Conversations with Atheists

page 5

From CI to Alan M


    >> but would you want to argue that [Love your neighbor as yourself] should not be practiced? <<

What if I don't like the way my neighbor loves himself?  What if he is suicidal?  A drug addict?  A smoker?  A vegetarian?  A lover of loud country music?  A sexual prude? The best thing he can do for me is to leave me alone.  But I wouldn't expect him to leave himself alone.


From RD to Alan M:

>>>>> A moral absolute is a principle of human conduct that ought to be adhered to by all people of all cultures at all times.

then why do you insist it has to be linked with your christian god?

>>>>>>> Clearly the existence of an objective and transcendent moral order is necessary for the existence of moral absolutes.

clearly? then surely you can demonstrate why this must be so?

>>>>>>> And such a moral order can only exists if there is a personal Creator God, distinct from and sovereign over the universe. Hence, in atheism there can never be true moral absolutes. Only opinions.

that's all you're claiming too -- your christian opinions. you claim moral order requires a personal creator, but there are plenty of moral beings now and in the past who didn't need one

>>>>>> So you asked me to name one moral absolute. I'll name two. These are moral principles that all people at all times should obey.

ROFL -- so everyone has to love your god, or be considered immoral?  (1)

>>>> They are, as summarized by Jesus in Mark 12:28-34, 1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. An atheist would not accept the first,

of course not, since it has nothing to do with morality.

>>>>>> but would you want to argue that the second should not be practiced? Unfortunately, none of us has been wholly successful at it.

no, but it does form the basis for many moralities, not just yours. Kant's categorical imperative is this same principle, minus any godjargon.

>>>>>>> But it qualifies as an absolute that everyone should adhere to, if we grant that the biblical God exists. If we deny that he exists, then there really is no compelling reason why this or any other moral code should be universally binding.

that seems to be a pretty feeble sort of morality -- one that requires a god in order for people to be good! in fact, there are excellent arguments from evolution alone as to why morality might be useful  (2)


From Alan M to RD:

The question is, if ultimate reality is reducible to particles of matter and energy, then from whence come abstract universals? But abstract universals are necessary in a variety of areas: mathematics, logic, formation of abstract categories of classification, and ethics. The fact that a principle may be useful is quite irrelevant to the question as to whether or not it is moral. Useful for what? To accomplish what end? And why is it good to accomplish what? Survival of the human race? Do you think the rest of the universe cares about that? In an atheistic universe there is no reason why it is good or right for the human race to survive. Just look at our track record. Maybe somebody ought to push the button and get rid of us all. But I can't say ought because ought does not exist.

If you don't think moral absolutes depend on the existence of a transcendent moral order, then please demonstrate how this could be so on the basis of atheism. Nobody else in 2,500 years of philosophy has managed to do it, and most atheists are willing to admit it.

Moral beings need a transcendent moral order, which depends on a personal Creator. Why?

1) Transcendent moral principles are abstract concepts. So are the laws of logic, the value of pi, and many other things that atheists admit must exist. But they do not exist in empirical matter as such.

2) Being ideas, they can only exist as thoughts. Thoughts only exist in minds.

3) In order to be transcendent and universal they must exist in a transcendent mind that knows all things.

4) Only a personal, infinite, transcendent God who is the Creator of the universe, and thus the origin of its being and its meaning would be able to transcend the universe and know it exhaustively. He could not be simply another being in the universe, but would rather be independent and antecedent to it.

5) If no such God exists, if all is only matter, energy and the void, then no such transcendent mind exists and there is no place for universal abstract ideas to exist.

6) This leaves no explanation of how such things come to exist in the various finite human minds on the earth. Since universal abstract ideas such as logic are antecedently necessary in order to interpret empirical data, they cannot have been first derived from material data, for this would require interpretation in the first place, which could not be done until after the ideas were derived. So the existence of logic and other universal abstractions cannot be explained on the basis of atheism.

7) Granting that abstract principles do exist (though they shouldn't if atheism were true), if they only exist as secretions of finite brains then there is no universal character to them. They are only the ideas of finite persons, and can only ever be personal opinions. There is no reason why they should be considered to be objectively moral or true.

There are two sets of conclusions which flow logically from two different presuppositions. Flowing from the presuppositions of the atheist is the conclusion confessed by IO  that while he doesn't like Hitler, Hitler was only wrong because our side won. Flowing from the presuppositions of atheism nothing could be known because the laws of logic would not be universally binding and empiricism alone is incapable of providing truth.

Flowing from the presupposition of the existence of the personal infinite Creator triune God of the Bible is the conclusion that logic exists and is universally binding on all rational thought, because it represents the rational mind of the Creator who made the universe to conform to its pattern and rules. Empirical knowledge is possible because this same rational God created both the human mind and the external universe and he created them to operate in a uniform fashion and in such a way that there is a correspondence between the perceptions of the mind and external reality. Finally, flowing from the Christian presuppositions there is a universal moral order. There really is ought that objectively exists in the character and will of God, so that some things are objectively right and others wrong.

R, I'm glad I don't live in your universe. I live in the rational one that God made, in which there are universal abstractions such as the law of contradiction and the law of love. You also live in God's universe as do all atheists. This is clear because you atheists are constantly smuggling universal abstract ideas into your system, stealing them from theism, because without them you cannot function. And all the while you insist loudly that they don't exist.

As for me, I prefer to start my reasoning and base my life on presuppositions that uphold rationality rather than destroy it.


From J to Alan M

me<<>The only demonstrable absolute in the world is that there's no other absolutes. <G><

<<That works until you come home and find out that it was your house that got broken into and ransacked. >>

Please prove this assertion. I'm sure no self-respecting presuppositionalist would expect me to take any assertion on faith.

<< Then you want justice. >>

Can you demonstrate to me how you know this to be true? Can you trace for me how you have exhaustively examined the presuppositions you hold which allow you to make such a claim?

<< And an objective standard of justice presupposes an absolute standard of morality.>>

You seem to presuppose it does, but why? Please start at the very beginning, if you expect anyone to take your assertions as anything beyond your personal opinion. First, prove to me that you exist, please... <G>


From Alan M to J

Message text written by J
>me<<>The only demonstrable absolute in the world is that there's no other absolutes. <G><

<<That works until you come home and find out that it was your house that got broken into and ransacked. >>

Please prove this assertion. I'm sure no self-respecting presuppositionalist would expect me to take any assertion on faith.

<< Then you want justice. >>

Can you demonstrate to me how you know this to be true? Can you trace for me how you have exhaustively examined the presuppositions you hold which allow you to make such a claim? <

My observation comes from having spent a number of years working with young men in trouble with the law. Having observed how people interact with the criminal justice system I would say that people tend to demand justice when they have been personally damaged by someone's criminal behavior, and they are not satisfied to simply let it go and say that the action against them was not immoral. As a counselor with victims of abuse I have also observed the same thing. People talk about relative morality until their own ox is gored. Then they show a different attitude entirely. Most liberals that I know, those who affirm ethical relativism most loudly, show by their actions that they believe in moral absolutes because most all of them seem to have some commitment to "social justice" and many are quite passionate about it. If they were consistent with their own world view they would recognize that their notion of social justice is nothing more than a personal opinion and that they have no inherent right to force their morality down the throat of a skin head or Nazi. Indeed, the very notion of "rights" is without any kind of objective content in an atheistic universe. Obviously I do not know how you in particular might react, but I bet you also have a sense of justice deep within. Such a thing is nonsense unless there are moral absolutes. Why? Because the definition of justice has to do with that which is inherently right. And in a universe that reduces to matter, energy, and the void, there can be no inherent right or wrong. What is, is, and that's all.


From LA to Alan M:
> My point is, in a materialist universe there can be no such thing as an act that is intrinsically wrong... <

Yes. And?

> But the fact that people have a moral code and believe in it and that it may be necessary for sociological reasons, etc. does not really address the issue I raised. <

You're raising a non-issue. The purpose of human ethics is species survival. You say you want some sort of "philosophical justification" or some such. I think you're saying you want "god" to be assumed and then demand the naturalists operate on your territory. (3)

Sorry. I'm not buying.

Our ethics evolved to aid our survival as a species. They are so intrinsically part of human survival strategies that we have also created mythologies to explain their origins in our pre-Darwinian understanding of the world.

> You are left with relativism, pure and simple, and if all morality is ultimately relative, then nothing is absolute. Then morality is reduced to the level of opinion... <

No. It is not reduced to "opinion." Your opinion will not change what happens when you jump off a cliff. You will fall and break your neck regardless of your opinion. Human "morality" evolved in a context. As a best fit to an environment. Now that environment is changing but there are still things that must be part of any human society if it is going to survive.  (4)

> If reality is ultimately impersonal, then there is no morality resident in it.

Right. There is only survival.


From LA to Alan M:

> OK I will keep my God based laws to myself. I will not allow them to cause me to interfere with anyone who might have an impulse to kill you, rape your wife, steal your bank accounts, burn your home, etc. <

Nope. Not going to get away with that canard. You're assuming that which you have not proven. That is, these laws are "god based." There are other quite reasonable explanations for why such laws exist among humans. And that similar laws appear across pretty much all human societies regardless of their particular "god" beliefs actually, IMO, lends credence to the thesis that these laws have other origins.  (5)

> It reminds me of a story Chuck Colson told about how he heard a high school principal brag at a conference about how he had removed the ten commandments from the walls of the school. Then he went on to complain about the drugs, violence, theft, guns, etc. in the public school system and suggested that we ought to teach some kind of moral code to the kids. <

Cute. But correlation is still not causality last I checked.

> From whence do we derive universal moral principles for any kind of rational ethic then? <

From exactly where they came from. See still already exist. What has not been proven is the "god" as origin idea.

> If there is no personal absolute distinct from the universe, then there is no reason, aside from an irrational emotional prejudice, why cockroaches should not eventually inherit the earth (after the nuclear holocaust). <

And what's this to do with the issue at hand? Why should there be any reason for humans to be somehow special? If we are stupid enough to nuke ourselves out of existing, some other species may well arise later to take our place. And?

> Nobody has succeeded in deriving a rational ethic from philosophical naturalism ....

But human beings have done just that. You're still presupposing your "god" theory. But you cannot show that any ethics the human species has lived by (including the "ten commandments") has any origin other than human beings operating in the natural world and seeking their survival. Without substantial supporting evidence to the contrary, we have no reason whatsoever to assume that any human ethical systems has a "divine" origin. it's far more reasonable to assume that all human ethical systems arise naturally. Including the ethical systems you appear to support.  (6)

>So we will keep our God-based ethic to ourselves and then when anarchy comes....

There's no such thing as a "god based ethic." All ethical systems are human in origin. This is the position I take until someone can come up with some seriously persuasive evidence.


From IL to Alan M:

Message text written by Alan Myatt

> But if we suppose something can be rational for me but irrational for someone else, then it seems that we are defining rationality in a subjective manner that already confesses that there is no final truth, but rather multiple truths that may even be contradictory, but nevertheless true and rational for those who hold them. <

This is, I must admit, amusing.

You may tell me that strawberries taste delicious. That is true for you.

I will tell you that strawberries taste horrible. That is true for me.

Who is right? Both of us even though we hold contradictory positions. If you are going to argue for an absolute truth, you'll need to at least list in what context you are referring.

Truth, as a final answer, is definable in some cases and is not in others. 2+2 always equals 4 in the base 10 numeric system. Killing is not always wrong in our society.

I can demonstrate where morals and truth are subjective. Please demonstrate any circumstance in the matter of religion where morals and truth are absolute.

>> Yes, the unbeliever thinks his position is rational, but they too are controlled by their presuppositions.<<

Uh, no. People who hold no religious beliefs base their conclusions from available evidence. There is no empiracle (sic) evidence to support a religious belief.

I must admit I am more than amused when I hear people claiming faith declare that they have verifiable proof for their belief rather than personally acceptable evidence or indications. If it is about faith, why the insistence it is not?

--I (is there something wrong with faith that it must be hidden?)

From Alan M to IL

>I must admit I am more than amused when I hear people claiming faith declare that they have verifiable proof for their belief rather than personally acceptable evidence or indications. If it is about faith, why the insistence it is not? <

Hi again I,

The discussion here, which you must have missed at the outset, is over the nature of faith and reason. I never said that my position is not based on faith. What I said was that the definition of faith is simply to believe in a proposition. At least that is the Bible's definition. The word "faith" is the noun form of the verb "to believe" in the language of the NT. I reject the definition that says that faith is belief in the irrational.

>Uh, no. People who hold no religious beliefs base their conclusions from available evidence. There is no empiracle (sic) evidence to support a religious belief. <

No, I don't think so. It appears that you do not understand the nature of your own position. All world views, including the varieties of atheism, are founded on presuppositions or axioms that are not the conclusion of other arguments and are therefore unproven. They are givens, just like the axioms of geometry, and on them everything else depends. Now there are some atheists who think they have no presuppositions. They just believe in empirical facts. But the belief that empirical facts provide knowledge cannot be empirically proven and, in fact, it relies on several non-empirical presuppositions. Even the very notion of what a "fact" is cannot be resolved empirically. There are no "facts" as such. There are only facts as interpreted in the context of some system or other. Change the system by introducing new assumptions and the meaning of the facts changes too. None of the axioms of empiricism are provable by empiricism. The atheist assumes a metaphysical system at the outset of his argument. He who thinks otherwise just does not understand the nature of world views. And he who thinks he has no presuppositions that control his thought is just deluded. He has not even thought critically about his own position, so why should he be taken seriously as someone who has thought critically about the problems of theism?

Hence, all world views, including atheism, start with axioms that are statements of faith (belief). The question is, which axioms establish a rational basis for knowledge (or ethics) and best account for the universe that we find ourselves in. Atheism fails as a rational world view because its axioms create irresolvable contradictions that if held consistently, would destroy the basis for all rational knowledge. So to be consistent, the atheist must either become a skeptic or consider that perhaps his presuppositions are in error and start again. Or he could just abandon rationality altogether. After all, mysticism might keep him entertained for awhile. But then if he gets bored, nihilism is always an option too.

Finally, your statement that there is no empirical evidence to support a religious belief presupposes your own omniscience, since it means that you must have examined every case of empirical evidence that ever has existed or ever will exist in all parts of the universe. Otherwise you could never know that such evidence does not exist. Of course, you could say that you got your information by revelation from an omniscient being, but then you would be admitting to the existence of God. So we see that the assertion of your position requires that you presuppose that theism is correct after all. That is another sign of the internal incoherence of atheism.

I think it would be more accurate to say that your presuppositions disallow the possibility of there being any empirical evidence in favor of God, so that you must find a naturalistic interpretation of all events. This assumption, then, you carry with you as a bias before any investigation starts. Thus, you cannot approach the historical evidence for, say, the resurrection of Jesus objectively, but are committed to explaining it away before you even look at it, because by definition in your system dead people don't come back from the grave. Personally, I find the events surrounding the death of Jesus, the empty tomb, and the founding of the Christian church to be inexplicable on a naturalistic basis.

Anyway, since you assert so confidently that there is no evidence, I am left wondering exactly what you might be willing to accept as evidence.

Alan (hoping you are having a good day)

(1)   This is precisely the issue.  The question between the atheist and God is not principally an intellectual question, it is a moral question.  Scripture makes this claim explicit.  To the atheist  this seems ridiculous because he imagines that he can autonomously create his own moral order.  However, given that he cannot rationally rise above relativism on the basis of naturalism, he must presuppose God in order to get to objective morality.  Hence, bowing the knee before God is the only rational way to establish such a morality.  Repentance is the pre-requisite for a rationally defensible moral life.  Atheists find this to be highly offensive, but the Christian can never afford to soft-pedal this claim.  The ROLF (rolling on the floor laughing) reaction is one of the typical responses of the atheist, who imagines that he is the source of the definition of morality.  The ROLF is also a convenient way to insulate oneself from seriously considering the frightening prospect of what the consequences would be if the Christian claim were true.

(2)   Once again, an example of the atheist shifting the argument.  Whether or not morality is useful is not the question.  The question concerns whether or not there are objective moral absolutes.

(3)   This is an interesting assertion, repeatedly found in atheistic literature, but one has to wonder how it could ever be proven.  What kind of empirical evidence exists to prove such a notion?  Nobody was around to observe the supposedly evolution of moral behavior over the hundreds of thousands of years of supposed human evolution.  No anthropologist has observed the development of the moral code of a society from scratch.  Even the most "primitive" societies have highly developed moral codes.  The assumption is made that they evolved in order to promote survival, but this is surely an example of massive begging of the question, based on the assumption of biological evolution.  The reasoning really goes as follows:  biological evolution is a fact, and it follows the logic of natural selection or survival of the fittest.  So the biological characteristics that exist in humankind evolved because of their survival value, ergo,  psychological factors, such as morality must have evolved for the same reason.  But where is the empirical proof?  And in spite of the various attempts, no evolutionist has really given a satisfactory explanation of altrusim.

(4) The confusion of the moral order and the physical order here does not help his case.  The assertion that all morality is mere opinion in an atheistic universe holds because there can be no rational basis for deciding on any ultimate value.  Certainly it is correct to assert that regardless of one's opinion, certain values might be more profitable for survival's sake, but he has not demonstrated why the survival of the human race is a good thing.  This would only be another mere opinion.  Remember, the question at stake is not what behaviors and values are more useful for survival or some other arbitrary purpose, but rather, what values are objectively moral and good, regardless of human opinion.  The frustrating thing about discussing this with atheists is that they must make these shifts in the discussion if they are to defend morality, but this is not the question that is at stake.

(5)   He missed the point of my response.  This is intended, not as a proof, but rather as an attempt to show the results of a certain type of logic.  The atheist wants the Christian to keep his "religiously" motivated laws to himself.  A good example is the pro-life stance of Christians.  However, the atheist needs to understand that since the Christian holds that all laws are God-based, he will not be inclined to make a distinction between laws that are "religious" and laws that have a secular justification.  I was pointing out that if the atheist wants me to keep my opinion to myself in some areas, then consistency will demand that I do it in all areas.  Thus, when the atheist is raped or murdered I will simply allow the rapists and murderers to get away with it rather than impose my religious views on them.  I don't think this is where the atheist wants to go.

In addition, it seems that since survival of the fittest has supposedly produced such a massive variety in the animal world, then it would likewise produce such variety in the moral world.  But that is not what we find.   While there is some variation, he correctly notes that the striking thing about morality in different cultures is that it is so similar.  This is much better explained by the biblical teaching that God created people in His image and placed in the human psyche his own moral law, which is inescapable, even though humankind's sinfullness causes it to be twisted in different ways (Romans 2).  This explains both the unity and diversity of human morality as we find it around the world.  The need for survival seems to be inadequate as a final explanation.

(6)   Again, the question is not supposed historical origin, but the establishment of a rational basis for imagining that morality is more than mere opinion.  Notice the continual refusal to face the issue at hand by means of this confusion.

Alan Myatt, Ph.D.

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