What follows is a dialogue I have had with an Atheist on the subject of ethics. You the reader are seeing what appears to be the dusk of the dialogue (This is generally where the Ad hominem insults start to fly). I would post the whole thing but this is long enough as it is. To bring the reader up to speed, the general argument has gone:
1) I asked for a foundation for ethics based upon Atheist Materialism
RE: "Do unto others"
2) Why based upon Atheist materialism should I practice a do unto others ethic?
RE: "Because that is the way you would like to be treated."
3) That simply begs the question.
RE: I hate God.
This is the structure the dialogue goes nearly every time I talk about ethics with Atheists. You will see a nearly identical dialogue to the one I am posting here between me and an Atheist "Jody" in the comment thread of my prior post "Fundamentalist Atheism". What I generally do is bring up something that anybody who is not a full blown Nihilist will find morally wrong and press them as to WHY based upon their worldview. In the following dialogue I have brought up a hypothetical where the Atheist needs to explain why molesting children is wrong. The sad thing is they never can do so. And in attempting to do so they are borrowing from Christianity, and divorcing the ethics from their base which gave them meaning.
Anyway here's the dialogue, I have changed the names a bit:
Mat (short for Materialist):
You again are just begging the question as you say:
[In referring to the supernatural events recorded in the Bible "never happening" because there is no evidence that supernatural things happen]
"No, it’s because there is no evidence for these things having actually happened."
The point is that you reject the Bible's testimony that these supernatural events happened because you say there is no evidence that supernatural events happen. That is the definition of the logical fallacy of begging the question. This discussion could serve as an example in formal logic books of this fallacy because you continue to commit it so brazenly.
"It has nothing to do with “supernatural testimony” (there’s no evidence that the Bible even IS supernatural testimony in the first place, apart for its claiming so and lots of people believing it)."
I don't know what you are saying here. I guess my question is simply what kind of "evidence" do you want or would find adequate to verify supernatural events like walking on water that happened 2000 years ago?
You continue in response to how to deal with the Nihilist:
"Well, the man’s obviously a screwed-up arsehole. What do you want me to say to him?"
Well, you need to be able to give him a reason WHY he should care about his neighbor at all, that's not too much to ask I don't think. It's really the foundation of any ethic. Screwed up seems to be a relative term until you can provide some objective footing for why his Nihilism is "bad" and Altruism is "good". It simply isn't enough to just utter "You should do unto others", that may have worked based upon a Christian foundation, but when you try to apply it to a materialist foundation it simply is a subjective ethic to be taken or left by personal preference.
Do unto others fits the Christian worldview because we believe:
A)Man has intrinsic worth and value because he is made in the image of God.
B) That being the case man's life is precious because man is unique in the universe. Therefore any abuse toward man is not just horizontal against a creature but against God who made man.
C)The ethic is universally binding because it is based upon God's character which is unchanging. Thus, it is not subjective or arbitrary (to be taken or dropped at a whim) because it is based on God who created the universe and is above the universe (transcendent).
D)God owns us and has the right to tell us how to live.
" But is that "morality" in the sense that we're talking about? Has morality simply become what God finds pleasing? Ted [Ted is the Nihilist example I used who is wondering why if materialism is true it is "wrong" to molest children], the jerk, would still be a jerk. He'd just refrain from doing what he was previously doing because of fear of being punished. So all you've really been talking about is how to bring delinquents under control, in the only language they understand: threats of violence."
Well, as you can see from above there's more to Christian ethics than threat, that's a rather crude understanding of Christian ethics. The point is that man has value (Which materialism can never really ascribe to man) and crimes against man are crimes against God who made man in His image. So the message is: Don't do harm to your fellow man because life is precious, it is a gift from God. And yes there is threat of judgement from the God who owns us upon those reject the view of the preciousness of life and break ethical laws.
"So basically, if you didn’t believe in God, you’d see no problem with torturing babies? I don’t think so. I think you’re just more interested in scoring points in this debate."
No, that's not my point at all, I don't think all atheists are horrible people. Some of them are actually more moral/loving than some Christians I know, so it is NOT my point that unless you believe in God you will be a complete wreck morally.
My point is that unless you believe in God you simply can not account for WHY you should be moral to begin with, not to mention what IS moral in any non-subjective sense. So, no I don't think that if you don't believe in God that you will become a baby torturer (My account for why the vast majority of Atheists are moral is because they are made in the image of God and by that fact intuitively know right and wrong although they suppress the truth in areas) I do think that you can't provide any real reason WHY you shouldn't without Christian Theism.
"It’s amazing how preachy fundamentalists can get when discussing morals, but take away God, and they sound more like sociopathic delinquents. They lose their bearings when they don’t have to. Sometimes I almost wish them to stay religious, because goodness knows what they'd do if they took their own rhetoric about the necessity of belief in God seriously."
This again simply is NOT my point as I stated above.
"It is if it invokes unsubstantiated entities. Note throughout all this that, even IF religion gives us a better moral foundation than naturalism/atheism, it still has no bearing on the truth claims of religion. I admit from the outset that the problem of ethics is a hard one, because you have to get into how ethics should even be defined, when it's applicable, whether there are any absolutes or if it's context dependent, where we get our ethics from in the first place, how they change through time, and so on. Perhaps it's an intractable problem."
Yes it is, for the non-Christian. I would also argue you have no standard by which to use the term "better" in regards to comparing ethical systems.
"Saying that God endowed us with kindness isn’t any sort of an answer, though. We just pass on the problem to a supposed higher arbiter, and declare it to be a mystery anyway, because God is profoundly mysterious. It just means that God endowed us with kindness. Why did God do it? Because kindness is “good”. Why is kindness good? Because God endowed us with it."
Saying God endowed us with kindness isn't an answer...Well actually it is, it explains where man's moral sense came from, his Creator. God also isn't shrouded in mystery He has revealed Himself, He has not been silent. "Good" is that which is in alignment with the character of God (who is perfect).
"I wasn’t borrowing it, I just happened to hold it myself, and merely expressed it. That it's stated in the Bible in those words was useful for me because I intended it as a rhetorical overture to show that almost anyone can adhere to it, whether or not they are religious. Please don't flatter yourself by thinking that you own the issue, simply because a manifestation of it appears in your holy book."
Well, it's more than that. My point has been that although you may hijack "Do unto others" it really has lost all true meaning when you set it up on a materialist base. By that I mean you simply can not answer WHY "Do unto others" should be obeyed without begging the question (see the first paragraph). So although you may live out "Do unto others" (and I am sure you strive to, and you should) your materialism can not give you any real reason WHY you should follow this ethic to begin with.
" Obviously if you define “dignity” as being in God's image, then you've won the argument by default, because if there is no God, therefore their can't be "dignity". You’re grasping for wishy-washy, vague definitions that no one can rebuke, and to do that you’re assuming the existence of an unsubstantiated entity from the very outset, without providing any independent reasons to take such an idea seriously. You're using the Bible as a blunt weapon to try to get me to admit that atheism and morality can't peacefully coexist."
Well, actually my point in part is that because we live as though man has dignity, and morals exist, that the only thing that can rationally account for these phenomena is the existence of God. My reason for starting presupositionally with the existence of God is that without Him you can't really sufficiently prove anything whether its ethics, uniformity of nature, epistymology, or the laws of logic. Without the existence of God all of these concepts which we assume and use every day crumble to pure relativism and nothing can really be proven.
As far as trying to get you to think Atheism and morality can't exist, my point is a bit more sophisticated than that. My point is yes you may live morally as an Atheist but you can't be rationally justified in doing so, all you can do is chew the scraps from the table Christian ethical table in our post-Christian age.
"Okay, but since I’m not in the business of violating other people’s dignity, I have nothing to worry about."
Well, you aren't rationally justified for not violating a person's dignity. You probably are a fairly moral person but again you can not rationally account for WHY based upon your worldview you should live in a loving man. That's something to worry about, and again it should concern you that you can't provide any real reason based on your worldview why Ted shouldn't molest kids for fun.
"Strange, I don’t find myself raping and molesting, which I should be given that I don’t have a true moral foundation by which to live by. Oh well, sorry to disappoint you. You probably can’t stand the fact that I’m not doing those tings, because then it would give you so much more ammunition to use against atheism."
Oh no I praise God that you haven't done those things, it shows that you are still in touch with reality to some degree even though you are a Materialist. Again, my point isn't that if people become Atheists they automatically cast of all moral regard, my point is simply they have no objective reason to live morally.
"So basically, it’s either your way, all the way, or chaos and mayhem. It’s not going to happen. If you really need God to tell you how to act decently towards someone else, you have some real problems. I suspect that this isn't in fact the case, but if you're going to use these sorts of piss-poor arguments, it might as well be."
Again NOT my point, that was never my point. I never said anything that would give you the notion that that was my point. My hangup is that if you cant tell a Nihilist WHY it is wrong to molest kids you have a big problem.
"Evolution via natural selection. Yours is nothing but an argument from incredulity. "I can't imagine how we can possibly be endowed with these faculties for morality and kindness, therefore God did it". You ask the question as though yours was the only explanation available, which it most certainly is not. The evolution of altruism and emotions, and what selective pressures favoured them, is a hot topic n evolutionary biology. Your question is banal by its implicit assumption that it somehow CAN'T be answered, unless of course we adopt your explanation."
And here's the rub. Evolution is the magic word that makes all of the Materialists problems go away. Well, if you want to say that I am leaving you with one option as to how ethics can be accounted for, I would simply say the same of you. You leave me to accept a Materialist view and abandon any Theistic one. Evolution may or may not have happened but that does not inherently eliminate Theism.
"Obviously you’re utterly ignorant of human psychology, sociology and history. This is another incredulous type of question. You see absolutely everything through a religious lens, to the detriment of everything else....
No, it’s an appeal to modern science. Appealing to authority is what theists do, and the authority they appeal to is not even required to verify its extravagant claims. (in fact, it’s nothing more than claims) Science, on the other hand, at least provides actual evidence to back up its claims."
Pheh, and the ad homimens start to fly...yawn. Your scientific and I inherently am not because I am religious (false dichotomy), two fallacies here. By the way psychology is pretty weak science if you spent any time studying the philosophy of science.
"Or some nomads who wrote a book centuries ago. And yet, we're to believe that they're more well informed than those "big brained fellows". (could this just be anti-intellectualism on your part? Or do scientists not know a shit about what they're talking about?)"
No anti intellectualism at all, I was just saying you made an appeal to an authority to bolster your argument. You still haven't pointed me to any studies to verify the stuff you said about mirrors in the brain and ethics. Left at that what you said is simply an appeal to an authority which is still uncited.
"“Objective meaning”. Fundamentalists seem to be obsessed with “objective meaning”, as though proximate, human meaning wasn’t enough."
Well, apparently it isn't if you can't explain to a Nihilist Ted WHY he shouldn't molest kids for fun. So I think an "obsession" with objectivity is warranted if without it we can't explain why molesting kids is wrong and sheer relativism is all we are left with.
"They want to believe that somehow the universe owes them something, and that without this something, morality and stability are impossible. Instead of learning to live in the real world like grown-ups and dealing with it, they prefer to talk down to others with their childish myths, holding themselves up as authorities on everything (even those things they wouldn't have a clue about, like biology) and that only they can save the world from God's wrath. Fear and intimidation, basically, and not a shred of credibility. That's a corrupt, perverted foundation for ethics. It's really no ethics at all."
Ad hom, and straw-man in one. Firstly, I absolutely love the natural sciences. I find no problem whatsoever with them and my Christianity, you assume that I am against science because of all the rhetoric of the war between faith and science.
Also, am I trying to scare people with fear and intimidation? Again I don't think "behave or you'll burn" is a Biblical way to account for ethics at all, so this is simply a straw man. And again you might think that fear and intimidation are "perverted" in your subjective little universe but that doesn't make them so....that's that pesky lack of objectivity creeping up to make your moral sentences meaningless.
"Oh yeah, how? I know that fundamentalists like to feel superior to others ("People criticise what you say, but they don't give you credit for how loud you say it" - The Daily Show, of course) and like to view everything through a tiny little lens where things are nice and simple, and there are no greys, just black and white, and absolute certainties. (as if just saying so made it true)"
Ad Hominem again. I really don't think I am better than you Mat, honestly. The only difference is that I have stopped hating God, by His grace alone. Also, you seem to have a LOT of assumptions about Christians that simply are unfounded, maybe you should take some time to really get to know some.
"And you’re yet to demonstrate that yours is anything other than subjective, however much it might be dressed up in the language of being “objective”. I'm asking for independent verification, not just claims of its own pre-eminence."
Well, my point is that without Christian Theism objectivity with ethics is simply an illusion. I have not quoted the Bible and told you "There you go!", I have merely referred to it's claims. So, everything I have said is "independent verification" via indirect logical proof.
You say you are a man of science, when you have two theories explaining some phenomena and 1 has multiple anomalies when it tries to explain the phenomena, and 2 has none which one do you go with? So it is with this discussion of ethics.
" That’s because Ted is a mutt, and if I ever have to deal with him he’s getting a boot up the arsehole. If he were to become a Christian and stop doing these things, he would still be a mutt, because someone who's not a mutt won’t do these things in the first place. You’re only bringing up ways for PSYCHOPATHS to be brought under control, not you and me. (not me, anyway, because I'm quite resistant to mythology)"
Well, the point is that you in your Materialism can't furnish what could be considered an answer as to WHY he should behave differently than a Nihilistic ethic. As for how this relates to you and me, you have a gross inconsistency in your philosophy, you can't account for ethics in any sense that is binding upon others. Yet, you insist that molesting children is wrong for Ted, and would never do so yourself, in thinking this way you are being inconsistent with your materialism. I would submit to you that this inconsistency arises because you are made in the image of God and know right and wrong, yet you have rejected the God who made you.
So, you are like a man who sitting on a tree limb (called ethics) decides to cut the branch from the trunk (called God). Now on the ground (called Materialism) the branch has lost all vitality and life because there is no sap in its veins. So now though you cling to you precious branch of ethics it has lost all vitatlity and based uont your materialism it is simply dead. Ethics is dead when based upon Materialist philosophy, they are the true Mythology, just words without any real life or meaning. So, far from being against mythology you have actually embraced mythological notions of right and wrong when your worldview can give them no base on which to thrive.
"And you’ve failed to demonstrate why this has to be so. You basically just threw around a bunch of self-glorifying statements about “objectivity”, without actually thinking about how you can make these statements truly meaningful in the ways that matter to human beings. You've only alluded to blind sycophancy, not why rational people should take your view of morality seriously."
Well, my point is that there is no morality in any objective sense apart from Christian theism. Anyway, put simply I have not just claimed objectivity I have pointed to it, His name is God. He exists outside the natural world which He made, He owns us because He made us, we are made in His image hence we are moral beings, He has also not been silent but has revealed Himself through His word. It is this God (who you hate and are at war with) that gives moral objectivity to us His creatures.
No rational person would reject this in favor of Materialist ethics which can not tell us WHY Steve should refrain from horrible acts. The problem is that man is fallen, and hates this God and labors with all his might to supress the knowledge of Him like Paul the apostle said. You know this God though you deny Him. My plea with you is to lay down your autonomy and come under His Lordship. It is this God to whom you will give an account, yes there is judgement.Without Him, you have no real moral compass, and with Him you do.
You ask how can a rational person accept this? I ask how can a rational person refuse?