Tag Archives: atheism

The Atheist War Against Logic and Philosophy

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Can atheism provide a suitable foundation for morality of any sort?

Can any sort of morality be sustained in the absence of a divine moral lawgiver from which an objective moral standard can be derived and to whom we are all accountable? Atheist philosopher Joel Marks argues in his piece that it cannot (part 2), that the best atheists are left with is the subjective dislike of certain attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.

Here’s the conclusion for those of you who are pressed for time:

I conclude that morality is largely superfluous in daily life, so its removal – once the initial shock had subsided – would at worst make no difference in the world. (I happen to believe – or just hope? – that its removal would make the world a better place, that is, more to our individual and collective liking. That would constitute an argument for amorality that has more going for it than simply conceptual housekeeping. But the thesis – call it ‘The Joy of Amorality’ – is an empirical one, so I would rely on more than just philosophy to defend it.)

A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.

As a side note; It amazes me that questions of moral grounding among mixed theistic/atheistic company generally trend towards the attack and defense of theistic morality. It is very rare to see any atheistic ground for morality along the lines of what Sam Harris attempted to do in his book “Moral Landscape”. Its very easy to throw mud at someone, but its a lot harder to bake that mud into bricks, form those bricks into a home, and attempt to live in it.

Bonus: Here is another helpful commentary from the perspective that love is the driving force behind morality.

Sam Harris on the rape of religion

As a biological phenomenon, religion is the product of cognitive processes that have deep roots in our evolutionary past. Some researchers have speculated that religion itself may have played an important role in getting large groups of prehistoric humans to socially cohere. If this is true, we can say that religion has served an important purpose. This does not suggest, however, that it serves an important purpose  now. There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors. That religion may have served some necessary func­tion for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impedi­ment to our building a global civilization.

-Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

If religion is an evolutionary byproduct which is no longer useful, why should we suppose that Sam’s atheism is any different? Indeed, it seems that if evolution can take us from rape being beneficial to socially condemned, doesn’t it stand to reason that the practice could make a comeback at a future date if evolution (whatever that is) leads us in that direction?

I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not
seem good. Still, the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the end of
the eighteenth century. Anyone who spoke with confidence about eradicating slavery in the
United States in the year 1775 surely appeared to be wasting his time, and wasting it
dangerously.

Indeed, it seems that we have little reason to think that rapists today aren’t merely misunderstood revolutionaries who want to drive us back to a more traditional time where men apparently clubbed women over the heads whenever they felt the urge to mate.

After all, if evolutionists are right with regard to our origins, rape is apparently the original “traditional marriage”.

Is Christianity coherent, consistent and livable? Part 5 of 5

Preamble

Quite a while ago I contributed a post titled “Coherent, Consistent, and Livable” to a series titled “Is Christianity is True” organized by Brian Auten. Shortly after the compiled book was published, Luke Muehlhauser announced his intentions to publish a rebuttal to each essay in the “Is Christianity is True?” series in a “Why Christianity is False” series of his own.

This is part 5 of a 5 part series intended to address Luke’s post, “Christianity is Incoherent”.

My hope is that through this series others will be encouraged to examine their own worldviews. Christian and non-Christian alike.

As Socrates famously said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Conclusion

It would be pat for me to write in conclusion that I find Luke’s objections to be unconvincing. However I will say that a a finite being I am well aware that I may be wrong with regard to my current beliefs. And if I am when it comes to my Christian worldview then Luke has done me a disservice by

  1. Not offering a clear rebuttal to anything I’ve claimed
  2. Not offering a more compelling alternative view

Challenge

Now to be fair, and to be fair to any evangelical atheist who wishes to undertake this challenge, here is specifically what I’ll need to have in order to seriously question my beliefs

  1. I need a good explanation of how the world came to exist
  2. I need to know how I, a cognitive being, came to exist in this world
  3. I need to know why I should trust my epistemic faculties, including my mind, to provide me with true information
  4. I need a good accounting of things I hold to be intrinsically to be true, like altruism and self-sacrifice
  5. I need to know why I or anything I do matters, especially in view of our universe’s impending heat-death

Is Christianity coherent, consistent and livable? Part 4 of 5

Preamble

Quite a while ago I contributed a post titled “Coherent, Consistent, and Livable” to a series titled “Is Christianity is True” organized by Brian Auten. Shortly after the compiled book was published, Luke Muehlhauser announced his intentions to publish a rebuttal to each essay in the “Is Christianity is True?” series in a “Why Christianity is False” series of his own.

This is part 4 of a 5 part series intended to address Luke’s post, “Christianity is Incoherent”.

My hope is that through this series others will be encouraged to examine their own worldviews. Christian and non-Christian alike.

As Aristotle famously said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Livable

As I mentioned in my initial article; In order for a worldview to be livable it needs to be complete in itself. It cannot borrow from other worldviews that which it cannot sustain on its own. Atheism fails on these two fronts since it borrows from other worldviews when it comes to morality, something Luke also does as he seems to indicate there is a moral problem with the teachings of Christianity, and atheism has no foundation for an ultimately meaningful or purposeful life.

Morality

Luke seems to think that some of the best philanthropists are Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. I suppose these two were chosen due to the number of dollars they can send to any cause or humanitarian project. However I would argue that the measure of philanthropy is not the number of dollars one can send, but how much of oneself one can give. In this respect the greatest philanthropists are the ones who “lay down their lives for their neighbor”. However this is exactly what naturalism argues against. Altruism, the practice of selflessly giving oneself in service to others, is simply an incoherent concept in any worldview that denies that we are eternal, consistent1, creatures.

Meaning

I believe a difficulty exists with how Luke and I are using the phrase “life a satisfactory life”. I am using it in the classical philosophical sense, rooted in worldviews which contained the context of some sort of transcendent existence after death. In this sense, the qualifications of what it takes to life a satisfactory life are objective and definite. They transcend the universe and all its particulars, including us. Since these objectives are transcendent, it follows that a meaningful life is not constrained to time and space.

It appears that Luke, as most atheists, want to view a satisfactory life as a subjective and finite target. The problem with that understanding, however, is that if the meaning of life is whatever the subject determines it to be2 then the notion that there is any meaning collapses in on itself. If there is no objective standard, then it becomes incoherent to talk about anything meeting that standard. Here Luke demonstrates how an incoherent worldview like atheism is not consistently livable. Luke deconstructs the words used, specifically meaning and purpose, and then claims that everything fits.

If we say anything goes when it comes to meaning and purpose of life then we render the question itself incoherent. Meaning is stripped of its, well, meaning as is purpose.

When you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do.

  1. I add this stipulation because I believe pantheism falls into the same nihilistic trap as atheism. []
  2. A view consistent with Luke’s postmodern continental philosophy []

Is Christianity coherent, consistent and livable? Part 3 of 5

Preamble

Quite a while ago I contributed a post titled “Coherent, Consistent, and Livable” to a series titled “Is Christianity is True” organized by Brian Auten. Shortly after the compiled book was published, Luke Muehlhauser announced his intentions to publish a rebuttal to each essay in the “Is Christianity is True?” series in a “Why Christianity is False” series of his own.

This is part 3 of a 5 part series intended to address Luke’s post, “Christianity is Incoherent”.

My hope is that through this series others will be encouraged to examine their own worldviews. Christian and non-Christian alike.

As Aristotle famously said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Consistent

Luke apparently doesn’t like my treatment of eastern mystic worldviews. He seems to think their adherents would object to my claim that they don’t give a pretense of being consistent.

Well let’s quickly walk through the list:

  • The goal of Buddhism is nothingness. Koans given for meditation are intentionally designed to help you shut your mind off. Buddhism is about giving up one’s desires, including our desire to find sufficient answers.
  • Islam and Mormonism teach a system of abrogation where in newer verses in their texts nullify earlier verses. Islam also teaches a particular view of causal determinism and as such has no problem understanding God to be both good as well as evil. Neither Muslims nor Mormons are encouraged to seek out answers on their own, but rather to inquire of holy men who often give them mystic answers.
  • New age, Wicca, and Hindu explicitly deny objective truth. It’s very hard to be consistent when you deny the foundation for consistency at the outset.
  • Atheism maintains the universe has no specific purpose or design. If there is no design or purpose, then it is an act of futility to look for it in any objective sense. Oh sure, as we will explore later, you can make things up, but then you are merely playing with words.

I love Luke’s response to the problem of an infinite regress

The concept of infinite regress is still debated, and many naturalists do not accept an infinite regress, anyway.

That is really like saying that the concept of gravity is still debated but I don’t have a problem with it at any rate since I don’t accept it. It really doesn’t matter what naturalists accept or not because the laws of logic are a lot like the laws of physics. They both exist and exert force on us whether we like it or not. Unless Luke can either explain how an actual infinite can exist, or how his worldview does not logically lead to an infinite regress, his worldview remains logically incoherent.

Next Luke puts forth a list of 7 reasons he thinks Christianity is incoherent

Does God need to create?

Luke asserts that God’s creating indicates a need which, in turn, calls into question God’s aseity.

He writes:

Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something? A perfect being has no needs or wants, so how could he need or want to create a world and populate it with beings and demand worship and sacrifice from them?

Why should we suppose that a perfect being should be devoid of desires? And, more importantly, Why we should think that the desire in God to create is temporal? It seems rather clear that God is portrayed as the Creator who creates. Thus it seems to make sense to think that the desire to create is part of who God is and not an external constraint upon God’s character. Luke’s objection might make sense if another premise were found to be true, namely that this world is all that God has or will ever create. However without any support, such a notion would be little more than a bare assertion.

Calling into question the coherency of Christianity based on God’s desire to create is a lot like calling into question a human’s humanity based on their desire to have sex.

So is it consistent to say that an eternal being whose character includes being creative has, and presumably will continue, created? I don’t see why not.

Isn’t God unchangeable?

Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being would create something? If God is unchangeable, then he can’t have one set of intentions at one moment and then a new set of intentions at another. And yet God supposedly created at one time, but now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe, because he did it already. The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.

Luke makes several assumptions here. And at the risk of answering a pooly formed question I’ll simply outline the additional data Luke needs to provide before this can go from a bare assertion to a well formed question with any weight that followers of Christ like myself should take seriously.

1. What does Luke mean by unchangeable? Does he mean what the Bible means which is that God is unchangeable in His character or does he mean immutable? If Luke means immutable, where does he get the idea that Christianity requires its adherents to adhere to such a belief?
2. Where does the notion that God “now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe”? It seems either arrogant at the worst or horribly misguided at the worst to think that Luke would know the unrevealed intentions what an infinite being.

Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.

Again, Luke offers a ill-formed question here which need to be fleshed out further.

How can God be transcendent and omnipresent?

Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.

Transcendent does not mean “to be nowhere in space in time”, it means to not be constrained by space and time. To transcend them. As for how God can transcend space and time and still act in it, I believe that is the focus of Luke’s next question.

How can God transcend space and time and still act in space and time

Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and yet acts in time? To be transcendent is to be beyond space and time, so a transcendent being can’t also be immanent in space and time.

The only way this objection makes sense is if we import another premise which is that a transcendent being must abdicate it’s transcendent property in order to operate in space and time. However by including this premise we end up demolishing the meaning of the words used, specifically with regard to transcendence.

What Luke needs to do here is show how his question does not negate itself by virtue of deconstructing the very words he is attempting to use to demonstrate an inconsistency with God ontology.

God’s freedom bothers me

Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.

Luke’s objection here only makes sense if we include the premise that the only truths that exist are necessary truths. This strikes me as an odd claim and Luke bears the burden of showing why we should believe this is true.

In the meantime, I’d like to point out this video of Dr Craig explaining the different logical divisions of God’s knowledge.

At the corner of Mercy and Justice

Is it consistent to say that God is all-merciful and all-just? A perfectly just person treats every offender with exactly the severity he or she deserves, but an all-merciful person treats every offender with less severity than he or she deserves. What sense does it make to say that God is all-merciful and all-just?

Luke is absolutely correct here. Mercy and justice would indeed be at odds if we viewed God like the Muslims do where mercy is doled out at the expense of justice. Fortunately, our divine creator knew about this problem and before the foundation of the world He had a solution.

More specifically, I believe Luke’s problem here is that he fails to factor in the offended along with the offense. In our case, the offense is against a perfect being who created us and as such has authority over us. What is interesting is that Luke seems to assume that many people fail to get what they deserve. That begs the question, however. What do we really deserve with regard to the cosmos?

In conclusion, I fail to see how a handful of poorly formed and loaded questions are suposed to show how Christianity is internally inconsistent.

I also recommend Brennon Hartshorn’s response to this list.

5 Flaws In The Thinking Of The New Atheists

Do Atheists ever become Christians based on logic and evidence?

Many times I hear otherwise committed Christians ask whether logic and reason have ever helped anyone come to faith or not. They largely view Paul’s speech in Acts 17 as a failure and claim he changed his tactics after the incident on Mars Hill.

The Sunday after EPS (which was awesome), I attended Dr Craig’s class with my wife and Wintry Knight. While there we were treated to a tag-team presentation by Holly Ordway and Stephen Notman.

Here is the audio. [HT Brian Auten]

While both presentations are excellent, what struck me the most was Holly’s story. Being a professor of literature, Dr. Ordway was drawn to Christ primarily through the literature produced by great Christian authors.

Before Holly spoke Dr Craig had her help distribute a few books as prizes. Holly provided quotes from great Christian authors and the books were given to the people who could correctly identify the author. From this simple exchange it was evident that Holly loved her craft and took great joy in it.

We (Christians) need to listen more carefully to people like Holly and Stephen. We need to understand how they were borne into the kingdom so we can work at creating more environments that are conducive to conversions that are not merely emotional highs in a concert setting.

Also, we need more people like the ones who were instrumental in Holly and Stephen’s lives. Christians who are equipped and willing to go where the lost are, invest our lives into them, and wait for them to raise the deep questions that no other world view has an adequate answer for outside of Christianity.

A deeper look at Blaise Pascal’s wager

Many have heard the popular simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, “If there is no God then I do not stand to lose anything but a small amount of fun for upholding a strict moral standard. However, if there is a God then I stand to gain everything if I adhere to His revelation while I stand to lose everything if I behave otherwise.”

While many are content to leave it at this, few understand that this is a minor point in Blaise Pascal‘s larger argument. His main point was that everyone is already making a wager, and that in light of the gravity of the wager, we should take great care in placing our bets.

And fewer still are familiar with Pascal’s brief but brilliant life enough to know that his wager was not made in a vacuum but was made to friends of his who were familiar with other arguments for God’s existence. Who were only prevented from belief in God because they rightly believed that after accepting God they would have to keep his commands. Who didn’t think that believing subsequently following God would make them happy.

It is quite sad that our present cultural emphasis on happiness (defined primarily as pleasure) has taken center stage. Pascal and others of his era would have been appalled as their understanding of happiness hearkened back to Socrates’s wise words that an unexamined life is not worth living.

So Pascal’s wager, in essence, is a challenge to find a more virtuous life than that of follower of Christ.

Read the full text of Pascal’s argument here. It is found in section 3, part 194.

Further resources regarding Pascal’s Wager:

On the dangers of doubt

Unmitigated doubt is a cancer.

What I mean by that is not that doubt itself is a bad thing. IT isn’t. Men are borne with doubts and fears which naturally lead to a sort of curiosity about the world around them and about the larger philosophical questions such as meaning, purpose, existence, origin, etc.

Socrates famously put it this way: The unexamined life is not worth living.

So doubt itself is not a problem. The problem comes in when we doubt and have no end in mind, no clear requirement as to what could possibly satisfy our doubt. This type of doubt is what Pascal had in mind when he wrote:

But as for those who pass their life without thinking of this ultimate end of life, and who, for this sole reason that they do not find within themselves the lights which convince them of it, neglect to seek them elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people receive with credulous simplicity, or one of those which, although obscure in themselves, have nevertheless a solid and immovable foundation, I look upon them in a manner quite different.

This carelessness in a matter which concerns themselves, their eternity, their all, moves me more to anger than pity; it astonishes and shocks me; it is to me monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I expect, on the contrary, that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-love; for this we need only see what the least enlightened persons see.

We do not require great education of the mind to understand that here is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful necessity of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy. –Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

I must agree with Pascal here. He notes that a person who refuses to ground his doubt in something is not to be pitied like the person who makes an honest effort of seeking answers through careful and diligent study and yet, for whatever reason, comes to hold wrong beliefs and ideas. No, the person who does not ground their doubt in anything, like most modern atheists who are blinded by the post modern notion that any objective answers concerning the deep and fundamental questions of life, are to be scorned as being intellectually lazy.

That is, they should strive to take up the challenge of honestly examining what it is they reject. As Pascal also says:

In order to attack it, they should have protested that they had made every effort to seek Him everywhere, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without satisfaction. If they talked in this manner, they would in truth be attacking one of her pretensions. But I hope here to show that no reasonable person can speak thus, and I venture even to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how those who are of this mind behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture and have questioned some priests on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast of having made vain search in books and among men. But, verily, I will tell them what I have often said, that this negligence is insufferable. We are not here concerned with the trifling interests of some stranger, that we should treat it in this fashion; the matter concerns ourselves and our all. –Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III: Of the Necessity of the Wager, #187

Questions beg to be answered. Or at the very least explored. The worst place is to end up in a state of perpetual and unending doubt. Doubt which does not drive one forward to a further examined life, but paralyzes with fear unto inaction.

Unmitigated doubt, therefore, is a cancer. And that cancer will spread until it is terminated in something. For those who choose not to stop the spread of their doubt themselves, the cancer, when fully developed, will lead inexorably to apathy.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. -James 1:5-8 (emphasis mine)

When you ask questions, expect answers.