

  34. Sault

    The difference is is that the atheists reasoning above is valid according to their worldview.

    “When God says kill, you kill.”
    — anonymous abortion clinic bomber in a FHM article I read many years ago (it was one with a hot picture of Pamela Anderson on it, which is probably why I remember it)

    If you wish to justify on the basis of “worldview”, then how about I start dragging in quotes from theists who validate their atrocities by claiming that their belief in God justifies them?

    Again, answer the question – can a “parent” philosophy be held accountable for the actions of someone who adheres to a philosophy based partly upon it?

    An Irish Catholic may believe that God is on his side when he battles against the Protestants… can I hold Catholicism to blame for his actions? How about Christianity? How about theism? How about supernaturalism, even?

  35. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    You are betraying your own cluelessness. Again. To animate a given action and to have a rational basis to justify said action are two completely different things. So yes, you are right, that (many) atheists have no rational basis for (many of) their positions, but this issue is orthogonal to what animates, in the sense of inspiring, of providing a grounding in terms of desires, ends and goals.

    You’re not getting it. If THAT’s what “animate” means, then in that same sense, its fair to say Christianity has “inspired” many atrocities on similar scales as atheism – even if those inspirations don’t rationally follow from its principles. The Taiping Rebellion, the Holocaust are clearly animated, in part, by Christianity, in that sense.

    The formulation you quoted is not the happiest. Just below, and in reply to “we are all in the same boat” charge:

    While naturalistic atheism does not per se justify atrocities, it permits them and paves the way for them, in the sense that, as Holopupenko pointed out, it degrades humanity and the rational foundations for sound morals, while at the same time providing absolutely nothing, literally nothing, to occupy the place of that which it rejects. Nature abhors a vacuum and what will fill it? Atheist body-count provides the answer. Whatever scraps of morality naturalistic atheists choose as their own are completely ad-hoc so as to provide a posteriori rationalizations for their own preferences and to top it all off, borrowed from Christianity in the first place.

    And despite your load proclamations, no, neither the Taiping Rebellion nor the Holocaust can be said to be animated by Christianity in only but the most irrelevant of senses.

    Yes, is was the same school of communism that gave birth to those regimes – something a great deal more than mere atheism – not naturalism, or secular humanism, or much of anything associated with your average modern naturalist or their worldviews.

    The destruction of Church property, the systematic and relentless anti-religious indoctrination, the persecution and systematic killing and elimination of religious people because they were religious *is* undeniably tied to the atheistic underpinnings of these regimes. I am not laying, and never did lay, these crimes at the foot of modern naturalists; for one, because you are talking of people living in democratic societies where there are checks and balances against crimes of that sort and who have the luxury of living off a heritage that they reject but that also provides the basis for their own moral preferences. But ideas have consequences and as I said, naturalist atheism degrades humanity and erodes the rational basis for a sound morals. Naturalist atheism can only destroy, and before you go off on how the Academia is supposedly thriving with moral realists, there are several reasons why naturalism ends up being eliminative as far as morals are concerned and cannot, not even in principle, provide any basis for it (and eliminative in many other things specifically human as well, but let that pass for now).

  36. d

    Tom,

    But where there is unrestrained power, then what could possibly hold it back except for a person’s strength of character with respect to moral norms? And what do theism and atheism supply to that end? Theism supplies the transcendent norms and the guarantee of accountability to all persons, no matter what their state in life. Atheism supplies … what? … to the powerful, to persuade them not to abuse their power?

    That’s all well and good from a theoretical standpoint. But when it comes to brass tacks, theism provides no objective epistemic technique or practice to reliably determine these moral norms, or to interpret how they apply in all the various circumstances we face. Heck, there isnt even a concensus among Christians on the proper ways in which to interpret various scriptures (Genesis: historical or allegorical or something else? Revelations: prophecy or apocolyptic history?), much less how their overall moral message should be applied in every day life.

    So in a practical sense, you ARE in the same boat as the atheist whether you like it or not – you’re left with your fallible interpretive frameworks, powers of persuesion, and if all else fails, acts of force to build and maintain the moral order (as you see it).

    Why do we even need a constitution and other checks on power if theism provides them already?

  37. Tom Gilson

    You’re really reaching here, d.:

    theism provides no objective epistemic technique or practice to reliably determine these moral norms, or to interpret how they apply in all the various circumstances we face.

    That there is disagreement on some difficult issues does not mean there is no agreement on others. That there might be some wrong answers does not obviate the fact that theism (unlike naturalistic atheism) has right answers.

    Your use of the a fortiori (much less how…) argument is absolutely backward. You’re saying something akin to, “If determining a derivative is challenging, how much more is learning the multiplication tables up to 10?”

    So in a practical sense, you haven’t said a thing that’s either practical or logical here.

    Why do we even need a constitution if theism provides a check on power, you ask? I’ll tell you what. How about if you re-read the reasons I gave in my last answer, do some thinking, and forget about asking me to explain it twice. It would save me some effort, and it would be good for you to actually employ your brain instead of your biases.

  38. Sault

    I was typing that exact response, d, you beat me to it!

    I want to refer back to something Tom said much earlier…

    « What happens when Christians disagree? »

    When Christian’s disagree, it is within the context of like minded people seeking a common understanding of the same reality, rather than people with conflicting worldviews seeking common ground of conflicting realities. The latter is logically impossible.

    Christians have disagreed with each other on nearly every single issue of doctrine, ever since the very beginning. Of course it is understood that Christianity has never been a monolithic entity – this is underscored by how different Christians today can believe such disparate views.

    Some Christians are against SSM… but some definitely advocate for it! (example) (example – conservative, even) (example) (example) (example – majority of Australians support it)

    Tom, you’re one of the signers (and authors of?) the Manhattan Declaration… sure, you’re all Christian, but do you really have common ground with someone who holds the opposite opinion that you do?

    On the other hand, there are atheists both for and against SSM… you could surely find common ground with them, since you would share their final opinion, even if you don’t agree with how they arrived at it.

    The latter is logically impossible.

    What is logically impossible is for cooperation between those who refuse to find compromise and insist on holding to 100% opposing views – it has nothing to do with how much common ground you may or may not have, it has nothing to do with how you derive your morality, and it has everything to do with how much you’re willing to give and take.

    Nothing to do with theism, or atheism.

  39. Sault

    That there might be some wrong answers does not obviate the fact that theism (unlike naturalistic atheism) has right answers.

    The two don’t come to 100% opposite conclusions on everything. In fact, a lot of atheists and theists come to many similar conclusions.

    How could that be possible, if supernatural theism is the only way to have “right” answers?

    In other words, if all of theism comes to the agreement that slavery is wrong, and I happen to agree based on my particular form of naturalistic atheism, does that mean that I’m not actually a naturalistic atheist, or does it allow the possibility that naturalistic atheism can come up with the “right” answers, too?

    And what happens when atheism comes up with the “right” answer when theism comes up with the “wrong” one?

  40. d

    Tom,

    No its deeper than that. You face the same problem everybody does – the sum total of all of our experience is subjective. So even when it comes to determining what the objective facts are, we rely on fallible and highly subjective experience – on atheism AND theism.

    Every moral realist faces the problem – morals may have an ontological basis, but that does not gaurentee that our epistemic basis for determining what these moral facts are is sound and reliable.

    What’s worse is that the metaphysics of morals are generally left to pure reason in theist land, or reason applied to revelation (understood by way of many layers of interpretive assumptions or theories) – and on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing.

    Hence, we find disagreements with little or no hope of resolution on nearly every aspect of theism, Christianity included.

    And hence, even if theism is true, we still find ourselves in a world where theists argue over what is right and wrong, where theistic morality evolves and changes with the flow of time, and where the theist in power is just as likely to assume his station is divinely mandated, and that his questionable actions are endorsed by his lord, as he is to say, “I might be punished for this!”.

  41. Melissa

    Sault,

    Again, answer the question – can a “parent” philosophy be held accountable for the actions of someone who adheres to a philosophy based partly upon it?

    The argument is not that atheism is accountable for a person’s actions it is that atheism removes any reason for a person with enough power not to pursue whatever goal they choose.

  42. SteveK

    Sault,

    …you’re all Christian, but do you really have common ground with someone who holds the opposite opinion that you do?

    Yes. That common ground being, among other things, that morality is objectively real, that God is the grounding source for that moral reality, not our opinion our feelings or desires, and that we are simply trying to understand our lives in light of that reality.

    You don’t share this same view of moral reality, therefore it is impossible for us to have common moral ground. In your worldview, morality is grounded in your desires, emotions, opinions, etc. If for some reason I choose to “give” while you “take” so that we can find common ground it changes nothing about our conflicting worldviews. Don’t mistake my charity for my moral reality.

  43. Sault

    « [Sault misquotes] »

    You are absolutely right, SteveK. My apologies.

    atheism removes any reason for a person with enough power not to pursue whatever goal they choose.

    Fascinating.

    So atheists cannot be logically aware of the consequences of their actions? After all, even though I don’t believe God will punish me if I do it, I don’t kill people because it could land me in jail… and it would deprive another person of life… and the survival of our species requires warm bodies… it violates the “Golden Rule”… it goes against the categorical imperative (argued from an atheistic perspective)

    Of course, that assumes that I *want* to kill someone, or that I find it necessary to kill someone to achieve a goal, neither of which is necessarily a true statement.

    After all, if I need a job, does it make more sense to send out applications, or go and kill someone and expect to take over for them?

    Logic…. we have it too, woman.

  44. Melissa

    Sault,

    Logic…. we have it too, woman.

    Then use it!

    For instance how do you get this statement:

    So atheists cannot be logically aware of the consequences of their actions?

    from what I wrote? The rest of your comment is also not relevant as it does not refer to the person with enough power to pursue whatever goal they choose.

    Would you like to try again?

  45. Sault

    @ SteveK

    You don’t share this same view of moral reality, therefore it is impossible for us to have common moral ground.

    I think that it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that we both agree that stealing is wrong. We both agree that lying is wrong. We both agree that murder is wrong. We might even both agree that the Disney Channel is the most evil channel on cable.

    … yet we have no common moral ground?

    If that’s the case, you must be using a different meaning of the term “moral ground” than I am.

    @ Melissa

    The rest of your comment is also not relevant as it does not refer to the person with enough power to pursue whatever goal they choose.

    Since I know Newt Gingrich’s name, I have the power and ability to find his personal information, discover his physical address… and egg the living crap out of his house.

    Why am I not doing it? Even a person with “the power” to do something must still face the consequences of their actions.

    Comment stands.

    (I apologize for the earlier version of this comment, Tom)

  46. Melissa

    Sault,

    Even a person with “the power” to do something must still face the consequences of their actions.

    What consequences? That they achieve their goals? You’re still not addressing what I’ve written.

  47. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    d, are you so desperate to deny theism that your own cluelessness leads you to resort to extreme forms of skepticism?

    You face the same problem everybody does – the sum total of all of our experience is subjective. So even when it comes to determining what the objective facts are, we rely on fallible and highly subjective experience – on atheism AND theism.

    Every moral realist faces the problem – morals may have an ontological basis, but that does not gaurentee that our epistemic basis for determining what these moral facts are is sound and reliable.

    You have to argue that our “epistemic basis” for determining moral facts is not reliable, naked assertions will not do. Be careful what you argue for.

    I also note that your argument amounts to saying that while Christians may be able to rationally justify their moral realism, they face the same epistemological problems of atheists. And your argument is wrong. For one, because knowledge follows being and naturalists cannot, not even in principle, rationally justify an objective morality, therefore, strictly speaking, there is not even an epistemological problem for the naturalist, because there is no fact of the matter to be known in the first place.

    What’s worse is that the metaphysics of morals are generally left to pure reason in theist land, or reason applied to revelation (understood by way of many layers of interpretive assumptions or theories) – and on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing.

    Same thing as above; naked assertions do not amount to an argument. Explain to us why reason is incapable of tackling the “metaphysics of morals” or why “on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing”. Do you want to go down this route again? It already caused you an oops in some other thread; it seems you have learned nothing.

    And hence, even if theism is true, we still find ourselves in a world where theists argue over what is right and wrong, where theistic morality evolves and changes with the flow of time, and where the theist in power is just as likely to assume his station is divinely mandated, and that his questionable actions are endorsed by his lord, as he is to say, “I might be punished for this!”.

    And to finish off a clueless treatise on skepticism we get treated to another caricature.

  48. G. Rodrigues

    @Sault:

    For crying out loud, pay attention to what Melissa is saying. Let us go back to your post #47:

    So atheists cannot be logically aware of the consequences of their actions? After all, even though I don’t believe God will punish me if I do it, I don’t kill people because it could land me in jail… and it would deprive another person of life… and the survival of our species requires warm bodies… it violates the “Golden Rule”… it goes against the categorical imperative

    The first three reasons are purely utilitarian. Why should someone care about the loss of another life? Because of the consequences like landing in jail? Melissa said, and rightly, that consequences can often be avoided (e.g. by people in power). To obey the Golden Rule? But why should someone obey the Golden Rule? Treat others well so as to be treated well? Once again as Melissa pointed out, if you have power, you can buy yourself favorable treatment. Our past and present are crammed with such examples. So what is a *rationally* compelling reason that can convince a naturalist to obey the Golden Rule? Because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Buy a box of xanax. Really Sault, there are no rationally compelling reasons (this is tiresome, as we have been down this road already…).

  49. SteveK

    Sault,

    We both agree that lying is wrong. We both agree that murder is wrong. We might even both agree that the Disney Channel is the most evil channel on cable.

    … yet we have no common moral ground?

    We don’t. I will explain below but here I will give a fun math example. Say you and I agree that 16/64 = 1/4. Do we share common ground with respect to math? Not if you think that 16/64 = 1/4 because the 6 on top and bottom cancel each other out, leaving 1/4.

    If that’s the case, you must be using a different meaning of the term “moral ground” than I am.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! You win!

    Seriously though. Christian morality is not defined by the outcome. That is utilitarian consequentialism. Murder isn’t immoral because of the outcome that results. It’s immoral because God didn’t intend us to exist that way.

    You would never say that about murder. You would never say God never intended us to exist this way, therefore murder is immoral. You would say something like, it makes me feel sad, or angry, or (insert feeling here) or (insert utility here), therefore murder is immoral.

    I see no common moral ground in that.

  50. Tom Gilson

    We don’t. I will explain below but here I will give a fun math example. Say you and I agree that 16/64 = 1/4. Do we share common ground with respect to math? Not if you think that 16/64 = 1/4 because the 6 on top and bottom cancel each other out, leaving 1/4.

    Excellent illustration. Thanks.

  51. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    And despite your load proclamations, no, neither the Taiping Rebellion nor the Holocaust can be said to be animated by Christianity in only but the most irrelevant of senses.

    The holocaust, was in part, enabled by the antisemitism present in Germany, which had its roots in Christianity – Luthernaism in particular. How else do you think the population’s ear bent so easily to Hitler’s rhetoric, scapegoating the Jews?

    Taiping was certainly Christian-related, even if it was led by a madman’s version of it (even if not, it certainly wasnt atheism – but it’s never mentioned because it doesnt fit the grand narrative Christianity as the bulwark that stands against the horrors and atrocities, like those “animated by atheism”).

    You can’t dispute either of those two facts without fudging history. And remember… we are talking about what “animates” (ie, provides inspiration for). Antisemitism may not be rationally justifiable based on a reasonable Christianity – but Christianity animated it – and sowed the seeds for mass genocide of the Holocaust. Hong Xiuquan’s beliefs were definitely irrational – but Christianity animated them.

    And we’re talking about what “animates”, not what rationally justifies, remember?

  52. Tom Gilson

    Taiping was certainly Christian-related, even if it was led by a madman’s version of it

    Oh, good grief.

    It’s a madman’s version of “Christianity” that says “a madman’s version” of Christianity is a version of Christianity.

  53. Tom Gilson

    As for Hitler scapegoating the Jews, and the populace listening, I suggest two books: Bonhoeffer and and From Darwin to Hitler. You’ll get both sides of the story, for there are two sides. The Bonhoeffer book is honest about Christians in Nazi Germany. The other one tells a story that makes some people hopping, blazing, angry, but only because they can’t seem to tolerate ambiguity and nuance.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued very persuasively that the “Christianity” that tolerated or promoted Nazism was not Christian. He was there on the ground. He died for his convictions. He is, as I say, persuasive. You ought not ignore him as you make claims to the contrary.

  54. d

    Tom,

    Again, note the distinction between what “animates” and what “rationally justifies”.

  55. d

    Just a word on this, then I’ll let it rest:

    But ideas have consequences and as I said, naturalist atheism degrades humanity and erodes the rational basis for a sound morals. Naturalist atheism can only destroy, and before you go off on how the Academia is supposedly thriving with moral realists, there are several reasons why naturalism ends up being eliminative as far as morals are concerned and cannot, not even in principle, provide any basis for it (and eliminative in many other things specifically human as well, but let that pass for now).

    Sorry my dear, refuting the logical possibility of morals under naturalism is an *extremely* high bar, and I don’t think most here quite appreciate just how high that is – you nor any theist has accomplished the task, in the history of the world. Insist all you want – it hasnt been done.

    I’ll grant you, you can attack the plausibility of many non-theist moral theories strongly – but the same can be done for theist moral theories… and besides.. attacking plausibility certainly isnt refuting logical possibility.

  56. Tom Gilson

    Sorry my dear, refuting the logical possibility of morals under naturalism is an *extremely* high bar, and I don’t think most here quite appreciate just how high that is – you nor any theist has accomplished the task, in the history of the world. Insist all you want – it hasnt been done.

    That’s only because naturalists import morality from outside their own worldview. They have to. They are still human, and morality is part of being human. What naturalism does, when carried to its full logical extent, is deny humanness. I wrote about this recently in my Nietzsche-related blog post. So on the one hand some persons hold to a doctrine which, if it were applied coherently and consistently, denies humanness; on the other hand they can’t help being human. So they continue to insist that morals are real, even though it contradicts other of their beliefs.

  57. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    The holocaust, was in part, enabled by the antisemitism present in Germany, which had its roots in Christianity – Luthernaism in particular. How else do you think the population’s ear bent so easily to Hitler’s rhetoric, scapegoating the Jews?

    Honestly, I am not interested in the “Village Atheist’s Guide to History for Dummies, Lesson n.1 — How the Christians Were Guilty of the Holocaust”.

    In this case, the connection between Christianity and the Holocaust is, even granting your ignorant’s version of History, accidental, not essential. Do you know of any self-proclaimed atheist regime where religious people were *not* persecuted? And if the Jews were persecuted in Germany because of Christianity, why did not the same happen in other historically Christian countries? Is Nazi German representative of what happened in historically Christian countries?

    Talk about “fudging history”…

    And we’re talking about what “animates”, not what rationally justifies, remember?

    Yes I know, but you do not as evinced by the first quote. Read #38 again as I have already responded. What “animates” means is clear by the explanations offered by me, Holopupenko, Tom Gilson and Melissa (at least, my apologies if I am leaving someone out); if you insist on missing the point the problem is yours not mine.

  58. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Sorry my dear, refuting the logical possibility of morals under naturalism is an *extremely* high bar, and I don’t think most here quite appreciate just how high that is – you nor any theist has accomplished the task, in the history of the world. Insist all you want – it hasnt been done.

    Actually, given the radical skepticism *you* expressed in post #43, I do not think it such a high bar. To juxtapose just three of your sentences: “So even when it comes to determining what the objective facts are, we rely on fallible and highly subjective experience – on atheism AND theism” and “What’s worse is that the metaphysics of morals are generally left to pure reason” and “on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing”. Straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth: objective morals may be logically possible in a naturalist universe, but we will never know if it is and have no way of knowing if it is — which amounts to pretty much the same thing.

  59. Hausdorff

    StevenK wrote (comment 53):

    We don’t. I will explain below but here I will give a fun math example. Say you and I agree that 16/64 = 1/4. Do we share common ground with respect to math? Not if you think that 16/64 = 1/4 because the 6 on top and bottom cancel each other out, leaving 1/4.

    I’m not exactly sure what to say here except that this bummed me the hell out. I was already thinking that this conversation was pretty much futile anyway, but this catalyzed it. If I am reading what you are saying correctly (and I think I am) in your mind, even if me and you agree on everything except the God question, I am an immoral person. On every single possible little point of morality, we come to the same conclusion, except you think God wants it this way, and I think it for other reasons, bam, I am immoral.

    Put another way: The fact that we both think stealing is wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is that I don’t steal because it harms someone else for my benefit. You don’t steal because God said not to steal. I’m immoral. Imagine how this sounds to someone from the outside.

    BTW, I would argue that you don’t steal for the same reasons as me, you just ALSO don’t steal because God said so.

    Again, I’m not exactly sure what my point is here, except that it makes me sad that we seem to be at such an impasse.

  60. Melissa

    Hausdorff,

    There is no need to be “bummed” as you have misunderstood. As you will notice Steve K. argued that we have no common moral ground with atheists which is in fact true as there is nothing to ground morality in given atheism.

    I’m not sure what you think of when you label someone an immoral person, it doesn’t seem like a very useful label to me given that there is no cutoff point upon which by base the measure. In some respects we are all immoral because we all act in ways that are immoral. The other point is that if Christianity is true then denying God is itself an immoral act. That of course does not mean that the atheist cannot do good.

    Put another way: The fact that we both think stealing is wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is that I don’t steal because it harms someone else for my benefit. You don’t steal because God said not to steal.

    There is more involved in Christian morality than your simple “God said not to” but there are other threads on the blog that go into that in more detail. Given the biblical command to love our neighbour, not to mention natural law, the Christian has ample rational reasons to not harm another for our own benefit that are universally applicable, whereas the atheist (depending on their situation) does not.

  61. d

    That’s only because naturalists import morality from outside their own worldview. They have to. They are still human, and morality is part of being human. What naturalism does, when carried to its full logical extent, is deny humanness. I wrote about this recently in my Nietzsche-related blog post. So on the one hand some persons hold to a doctrine which, if it were applied coherently and consistently, denies humanness; on the other hand they can’t help being human. So they continue to insist that morals are real, even though it contradicts other of their beliefs.

    Tom,

    Well, that’s one possible explanation, though not a good one. The other possibility is that there are naturalist moralists because some form of moral realism is true AND naturalism is true. And so its no surprise to see people who correctly believe both are true. Its no surprise even to see naturalist forms of morality share or inherit many elements of Christian morality. The central thesis of Christianity may be false, but it didnt get everything wrong. Christians are working with essentially the same moral intuitions as the rest of us.

    As far as humanness is concerned – well, I’m sorry, your particular form of Christianity does not have a monopoly on what it means to be human. That a sense of self-worth and dignity can only preserved in you (and others) if you have the power of libertarian free-will as opposed to compatibalist free-will, or if you were created by a super-being as opposed to unintentional forces, is just a pessimistic emotional reaction, not logical conclusion. So what if it turns out we are pure molecular machines? That possibility does not dismay me.

  62. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    In this case, the connection between Christianity and the Holocaust is, even granting your ignorant’s version of History, accidental, not essential. Do you know of any self-proclaimed atheist regime where religious people were *not* persecuted? And if the Jews were persecuted in Germany because of Christianity, why did not the same happen in other historically Christian countries? Is Nazi German representative of what happened in historically Christian countries?

    Historically Christian countries were oppressive monarchies – so yes. If we were having this conversation in the middle ages, we’d be talking about what a monarchy preserving religion Christianity is. You can’t limit your sample size to the 20th century – that’s cherry-picking the data. The fact that it took thousands of years for the democratic west to “naturally emerge” from the principles of Christianity, actually strongly suggests that Christianity is not the human-rights producing philosophy that its shills claim it is.

    And oh I’d agree that its role in the holocaust is largely incidental, not necessary. The holocaust COULD have occurred some other way, possibly – but whatever could have been otherwise, whatever else could have played its role, the fact is that Christianity took the part.

    And of course, we can see Christianity’s incidental (but not necessary role) in many fortuitous events, in the same way: the development of science, the university system, the abolition of slavery, democratic principles and the like. Christianities relationship to those things is much like its relation to the Holocaust.

  63. G. Rodrigues

    @d (#68):

    Excuse me, d, but did you just try to mount an argument? Huh, sorry no dice. Per your post #43, reason is “on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing”. Are you backing up your claims with evidence? Sorry, no dice again, because as per your post #43, “So even when it comes to determining what the objective facts are, we rely on fallible and highly subjective experience – on atheism AND theism”.

    And sorry, I am not going to discuss History and what Christianity can or did influence or not with you anymore; there are book-length treatments of all those subjects, by real bona-fide qualified historians, giving appropriate defenses for what I have said. This combox discussion is looking more and more like a who-has-a-more-biased-and-ideologically-skewed-view-of-history, something which I try to avoid at all costs.

  64. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    I do not take the extreme skeptic position.

    I was pointing out that under atheism or theism, we are in the same epistemic boat with respect to morals. Moral ontology is a separate issue from moral epistemology – on the latter, we are all in a prison of the subjective. But unlike some domains, like the empirical, there’s not even any real agreed upon way to account for and resolve the disagreements between our subjective experience… which is why moral disagreements are so varied, and extremely hard to resolve, even among like-minded moralists.

    As for history, I generally don’t find the “My belief has a lower body count than yours” arguments productive, for a lot of reasons. Most of all, because its possible that a true belief did inspire atrocity – but that doesn’t mean we should shrink from true belief – we should learn to come to terms with it.

    I really wish theists like Holo would stop raising the argument.

  65. Holopupenko

    I really wish all atheists would DEAL WITH logic and their breathtaking ignorance (ANIMATED by dumb presuppositions) about faith.

  66. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    I do not take the extreme skeptic position.

    I was pointing out that under atheism or theism, we are in the same epistemic boat with respect to morals. Moral ontology is a separate issue from moral epistemology – on the latter, we are all in a prison of the subjective. But unlike some domains, like the empirical, there’s not even any real agreed upon way to account for and resolve the disagreements between our subjective experience… which is why moral disagreements are so varied, and extremely hard to resolve.

    And I responded that we are definitely not on the same boat, for one because it is very far from clear that there is even a matter of fact about morals to be known on naturalism — I would even say there is not, but let us leave that for now.

    But the real clincher, is that contrary to your assertion, you are indeed adopting a radical skepticism. The empirical domain is only accessible via first-person experience, so if the latter is “fallible and highly subjective” so is our empirical data. And if that is not enough, you added that reason “on its own is among our least reliable way of knowing”, so you have just thrown out all human knowledge that depends on pure reason. So what are the fields that rely solely on reason? Mathematics for starters. So mathematics is off to the dust bin. If mathematics is off to the dust bin then so are the hard empirical sciences and the rest will fall like a house of cards.

    What you want to do is have your cake and eat it too; argue that Theism’s rational stance relies only on pure reason, that “least reliable way of knowing” (natural theology) or on reasoning from revealed knowledge (revealed theology) and then auto-magically self-exempt yourself. You have committed this oops several times already, and you *still* have not learned the lesson. It takes talent, let me tell you.

    As for history, I generally don’t find the “My belief has a lower body count than yours” arguments productive, for a lot of reasons. Most of all, because its possible that a true belief did inspire atrocity – but that doesn’t mean we should shrink from true belief – we should learn to come to terms with it.

    The argument has never been about who has the lower body count — although if *that* does not count as empirical evidence about the practical effects of ideas, then pray tell, what does?

  67. SteveK

    Hausdorff

    If I am reading what you are saying correctly (and I think I am) in your mind, even if me and you agree on everything except the God question, I am an immoral person. On every single possible little point of morality, we come to the same conclusion, except you think God wants it this way, and I think it for other reasons, bam, I am immoral.

    ALL of us (me included) are immoral, or broken, people. It’s called our sin nature.

    Put another way: The fact that we both think stealing is wrong doesn’t matter. What matters is that I don’t steal because it harms someone else for my benefit. You don’t steal because God said not to steal. I’m immoral. Imagine how this sounds to someone from the outside.

    Keep in mind, again, that we are all sinners so it does no good for me to say you are immoral while I am not. It’s not true. I certainly AM living an immoral life at times.

    With that being said, you’ve hit upon an important and true theological point. Those who are in rebellion against God – because of their sin nature – choose to not steal because of reasons that are rooted in them. They choose to exist out of their own selfishness. That is an immoral existence.

    The Bible refers to these “righteous acts” as offerings that are like filthy rags to God. These acts may look good to you, but to God you are a rebellious, narcissist that wants nothing to do with him. Not the way it should be.

    Contrast this with what God requires – which is the moral reality that I spoke about. He requires that we choose to exist out of our love for God. Choosing not to steal because I love God and because I am seeking him is moral.

  68. Hausdorff

    StevenK,

    Thanks for the clarification. Now that you mention it, I’m not sure anyone ever said atheists are immoral and Christians are moral (although I don’t feel like looking through all the comments here to verify). I did read it that way but that was probably just my bad.

    I do know that point of view, I heard it the whole time I was growing up. For some reason yesterday it just didn’t occur to me. I think people are generally good, rather than thinking they are generally bad, and it is easy to get stuck in one’s own worldview.

    It is a shame to me that you think you are an immoral person. If it helps at all (I’m sure it doesn’t), my best guess is that you are not an immoral person 🙂

  69. SteveK

    Hausdorff
    When I perform ‘good acts’ in the name of ME only (my desires, my will, my reasons), then I am living an immoral life – period. The acts themselves are good in the utilitarian sense (to me, at least), but not good in the moral sense. To paraphrase Scripture, I’ve gained the world but I’ve lost my soul.

  70. Tom Gilson

    d,

    The other possibility is that there are naturalist moralists because some form of moral realism is true AND naturalism is true.

    Possibility? Explain, please. Show how this is possible.

    That a sense of self-worth and dignity can only preserved in you (and others) if you have the power of libertarian free-will as opposed to compatibalist free-will, or if you were created by a super-being as opposed to unintentional forces, is just a pessimistic emotional reaction, not logical conclusion. So what if it turns out we are pure molecular machines? That possibility does not dismay me.

    I wasn’t talking about emotions (dismay or any other). I was talking about what it actually means to be human. Did you catch that? Now of course there are emotional concomitants of whatever conclusion one may come to on that; but the fact is that if we are machines then humanness as it has been understood for centuries is gone. Naturalism obliterates humanness, whether that fact dismays you or not.

    If we were having this conversation in the middle ages, we’d be talking about what a monarchy preserving religion Christianity is.

    You know nothing of Theodosius, do you? You know nothing of the Magna Carta, either. You know nothing of how Christianity is woven into the U.S. Constitution. I suggest you do at least a little bit of study

    And of course, we can see Christianity’s incidental (but not necessary role) in many fortuitous events, in the same way: the development of science, the university system, the abolition of slavery, democratic principles and the like. Christianities relationship to those things is much like its relation to the Holocaust.

    Odd how none of that happened except under Christianity’s influence–except for Holocaust-like events. Odd how the thesis that Christianity was essential to these good developments is consistent with theory (biblical doctrine) and with empirical fact (these things developed only where Christianity was strongly influential). In most fields, the congruence of empirical data with theory would constitute support for the theory.

    Unless, of course, someone were convinced the theory was wrong, no matter what the facts might show.

  71. Sault

    Man, take a night off and find so much to catch up on… well, I can start with this –

    Say you and I agree that 16/64 = 1/4. Do we share common ground with respect to math? Not if you think that 16/64 = 1/4 because the 6 on top and bottom cancel each other out, leaving 1/4.

    That’s a horrible analogy, because it implies that because I don’t believe in a transcendental being that I have lost all capability to reason (because such a rule obviously is not valid mathematically – take the trivial example of 16/116 for instance).

    Let’s pick one that’s actually a little more accurate. Your philosophical approach is base 10, and you think that’s pretty cool. But it turns out that I believe one less thing than you do – my philosophical approach is base 9.

    You see 14/64 and of course that equals 0.25…. but I see 14/64 and I see a number that in your “worldview” (base 10) would be rendered as approximately 0.24.

    Now, we can agree on many things (1+0=1, 2+2=4) and both be objectively correct. We can even agree on the factual truth of a statement like “5 x 10 = 50”.

    But your claim is that because I “base” my worldview on one less thing than you do, my approach is not only fundamentally incorrect but makes me less of a mathematician as well!

  72. Sault

    Christian morality is not defined by the outcome. That is utilitarian consequentialism.

    That sparked a little something in the back of my mind. Ever heard of the phrase “conversion by the sword”?

    Christians practiced conversion by the sword (“turn Christian or I’ll kill you”) throughout the Middle Ages… I can give Vikings, Saxons, Obotrites, Pomeranians, Wiltzi, Serbs, etc etc as examples.

    Conversion by force… is it moral? If it wasn’t, then for hundreds of years Christians were being very naughty people. If conversion by force is moral, then why aren’t Christians doing it today?

    I can’t help but speculate that this must have been a kind of Christian consequentialism… that it’s okay to threaten and kill people to convert to Christianity (even though murder is wrong) because in the end you’re actually saving their souls from eternal damnation.

    On a related note, I wonder if it’s moral to get people to convert out of fear of hell, not fear of physical death. As one of the sources notes, with the rise of Protestantism the practice more or less stopped, so I’m assuming that most Christians would think not (except, of course, those who hand out Jack Chick tracts).

  73. Tom Gilson

    It’s a fallacy to think that No True Scotsman is always a fallacy. There are ways to tell a Scotsman from a Senegalese. I thought I’d better head that off from the beginning.

    There is nothing biblical about conversion by force. It happens nowhere in Scripture. The examples you give were not practicing Christianity.

    Odd how often skeptics parade negative examples of non-Christianity and ask us to join them in thinking they provide arguments against Christianity. Why doesn’t that work the other way around when we parade for them examples of what they regard as not-atheism (Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao)? It’s that goose and gander thing.

    Bear in mind, though, the reason No True Scotsman is not always a fallacy. If a putative identifying distinction is introduced ad hoc, after the fact, that’s a clue of NTS in action. We’re talking about identifying features of Christianity that are 2,000 and more years old, however. This is not ad hoc.

    Bear in mind, too, that one of the identifying features of Christianity is its moral character. That’s why NTS doesn’t apply: these Vikings etc. disqualify themselves on prior theoretical (and therefore not ad hoc) grounds as practicers of Christianity.

    Atheism, on the other hand, has no such moral identifying moral character. There isn’t even any sensible meaning to the term “practicing atheism,” except for some obvious and trivial examples like affirming, “I don’t think there is a God.” So I’m not going to claim there’s a parallel yet opposite situation for atheists. We have to define the atheist Scotsman before we can talk about a No True Atheist Scotsman. That would be a fascinating avenue of discussion to pursue, but not now.

    The point for now is that Sault has pointed to some negative examples of non-Christianity, and he has asked to think with him that they provide an argument against Christianity. The fallacy there should be blazingly apparent.

  74. Tom Gilson

    Is it immoral to “get people to convert” based on a fear of hell? That would be a matter of belief, not coercion. And it’s not—it cannot be an isolated, bare belief. To convert based on a fear of hell implies believing that:

    • There is a God
    • God is good
    • God is just
    • Evil will be judged
    • My reality does not match up to God’s goodness
    • God’s justice applies to me, too
    • My evil stands in danger of judgment
    • Hell is a reality
    • Knowledge of reality is good, not bad
    • Hell is a reality to avoid
    • Hell is not the only relevant reality
    • God loves me
    • God’s love is expressed in Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of people who deserve his judgment (this is essential to the “getting people to convert”)
    • God love is available to me through Christ
    • God has power over death, as shown in Christ (also essential)
    • I can experience God’s glorious love
    • I can experience God’s power over death
    • There is eternal hope for me

    No, I don’t think it’s immoral to “get people to convert” based on this.

    Now, if you think this is over-stated, try this some day. Walk up to someone who has never heard of most of this and say, “If you don’t convert you’re in danger of hell.” See if they have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. My point is that all of this goes along with it; for the bare statement, “you’re in danger of hell” has nothing to do with persons deciding to follow Jesus Christ.

    In one way or another, every one of those propositions is a reflection of reality; and because it’s all a reflection of reality, it’s all good. Even the part that’s threatening. It’s a part of reality you need to take seriously, Sault. You know enough, or you could if you would listen.

  75. SteveK

    Sault,

    That’s a horrible analogy, because it implies that because I don’t believe in a transcendental being that I have lost all capability to reason (because such a rule obviously is not valid mathematically – take the trivial example of 16/116 for instance).

    *Sigh*. You can’t reason your way to know the purposes and unique character of God. You may have a general sense of his existence but you don’t know how created beings should live until God reveals this information. When you do become aware of this (as you are now aware), that way of living appears foolish to you (sound familiar?) until you are redeemed – and even then your sin nature may cause you to reject it from time to time. This is played out, and taught throughout Scripture. It’s played out on this blog almost daily.

  76. d

    Atheism, on the other hand, has no such moral identifying moral character. There isn’t even any sensible meaning to the term “practicing atheism,” except for some obvious and trivial examples like affirming, “I don’t think there is a God.” So I’m not going to claim there’s a parallel yet opposite situation for atheists. We have to define the atheist Scotsman before we can talk about a No True Atheist Scotsman.

    Tom,

    Of course atheism doesn’t provide any of those things.

    Comparing atheism to Christianity is an apples to fruit salad comparison. One is a comprehensive worldview (or rather, a name for a myriad of worldviews, with a few specific elements in common), the other is one single component that may be included in a myriad of different worldviews.

    The fallacy in blaming atheism for the holocaust, gulags and what-ever-else is that its the comprehensive worldview that really matters, not the one piece of fruit in the bowl. We could all find some fundamental beliefs we hold in common with Mao, or Hitler, and we probably wouldn’t even have to look very hard. But we’re not all Hitler’s and Mao’s are we? No, because we don’t share their comprehensive worldview.

    To be a “true atheist”, one simple has to disbelieve in theism. So Stalin, Mao and all the rest (possibly not Hitler) were “true atheists” – but that’s irrelevant.

  77. Tom Gilson

    d,

    Did you notice that as far as I was talking about NTS and atheism, I already said that? (Man, the things we have to help people with around here…)

  78. Sault

    If a putative identifying distinction is introduced ad hoc, after the fact, that’s a clue of NTS in action. We’re talking about identifying features of Christianity that are 2,000 and more years old.

    The “conversions by the sword” happened from around 1000 CE up to close to 1600 CE as far as I understand. The peoples that I mentioned were the ones who were conquered and converted, not the ones who were doing the conquering.

    The point for now is that Sault has pointed to some negative examples of non-Christianity, and he has asked to think with him that they provide an argument against Christianity.

    Before you jump to conclusions, I need to be very specific.

    The people who were doing the conquering and converting were Christian – it was the Catholic church, in most cases under divine mandate of whatever Pope was in power at that point. Before you get into NTS here, remember that for 1400-ish years, Catholicism was Christianity. If anyone deserves to be called Christian, its those guys!

    As at least one of the articles that I referenced mentions, the practice largely stopped with the rise in Protestantism and the emphasis that conversion is meaningless if it isn’t done out of free will. It’s an interesting evolution of the Christian faith, and a rather welcome one at that.

    Christian morality is not defined by the outcome. That is utilitarian consequentialism.

    Christian morality is not defined by the outcome… but it certainly isn’t above it.

    one of the identifying features of Christianity is its moral character.

    Excellent. “By their fruit shall ye know them”. So, people who do bad things aren’t really Christian. What was that about the No True Scotsman fallacy again?

    You can’t reason your way to know the purposes and unique character of God.

    Can you?

    The remainder has been deleted by the blog owner for irrelevance and for violation of discussion policies regarding ad hominem comments. This is a first notice of violation.

  79. Tom Gilson

    Sault,

    The “conversions by the sword” happened from around 1000 CE up to close to 1600 CE as far as I understand. The peoples that I mentioned were the ones who were conquered and converted, not the ones who were doing the conquering.

    I thought the topic was the morality of Christian attempts to convert by the sword. I did not say (nor does the Bible) that a conversion achieved by anything less than best practices is not real. See for example Phil. 1:12-18. I wouldn’t practice coercion on anyone, but if I met someone who was coerced into belief (or whose parents/ancestors were) I would regard their belief the same as anyone else’s.

    Before you get into NTS here, remember that for 1400-ish years, Catholicism was Christianity. If anyone deserves to be called Christian, its those guys!

    No. No student of Church history would agree with you on where you’re taking that. In that time period Catholicism was Western Christendom, yes, but Christendom is not the same as Christianity. No one believes that all of its practices were Christian.

    What your comment shows, Sault, is one or both of two things, I think. It could be (1) you don’t know the history of which you make such confident assertions. If that’s the case, then you owe it to your intellectual integrity and your eternal future to find out the truth—not just about history, but about all the things you think you know about Christianity; because a lot of it is badly distorted. It might not be your fault you got a distorted picture, but you’re responsible enough now to seek out what’s true.

    It’s either that or else (2) your comment shows you don’t give a damn (I use that word advisedly) whether what you think is really true. You don’t care whether the “facts” you drop on us really are factual. If that’s the case—if you really don’t care about what’s true and factual, as long as you can drop meme-bombs on Christianity—then you owe it to us to excuse yourself from this blog until someday you recognize your need to deal in truth.

    If anyone deserves to be called Christian, by the way, it’s someone who is following Jesus Christ.

    Excellent. “By their fruit shall ye know them”. So, people who do bad things aren’t really Christian. What was that about the No True Scotsman fallacy again?

    Why do you ask? All you need to do is re-read what I wrote.

    Concerning the content I deleted from your comment:

    Why does some Tobias Hunter’s thoroughly muddled and tendentious misinformation have the slightest relevance to this conversation? Would it help us here at all if I quoted someone to the effect that “Atheism is based on a hatred of traditional white-steepled churches”? I mean, what’s the point? “God hates gays” is no more true than “atheism is based on a hatred of traditional white-steepled churches.” See Romans 5:1-8.

    And God’s will is very knowable; that’s what the whole Bible is about! Steve was saying you can’t reason to knowledge of God’s will apart from the Bible. He stated very clearly the rest of what goes along with that. You could have read it in context, but you chose to rip it out and drop a meme-bomb instead. Are you impressed with yourself for that? Is that what you’re here for? Or would you like to take responsibility for yourself and your knowledge? One good first step to take in that direction would be to read what people write, quit yanking things out of context, and quit congratulating yourself for meme-bombs that reflect your ignorance.

  80. Tom Gilson

    Sault,

    There have been a few times when I have posted comments at Jerry Coyne’s or other atheist blogs, and gotten basic information about their positions wrong. They’ve jumped all over me. If you think I was forceful, you ain’t seen nothing.

    Still (and partly as a result) I’ve made a commitment to understand their positions. I know a lot about what they hold to individually, what New Atheism holds to generally, what materialist/naturalist atheists hold to, and what evolution is all about. I know these things not only to avoid getting blasted, in fact not primarily so. I know because my purpose is to engage in fruitful conversation, and I’ve done the work it takes to do that. I know because my purpose also is to persuade rationally, which requires a combination of knowledge and mutual respect.

    There’s an awful lot I don’t know, and when I don’t know, I either ask questions or I shut up. Or else sometimes I get nailed for getting it wrong, but I try to avoid that.

    I’m intentionally setting this forth before you as an example to follow. I think it reflects a strong and responsible pursuit of truth. Are you interested in that? If so, why not get started? If not, why not?

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