Conversations with Atheistspage 13
From Alan to B:
Message text written by B
>Killing somebody simply because they're Jewish is stupid, period. End of story. The amount of carnage is an injustice.<
>Wrong. Any atheist worth his salt knows that social diversity is vital to the quality of the survival of the species<
Why should I care if the species survives?
Well, don't hide out too long. You threw out a helluva lot of stuff, inviting response, so it's only polite, only rational, for you to read the responses and continue the dialogue.<
For one thing, the sheer volume of stuff that you guys are turning out is too much for me to respond to. I just don't have that kind of time to devote to this. In any case, I think the discussion has about run its course. Your responses are pretty much the same kind of stuff I have seen before. Various times you all have remarked that you do not have faith commitments (presuppositions), but no one here has yet produce any justification for knowledge in terms of atheism. I never expected that you would accept my arguments, but I have not seen anything that solves the problems of atheistic assumptions.
At this point, you say you have answered me. I have seen you reasserting your position, responding to individual points here and there, but it seems to me to amount to basically a matter now of me saying that I refuted you, and you saying "did not" while I say "did so." <g>
I do appreciate you B. Your posts have been irenic, intelligent and indicative of a genuine respect for others.
From B to Alan Myatt,
>>>>>I do appreciate you B. Your posts have been irenic, intelligent and indicative of a genuine respect for others.<<<<<
<blush> aww shucks... <g>
>>>>Message text written by B
>Killing somebody simply because they're Jewish is stupid, period. End of story. The amount of carnage is an injustice.<
Not hard. Hitler's ideas were stupid. A "master race", is it? Give me a break. Jews were the source of all Germanic woe? Right. Inept government on part of the Germans, but it's the fault of the Jews. Great reasons to nuke six million of them. It is an injustice any time anybody dies for a stupid idea. Six million people died because of one man's stupid idea. That's an injustice. (2)
>>>>>Wrong. Any atheist worth his salt knows that social diversity is vital to the quality of the survival of the species<
ALAN>>>>Why should I care if the species survives?<<<<<
Again, not hard. If they don't survive, neither will you. (3) Or, those who desire to survive will be around to put pressure upon those who are otherwise indifferent about it. Of course, it's been a while since there's been any activity on this thread and I just got back from vacation, so the quotes above may be from an entirely different context. However, I'm inclined to think that on some level within your cognitive abilities, you have a vested interest in whether the human species survives or not. I also note I was referring to the "quality" of the survival, vs. mere squeaking by, which you deferred by voicing an apparent indifference to whether the species survives at all. Mind 'splainin' that? (4) <g>
From ZC to Alan M,
I understand your argument about the irrationality of atheism to be the following:
One cannot know whether sensation and cognition, etc., are real or are hallucinatory delusions. Despite the apparent consistency in the ability of humans to measure certain phenomena and to communicate the measurements, those perceived abilities could be part of one's own hallucination or mass hysteria. Since "knowing" anything is objectively unreliable, there is no rational basis to rely on thought to draw any conclusions about existence. Therefore, it is not rational to view the world in any particular way based on external sensations and cognition about those sensations, including an atheistic view that God is not necessary to existence.
Is that an accurate rephrasing of your position? If not, please try to
correct me in the fewest number of words that you can use and still be
clear about your position.
To ZC from Alan M,
I had hoped that my position was clear from the post that I wrote previously. (5) In any case I will try to state the issue as succinctly as possible. You seem to think that I am arguing that that the situation you describe represents the human condition in general. I am saying no such thing. What I am saying is that if we grant that atheism is true, or if in fact it were true, then the situation you describe would be the case. If we grant that Christian theism is true then these difficulties do not exist. Atheism destroys the necessary preconditions of knowledge. Christianity provides these conditions. Ergo, unless God is presupposed, knowledge is not possible. The proof for God is that unless he exists there can be no proof of anything at all.
From J to Alan M,
Message text written by Alan Myatt
> 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.<
Nope, you're mistaken. Humanity judges what is right or wrong in any given situation; and frequently enough, we're not terribly competent at it. <shrug> So what? That doesn't mean we should quit trying. It doesn't mean that we're not getting better at it, either.
But it does not follow that there are moral absolutes. That's like saying, "Just because I perceive some light wave refraction as something I call 'yellow', that means that there must be a perfect, universe-defining yellow out there that is beyond human comprehension and exists without humans to call it yellow."
It's a non sequitur. It's also wishful thinking on your part, apparently. You haven't demonstrated anything except that you wish God exists. <shrug>
You Presups are a silly bunch, really. I can prove God doesn't exist by using your same methods: First, assume God doesn't exist... <G>
From Alan M. to J.,
You again illustrate my points here perfectly. You first of all assume that while humanity decides what is right or wrong it is at least possible to get better at it. Then you assert that it does not follow that there are moral absolutes. But then how could you ever know if we were getting better at determining right and wrong? The notion of better presupposes some kind of standard by which human judgments could be measured to see if they are more right than previously. But it is precisely this that you are denying by denying that there are any moral absolutes. And the question of universals in morals is not exactly the same as the question of universals in defining colors. However I will save that for later, since another post has addressed the question in more detail.
>You Presups are a silly bunch, really. I can prove God doesn't
exist by using your same methods: First, assume God doesn't exist...
And then work out the logical implications of that assumption for the theory of knowledge and ethics. I have been attempting to lead you down that path since these discussions started and you just don't seem to be willing to go there.
From ZC to AM,
A point for consideration:
How do you know that Satan did not take on the form of a human called Jesus so that he could dupe Christians into worshipping him instead of having a spiritual relationship directly with God?
If Satan had intended this ruse, he would have done and said everything
that Jesus did and said exactly as recorded in the Bible. Everything in
the New Testament is consistent with a diabolical plot by Satan to take
on the form of Jesus and to trick men into worshipping him. Given the number
of atrocities committed in the name of the Christian religion, is not there
a strong possibility that Jesus is really Satan?
From AM to ZC,
C´mon. This is such a ridiculous notion it hardly deserves a response. In any case, the ethic of Jesus explodes the notion that Satan would have done what Jesus did. Besides, what would I accomplish if I disguised myself as someone else in order to secure their devotion to me? Any success I had would be actually generating more devotion to the one that everybody thought me to be. So, if Satan did pull such a ruse (assuming for the moment that he could also pull off the miracles) then he would be generating devotion to God, for that it was Jesus did.
As for the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, no one would deny that lots of stupidity has been perpetrated by organized religion of various types. But then Jesus himself predicted that such would be the case. He told us that many would come in his name who would show by their actions that they were not actually Christians at all. You might check out 1 John and James for other biblical discussions of this phenomenon. And there is the case of some real Christians who because of the influence of non-Christian philosophy, have acted in such a manner. What cannot be demonstrated is that such atrocities are consistent with the teaching of Christian ethics. They are not.
However, the issue here is not what some people claiming to be Christians have done. The issue is which world view is coherent, rational, true and which is not. And as for the question of atrocities, read the Gulag Archipelago. Millions killed by Stalin according to the account there. And that doesn't include the numbers massacred in China and other atheistic regimes. But as I have said before, I will refrain from passing judgment on atheism on this score as it is my position that the truth of a world view ought to be judged on the basis of its best representatives not its worst. And atheism certainly has better representatives than these.
If you check with Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) and the World Evangelical Fellowship (www.worldevangelical.org) you will discover that the persecution of Christians is raging in various parts of the world. It has been said that more Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than any other time in history. I don't have the figures but the web sites mentioned here give ample evidence of atrocities against Christians perpetrated by atheists and others. Of course, none of this proves or disproves either atheism or Christianity. It just proves that there are human beings who are evil hiding behind the cover of all kinds of world views.
Finally, just what is an atrocity anyway, in a system that rejects the existence of moral absolutes? The very notion of atrocity implies the existence of an abstract and universal principle by which one could determine good and evil, right and wrong. But if ultimate reality is impersonal (matter and energy) then there are NO universally binding abstract principles and hence no objective standards of morality. Right and wrong are merely social convention, or individual opinion. Perhaps morals exist to promote survival of the species. Well, in that case since the Inquisition developed to promote the survival of Catholicism (not to mention the Spanish crown) against the encroachment Islamic, Protestant and other threats, then its actions were justified. Spain was, after all, the strongest military power at the time, the dominant (hence most "fit") nation-state. Thus the ethic of the survival of the fittest vindicates whatever measures it took that were necessary to insure its survival. Hence, on the basis of survival as the foundation of ethics, the Inquisition was not an atrocity, rather it was a moral necessity and it ought to be emulated.
On the other hand, the ethic of love your neighbor as yourself, which you explicitly reject as a moral absolute, tells me that the Inquisition was objectively evil, and it was indeed, according to the standards of Jesus, an atrocity.
So you tell me, on the basis of moral relativism what rational reason is there to accept it as true (rather than expedient, convenient) that anything is an atrocity. You may make such a declaration, but it is merely a statement that you don't like certain actions. For if you are to be consistent (rational) within the limits of your own system (world view) then it seems to me that the best you could do is say for me this is an atrocity. Not that there is any objective reason why anyone else should think so.
> And why is it good to accomplish that? <To answer a question such as this let's start with what looks like a simple one:
"Is that banana yellow?"
First we must ask ourselves things like how much "red" can the color "yellow" have and still be called "yellow?" Is all light "yellow?" Obviously we must precisely define a particular range of frequencies to limit the scope of the color. But who decides this range? You and I might agree but what if we start talking to a third person and she says we're too restrictive. Do we exclude her from the conversation or do we accommodatea wider color range? Let's say we accommodate. Later we are informed we have to fly to New York to give a speech at an artists convention. We start throwing around terms like "yellow" and everybody gives us a blank stare. "What in God's name is 'yellow'," someone stammers. Suddenly a simple question like "Is that banana yellow?" becomes complex. Can any large group of people agree on "yellow?" Can we incorporate the many personal concepts of a color into a universal absolute? No, you say! Human beings can never decide this question to the satisfaction of everyone. There's always someone who looks at a yellow banana and says it's "dirty yellow," or worse, "beige!" Let's not even think about those who are color blind! So we cannot possibly agree. We must appeal to God to tell us what "yellow" means. This argument is sometimes called "The appeal to the Holy Omniscient Interior Decorator." On second thought, it seems rather petty and inept for us to go running to this god to tell us what "yellow" means. I doubt that even the most theistic theist would carry their search for absolutes this far. After all, isn't it a simple categorization problem? Isn't it merely how we use language? We look to ourselves and say, Yes, we have self esteem! Yes, we can take this bold decision into our feable hands! We have no need for an abstract universal that covers "yellow." If we did, there would need to be one for "red" too. In fact, we'd need an infinite number of abstract universals to cover all possible colors. This seems frivolous to say the least.
So let's throw out the concept of abstract universal in the name of simplicity. We merely define this pesky color! We set properties for "yellow" as we need them -- in this case, a narrow frequency range of light. If someone disagrees with our definition they're just going to have to live with it or take their conversation elsewhere. And since we have no need for an abstract universal to discuss "yellow" anymore, we have no need of a transcendent mind to contain it. Therefore we need no god! Now we can look at the question:
"Is X good?"
Does this look familiar? As with "yellow," this question has meaning only when we agree upon a definition of the word "good." Is this process any different than defining "yellow?" A bit harder and more heated, perhaps, but essentially the same. It needs no abstract universal. "Good" doesn't exist any more than "yellow" exists. Both are mere categories. We set the properties of the categories and then we have at it.
C.From Alan M. to C.,
I have to admit, on first glance I did not know quite what to say. You start out by quoting a question I raised and then you proceed not to answer it. I mean, basically you finish up by admitting that I was right after all - there is no such thing as the inherently good in your system, all we have are categories whose properties we set, and then we "have at it." I suppose by "have at it" you mean that we fight it out in order to get our own definition of the good to prevail. Which of course means that in the end the only standard of good or justice that such definitions represent are nothing more than our opinions; our likes and dislikes as individuals. These in the end are just arbitrary whims, based on the desire of the moment and subject to constant change depending on whatever might be convenient at that same moment. When these ideas conflict from one person to the next then we "have it out." The really insistent will resort to "having it out" with sticks, knives, guns, and eventually nuclear bombs in order to impose their personal view of the "properties of the categories" on the rest of us. And when it all comes down, it appears that you are simply saying that there is nothing else and so what?
Now the difficulty I have with this is that it seems to take us right back to square one. That is, if "Good" doesn't exist, the neither does justice. What you are saying is that there is no situation x in which it can be identified that action y is inherently the right thing to do. From your atheistic standpoint you could only conceive of action y as being the right thing to do in terms of the pragmatic criterion of does y accomplish goal z which you see as desirable. However, there is no attribute of goal z that could be said to be inherently good or just and hence no way of that goal rendering action y just. In the end it all comes down to a simple question of your desires. And no one can come up with any reason why you should not realize them, whatever they are, outside of the threat of some other consequences that you might find unpleasant, that is, inconsistent with some other desire. In the final analysis your view of ethics degenerates into pure egoism, but hey, what's wrong with that?
Now if there is no such thing as justice, then what is all this clap-trap about it that we encounter every day in our legal system? Why bother with the facade? And why should anyone give a rip at all about any of the social causes that you yourself no doubt are deeply concerned over? In the end you find yourself in the same dilemma that Arthur Leff describes in detail in the article cited in my earliest posts (6)
Tell me, don't you ever feel a sense of outrage when you read in the paper that a child was molested, a woman raped, or an elderly person's life savings ripped off in a scam? No? Then the psychologists would label you a sociopath. Why? Because normal people do feel such a sense of outrage. But since it is likely that you are not a sociopath, then you DO experience such moments of outrage. When you have these moments you are not thinking that you and the perpetrator of the crime have "had at it", you prevailed, and therefore it is proper that you feel a sense of moral indignation. In fact, you never had at it with this person; your outrage from his standpoint is just your arbitrary opinion. Nevertheless, it is there, and one is compelled to ask, given that there is no such thing as justice, isn't it quite arrogant of you to imagine that what was done to the molested child, the raped woman and the ripped off senior citizen wasn't fair? After all, if you are correct then the concept of fairness is vacuous anyway. It means whatever anyone wants it to, which is only to say that it doesn't mean anything at all.
So we are indeed back to square one. Hitler and his thugs "had at it" with their opponents and managed to get control of the government of Germany. They then proceeded to "set the the categories" with the barrel of a gun and reserved the concentration camps for those who disagreed as well as any others they defined as sub-human. The really marvelous thing is that you have shown us that those who criticized Hitler on moral grounds really don't have a leg to stand on. Once we assume that there is no such thing as "Good" that is.
It's all very nice in theory B. But my money says that there is no way you can live with this in the real world. The minute someone rapes your wife, molests your child, steals your retirement, you will be screaming for justice. You won't be waiting to "have it out" before you decide how to respond. You will want the creeps who did these things to pay and pay dearly. No matter how much you protest to the contrary your whining is just not credible. And that is because in the deepest recesses of your heart you know that there is really a right and a wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. God has created you with that knowledge and try as you may, you will never be able to repress it fully.
As for your discourse on the color yellow I would say that is is both incorrect and irrelevant. Irrelevant because defining the physical characteristics of an object is not the same thing as defining a concept such as good, which is itself a universal. After all, when you say that some particular thing is good you always do this in reference to some other situation, entity, goal or reality. That is, you always are faced with the necessity of responding to the question, why? Now in the case of the color yellow the response to the question why is of a different sort. We perceive a common physical characteristic between the appearance of the objects and we give it a name. We can debate about what causes it, but we can see that there is a common aspect and we can name it. Even a nominalist such as yourself has to admit that giving a common classification to two entities that do not share numerical identity assumes some kind of common attribute.
Now in the case of particular "goods" which are not physical objects, but rather actions, ideas, feelings, situations, and other intangibles, we still must find some kind of common characteristic or property in order to justify labeling these entities with a common title, when they do not share numerical identity. In fact, the differences between the various things that we will want to label as good may be much greater than that between different shades of yellow. What does assisting a blind person across the street have to do with choosing not to cheat on an exam even when you did not get adequate time to study and you have a bird's eye view of the paper on the desk next to you? You would not want to deny that both actions are good in some sense would you? But if they are, then why? What do they have in common? The minute you begin to look for that common characteristic then you are into making abstract generalizations. And the more particulars these generalizations are able to cover the more they approach being universals. Of course you can revert to saying that there is no need for such generalizations, but then you are left with arbitrarily labeling each thing you want to call good as being good for no reason at all, i.e., it is simply good because you say so and that's all. The minute you give a reason, any reason at all, then you are moving in the direction of universals. And you will not get a coherent account of the good until you reach a transcendent point of reference for determining it. God is there in the end after all.
The incorrectness of your argument, even about the color yellow, now begins to become apparent because the larger underlying problem is surfacing. If the things you call good have no logical relation to each other then they are just a mass of disconnected, fragmented particulars. Really, such particulars would have no coherent relation to any other particulars. What is illustrated here is that in the atheist, materialist world view, the only things that exist are particulars. There is no way to unify these particulars. And that is as much the case for physical perceptions such as yellow as it is for abstractions such as good and evil. You cannot get rid of the One and Many problem by simply declaring it not to exist. Nor can it be gotten rid of by demonstrating some of the difficulties in solving it. Even defining a banana as yellow reveals the irrationality and arbitrariness of simply declaring that objects not sharing numerical identity do share something common after all. If the physical is all there is and the bananas are not numerically identical then the commonality is a sheer fiction. The moment you say that it is real, then you are admitting the existence of universals. And surely when you say that something is yellow you are saying that it really is yellow. You are saying that the attribute of yellow really does exist in some sense, even if only as a category in your mind. It isn't simply a question of how you use language. Language to be meaningful must have some kind of referent. Even in fiction we know what the concept of a unicorn represents and what it would correspond to if such a thing existed. How much more so in the case of things that do exist.
Well, this debate over the One and the Many, universals, nominalism, etc., is very ancient and has perplexed minds much greater than mine. Thinkers much greater than either of us have disagreed over it and we are not likely to resolve it here. However, I see no reason based on your arguments to reach any other conclusion than the one that I have argued for since these discussions began. Atheism is irrational. It cannot produce a rational account of reality, knowledge, ethics and purpose. Human beings need an infinite personal reference point for that and only the Triune God of the Bible fits the bill.
(1) The original post written by B appears to have been accidentally deleted while the discussion was still underway. Subsequent attempts to recover it were unsuccessful.
(3) To which the obvious response is "So what?" The fact that my personal survival is at stake offers no inherently moral reason why I should survive, whether I like it or not.
(4) The question at issue here is not whether or not I am personally indifferent to the survival of the human race (I am not). That question is irrelevant. The question is whether or not atheist can offer any inherent reason as to why human survival is morally good. It cannot.
(5) The post on page 10.
(6) Page 1.
Alan Myatt, Ph.D.