Monday, June 11, 2007

The Hitchens-Wilson Debate

Here’s an excellent written debate between Christopher Hitchens (God Is not Great) and Douglas Wilson (Letter from a Christian Citizen) on the topic “Is Christianity Good for the World?” Both participants are good writers and quite witty. I think Wilson won by a significant margin, as Hitchens failed to make a strong case and never really answered Wilson’s objections. Hitchens briefly mentions the Problem of Evil, though the real value of the debate (for purposes of this blog) is the discussion of objective moral values.

In his opening, Wilson raises the issue:

In your concluding paragraph you make a great deal out of your individualism and your right to be left alone with the “most intimate details of [your] life and mind.” Given your atheism, what account are you able to give that would require us to respect the individual? How does this individualism of yours flow from the premises of atheism? Why should anyone in the outside world respect the details of your thought life any more than they respect the internal churnings of any other given chemical reaction? That’s all our thoughts are, isn’t that right? Or, if there is a distinction, could you show how the premises of your atheism might produce such a distinction?

Wilson repeats his challenge in every imaginable way, yet Hitchens’s most detailed response is this:

Our morality evolved. Just as we have. Natural selection and trial-and-error have given us the vague yet grand conception of human rights and some but not yet all of the means of making these rights coherent and consistent.

Wilson, of course, had already challenged this response:

I have been asking you to provide a warrant for morality, given atheism, and you have mostly responded with assertions that atheists can make what some people call moral choices. But what I have been after is what rational warrant they can give for calling one choice “moral” and another choice “not moral.” You finally appealed to “innate human solidarity,” a phrase that prompted a series of pointed questions from me. In response, you now tell us that we have an innate predisposition to both good and wicked behavior. But we are still stuck. What I want to know (still) is what warrant you have for calling some behaviors “good” and others “wicked.” If both are innate, what distinguishes them? What could be wrong with just flipping a coin?

I’m not sure why, but every time I hear theists bring up this objection, I actually expect atheists to come up with some sort of reasoned answer. My expectation may be put as follows: “Here Hitchens has written a bestseller on why Christianity is bad for the world. Surely he must have carefully thought through these issues. Hence, when asked for an explanation for his moral views, he will be able to give one.” Yet he wasn’t able to give one. Wilson sums up the situation nicely:

You are a gifted writer, and you have a flair for polemical voltage. But strip it all away, and what do you have underneath? You believe yourself to live in a universe where there is no such thing as any fixed ought or ought not. But God has gifted you with a remarkable ability to denounce what ought not to be. And so, because you reject him, you have great sermons but no way of ever coming up with a text. When people start to notice the absence of texts, the absence of warrant, the absence of reasons, you adjust and compensate with rhetorical embellishment and empurpled prose. You are like the minister who wrote in the margin of his notes, “Argument weak. Shout here.”

(Wilson’s assessment here applies not only to Hitchens, but also to Dawkins, Harris, and other atheist fundamentalists.)

34 comments:

Larry said...

The reality for Christopher Hitchens is that 80% to 90% of mankind believe in GOD. This belief in GOD whether it is part of the evolutionary process of Homo Sapiens, or because GOD actually exists is natural.
To take man’s natural Concept of GOD, a conception of Peace and Love and Goodness, an all Wise, all Loving GOD for all mankind, and turn GOD - by bastardizing his teachings into a murderous GOD of hate, death and destruction, for power and in the case of Islam for the creation of a totalitarian system is one of the greatest sins that can be committed against GOD.

Christopher Hitchens dispute is not with GOD but with the so called men of GOD who have - through the millenniums - for Power, Domination, and Control of society have turned these teachings of Peace and Love and Goodness into teachings of evil.

The fact is that throughout mankind’s history, a minimum of 350 million people have been slaughtered in the worst ways imaginable in the name of and to the greater glory of GOD. If there is a GOD then the people responsible for this carnage deserve to be in Hell.

What Christopher Hitchens needs to do is not only state that he does not believe in GOD but he must challenge the holy beliefs of the other 80%/90% with the following logic. (The aim of such a challenge would be to reform the Holy Books and Teachings.)

GOD AS THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE - THE CREATOR OF ALL LIVING THINGS IS PERFECT.

ALL TEACHINGS OF GOD - AS A PERFECT GOD - MUST BE PERFECT

ANY WRITINGS IN ANY RELIGIOUS TEXT THAT ARE NOT PERFECT ARE NOT THE TEACHINGS OF GOD BUT THE TEACHINGS OF MAN

AS A PERFECT GOD - A GOD OF REASON - GOD IS ALL PEACE AND LOVE AND GOODNESS

ALL MANKIND ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD

ALL CHILDREN OF GOD ARE CREATED EQUAL AND THEIR LIVES ARE SACRED TO GOD

GOD IS NOT AN IRRATIONAL BEING. IF GOD IS IRRATIONAL THEN GOD IS NOT PERFECT AND THEREFORE SINCE GOD CANNOT BE IMPERFECT AN IRRATIONAL GOD IS NOT GOD

All teachings in all religious texts (written or verbal) that are not PERFECT are not the teachings of A PERFECT GOD - A GOD OF REASON but the teachings of man. This means that all teachings recorded in texts, revelations, writings, sayings, fatwas etc of war, murder, killing, death and destruction, violence, hate, suicide bombers, violent jihad, terrorism, torture, maiming, wife beating, inferiority of woman, women as instruments of sexual pleasure in paradise, honor killings, stoning, cutting off limbs, child sex, bigotry, intolerance, slavery, racism, inequality of any human being, that non believers can be murdered as a holy duty, that Muslims who renounce Islam can be killed, that Muslims (or anyone) who challenge the teachings of Islam can be murdered, etc are irrational AND NOT THE PERFECT TEACHINGS OF GOD – A PERFECT GOD - A GOD OF REASON – A GOD OF ALL LOVE AND PEACE.

In the case of Islam - No ALLAH who is ALLAH would ever preach that killing and murdering of any human being in his name will be rewarded by accession to paradise. Suicide is an evil act in every religion. Suicide bombers killing themselves and others in the Name of Allah – this is the Supreme evil act. You cannot climb to heaven on the corpses of the murdered. No ALLAH who is ALLAH would ever create a Paradise full of big breasted sexual nymphs. All such teachings are the commands of evil men and false prophets. If ALLAH commanded that infidels (or any other human being) be killed then he would be irrational and evil and no longer PERFECT - no longer GOD.

If GOD does exist then the following truths are self evident:

1. GOD is anti - war. He never lead an army into battle, changed the weather allowing (his) side to win or any other form of divine intervention etc. For GOD - all war is abhorrent. There is no - "his" side.

2. GOD is a non - religious entity. Religion was invented by man as a vehicle to allow him to comprehend GOD. Because man is imperfect then religion is imperfect.

3. For GOD, there exists no concept of believers or non - believers. There is no one truth. There is no such thing as the one and only true religion. There are many ways to GOD. Even a total non - believer like Christopher Hitchens can ascend to Heaven provided he does not have an evil soul.

4. GOD gave man a Free Will to do Good or Evil, to explore the truth of any question including - his existence.

5. GOD is democratic - he believes that no man should be ruled by dictators.

6. All men are created equal. GOD is not a racist.

7. GOD created women as the equal of men. GOD is not a sexist.

8. GOD has never sent a storm or other calamity of nature to destroy any human being or any human city etc.

9. GOD has never killed or ordered the killing of any human being. If GOD killed only one human being (or any other alien life form throughout the universe who exercises free will) then GOD is a murderer and GOD is no longer GOD.

10. GOD has the power but not the moral right to destroy the Earth. There are many different ways mankind can go to extinction. The end can come through the actions of man such as a nuclear holocaust, or the invention of a disease. Another way is for a comet to smash into the earth. Definitely in 5 billion years, the sun will supernova destroying the earth. If GOD intervenes in these natural or human processes in any way and destroys the Earth because he is pissed off with Homo Sapiens or any other reason then GOD is the greatest mass murderer ever and GOD is no longer GOD.

The greatest danger mankind faces is the smuggling of a nuclear weapon by an Islamic Fundamentalist into a major western city killing millions in the name of and to the greater glory of ALLAH. If the hateful teachings are not removed from Islam this is the disaster that will destroy civilization as we know it. It will dramatically change human history forever.

For anyone to kill one human being let alone millions in the name of and to the greater glory of GOD is an obscenity. The fact that such evil exists is a failure of man not of GOD.

By,
Larry Houle
www.godofreason.com
intermedusa@yahoo.com

richdurrant said...

Hey David, nice post. glad to see you've been able to write more. I'll be interested in the comments.
the blogger formally know as rich!

philip m said...

I read the debate and was glad that it did turn out to be more productive than most debates. That is most likely because of the generous timeframe each debater had to respond and the fact that there were six parts.

I am still attempting to understand, however, the implications of the debate. Although the name was, "Is Christianity Good for the World?" it soon turned out to be primarily, "Which Can Provide a Firmer Basis for Morality: Christianity or Atheism?"

Wilson did a good job of making the question very concrete when directing it as Hitchens: what logic makes an atheist moral? Not just IS he moral, but WHY is he moral.

Now I assume the reason for asking
WHY an atheist would be moral is this: in deciding which would be better if enacted ubiquitously, we will assume that the worldview that has a better foundation for morality will be better for the world. Thus, the purpose of showing what reasons there are for being moral under atheism/Christianity is that the one with the better reasons will produce the better world. This formula also assumes that people will act more morally when they have more reason to do so.

So we're assessing the strength of each view according to the morality it provides. According to the responses in the debate, the respective answers are "morality evolved" for atheism and
"morality is grounded in the character of God" for Christianity.

Now let's follow through on the experiment and see what each would
look like if they were the world's only system, and cite the problems that each has. Let's suppose that Hitchens and Wilson were each giving presentations before a committee that would then choose which view everyone globally would adopt.

The atheist view: Hitchens would say that where our morality is right now, after having evolved, is at a good place. Human rights and all of our laws have evolved to being at close to maximum benefit. Evidence for this is seen in the fact that atheists act morally just as much as do believers.

The problems with this view: First, it assumes that everyone agrees. Of course, people have to
be CONVINCED that their morality should fit the system that the world is adopting, and that is why we are judging between atheism and
Christianity; to see which has more power to convince people. However, in terms of convincing people, saying "we evolved, so be moral in this way," obviously will not convince a dissenter under the atheistic viewpoint because the dissenter obviously evolved differently. If everyone evolved together and on the exact same system, then this would work for the atheist. But that would mean the atheist is perfectly content with the way the world is right now: after all, we've all evolved to this point where our morality is perfect, so why change? However, I think it is obvious that not everyone is on the same moral page, and thus some people would take convincing, as I see Hitchens' grants in saying there are "enemies of society" in his sixth response. So the convincing power there is feeble at best. The second problem, which Wilson mentions, is that if our morality has evolved, should we not also suppose that it is evolvING? Perhaps certain things that we "consider good" (which is the moral system, according to Hitchens), like human rights, will not be accepted in the future.

I alluded to the mention by Hitchens of the "enemy of society." Thus, it seems another one of his guarantors for morality is "that which will benefit society." I am unsure on what effect this would have on people. Would people actually change just so society would benefit? Does that argument hold persuasive powers? In the case he mentioned, a sociopath, the answer is doubtful.

One last claim by Hitchens is actually a partial concession to Wilson: Hitchens doesn't know why he is moral. Of course, this is what Wilson has been claiming all along, which is that Hitchens CAN'T explain under atheism why he would want to do certain things as opposed to others. This, obviously, wouldn't convince anyone to be moral, or help society, since it appeals to the way things (Hitchens, really) already are.

The Christian view: Morality, that is, why we would act or behave in certain ways under Christianity, is grounded in the character of God. Wilson might even agree that our morality has evolved, in that it is getting closer and closer to the absolute model of perfection: God himself. This is of course, talking about personal morality, and the job of every Christian is to emulate Jesus. As Wilson also mentions, people, under Christianity, are to first repent and then follow Jesus. The repentance is the primary mechanism for instituting morality.

The problems with this view: Hitchens' objections are somewhat hard to spot, because his main one is that this "celestial autocracy" is "unneeded" or "superfluous." However, this seems to be begging the question, since we are wondering whether or not God or no God provides a more moral world. Of course we can't answer the question, "Is Christianity needed for people to be good?" by saying, "Christianity isn't needed for people to be good." The question is NOT can atheists be moral, but in the absence of any alternative system, how would atheism fare in creating a moral population by its own logic? So aside from pointing out that atheists can be moral, Hitchens would have to show a strong reason WHY the atheist is moral. So we can't just say that
God is "unneeded" on account of moral atheists. After all, maybe those atheists are just borrowing morals evolved by a theistic worldview. If they don't have good atheistic reasons, then we should keep Christianity around so
people can borrow its moral code and then become atheists.

Other than that objection, all Hitchens mentions are the cruelties that have come from Christian morality, such as slavery, mutilating children's genitalia, and revulsion from female sexuality. The defense against these things for the Christian is that it has self-correcting mechanisms by which is makes progress, wheras the atheist has no insurance of how to get rid of practices some cultures might hold that are not acceptable to the atheist's "evolved" morality of "innate human solidarity." That is to say, Christian morality is always moving closer to God. Atheist morality is moving ... but where is it moving to?

Another point is that in terms of convincing power, no one has to adopt these things. It is simply not a problem when talking to people. No one is forcing anyone to have slaves, or mutilate genitalia, and I am not sure what he means by "revulsion of female sexuality." I don't think Christians have done any such thing.

Thus, there are the two worldview's systems and problems with each. Have I got this right? Am I missing/misunderstanding anything?

stunney said...

little thought-experiment occurred to me regarding the evolutionary naturalist's account of morality.

Suppose a mutation caused a human sub-population to get a big thrill out of burning babies without any moral qualms, and that this led them to procreate at a higher rate than the norm for the population as a whole, with 50 percent of the 'extra' babies being used for burning, and the other 50 percent being allowed to grow to adulthood. It seems possible that eventually a majority of the population would have few qualms about baby-burning.

Isn't the evolutionary naturalist committed to saying that at that point baby-burning for fun would have 'ceased' to be immoral?

richdurrant said...

That is a great question Stunney. I think that they do have to hold to this because it fits the evolving moral mold. This would hold true to anything that is currently considered immoral today. If you visit the debunking Christianity blog, John Loftus has mad a list of morality for the athiest that might be an interesting read for you. I also think that the athiest morality is borrowed from believers in Some form of deity. If not then where does it come from? If its from observation then the only place to observe is nature. Animals do all sorts of things we don't currently consider moral. If we are to take from nature, a great many things will be changed to be considered moral, as they occur naturally in animal behavior. I have heard this used as a defense for homosexuality being natural and therefore morally acceptable.

Khebab said...

It's an interesting debate, thanks!

I don't understand why looking at the "moral" choices made by animals is good way to dismiss an evolutionary account of morality. It's just not relevant.

Psychological experiments with small children have shown that they possess very early the tools necessary in order to make what appears to be moral choices. We have evolved as highly social animals, caring for our offspring over an extensive period of time. Therefore, as an artifact, It seems likely that we have evolved a sense of what is moral and what is not.

John W. Loftus said...

On what basis can Hitchens denounce the evil in the world? Here's how: Christians believe God is good, omniscient, and omnipotent. They also believe the Bible is God's word (however conceived). Based upon the Bible Christians act in the world. Hitchens can legitimately argue that 1) This world is not one that the Christian God would've created based upon the morality that Christians find in the Bible; 2) The morality revealed in the Bible is not something Christians defend in today's world without gerrymandering it to modernize it with our better moral notions; and 3) Christians do not live up to that morality and sometimes cause suffering when they follow it.

If Christianity is true then it needs to show how this present world is evidence of the morality in the Bible and that Christians actually live that morality.

There is no inconsistency in doing this. None. We've gone over this before, but I was wondering if you have any additional thoughts on the matter.

Geoff said...

Hi John (and everyone),

After lurking for a few weeks I thought I'd toss in a comment here... I guess, to me, the inconsistency stems from assuming that the truth of Christianity somehow depends upon the three premises you state above. I agree with all three of those statements and see no problem reconciling them with the Christian faith.

But I'm not sure that's even really the point... As I understand it, from reading David's post (and I admit I haven't read the entire debate yet) it seems that the real issue is Hitchens' inability to account for moral warrant. In order for his view to hold, he should have some sort of explanation for morality. His lack of a solid explanation does not prove Christianity, or even God, per se, but it does seem to indicate that Hitchens is stuck with questions he can't regarding morality and evil, which at the very least puts him in the same exact place as those whom he vilifies. The irony here seems unavoidable. At least that's what I've picked up from reading the debate so far.

Thanks!

Geoff

John W. Loftus said...

Geoff, thanks for your input. Let's say millions of people claimed to have an absolute standard of morality found inside the pages of Homer's writings as the revealed word of, say, Poseidon. Let's say these followers denied that anyone else has an absolute standard of morality. But you and I notice these followers didn't actually follow the antiquated morality in Homer, and they caused a great deal of suffering in the world in the name of Poseidon and his word. They also believe Poseidon is perfectly good. Now along you come and point these things out, however the followers keep denying you have a standard for judging their morality and they see no problem with their beliefs. Do you as an outsider have any legitimate basis for pointing out the inconsistency internal to their system even if they do not see it as an inconsistency? Further, do these followers have an epistemic right to dismiss your criticisms based upon their claim that you don't have an absolute standard for morality? Or should they try to answer these criticisms of the internal inconsistency of their beliefs?

steve said...

john w. loftus said...

“On what basis can Hitchens denounce the evil in the world? Here's how: Christians believe God is good, omniscient, and omnipotent. They also believe the Bible is God's word (however conceived). Based upon the Bible Christians act in the world. Hitchens can legitimately argue that 1) This world is not one that the Christian God would've created based upon the morality that Christians find in the Bible.”

That is not, in fact, how Hitchens makes his case. To the contrary, Hitchens denounces Biblical morality as well as Biblical theism. He does not, therefore, consider Biblical theism to be incompatible with Biblical morality, or vice versa.

What Hitchens does, instead, is to attack Biblical theism and Biblical morality alike by his extrabiblical sense of what is right and wrong.

Since that is how Hitchens has chosen to frame the argument from evil, he needs to explain and justify his own source and standard of moral valuation.

“2) The morality revealed in the Bible is not something Christians defend in today's world without gerrymandering it to modernize it with our better moral notions;”

That’s a tendentious overstatement which disregards the many Christians who do defend Biblical morality.

“3) Christians do not live up to that morality”

Meaning what? Since Christians are sinners, they are bound to fall short of their ethical ideal. That does nothing to invalidate the ideal.

“And sometimes cause suffering when they follow it.”

What examples can Loftus cite without begging the question?

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, suffering is obvious. It's pain pure and simple, and while I accept your point about Hitchens, I was showing how he could do so. He has shown how professing Christians have caused suffering in the world though, and professing Christians are the ONLY kind of Christians we see. According to your own belief system a Christian isn't a perfect person (but instead one who believes), so you cannot plausibly argue that the ones causing this suffering are not true Christians without also claiming Christians are sinless, in my opinion.

As far as God commanding his followers to do what we now consider evil goes, I consider the following commands evil: your God declared that a slave is the property of another man (Exodus 21:21). A female captive in war was forced to be an Israelite man’s wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped, she was to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), while if a virgin who was not pledged to be married was raped, she was supposed to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

I consider the evidence of evolving moral standards--standards that you yourself now accept--as evidence against the God of the Bible...or can you justify honor killings? Answer me this. In obedience to God would you have stoned a virgin pledged to be married who was raped by a man with him, or not?

Geoff said...

Hi John,

Well, you bring up a lot of good questions at once, and I certainly can't answer them all in one email, but I'll give it a shot! :-)

My initial response is to question why anyone, Christian or otherwise, would assume they are able to fully understand, let alone live up to, God's standards. This is very important because your implication seems to be that Christians have been given a clear directive from God, and they are simply not following that directive. But, they also condemn others for not living up to these standards.

Now, if this is the case, then it is certainly reasonable for you to question the inconsistency inherent in such behavior. But I think that perhaps the problem is not so clear-cut. I don't think anyone truly understands what God wants or says. I may get some flak for this, but I don't think anyone truly understands the Bible either. God is entirely beyond our comprehension, and all God's revelation is limited, simply because of the fact that we, the human receivers of revelation, are limited creatures. I mean, Christians have traditionally believed that Jesus was fully human (yet fully God), so even Christ, God's greatest known revelation, was limited.

But, this does not mean I have to stop believing in God or the Bible, it simply means that I must hold out my faith in humility and trust, recognizing that God is continually the one who is doing the revealing. As a Christian, I am not some sort of scientist that mixes biblical chemicals together until I get "God's will" or "God's truth." I live my life and trust that God will be revealed in God's way, even as I reflect upon and attempt to follow Christ as revealed in Scripture.

My point in going on this tangent is that I am not surprised at the failings of Christians. I am not surprised that Christians screw things up a lot. There is no reason why Christians should expect God to magically keep them from falling off the wagon, so to speak. That isn't the real world, it's some strange fairy-tale world where the gods cast spells on people. The problem is, I think, that many Christians have bought into the idea that faith in Christ is something like having a magic "sin no more" spell cast on you, and non-Christians have picked up on the obvious fact that things aren't that way, in order to point out the hypocrisy of Christians. The sooner we all get rid of that notion, the better.

But all of this ultimately has little bearing on whether or not God is good, and that, I think, is the reason many Christians reject the accusation of the skeptics. Evolving moral standards do not primarily tell us about God, they tell us about ourselves. It is not that we Christians don't see a problem, it is that we believe Christ offers us hope in the midst of the problem.

The fallacy seems to be that we all have a tendency to assume that our way of thinking and acting will lead to a world free of suffering and evil. But as I read Scripture, it seems to indicate just the opposite: Any way of thinking that is not centered in the self-sacrificial love of Christ will ultimately lead to the same suffering that has plagued humanity for centuries. This is as true for theists as it is for atheists.

So I guess I don't mind hearing criticisms, because I know there will be inconsistencies to be pointed out in any belief system. But, as Stanley Hauerwas is fonding of pointing out, Christians don't worship a system. Now, this does not mean that I make no attempt to deal with both the inconsistencies, and what I believe to be unfair criticisms. But in order to determine what is a fair or an unfair criticism, I think the first step is to discern what our assumptions about God and ourselves actually are, because we may find that our assumptions are wrong.

Ok, wow, this is really long, so I'll stop here.

Geoff

der Scheinende said...

Mr. Loftus, how can you possibly think you are making intelligent atheist arguments?

--any legitimate basis for pointing out the inconsistency internal to their system

Pointing out an inconsistency has absolutely zero to do with defending one's own claims about what is morally wrong (or "evil", to use a Christian term).

--suffering is obvious. It's pain, pure and simple

Well, simplistic maybe. Pain is not a fact. Your body often doesn't even bother to alert you to your "pain." And suffering from it is another story, and the morality of that another again. Is the suffering of an athlete in training, or mother in birth, or body in sex, or soldier in war, prisoner in jail, or a hundred other examples, immoral? Is hunger immoral? A wayward bus? Old age? Adherence to a code? Any denial of our "right" to comfort? If so, according to what standard?

You clearly suffer from the Christian delusion that joy and suffering are separable in the world even though they are inextricably linked together and a matter of perspective and evaluation. Every becoming involves overcoming, every birth is a death. Like Christians, you long for the "good and true" world separate from the evil false world (heaven vs. hell, good vs. evil, true vs. false, being vs. error/appearance, and all the other juvenile dichotomies out there). Suffering is not "evil," and suffering from life is a perspective on life, not an objective judgment.

In any case, that some Christians cause suffering to others is a refutation of the Christian God and morality as little as your (poor) arguments are a refutation of atheism. I.e., not at all.

--I consider the following commands evil

You provide no ground for your moralistic Christian rebuke against "evil suffering" - which again, is a nihilistic rebuke against life itself - and all your examples rely upon the Christian notion of equality and innate worth derived from their mythology of infinitely valued and thus equal "true" souls that are NOT a part of this world's rankings but rather the true world of God.

You dance around the idea of a foundation for your moral judgments when it is the single most legitimate question to ask. You cannot kill off the Christian god yet maintain his morality and call yourself enlightened. You haven't taken 5 steps towards atheism. All you have argued in effect is that you are a better and more naive Christian than your opponents.

Douglas Wilson destroyed Hitchens in that debate because Hitchens has no idea whatsoever what morality and atheism imply. Do you?

John W. Loftus said...

The basis for atheistic morality is a separate question from the internal consistency of the theistic claims about God. I'll deal with my problem. Would you please deal with yours? If you want me to argue for the basis of my morality, I can do so without any red herrings. You are offering up a red herring when you say I have no basis for my moral standards as an answer to the problems I point out. It solves nothing to say, "Yeah, well you have a problem too." Yes I do. But I do not answer your objection in the same manner. I do not say, in response to my problem, "yeah, well you have a problem too. I meet my problem head on. Why won't you? Your problem would have to be answered by Christians even if no atheist made the argument, and it's one reason Christians gravitate towards Process Theology entirely aprat from whether atheists press this argument.

der Scheinende said...

--You clearly suffer from the Christian delusion that joy and suffering are separable in the world even though they are inextricably linked together

Sorry, that was worded slightly wrong and a slight against Christianity. It should read:

"that joy and suffering are separable even though they are inextricably linked together in the world"

Christianity isn't foolish enough to believe it can be done in our world, only the "improvers" of mankind think that.

der Scheinende said...

--The basis for atheistic morality is a separate question from the internal consistency of the theistic claims about God.

You spin faster than a top. I'm still dizzy following the meanderings of your last reply, but this thread and the one on your site are about the debate and Hitchen's inability to articulate a foundation for his moral claims. When asked above you pretend to answer but then prattle on instead about inconsistencies in Christianity as though it were at all relevant. I quote:

"On what basis can Hitchens denounce the evil in the world? Here's how: Christians believe God is good, omniscient, and omnipotent. Blah, blah, blah."

And now you have the chutzpah to ask me to keep them separate? I admire the audacity, though not the scholarship.

I don't care about Christian inconsistencies here because as I point out it is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

But now that the chafe has been cleared away, please reply and let us all enjoy the wheat of your and Hitchen's "foundation" for your moral claims. If you want to refer to my points above about how your so-called "atheist" stances are grounded in Christian beliefs, and quite obviously so at fifty yards, please feel free because, quite frankly, I'm embarrassed by people leaning on 2000 years of Christian mythology yet going around smugly preaching "atheism" in books and elsewhere.

oli said...

Thought I'd chip in.

As an atheist i have no moral foundation for my morality. Its as simple as that. I do have my own set of morals, hey may differe from yours. Probably not by much.

My morals were largely given to me by my parents, and they by theirs, and so on and so forth. As time progress these morals change. My grand parents were racist in the closet way that many old folk were. My parents got to mix with a far wider variety of ethnicities and thus knew that much of the foundation of my grandparents beliefs about black and ethnic groups was rubbish. I have had more contact with black and asian people in my life and hence i hold no racist views (or so i like to think). Our morals evolved through the three generations.

Larry Houle said
"The greatest danger mankind faces is the smuggling of a nuclear weapon by an Islamic Fundamentalist into a major western city killing millions in the name of and to the greater glory of ALLAH"

Odd that you don't mention as an equal danger, the US nuking Iran or china or somewhere else. This would certainly do more to destabilise international peace than a rogue terrorist group doing it.

As for Stunneys baby burners. He is correct, as an evolutionary naturalist I would say that if such behaviour was indeed in the majority it would cease to be immoral. I would still find it immoral but in the broader sense, since society clearly does not find it so (it being the done thing) then it is not, by that societes rules, immoral.

ALL morality is subjective. Now of course there are certain kinds of behaviour I personally would prefer, i.e. treat people as you would like to be treated. But thats MY morality. Christian redneck idiots that advocate lynching gays have their form of morality which i think is wrong, but then they think my morality is wrong. Mine is certainly better for a friendlier society, but then they might say theirs is better for a cohesive society.

As for how Hitchens can denounce evil. He can do it on the basis of HIS own moral code. Just as i can. My code says that the Iraq war is morally wrong (not to mention strategically retarded), Hitchens disagrees. We both have our reasons.

Finally for Christians to claim a moral foundation in the bible makes them either a liar (most of them) or a monster (if they actually do follow the bibles morality), again, from my point of view. I cannot use the bible as a moral guide due to the treatment of women, gays, unbelievers and foreign tribes therein. Not to mention the barbarities of god himself.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Steve, suffering is obvious. It's pain pure and simple."

Shattering philosophy's mirror: a conversation with Richard Rorty - philosopher

"[Richard] Rorty follows Hume and Schopenhauer. Again, Rorty confesses:

'...there is no answer to the question 'Why not be cruel?' There is no noncircular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty is horrible. Nor is there any answer to the question 'How do you decide when to struggle against injustice and when to devote yourself to private projects of self creation?'... I do not think there are any plain moral facts out there in the world, nor any truths independent of language, nor any neutral grounds on which to stand and argue that either torture or kindness are [sic] preferable to the other (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity)'."

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_n9_v121/ai_15256003/pg_6

steve said...

john w. loftus said...

“Steve, suffering is obvious. It's pain pure and simple.”

Three or four problems:

i) Not all suffering is physical (i.e. “pain”). Therefore, “suffering is not “pain sure and simple.”

ii) Moreover, I, as a Christian, am at liberty to admit the obvious. Yes, there’s such a thing as suffering. Yes, there’s such a thing as pain.

But a consistent physicalist is not at liberty to admit the obvious. Such mental states are inconsistent with naturalized epistemology and evolutionary psychology, which is why eliminative materialism denies the existence of pain and suffering.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/

I’ve pointed this out to Loftus on multiple occasions. Either he’s too much of an intellectual slouch to address the issue or else he doesn’t dare come to terms with a consistent secular anthropology, for were he to admit that pain and suffering are illusory, given physicalism, he would lose the raw materials for his argument from evil.

The only alternative would be for him to defend a secular version of dualism. But while that might be theoretically possible, such a concession makes it harder to argue against Christianity.

Therefore, Loftus constantly ducks the issue.

iii) Furthermore, to say that pain and suffering exist is not to say that pain and suffering are evil. Loftus needs to mount a separate argument to show that pain and suffering are natural and/or moral evils.

iv) Finally, even if he could demonstrate that pain and suffering are evil, that would be insufficient to mount an argument from evil, for he would need another supporting argument to show that pain and suffering are gratuitous evils.

As usual, Loftus’ objection is all gaps and no argument.

“As far as God commanding his followers to do what we now consider evil goes, I consider the following commands evil: your God declared that a slave is the property of another man (Exodus 21:21).”

No, that’s not what it means. What it means, rather, is that a slave is his master’s source of income. Therefore, it would be pointless for the master to remunerate the slave for lost wages since, in that event, the master would be writing himself a check (as it were).

In the meantime, Loftus also disregards the passage as a whole. Slaves had civil rights under the Mosaic Code. If the master killed the slave, the master was subject to capital punishment. And if the master maimed the slave, he had to pay the equivalent of workman’s comp. The legal protections covering a slave under the Mosaic Law are unique among ANE legislation.

For more detailed exegesis, consult the standard commentaries on Exodus by Currid (2:78-79) and Stuart (490-91).

“A female captive in war was forced to be an Israelite man’s wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).”

i) To begin with, in the ANE, marriages were arranged. The idea of consensual marriage is anachronistic.

ii) Loftus has offered no argument for why his modern, provincial, socially-conditioned view of marriage is morally superior to traditional customs which still prevailed in many parts of the world.

iii) A war bride enjoyed civil rights. Instead of suffering the fate of an involuntary concubine, she enjoys the rights of a Jewish wife—which is more than she would enjoy under ANE law in general.

iv) Keep in mind the historical circumstances. We’re talking about survival in a world of warrior cultures. In the ANE, a woman without men to protect her would be completely defenseless.

“If a virgin who was pledged to be married was raped, she was to be stoned along with her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).”

Either Loftus is too ignorant of the law in question to know what it means or else he is prevaricating.

This is a case of consensual sex, not rape. That is clear from the contrast between 22:23-24 and 25-27, which is a case of rape.

In the case of consensual sex between a woman who was already engaged to another man and a man who was not her fiancé, this was equivalent to adultery, and both parties were executed.

A rape victim was not executed. To the contrary, if you actually read other OT rape laws, such as the very next case law (e.g. 22:25-27), you will see that the rape victim was deemed to be innocent—in cases where rape could be presumed—whereas the rapist was executed.

Once again, this illustrates the fact that women had civil rights under the Mosaic Law. Far from an “honor killing,” it was the man, and not the woman, who was killed.

Why does Loftus misrepresent the law in question? Is he willfully ignorant or is he a willful liar?

i) In the final case, the rapist must compensate the rape victim by providing the ancient equivalent of alimony.

And that’s more that Loftus ever did for the stripper he dumped as soon as she became inconvenient. It’s quite understandable why promiscuous men like Loftus revile OT laws that hold men accountable for their sexual indiscretions.

ii) Finally, we need to read this law in concert with the parallel case law in Exod 22:17. Marriage was not obligatory in this situation.

That’s the nature of case law. A particular case law does not address every possible situation or attendant detail. You need to compare one case law with another.

der Scheinende said...

--As for how Hitchens can denounce evil. He can do it on the basis of HIS own moral code. Just as i can.

You are far more lucid than Mr. Hitchens who, like Mr. Loftus, avoids presenting anything resembling an argument on this point and often displays his morals with embarrassing ignorance of their background.

However, "denouncing evil" on the basis of your "own" moral code is a bit like denouncing chocolate in a supermarket because you prefer vanilla: amusing in it's odd futility. You would be far better off mounting an argument that, given a certain framework and acknowledged values within it, what someone has done is wrong. That approach does away with most of the idiocy out there, leaving aside the question of foundation/universality. (And beware the word "evil." Is a wolf evil, or just rather unfortunate for the sheep?)

--Our morals evolved

I hope no one equates "evolved" with "progress," because if they do...

I have no idea what "ANE" is, or, like you, why anyone would go on about human pain/suffering as though it gets anywhere near the enigmatic idea of god - even a vengeful Christian god -, but thank you for the clarity of last few posts.

der Scheinende said...

Mr. Loftus, why have you forsaken us?

--John W. Loftus said...:

"If you want me to argue for the basis of my morality, I can do so without any red herrings."

der Scheinende said...:

"But now that the chafe has been cleared away, please reply and let us all enjoy the wheat of your and Hitchen's "foundation" for your moral claims. If you want to refer to my points above about how your so-called "atheist" stances are grounded in Christian beliefs, and quite obviously so at fifty yards, please feel free"

Mr. Loftus seems to have run away from the question even faster than Mr. Hitchens does.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, I dispute your exegesis, but let's grant it. Answer me this. In obedience to God would you stone adulterers?

David Morrow said...

John, I am not Steve, but I will take a shot at answering your question.

If I was one of the ones that the Bible outlined should be involved in the stoning then, yes I would stone the adulterer.

An extended answer would include a Biblical argument that would demonstrate how any sin, which in God’s eyes is cosmic treason, deserves eternal punishment. And that God has the right to delegate the act of temporal punishment to His representatives on earth if He so pleases.

David Morrow

John W. Loftus said...

David Morrow, have you ever seen a stoning? It's pretty gross so be forewarned. You can see a stoning here.

Is that civilized? Don't you think lethal injection is much better and moral and civilized?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"David Morrow, have you ever seen a stoning? It's pretty gross so be forewarned. You can see a stoning here. Is that civilized? Don't you think lethal injection is much better and moral and civilized?"

What about a backrub and a lollipop?

der Scheinende said...

John W. Loftus said...

---Don't you think lethal injection is much better and moral and civilized?

And what are you going to do if we say no?

How can you embarrass yourself by continuing to preach "morality" while you run as fast as possible away from the question - the whole point of this thread remember - as to the foundation for such so-called "atheist" claims?

You pretended to answer the question above but instead talked about Christianity. Deception or poor logic, let the audience decide. You then practically threatened to answer the question, still haven't, and instead come back to preach again to the gallery, tugging heartstrings. Nothing is cheaper in philosophy than cheap sentiment.

Until you answer the question you keep running away from, or give up your holier-than-thou preaching, you're just another Uri Geller closet Christian trying to hawk bad arguments.

And, yes, I mean you John W. Loftus.

David Morrow said...

John, no I haven't seen a stoning but have downloaded the video and may watch it sometime, although I don't think it is necessary to answer your question about whether or not it is civilized.

As a presuppositionalist I will give you the standard two step argument. First I will answer your question based on Atheists assumptions and then I will answer your question based on Christian assumptions in order to demonstrate which position makes sense of our moral judgments.

Assuming that you are a typical Atheist, all that exists, or that can be proven to exists, is material in nature, or based on material properties. Given this assumption all one can do when describing a stoning is to say that these bags of biological material are applying force to mineral objects in the direction of another bag of biological material until this bag of biological material ceases to have electro-chemical reactions that animate that material. If this is all that is happening, or that can be proven to be happening, then you labeling what is occurring as “uncivil” becomes meaningless.

Now if you want to adopt Christian assumptions, then I think the answer becomes obvious. If God says that a crime is deserving of the death penalty and that penalty is punishable by stoning then it is not uncivil to execute justice as our Creator has commanded. In fact, not stoning would be the uncivil thing to do in this case.

If all you are saying when you say “uncivil” is that electro-chemical reactions in your brain are giving you a sensation and you label this sensation “uncivil”, then I would have to concede that the act of stoning is “uncivil”. But as soon as you adopt a definition of uncivil that borrows from Christian assumptions, I will call you an epistemological thief and demand that you return my stolen goods.

I have heard that you have written a paper on how an Atheist can account for morality and I would gladly read it, although I doubt it will contain any arguments that make sense of morality based on Atheistic assumptions, I might find it entertaining.

If you would like a more though treatment of this subject, I have posted an article by Russell Manion called “The Other Side: Metaphysics and Meaning” that fairly thoroughly refutes the idea of getting objective moral standards from a foundation of naturalism/materialism.

http://presupposetheism.blogspot.com

der Scheinende said...

--Given this assumption all one can do when describing a stoning is to say that these bags of biological material are ...

Or you could just say a guy hit someone with a rock.

--that fairly thoroughly refutes the idea of getting objective moral standards from a foundation of naturalism/materialism.

Not that some puny little human animal could jump up and get them from a god either, but it's certainly something that closet-Christians like Loftus should read.

David Morrow said...

der Scheinende,

I used the terms "bags of biological material instead of the terms "guy" and "someone" since these terms imply identity over time and so would also become meaningless on atheist assumptions.

--Not that some puny little human animal could jump up and get them from a god either, but it's certainly something that closet-Christians like Loftus should read.

The point is that getting moral laws from God at least make moral laws intelligible.

der Scheinende said...

--these terms imply identity over time and so would also become meaningless on atheist assumptions.

So does a "bag", but anyway, dogs seem to recognize their friends OK without god.

--getting moral laws from God at least make moral laws intelligible.

No, it just makes them absolute (depending how many gods your mythology describes, of course). Anyway, getting them from Darwinism would make them just as intelligent, but it ain't gonna happen either way :-)

David Morrow said...

der Scheinende said...

-- So does a "bag", but anyway, dogs seem to recognize their friends OK without god.

That is my whole point, predicating one thing about another thing does not make sense unless you already assume a Christian worldview. And how do you “know” that dogs recognize their friends and that they do so without a god? Can you prove this?

-- No, it just makes them absolute (depending how many gods your mythology describes, of course).

One of the reasons why Christians and Atheist talk past each other in this debate over morality is that we use the term moral in a different way, and sometimes I think this equivocation is intentional, as is the case when Darwinists use the term evolution. When a Christian says moral, for him, it already carries the connotation of being absolute. If morals are not absolute what are you really saying? One way to illustrate this point is to ask what the atheist means when he says something is wrong. Whatever answer they give, you never arrive at something that is absolute. Often you will hear by morality what the atheist means is that he doesn’t like something. In this case morality is reduced to the same level as he likes chocolate ice cream and someone else likes vanilla. Most atheists will not want to say that this is what they mean by morality and will usually start talking about the utility that certain “moral” principles have in propagating the human species, but they cannot answer the next logical question as to why are we obligated to propagate the human species.

Last but not least moral obligations can only be owed to persons, and absolute moral obligations can only be owed to absolute persons. I guess this is why there are usually not very many fruitful discussions between Atheists and Christians in this debate over morals. Unless you refute the underlying presuppositions of the others position as Doug Wilson did, you will end up in a quagmire of a thousand qualifications and never getting to the real heart of the issue. This is the very reason why I think Mr. Wilson took the approach that he did.

-- Anyway, getting them from Darwinism would make them just as intelligent, but it ain't gonna happen either way :-)

I didn’t say it makes them intelligent, I said that it makes them intelligible, which means they make sense within a particular persons metaphysical assumptions. Within a Christian framework it makes perfect sense to have moral laws. Coming from a Darwinist perspective moral laws, whether absolute or not, have no objective referent in a materialists metaphysic and should therefore not really matter whether you adopt them or not. Would if my way of preserving my kind is to teach them to shoot fast and straight, rather than try to reason with people, it worked for Stalin. And as long as one has bigger guns then your opponent you will not be accountable to anyone. Even then you would still have to ask, why “ought” you preserve your kind, a question that only becomes intelligible when you adopt the Christian metaphysic.

So der Scheinende, please answer this question. Can tell me why I should not use a gun to convince you of Christian theism instead of trying to reason with you, in a way that makes sense within your metaphysical framework?

der Scheinende said...

---predicating one thing about another thing does not make sense unless you already assume a Christian worldview.

That, I'm afraid, is bordering on insane. You didn't even bother to invent your little god until a few years ago. Every animal including us has managed to make it around quite ably without him.

--Can you prove this?

Obviously no more than I can prove that you recognize your grandma.

--When a Christian says moral, for him, it already carries the connotation of being absolute.

Very telling weapon, isn't it? Who said he gets to impose his need for a "true" world of being upon our world of becoming? More interesting to ask why he seeks such so-called "moral truth," foolishly makes all value dependent upon it, and how such an idea even developed. Didn't Socrates think life in this world was a disease? Maybe his philosophy was diseased too? Why exactly did an oppressed lowly people invent their absolute worth backed by a vengeful god, while a sheltered nobleman like Siddhartha came up with a much kinder, more intelligent form of nihilism, while pagans were inventing perfectly healthy gods (plural) who affirmed the growth and procreation of our world?

-- Whatever answer they give, you never arrive at something that is absolute.

Nor will you, only I have no such intention, so I'm able to rest up while you flail about.

--why are we obligated to propagate the human species.

We're certainly not in any absolute sense, and if they start in on that they certainly aren't being worldly, are they?

--moral obligations can only be owed to persons
--owed to absolute persons.

Says you and your mythology.

--Unless you refute

Even your dear old Kant says you have no access to god. I don't need to refute anything. I can just ask "Why?" for amusement. You can leap about all you want, you are not going to reach god and any absolute. Eventually you'll quit and just stand your ground and with force state, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise" - like anyone else taking a stand, no better, no worse.

--Darwinist perspective moral laws

Darwinism is about Darwinism; it doesn't imply anything about morals. Even your moralistic god can employ Darwinism.

--why “ought” you preserve your kind

Who said you ought to do anything? Oh, that cockroach "ought" to be different! That human animal there, too! According to what? Ooops, blink, the species disappeared again for a few billion years, too late!

--Can tell me why I should not use a gun to convince you

If you mean prove absolutely why you "ought" not to, of course not. But don't think you've placed yourself on a higher plane; you are never going to "prove" such a position either. You're pulling out the biggest gun of all trying to force your way upon others.

--your metaphysical framework

Please don't sully me with your hatred of this world :-)

der Scheinende said...

By the way, beware of reading John Loftus' blog, http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ , he deletes posts that make him look bad.

He first deleted mine and left a deleted note in place and a post saying it wasn't civil so deleted (though there was no swearing at all, nothing uncivil), then when I posted the reply message below he deleted it and all previous evidence that he deletes messages.

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-- Comment deleted
This post has been removed by the blog administrator.

Hilarious, a "philosopher" deleting arguments! Point out what poor arguments John Loftus makes and he deletes your post.

Which part exactly was not civil so I can rephrase it for you?

Pointing out that the suffering of some puny animal on a rock in space can in no way impinge upon the enigmatic idea of an absolute god, and that when you say "I look at this world and ask" you are foolishly pretending that little ole temporal you can comprehend god?

Or pointing out that you're a closet-Christian continually preaching Christian values?

I guess neither is good for the whole "atheist" shpiel and book sales, huh?

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So, remember, John Loftus is manipulating the supposed debate on his supposedly "atheist" blog.

Schmaltz Herring said...

I am an atheist and I consider Hitchens to have lost almost all atheist-theist debates he was present in.