Monday, September 27, 2010

Kai Nielsen on the Atheist's Burden of Proof

"To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false...All the proofs of God's existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists. In short, to show that the proofs do not work is not enough by itself. It may still be the case that God exists."
(Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 143-4. cited at: http://www.origins.org/articles/craig_tooley_3.html)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How is God the Basis for Objective Morality?

Luke at common sense atheism has posted a transcript of his ongoing discussion with Alonzo Fyfe, the originator of the hip and cool online meta-ethical theory of desire utilitarianism, about morality, theism, and atheism. I responded as such (their words in italics and colored):

I imagine somebody telling a parent who loses belief in God, that without their belief they just aren’t going to care anything about the welfare of their child. It’s absurd.

What does this have to do with the theistic pov?

Tell me, when you lost your belief in a God, did you suddenly become indifferent to the welfare of your friends and family? Did you acquire this urge to rape and kill just for the fun of it?

Is this what Mr. Fyfe thinks Craig's position is? I have other thoughts on what is absurd.

But that’s just silly. Losing a belief in morality doesn’t suddenly change our desires.

But it may give you the justification to fulfill certain desires you normally wouldn't, like unbridled sexual activity or making a superior race of people by systematically eliminating those who most people desire to eliminate.

Obviously, someone doesn’t have to believe in God or even believe in morality to act morally. However, it still might be the case that God is necessary for morality to really exist.

Which is why we theists always clarify "The question is not: must we believe in God to live moral lives? There's no reason to think that atheists and theists alike may not live what we normally characterize as good and decent livess" (Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008: 175). The question is do moral values actually exist in the absence of God?

I mean, think about it: How it is that morality could be grounded in the attitudes of a timeless, spaceless, supernatural being who is defined as being the opposite of everything we know and understand?

1) We're made in His image. 2) Moral values would actually exist in said being. 3) All would be subject to said omnipotent and omnipresent creator and sustainer.

That’s just crazy and incoherent, or at least it’s way harder to justify that than other theories of morality based on less controversial and confusing features of our world. So adding God to the picture doesn’t help give us objective morality, it just makes everything way worse.

Luke, this is a bald assertion lacking argumentation. I just gave three reasons this would ground OMV's. You need to construct an argument to support this assertion.

Why does God’s disapproval make it wrong for me to eat pork? If God doesn’t like pork, that’s fine, I’m not going to force him to eat any. But if they’re saying that I shouldn’t eat pork because God doesn’t like it… How does that work?

Because it goes against the objective morality that is a necessary property of said God (assuming eating pork is actually wrong). It's quite similar to why, on a purely state institutional level, it is incumbent on you not to serve foodstuffs that the state has deemed illegal. If the state doesn't like serving cat to people, and has written it down in law, then it is objectively against the law to serve said cat.

look, if a perfectly good God allows all the suffering we see around us, that implies that maybe we’re wrong about the idea that we should be preventing suffering.

Should we prevent all suffering? I think it is incumbent on us to prevent needless suffering that we actually could prevent. Who says God allows needless suffering? Who says He could prevent it given human freedom?

I can think of several reasons to allow some suffering to occur.

Let’s say I look out my window and see my neighbor’s daughter drowning in the pool. Am I supposed to know that I should rescue her?

Well dur. Life is intrinsically valuable since said girl is made in God's image. If she hasn't done anything to merit drowning in the pool (like mercilessly killing an innocent person or something) then it's a no brainer WHY you should save her.

Maybe God has a reason to drown her. If she does drown, that’s what they’ll say.

Or maybe we'll say it was her own fault for drowning? Assuming she is old enough to be responsible. If not, then it is the parent's fault for no being vigilant.

Further, you're assuming that these kinds of evils won't be rectified in the afterlife.

So if I rescue this girl, then I would be thwarting this higher purpose that everybody would be claiming that God must have had, and everything would be ruined just because of me.

You must assume that God caused her to drown for this to be the case. However, God is not subject to the duty that we are with regards to life. He has the right, as the creator and sustainer of life, to take it in any way He deems it necessary. We don’t have that right. He has given us moral duties as it pertains to protecting life.

Besides, if I, as a mere mortal, have no way of understanding God’s infinite wisdom or why he does things, then I have no way of knowing whether or not to save the girl. It wouldn’t be the first time God killed a child.

And Mr. Fyfe has lapsed into the confusion of moral epistemology with moral ontology, as is so common.

It’s worth reminding people that God-based morality is a subjective moral theory, because it’s grounded in the attitudes or nature of a person: namely, God.

But if God is the ultimate reality in which moral values have their ontological basis, then they would apply to all. Especially seeing as we're made in His image.

Well, like I said, God-based ethics grounds morality in the attitudes of a person. That’s what subjectivism is.

First, the morality is grounded in the person of God, and His attitudes would flow from that. Second, if all are made in his image and are subject to God, then this morality IS objective, just as the federal laws of the single institution of the United States government would be objctive for those subject to it.

Individual subjectivism grounds moral value in the attitudes of each individual

Except the analogy falls apart since individuals aren't subject to other individual's personal opinions. We would be subject to the laws of a lawgiver, would we not?

Yeah, so it is universal it’s just not objective.

Um, so it being true of God's character that murder is evil and the duty to not murder applying to all those made in His image wouldn't be objective?

Right. Well, for me, whenever I hear people talk about God and morality, the problem that I have always had with it is that there is no God. God doesn’t exist.

Then objective moral values don't exist. Just because Mr. Fyfe thinks his morality is important doesn't mean it extends beyond himself. For something to be objective, it must extend to all people. All people don't have the same desires. All people are made in God's likeness, and all people are subject to God's moral character.

There's your objectivity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Do Atheists Lose Debates?

I've seen a few atheists on the internet discuss why their side typically loses debates against theists, and they offer some theories, including the lack time to clarify their positions, their presentation of a weak case, etc. I must say, as a theist, these sound like pretty lame excuses.

Do atheists lack time to explain their cases?

It is supposed on the linked to post that "atheists often lose because theirexplanation for morality or consciousness or cosmogenesis or fine-tuning or whatever takes a heck of a lot longer to explain than 'God did it.'" In a debate, the atheist has as much time to prepare their case, lay out their case, and respond to objections about their case. Does a debater really need more time to explain why he thinks making more people happy as a result of your actions is where morality ought to lay in, as utilitarians would? Does a Randian objectivist need 15 more minutes to lay out why they think that selfish interests would work as a moral code for society? Not if they are well studied. There are plenty of philosophers out there who have debated people like William Lane Craig and Dinesh D'Souza who ought to be able to present a succinct case for why morality could work in some other way, if it is a good argument. That is the mark of an intelligent person; to be able to take a complex subject and work it down into an easy to understand argument.

Furthermore, this objection presupposes that all the theist has to say is "goddidit!" This really amounts to nothing but a one sided assessment from an atheist who is frustrated. When theists present reasons for placing moral ontology in God (to continue using the same example) they need to, and most of the time do, explain why God is the most plausible ground for morality. If presented with a counter meta-ethical theory, the theist should be, and most often is, able to point out why the counter theory is inadequate to explain morality. This should be the case with any argument, and if the atheist wants to show their position to be better, they need to do the same if they can.

I just don't buy that it should take the atheist more time to present his arguments. The theist's arguments require just as much explanation and defense as the atheists.

A poor case


There really isn't anything to argue with in this sentence from the post:
atheists often lose because they present a weaker case. Maybe all the theist’s arguments are terrible, but to win the debate, the atheist has to show why his arguments are terrible, and (in some way) must give some good arguments for his own position. The atheist often does poorly inboth these respects.
I agree completely. Here's the thing. Luke says later that atheists are often woefully inept at philosophical concepts, but many, if not most, of these debates with atheists are with philosophers! In fact, William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga and other theists have debated philosophers whose field of expertise is ethics (moral argument), or cosmology (cosmological arguments and/or teleological arguments), or higher Biblical critics and historians (argument from Jesus' resurrection) and they still win the debate.

Preparation is perhaps an issue. But really!? All of these atheist specialists in philosophy or other fields all fail to properly prepare for a debate? Come on.

My assessment


Atheists just have an inadequate worldview. That's the best explanation for why their arguments are so quickly and easily defeated. Since the demise of the logical argument from evil, atheism is an untenable case. Sure, some atheists try to show that the concept of God is incoherent, but they've never been able to construct a convincing argument, and the probabilistic problem of evil is too presumptuous. At best, if atheists were successful in tearing down all of the classical theistic arguments for God, the only rationally justifiable position to take would be soft agnosticism, as hard agnosticism is also very presumptuous. How do you know that no one can know about God? How can you say you can't know anything about God, because saying that is positing a knowledge claim about God!

However, since theism so ably presents a coherent, consistent, and complete view of reality, it seems to me that the atheists frustrated with the constant loss of debates should consider the theistic case. Stop holding to such a rationally incoherent position and join us theists! It is far and away the most plausible and most interesting worldview.

Then repent of your sinful stubbornness and accept the loving embrace of the Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Evidence is the Best Way to Discover Truth

So say many atheists who adhere to scientism. But this statement is obviously self defeating. I assume they think that statement itself is true, but there's no way to verify it by its own standard. There's no empirical data that could be collected by which to verify this assertion. It's just one of those pesky unfounded presuppositions that atheists throw around.

Refuting the Refutation: Part 4 - The Moral Argument

Getting back to the Arizona Atheist's attempt to refute Dr. William Lane Craig's arguments for the existence of God, we now come to one of the most troublesome arguments for atheists to deal with; the moral argument. This argument is elegant in its simplicity in that it shows that if God doesn't exist, there is no basis of objective morality, a morality that would apply to all people no matter the time or majority opinion. But most atheists make profoundly moral assertions.

The argument is deductive, and follows the form of modus tollens.
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist 
3. Therefore, God exists.

To start here, AA attempts to simply get rid of the second premise by asserting that there aren't objective morals, but that morality is relative. AA cites a book that is explicating the history of slavery in the new world. The author describes briefly that St. Thomas Aquinas accepted some sort of slavery that was the basis for the attempted future enslavement of American Indians. Apparently AA is trying to imply that Aquinas was a-ok with slavery and this shows that objective morality is indeed an illusion. While I will shortly defend Aquinas' view, I must stress that this example does nothing of the sort. Simply offering examples of people who thought a certain moral abomination was morally good does not prove in any sense that morals are relative or that what that person did was right in any way. All showing past moral abominations does is show that moral abominations happened in the past.

Aquinas' view on slavery is far more subtle than AA is letting on here. Part of the reason for confusion is the ambiguous nature of the word "slavery." What exactly was Aquinas referring to? Aquinas is not referring to a slavery based on racial subjugation, but is referring to servitude in which one person has authority over another. Professor Hector Zagal from the Mexican Catholic institution, the Panamerican University, writes,
the Greek doulos, the Roman servus and the Medieval servus do not have the same meaning for the simple reason that the Aristotelic doulos is contextualized in a pro-slavery society and the Thomistic servus in a feudal society. We must not forget that feudal servitude is not equivalent to Greek slavery, since when Moerbeke translated for Saint Thomas the term doulos for servus, he was making a literal translation without considering the social context.1
In other words, Aristotle's slavery (which Aquinas is analyzing) is not the same thing as Aquinas'. Zagal goes on,

Thomas considers servitude something just, yet he distinguishes two kind of justice: justice simpliciter and justice secundum quid. Servitude is not just simpliciter, since all men are equal by essence, even more since all men have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Human nature is not predicable equivocally for every  individual. Servant are as humans as their masters. Every man is truly a human person and, subsequently, is an individual substance of rational nature with an eternal destiny that is loved personally by the Creator. Attending to human nature considered in itself, all men are equal and, because of that, there is no preeminence of one over the other. The master as participant of the human nature has no domain over the servant. Servant and lord are essentially men.2

So Aquinas clearly didn't approve of the early American kind of slavery that atheists always anachronistically read into pretty much every historical setting.

AA then again reveals his ignorance about logic when he states, "This is a perfect example of my claim in my paper Against the Gods that just because all of your premises are true, it doesn't mean your conclusion is true, ie. god exists." AA needs to take an introductory class in logic. I do not say this to be mean or nasty or to insult him in any way! It is simply true. AA needs to understand how logic works. If the premises are true in a logically deductive argument, then the conclusion is true whether anyone likes it or not. That is why he needs to attack the truth of one of the premises. If he admits that the premises 1 & 2 are true, then he isn't an atheist.

He then immediately says, "This moral argument does nothing to prove god because there clearly is not any objective moral standard that we can call upon." Ok, so this is the premise he wants to attack; number 2. But this statement is baseless. It isn't clear that there is no objective morality. He says simply because most people believe in doing the right thing doesn't prove there's a god. No one is claiming that is how the argument works. The argument is deductive; unless there is a God, there is no right and wrong. Then he says that evolution created our moral intuitions. If that is true, then morality is relative, and saying it's wrong to kill babies for fun has no meaning. If morality is relative, then it's simply a matter of personal preference how one acts. Some people prefer to love their neighbors, others prefer to eat their neighbors. There's no moral value to any of those acts.

However, I think we all know that objective morality does exist. It's always wrong to torture people for fun, No matter what culture you're in. No matter what time period. As I've pointed out before any argument that can be given against objective morality, a parallel argument can be given against the external world. But I apprehend these moral realities just as I apprehend the reality of the external world. Why should I let those whose moral sense is deficient make me question the existence of an objective realm of morality? I don't question the external world's existence because there are color blind people.

He then moves on to the Euthyphro dilemma, which really hasn't ever been an issue for Christian theists, and Plato, who himself was a moral realist, in no way "demolished the moral argument." AA claims that splitting the horns of the dilemma by positing that God's nature is the good doesn't work, but then doesn't say why. He simply ridicules the notion. Sorry, AA, ridicule isn't argument. He says, "God is simply "good" by nature, and therefore he wouldn't command anything immoral? Right. Is that why many people have claimed to hear god speak to them, and they then commit horrible atrocities?" What does that have to do with anything? Because some people do evil and claim God told them to that proves God did it? Sorry, but the weakness of AA's argument here is glaring.

He then moves on to a better question. In essence, he asks if God is good, then how do we go about knowing this good nature? Well, we are made in God's image, so innately we would have some sense of what His moral attributes are. We can also find out what God's duties to us are from His special revelation in the Bible. AA mentions this, but then brings up the incidents in the Bible where God orders the killing of people. Why is this a problem for God? God says that murder, which is unjustified killing, is evil. If God commands someone to kill someone else, that killing is justified. God orders the killing of people for just reasons. God has the power over life and death, so while it is wrong for us to kill willy nilly, God can take the life of anyone He wants. I go into quite a bit of detail in this combox discussion.

In assailing God for these killings, AA has revealed that he actually does believe in objective morality. If he doesn't, then what is he complaining about what God did for? Maybe God just wanted to kill someone. Who is AA to tell anyone else what they are doing is wrong? After all, right and wrong really don't exist. He says, "Even though morality is relative, it does not mean we can do whatever we wish. We still have a responsibility to our friends and family and there are various secular moral systems that have been developed throughout history that can guide us through this morally relative world." If we have a responsibility to our friends and family, then AA has pinpointed a moral reality that is objective, unless he's willing to admit that this is not an objective imperative, to which I'd ask why he brought it up in the first place. If this family responsibility is objective, then by the deductive reasoning of the moral argument, God exists.

He says, "After all, even religion's morality is relative. It's dependent upon god's commands." He's either being dishonest or still doesn't get it. If morality is based on God's nature, then it is objective. It is a real reality that exists independent of any of us. If God created us, then we are obligated to follow His moral nature or face the consequences. Also, the moral duties God gives us are not arbitrary, but flow directly from His moral nature.

So, AA has shifted back and forth to wanting a moral objectivity when it comes to assailing God, to denying moral objectivity. But he's failed at giving us any reason to think morality is relative, he's failed at refuting the theistic response to the Euthyphro dilemma, and he's failed at refuting this argument in any way.


1 Hector Zagal, Aquinas on Slavery: An Aristotelian Puzzle, http://www.e-aquinas.net/pdf/zagal.pdf, 5
2 Ibid. 6

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Have You Forgotten?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Dumb Idea Reveals Historical Ignorance

I think it's a dumb idea for the Florida pastor to be burning Korans on 9/11. It's only meant to provoke anger, and that isn't Biblical. That said, I am also surprised at some Muslim's ignorance of their own history. If they want to get mad at someone, get mad at the guy who held the first Burn the Koran day shortly after Mohammed's death. After Uthman ibn Affan gained power, he had all versions of the Koran that he didn't like burned, which is the only reason there aren't more Koranic variants. There were several suras that are just gone (an early Koran contained 117 suras).

So why let this get to you, my Muslim friends? The early Muslims didn't!

HT: Mike Feller

Does the Indeterministic World Objection work with an Omniscient God?

Ok, this is the first time I've recorded a response, but I'm getting sick of typing the same thing out over and over again, and it seems to be hindering communication. Basically, my point is that if we're in an indeterministic world, then God can't change people's free choices and them remain free, and if He isn't changing people's choices, then they have alternative possibilities, just as the PAP requires.



Kane writes, "if free choices are undetermined, as incompatibilists require, a Frankfurt controller like Black [or God in this case] cannot control them without actually intervening and making the agent choose as the controller wants. If the controller stays out of it, the agent will be responsible but will also have had alternative possibilities because the choice was undetermined. If the controller does intervene, by contrast, the agent will not have alternative possibilities but will also not be responsible (the controller will be)" (Robert Kane. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. New York: Oxford, 2005. 88.)

So, omniscience is really irrelevant to whether this works or not.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quick Thought on Frankfurt Counterexamples

I'll write more on this subject when I feel like it down the road at some point. I wanted to quickly jot down one reason why these examples don't really affect those of us who are indeterminists about free choices and our adherence to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP). Frankfurt counterexamples require that some controlling agent have access to the the mind of a creature where they are able to see prior states that would give some "tell" about what the chooser will in fact choose. Since they can see this, they would be able to flip a switch or something to cause the person to choose differently if the person isn't going to choose to their liking. If the controller doesn't have to flip the switch (because the chooser is going to choose according to the liking of the controller) then the person is still responsible for the choice, since no coercion was applied.

Here's one reason why this fails. Indeterminists claim that there can be no prior states that give the "tell" that the Frankfurt examples use. As William Vallicella points out, "Suppose Black has all the powers of a Laplacean demon: in a deterministic universe he can predict any state from any temporally prior state. These powers won't help him, however, in an indeterministic universe. Before Jones chooses, Black cannot predict what he will choose" (found here). In other words, we must assume that compatibilism is possible in order to grant that these Frankfurt counterexamples even have a chance at disrupting our confidence in the PAP. But in an indeterminisic universe, the controller has no way of definitively knowing what the chooser will choose. He has to wait for the choice to be made. In that case, libertarian free will (LFW) exists, there is simply a coercive agent who will make the chooser do what he didn't choose if he uses his LFW in a way that is displeasing to the controller.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Swift Responses to Hawking

Hawking has popularized the old "the universe created itself" canard in a recent article on his forthcoming book.

Scientist John Lennox has responded here.

Also, check out these videos from William Lane Craig and Robert J. Spitzer on this strange idea. (here and here)

See my blogger buddy Rhology's assessment here.

Another blogger friend here.

I think there are about a zillion other responses out there. Feel free to post them in the comment section.