Saturday, October 08, 2005

It all comes down to your view of God and your view of man.

The title of this post is something I heard quite a few times when I was at Grove City College, taking Civilization and the Speculative Mind. Naturally, all students abbreviate the names of courses. This one was called Spec Mind. This led to the quip, "So, this is the course where we worry about the speck in our brother's mind without worrying about the plank in our own mind."

My teacher for this course was James T. Thrasher, and he was tough as all get-out. I worked harder for this course than I did for Quantum Mechanics! He it was who gave us that quote above, "It all comes down to your view of God and your view of man."

What are the options? Well, strictly speaking, I suppose there are four; they are 1. high view of God and high view of man, 2. high view of God and low view of man, 3. low view of God and high view of man, and 4. low view of God and low view of man. Number 4 is suicidal, and probably an aberration. Though I do not say it is unimportant, I will not deal with it here. The first three are much more important, because they are more widespread. But before I go on, I need to mention something a Christian would point out. God does not change, and thus a low or high view of God is not complicated. But men change. God saves some men, and thus we should clarify whether we are talking about regenerate men or unregenerate men. I will do so from now on. It is also important to discuss this word "view". Whose view are we talking about? Are we attempting to view men and God from God's perspective or from man's? That also I will clarify.

Number 3 is the secular humanist. Men who take this position probably assume that there is no fundamental change such as salvation, and thus the position of men is not complicated. Man is man, according to this view. In addition, the view is all from men. In other words, men, men, men. Man the measure, as some of the Greeks would say.

Numbers 1 and 2, in sort of a blend, represents the biblical view. The biblical view states first that it is God's view that matters more than man's view. I shouldn't care so much about what other people think of me, whereas I should care very much about what God thinks of me. So from a God's-eye perspective, the unregenerate man is viewed with wrath, and the regenerate man is viewed with love. See Romans 9 for a discussion of the fact that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. As John Murray pointed out, the word "hated" there cannot be reduced to "loved less." The contrast implies the greater meaning.

So we really have two options, when we come down to it. One is the secular humanist position. The view is from man, and man takes a high view of himself, and a low view of God, if he even believes there is a God. The other option is the biblical position. The view is from God, and God views unregenerate men as objects of His wrath, and regenerate men as objects of His love. *plays tune from Jeopardy* Which one to take?

Some of you have perhaps heard of Pascal's wager. This wager has very much to do with this topic. You should see this for an atheist's take on Pascal's wager. He has what I would consider a decent explanation of the wager himself. And then he has a number of objections. I will assume, therefore, that at this time you have read that link, and the "flaws" he points out. I will now address his arguments, at least some of them.

Flaw Number 1. How do you know which God to believe in? It is true that many religions make exclusive claims: believe this religion or you will go to hell. But Christianity makes one claim that no other religion on earth makes. The claim is that man cannot save himself; he needs a Savior. If God is God: absolute, infinite, holy, etc., and man is finite, then how could man possibly save himself? Even if he could, how could he possibly know whether he has really done it or not? This is what tormented Martin Luther, and what the book of Romans taught him. Since Jesus saves, and we do not save ourselves, we can have assurance, unlike every other religion in existence. Ultimately, however, I do not believe you can prove the existence of God. Many have tried, and failed. The only thing that will really convince you of the truth of Christianity is if God the Holy Spirit comes into your heart and regenerates you.

Flaw Number 2. Of course God is not stupid, and yes we are trying, in one sense, to get a free ride into heaven. But if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then guess what? A free ride is the only ride! Now I am not arguing here that once you are saved, you can do whatever you want. Far from it. But our ultimate salvation is utterly free. You ask how can I believe in a God simply out of convenience? Well, the short answer is I don't. There are many reasons people become Christians, and yet there are many more reasons people stay Christians.

Flaw Number 3. If you have spent considerable time trying to obey the Scriptures, then I think there would be no waste of time. If people only obeyed the latter six of the Ten Commandments, wouldn't the world be a much better place? Naturally, if they obeyed the first four in addition, the world would be perfect. :-) But I cannot call it a waste if people treat each other well, which is really what the latter six commandments are all about. See also Jesus' explanation of how the Ten Commandments are really internal also, and not just external. So keeping the Ten Commandments is not what it may seem to the superficial eye.

Flaw Number 4. I'm not sure how this is a flaw. What he says seems to be true, on the face of it. The real question is, is this concept a real flaw, or is it simply a fact?

Flaw Number 5. He's absolutely correct here. For evidence of a God, I would simply point to creation. Naturally, the atheist would say it's not creation, but that view doesn't hold water. If I pointed out a watch on the ground, no one would even begin to say that that watch was a random collection of molecules. He would admit that there was a design. Now look at a tree. Would you say that this infinitely more complicated tree was not designed? The Intelligent Design people have some really great stuff on this. See Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box for a start.

Flaw Number 6. Well, yeah, it's insulting... if you think man is basically good. If man is not basically good (and this is an assumption some atheists make: examine it, atheists!), then such a threat should be expected. It could hardly be an insult then!

Flaw Number 7. Ah, but Christians do not believe that God will judge based on our actions. If He did, we'd all be dead. No, God ultimately judges us, lets us into heaven or consigns us to hell, on the basis of whether or not Christ's works and righteousness are ours. This is not to say that our works are unimportant; far from it. But insofar as heaven is concerned, our works help us not a whit. The one situation that will never occur is that someone (besides Jesus!) gets into heaven on the basis of his own good works. Our own righteousness is as filthy rags (the Bible actually uses the term menstrual cloths, so think used tampons here!). Think that will get you into heaven?

The only thing remaining is to comment on his Atheist's Wager. I believe God exists. Therefore, if you don't believe in God, his Atheist's Wager states that you will go to heaven because you're a good person. This is precisely what will not happen. You can have Christ's righteousness, or no righteousness. There is no other righteousness on the basis of which we can get into heaven.

So, by and large, I think Pascal's Wager has fewer holes than Mr. Adrian Barnett thinks. My namesake needs to do better.

Accept Christ as your personal Savior now. There's no use in waiting!

In Christ.

Visit Math Help Boards for friendly, free and expert math help.


At 10/08/2005 10:00:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

Good stuff.

I had actually never read through Pascal's wager, although I had heard it mentioned in passing, so I much enjoyed reading up on it.

Pascal's wager was strong on math, weak on theology ;). As I read through his argument I was making a mental list of flaws even as I was appreciating the mathematics he was using. One can prove pretty much anything with incorrect premises.

At 10/09/2005 12:40:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A most fascinating read, but I find that your refutations of Mr. Barnett's points are in truth not good ones. In fact they miss the mark of what Mr. Barnett's first criticism of the wager is!

You see, like Pascal, you make the unfortunate assumption that Christianity is the only viable option of the wager. Let us discount any similarities between earlier myths and Christianity, and begin with the idea that Christianity has the unique idea of a savior figure. This refutes the difficulty of Mr. Barnett's criticism precisely how? It does not follow that the truth of a position is determined by its uniqueness. It is a non-sequitir to assume so. Even if one decides to consider your religious experiences as evidence for Christianity, then you are similarly obligated through simple objectivity to count the religious experiences as evidence for other religions, which only puts us back in the original dilemma- thus strengthening Mr. Barnett's criticism. If, on the other hand, one denies the need for objectivity or falls back to a "ah, but other religious experiences as derived from demons/etc.", then one has employed fallacious reasoning in the form of circular reasoning.

If you've read Pascal fully on the wager, the basis of the argument rests upon reason being unable to determine whether God exists or does not exist. By this basis for which we must wager, it only shows that the "many gods" objection is a solid criticism of the wager. If you appeal to reason to narrow the possibilities of gods, you are destroying the basis upon which the wager rests (which is not quite a good job of defending it!). However, you will only find the options of Christianity and atheism the viable options of the wager, purely because the others are not serious options to yourself.

You likewise miss the point of the second criticism. Even if it's a free ride from the mindset of Christians, it does not discount that a person believing in Christianity on the basis of Pascal's wager is doing it purely for selfish gain and not a sincere love for God. Surely Christians would be hesitant to promote one of their own saying: "Yeah, I believe Jesus is the son of God who was crucified for our sins and rose three days later, and I've accepted him into my life. But it's only because my belief benefits me."

The third criticism is one we will have to agree to disagree upon, because such involves a large discussion over ethics. I will simply say that the mere following of rules does not make one moral, nor would it necessarily make society better. It is the desire to be moral combined with moral acts that is necessary, and the Ten Commandments alone do not accomplish that (If it did, the discussion of ethics would not be nearly as complicated as it is).

The fifth criticism is a reference to Paley's argument, otherwise known as the Teleological argument. One problem that springs to mind with this argument is the difficulty of spotting design. Suppose I design a rock that in all respects is identical to an ordinary rock. How precisely would you be able to determine the difference between it and an ordinary rock, despite one having been designed by man and one not having been designed by man? In the same vein, you make a leap of logic in assuming that the universe resembles man-made artifacts. It likewise confuses the difference between order and design. Unlike design, order does not presuppose an orderer- it is a necessary quality of existence. Beyond this matter, what would a universe lacking in order consist of? Hume likewise raises the objection in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion that we have no other universes to compare with this one, and therefore we cannot recognize a universe of design and one lacking in design (much like the stone example presented earlier).

Even assuming that the Teleological argument is a sound one, it does not point specifically to Christianity. It is equally valid to any form of deity in general, and therefore a better argument is necessary to further conclude Christianity is true. Additionally, invoking the Teleological argument undercuts Pascal's wager, who states that because reason cannot show whether God exists or does not exist, we must wager. To say that reason can decide makes the wager meaningless.

While it is admirable that you wish to defend the wager as a sound argument, I do not believe you do a good job of this for the reasons I have presented. It is one of the weaker arguments for God, and I believe one would be much better off in defending the Cosmological or Teleological arguments, which are typically stronger in arguing for God's existence. If you are interested in discussing such further on said topics or similar ones, I am reachable at, though more oft than not busy and thus at times slow to respond.

In any event, good evening to you.

At 10/09/2005 02:55:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Anonymous.

When we are unsure of ourselves, we always go back to our assumptions. You have apparently assumed several things, but correct me if I'm wrong. Of course I can only go by what you have written. Naturally, everyone makes assumptions, so the question is not, "Is it bad to make assumptions?", but "Which assumptions have you made?" As I read your comment, I am struck by the idea that you have made the following assumptions. 1. There is such a thing as absolute truth. Really, to believe that truth is relative is self-contradictory, so I certainly have no issues with this assumption. 2. You assume that logical deduction and correct inference are a valid way of arriving at truth, possibly even all truth. Actually, Kurt Godel proved that if you start with consistent axioms, it is then impossible to prove everything that can be stated as a theorem, even if all the theorems you state are true. So I would say to that assumption that as long as you don't think you can get all truth by logic, you're still ok. And this appears to be all the assumptions you make. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

Now, what about uniqueness? You have assumed logic to be true. The central premise, or axiom, of logic is that A cannot be A and not A at the same time and in the same respect. This does not rule out the possibility that there are propositions B, C, D, and E that are all false. You may come back to me and say that for propositions F, G, H, and I that are all true, there is one proposition, J, that is false. I would not agree with that statement. I believe the truth is a knife-edge. The truth is unique, and for every true statement there are dozens of false ones. I really don't think it can be otherwise. Now let me clarify one thing. I do not mean that one true statement is unique. I mean truth, as in the collection of all true statements, is unique. After all, the only alternative is error, right? Let's look at religions as an example. Many, if not most or even all, religions make absolute claims. Our religion is the only true one. They are making absolute statements there. Certainly Christianity, Judaism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormonism all make absolute claims that their religion is the only true one. All these religions are contradictory, one with another. They are mutually exclusive. Thus they cannot be all correct. They could theoretically all be wrong. But at most one of them is correct. Therefore, the true religion, if there even is one, is unique. We should expect it to have characteristics that no other religion has. Whereas the other religions are all false, and therefore not unique in terms of truthness or falseness. Of course, Islam is the only religion that touts Mohammed as the prophet of Allah, and Mormons have their Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. So every religion has something unique about it. Moreover, I think that probably every religion gets something right, otherwise no one would buy it.

So the result of the above reasoning is this: the truth is unique, it has to be. I agree that uniqueness does not determine truth, and even determining uniqueness is difficult at best. But one thing we can say: if it's not unique, it's not truth.

So I'm not so convinced that it is such a non sequitur as you seem to think.

Pascal is utterly correct when he says that reason and logic cannot prove the existence or non-existence of God. Logic is simply inadequate. I am no philosophy person (I do have a smattering of logic), but from what I have gathered, most of the arguments for the existence of God are circular. The one argument that is not circular is the idea that given the incredible complexity of the world around us, it must have had a Creator. Romans 1:20 says that "For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (ESV) Creation shouts aloud that there is a Creator.

I agree that Pascal's Wager is not a strong argument for Christianity. It wasn't even intended as such by Pascal, I don't think.

There is debate amongst Christians as to what should be our motivations for doing anything the Bible says, or why we became Christians in the first place. John Piper whose website is here:,

claims that God is most glorified in people when they are most satisfied in Him. I agree with this statement. To understand fully what he's talking about, I'd recommend Piper's book Desiring God.

This comes down, basically, to the law of human action. This law states that at every moment, a human being has choices to make. He will examine those choices, try to perceive each choice's consequences, and then pick the choice that is best for him. I have seen no violation of this law, ever. Even the suicidal person is obeying this law. I would disagree with his assessment of the consequences of that choice, but he's still doing what he thinks if best for him.

Suppose we have man and wife, and the husband decides to give his wife perfume. Who is giving and who is receiving? Ah, but now suppose that the wife takes great delight in the gift, and shows her delight to her husband. Who's giving and receiving now? And then suppose the husband takes delight in her delight? We can see here that there could be an infinite regression. And that would be very nice. I claim this situation is something like what happens between God and man. God really takes delight in us, and we are supposed to take delight in Him. Moreover, this delighting should be an infinite regression.

You are right in saying that Christians would be hesitant to promote such sayings, and Piper for one has gotten criticism over his statements. But I believe he is being biblical here. I would close my commentary on this objection by quoting C. S. Lewis in his sermon The Weight of Glory. He says, "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

You say that following rules does not make one moral. Let me disect that statement one word at a time. What does it mean to follow a rule? Is it only external, or should there be rules for the mind and heart as well? If you read Reformed studies of the Ten Commandments, you find that each Commandment has a positive and negative side to it. You should do this, and you should not do that. In addition, each commandment only explicitly states the most extreme case, but all the lesser cases, both on the positive and negative side are included. Each commandment is both internal and external. For a more full explanation, read the Westminster Larger Catechism questions and answers on the Ten Commandments. They are questions 98 through 148, at least in terms of what I'm talking about. You can find the Catechism here:

Click on Historic Church Documents on the left. Then scroll down, and you'll see the link to the Larger Catechism.

What is morality? The dictionary defines it as "concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct." Well, naturally the next question is, how do you determine what is good and what is evil? I claim the atheist has no standard by which to measure whether something is right or wrong. How could one atheist tell another atheist that what he is doing is wrong? Suppose Frank tells Jason that he's going to kill him (Jason). Jason says, "No, you can't; that's wrong." But then Frank could come right back at him and say, "Ah, but my standard of right and wrong says I can do it." Whack. The Christian does have a standard: the moral law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments.

Most everyone says that murder is wrong. Why is it wrong? I've not seen any convincing argumentation to show me why it's wrong, whereas the Bible simply says it is. And that's that. The Ten Commandments are far more comprehensive than many people realize. Jesus said that it is wrong to murder. He also said it is wrong to hate, thus addressing the heart issue. It is wrong to commit adultery. Jesus also said it is wrong to lust after a woman, thus addressing the heart issue. So when I say that if people obeyed the Ten Commandments, the world would be better, I mean that in obeying they are really obeying, heart, mind, soul, strength; the entire person.

I am not a philosophy person who knows all the lingo, so you'll have to introduce Paley's argument/teleological argument to my acquaintance. However, your one statement, "In the same vein, you make a leap of logic in assuming that the universe resembles man-made artifacts." shows that you misunderstood my argument. I most emphatically do not claim that the universe resembles man-made objects. I would in fact claim quite the opposite. I am arguing from the lesser to the greater. If the lesser thing is understood to be designed: it has an evident design that no one would question, then something so much more complicated like a tree (which I do not think man will ever be able to design) must be designed as well. You cannot explain the origin of a tree as occuring by "chance." Chance, actually, is not a recognized physical force. It is merely a tool to describe processes that we do not understand.

As far as I'm concerned, it takes much less of a leap of faith to believe in a Designer than to believe that all the complexity around me came from nothing. Furthermore, if everything came from nothing, then my life is completely meaningless. I will die, and that is the end.

I disagree that order does not presuppose an orderer. The Second Law of Thermodynamics contradicts that statement. That law states that the measure of entropy (disorder) in the universe is always increasing, never decreasing. So the amount of order we have right now is a maximum, and actually even as I'm typing this, the amount of order in the universe is decreasing. So how did the world get to even have the amount of order it has now? By the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it must have had more order than now. How could that much order have come from anything other than a very high degree of order? And that high degree of order, for lack of a better term, I will call an orderer.

Hume's argument strikes me as irrelevant. We do not need multiple instances of a thing in order to recognize it. To compare, of course we need multiple instances. But not to recognize. Suppose you have a child born on a desert island (yes, I know the situation is cliched). The mother manages to make one pen and only one pen, and there is no other pen on the island. The child learns to write with that pen. Does the child not recognize the pen? That would be absurd. Now consider if the child manages to escape the island and see many other pens. Would he recognize them? He probably would if he saw them in action. But my point is that the child recognized the first pen as a pen.

I think that general revelation is adequate to reveal a great deal about God, and yet not enough for salvation.

As an example. Suppose we assume that there is such a thing as justice. All humans believe, I think, that there should be justice. But hardly any human would argue that there is complete justice in this world. But if life is not to be meaningless, then there must be complete justice somewhere. And if there is complete justice somewhere, and it's not in this world, there must be another world which has complete justice. If there is another world with complete justice, there must be a completely impartial judge to administer that justice. This judge would have to be completely just himself, otherwise he could not administer justice. You can take this argument further and discover more and more about this judge, but I am not familiar with the argument enough to continue. I think this argument is by Kant, but I'm not sure.

My last word comes again from the Larger Catechism. It's question 4, which goes like this.

Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are of the Word of God?

A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

Catch that? The only way, and I mean only way, that anyone is ever convinced that Christianity is true is by the Holy Spirit convincing them of it. Now God chooses to use secondary means to accomplish that end. But ultimately I can do nothing either to convince myself or others that the God who is there is the God of the Bible, and that I owe Him everything and cannot even repay.


At 10/09/2005 11:26:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thanks for a prompt and very interesting reply. I followed the link to read of the catechism you referred to, and it was fascinating (I have read quite a few religious works, but adding to one's repertoire is always important). I admit that I have not engaged in these sorts of debates in a significant period of time, so I apologize ahead of time for any mistakes. I am a student of philosophy (primarily philosophy of religion, ethics, and epistemology), though my knowledge of science is not as strong as it could be.

You are correct that I make the assumptions that there is such a thing as absolutes in terms of truth and falsehood, and that logic deduction, induction, and correct inference are a valid way of arriving at truth- not necessarily all truths. I do believe that your next reply will focus on these, and that as an atheist I cannot believe in logical absolutes or such. If you do wish to pursue this, I suppose we will discuss it further soon enough.

You discuss uniqueness and truth, but you have missed the point. I do not argue that what is true is not unique- but uniqueness in and of itself is not what determines truth, and you do agree on this. Your first criticism to Mr. Barnett stated "But Christianity makes one claim that no other religion on earth makes." and simply discussed Christianity in terms of attacking the "many gods" objection to Pascal's wager. You have not shown how the "many gods" objection to Pascal's wager is a bad one. As your criticism merely pointed out the uniqueness of Christianity, I raised the point that uniqueness as a means of narrowing down the gods in the "many gods" objection does not follow. It is a non-sequitir to argue from this- and as I continued to state, you either have two options in terms of Pascal's wager: either you must use reason to narrow down the gods to be wagered on, which destroys the basis of the argument Pascal sets forth (that reason cannot decide whether or not God exists), or you must accept that all religions, even deities made up on the spot or not even conceived of, are equally valid to be wagered upon. If the latter, then the "many gods" objection to Pascal's wager holds, and thus it is not an effective argument for Christianity, because it points to an infinite number of God(s) to wager on.

Pascal did intend for the wager to be an argument for Christianity. After presenting the wager, Pascal responds to the objection he raises in his Thoughts that even if one raises the objection that they cannot have faith, they ought to go to Mass and such until they do happen to have faith.

In terms of ethics, I stated that merely following rules does not make one moral. Please do not create a strawman of my statements. You likewise agree with me on this point, even if we disagree on the specifics- "So when I say that if people obeyed the Ten Commandments, the world would be better, I mean that in obeying they are really obeying, heart, mind, soul, strength; the entire person." In other words, you agree that the motivation behind the following of such rules is important- one must want to follow said rules (assuming the rules are good ones, of course). In terms of one who doesn't murder because he is afraid of getting caught and punished and one who doesn't murder because they have a concern for their fellow human, we would say the latter is more morally laudable, since he possesses a desire to not murder that is not derived from self-interest.

Your definition of morality is acceptable for this discussion, so let's continue examining the concept of morality. Why do we have morality? What general percepts exist within morality, and right conduct? Naturally, we will disagree in terms as to the basis and the why, however, I do believe that we can agree that morality consists of percepts such as to reduce human suffering, resolve conflicts of interest fairly, ensure the survival of society, and promote human flourishing.

Now, you seem to assume that in terms of morality, either God exists (and therefore moral absolutes exist) or God does not exist (and therefore moral absolutes do not exist). You state murder is wrong because the Bible says so. This does not address your original question, [I]why is it wrong[/I]. As Socrates puts forth in the Euthyphro, is something good because God wills it, or does God will good because it is good? This dilemma of those who believe morality stems from religion, known as Divine Command Morality, presents a difficult problem for yourself. If the first, that what is good is so because God wills it (the position I believe you are in, precisely because you seem to act that the Bible saying murder is wrong makes it so by what you have written) then one has no objective basis for morality. If God wills genocide, rape, or torture to be good, by his own will it becomes so (and one might make a case that various such acts were commanded by God in the Old Testament, thus furthering the problem for one who claims this position). If, on the other hand, you state that God wills good because it is good, then you essentially state that morality does not derive from God- God knows what is good and thus wills it, and there is something inherently wrong about genocide, rape, and torture, and were God to will these acts under this position, God would have willed evil. I would therefore like to know your position on the matter, and how you claim to know moral absolutes exists (if any), and why violating them is wrong (use the example of murder, since we are focusing on that).

Furthermore, I must ask as to what happens if there should come a conflict between your morality. Let us engage in a popular ethical example: You receive a knock on the door, and upon opening you find a man who tells you he is running from a man seeking you kill him and will arrive any moment. He asks for shelter in your home, as he will soon collapse from running, and there is no suitable place to hide in time. You accept, and as the man hides within your home you receive another knock at the door. This time, a man with a gun demands to know if you have seen the man who have just hidden within your home. If you choose not to answer, he says he will shoot you and search your home to see if the person is hidden there. You may either lie or not lie- if you lie, you will save the person's life, but will have broken one of your moral codes. If you tell the truth, the person will be killed. This is likewise a problem within moral absolutism- if a conflict arises between moral codes, we are unable to state which we ought to follow and which ought to be broken.

However, I will address the matter of how one can be an atheist and reject moral relativism (which I find to be a repugnant position from which terrible things follow). Let us go back to the percepts of morality I outlined earlier, and briefly discuss an outline of ethical thought. Ethics is broken into three parts: social ethics (that which most are concerned with, which deals with good conduct amongst our fellow humans and environment), virtue ethics (good conduct to oneself to arrive at, as Aristotle puts it, objective happines- not a mere subjective feeling, but a state of being categorized by intellectual and moral excellence), and metaethics (which deals with the basis of ethics and why actions are good or evil). In terms of metaethics, most assume that there is either moral absolutism or moral relativism. However, from the above example of a conflict between conflict between absolutes, we might say that instead in a conflict of moral codes, that one takes precedence over the other. This position, called moral objectivism, believes in the idea of prima facie principles- rules that generally should be followed unless overridden by another moral principle when a conflict arises. For instance, most would believe that lying to save a life is a morally permissible action, because it is worse to let another die than to tell a lie. However, objectivism arises from absolutism because of these conflicts- it is were possible to highlight every exception for every moral code, we would have absolutism. Unfortunately, for some moral codes (don't lie) this may contain many exceptions, whereas others (don't murder) would have very few exceptions (however, as murder suggests as state of mind going beyond mere killing, that there are less exceptions for murder than for killing- i.e. many believe it is morally permissible to kill in a just war, or to execute criminals, etc.).

Relativists will instead state that because there are conflicts between cultures (i.e. beliefs of burying the dead, Eskimos who engage in infanticide, etc.) that there are no universal moral codes that are binding on people. This misinterprets the application of ethics to cultures. Let us consider your murder example (which we will then use to refute relativism) and conduct a thought experiment. Let us assume there exists a society in which it is morally permissible to murder whomever one pleases. What would become of such a society? People would not be able to trust one another, for fear of being murdered. Without the ability to trust one another, society could not function and would collapse. People might even band together in small groups for protection, but when this happens, society is created anew with the idea that murder is wrong. Thus, we see that murder is wrong, on its most basic level, because society cannot function in a place where murder is considered morally permissible (do not confuse that just because people believe something to be wrong, that they will not do it- even though society cannot function where murder is not punished and regarded as immoral, people will still do it). On a higher level, one might regard murder as wrong because it causes gratuitous suffering to another (this, however, goes beyond a mere following of rules out of fear of punishment or self-interest through reciprocation). In any regard, we see that there is a very basic reason to condemn murder as wrong. Coincidentally, I did not have to appeal to a deity to provide justification. As to how this refutes relativism, consider again Eskimos who commit infanticide. In this case, there is a cultural difference, not a moral one. The environment in which the Eskimos live is much harsher than what we typically experience, and thus their circumstances occasionally give rise to the difficulty of letting a young child die because of their environment. If there is no possible means of taking care of the child- either through adoption, enough food, etc.- then it is not possible to support the child, and thus in the interest of survival of the group they must be left to die (this does not necessarily make it right, but difficult examples such as this arise from circumstance, making it the best choice of a bad lot). Even despite this example, a core morality does exist- murder is still seen as wrong, but infanticide occurs when other possibilities (i.e. adoption) cannot be performed. It is this form of a core morality that exists, along with with a justification for it by which non-religious moralists basis their morality upon. The matter, in truth, is more complex than a simple "God is the explanation of morality", and this is why I did not wish to discuss it, as my verbose explanation only scratches the surface of the issue.

In terms of the watch argument (the teleological argument is the argument from design- the popular form is the watch argument William Paley puts forth as you have stated quite well), it follows the form of:

1. Human artifacts are products of intelligent design.
2. The universe resembles these human artifacts.
3. Therefore, the universe is probably a product of intelligent design.
4. But the universe is vastly more complex and gigantic than a human artifact.
5. Therefore, there probably is a powerful and vastly intelligent designer who designed the universe.

In my previous post, I attacked premise 2, whereas you are now attempting to re-affirm premise 4, despite that I do agree with it. However, premise 2 is the focus of discussing this argument- the resemblance of the universe to human artifacts (to argue by analogy that the universe therefore contains design) that allows us to infer that the universe is likely designed. So, again, I re-state that you make a leap of logic in assuming that the universe resembles man-made artifacts, as I then continued, by mistakenly confusing order and design. If man created a rock identical to a normal rock in all respects, how precisely would you be able to determine the one designed by man from the one not designed by man? You can recognize design in so far as in regards to the purposeness of human artifacts. On the other hand, we have a significant difference between human artifacts and the universe. Even considering that the universe is much more complex, which I state I do agree with, you must show that the universe resembles human artifacts in terms of exhibiting design. Only then would your argument succeed. However, you have not adequately done so, and instead you decide to make assumptions to my position and create a strawman. I have never stated things came from nothing, nor do others. Neither is "chance" invoked- various sciences are used to explain how such objects such as a tree came to be, and without the need of God. It is ironic that you state "[Chance] is merely a tool to describe processes that we do not understand", when the same can be used of religious belief itself. How many false beliefs religion taught of how the world operates has been discredited by science? Religion is quick to explain, but slow to provide justification. If anything, it is more intellectually honest to admit we do not know and look for the answer.

Your criticism of Hume misses the point, and misinterprets. We don't need multiple instances of the universe to recognize the universe, but we do need such to compare the difference between a universe containing design and a universe lacking in design. The comparison of universes to observe this quality to determine the success of the design argument is the basis of Hume's criticism, and because we cannot compare our universe to another, we cannot recognize the difference between a universe with design and a universe lacking in design. The rock example, as I re-iterate above, highlights this.

My knowledge of physics is lacking to where I cannot contribute to a discussion of thermodynamics in-depth, however, I am aware of the entropy argument. Your question as to how order could come from anything, however, makes again a leap of logic assuming that some being (in your case, God) must be responsible. This is merely an appeal of ignorance- a "God of the gaps". Where a phenomena is not fully explained, religious belief steps in. You cannot simply say "This phenomena is unexplained, the Bible says God created the universe, therefore, that's that." Perhaps, like other aspects of the universe observed, the truth as to the universe's origins lie in purely physical causes. At the moment I do not believe science has conclusive evidence for theories on this matter. Until then, we simply must admit we do not know and look for the answer.

Your view of nihilism if God does not exist is a false dilemma. If anything, it creates a greater meaning of life than one could possibly imagine. That our life is limited makes our time more precious, and every second counts. Individual growth, whether intellectually or morally, is a focus, and the idea that one, being part of society, has something to impart to others from one's experiences. I am sorry that you would consider life meaningless if you were to believe God does not exist. However, it does suggest that you might not be open to this possibility because of this view. Who wants to question the possibility of God not existing if it means life is meaningless! To be happy, rather than seeking truth, takes precedence, and I find such admittedly intellectually dishonest and deplorable. Likely I am reading too much into this, but that unfortunately is what I seem to see.

I'm not familiar with that argument from Kant (while I'm a deontologist, I disagree with Kant on several matters- his view of animals, for instance), but let's consider it. Where does it follow that life is meaningless if complete justice does not exist?

Lastly, to cover your final point. The problem of saying "The only way, and I mean only way, that anyone is ever convinced that Christianity is true is by the Holy Spirit convincing them of it" is that you plunge yourself into a quagmire of problems, one of which is that rational discussion cannot exist between us because one must abandon rationality to be convinced Christianity is true. Secondly, similar claims of other religions (Krishna/Allah/etc. are the only ones who can show you the truth of Hinduism/Islam/Sikhism) makes them on equal ground with Christianity. Third, is it not [I]possible[/I] that what you attribute to the Holy Spirit convincing you of the truth of Christianity is instead your own desire to believe in it? After all, you believe you'll live in eternal bliss with your Lord and Savior after death loving God, and the alternative to this belief is nihilism. I'm afraid I find your belief restly more on emotional grounds than logical ones. Of course, you can play the same card back at me- that I'm an unrepentant sinner who doesn't want to face the magnitude of my sins or accept salvation by believing my Creator, but frankly, I find truth much more important, regardless of having to admit being wrong. That, however, requires us to use arguments and evidence to support our positions.

I do hope I have been thorough enough, and look forward to your reply. Have a good evening.

At 10/11/2005 03:08:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Anonymous:

As a friend of mine said, this is rapidly turning into a book. You have another interesting reply, so I'll do my best.

I'm confused by your paragraph starting with "You are correct..." First you say that there are absolutes in terms of truth and falsehood, and then you say that you cannot believe in logical absolutes. Is logic not concerned with truth and falsehood? Are you making a distinction here between truth and falsehood absolutes versus logical absolutes? For me, absolutes are absolutes.

When you say that "uniqueness as a means of narrowing down the gods in the 'many gods' objection does not follow", what exactly do you mean? If you mean that this is not a logical deduction, I would certainly agree. However, much as a human being, playing chess, narrows down the possible best moves by some sort of "hueristic", in contrast to a computer such as Deep Blue which evaluates every possibility, I'm claiming that uniqueness, if viewed properly, can be a help in rejecting certain possibilities and singling others out for consideration.

It's perhaps true that if you try to use reason alone to show that God exists (an impossibility, I think most everyone agrees) that Pascal's argument becomes irrelevant. However, that is not the same thing as trying to use reason to narrow down the possibilities. What we have here are several possibilites: A, B, C, D. To say that logic cannot say which of them is true is not the same thing as trying to eliminate C and D. C and D may be demonstrably false, and yet logic be unable to show whether A or B is true.

I agree that Pascal's argument is not an argument for Christianity.

We have agreed that morality is a concern about the difference between right and wrong, and doing what is right. Again, I ask you, what do you mean by "merely following rules"? In particular, what does the word "merely" mean here? I argue that the Ten Commandments are extremely over-arching and comprehensive. Following them is no mere external affair. Now if the Ten Commandments define what is right (following them with your whole person) and what is wrong (failing to do what they require or doing what they forbid), then we see that morality is exactly equal to obeying the Ten Commandments. So the real question is: do the Ten Commandments define what is right and what is wrong? If the Ten Commandments define what is right and wrong, then following them (a set of rules!) is morality. So are you claiming that no fixed set of rules can define what is right and wrong?

I would agree that the effects of morality are such as to reduce human suffering, resolve conflicts fairly, etc. However, I'm not sure I would say that this is the goal of morality. Have to think about that one.

Murder is wrong because God says it is, in the sixth Commandment. Now you claim that if I say something is good because God says it is, then I have no objective basis for morality. I strongly disagree with this statement. What is an objective basis for morality? Is it not the same as an absolute? Objective, by its very definition, implies that whatever is objective is the same for everyone, and is not subject to whim. Now I claim the objectivity of morality as it comes from God is dependent on the objectivity of God. The Bible says that there is no shadow of turning with God. God is not a man, that He should change His mind. God does not change. In fact the word cannot be applied to God because He sees time as a whole. Time is a finite line, with a beginning and an end. God sees the entire timeline at once. Therefore God is outside time. Change by its definition implies that its object is subject to time. But God is not subject to time, and thus cannot change.

So I have said that murder is wrong because God says it is. You claim that if I say this, then murder is wrong on the basis of God's whim. But I come right back and say that "God's whim" is a contradiction in terms. Murder will stay wrong, because God will not change His mind about it, because God does not change.

As to God commanding genocide, rape, and torture in the Old Testament, I vigorously deny it. Now in order to understand the following argument, you have to understand the difference between first causes and secondary causes. God is the First Cause. But He chooses, out of His own free will, to use secondary causes to accomplish His will. In addition, God created all things, and therefore has the right of Maker: to destroy what He has made or to make better as He sees fit. Legos provide a good analogy. You build something with Legos, you can tear it apart or add to it as you think fit. One important difference, though: you are not making something out of nothing, as God did. God made the universe out of nothing.

Now murder is wrong because God says it is. What of the incidences in the Old Testament when God orders Joshua to kill all the men, women, and children in Jericho (except Rahab and her family)? Is that not murder? Most assuredly not. Just as it is not murder when the government executes a murderer. The government has been given the authority to kill murderers. The murderer did not have the authority to kill the person he killed, which is part of the definition of murder (yes, there's also intent which is very important. I shall not pay much attention to it right now, though.) God gave Joshua and the Israelites the authority to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan.

Why did God do that? Was that not mean? Well, this comes back to your view of God and your view of man, as I said in the original post. If you view man as basically good, then it would be mean. But the Bible views man as basically bad. There's a verse in Jeremiah that reads, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." So now if man is basically bad, then it is not at all surprising that God would be angry with men, and even punish them with death. The wonder is that God would save anyone, especially if they cannot save themselves, as the Bible clearly teaches.

You ask how I claiim to know moral absolutes exist, and why violating them is wrong. This is a question of epistemology. How do I know what I know? My epistemology is sure for me, but experience with talking with other people of your persuasion shows me that my epistemology is not satisfying to an atheist. More on that later.

God is one God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are one God, equal in power and glory. In John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God", every decent theologian I've ever come across agrees that Jesus Christ (God the Son) is the Word talked of in that verse. It is also true that the Bible is the Word of God. Thus there is a union between Jesus and the Bible. I want to be careful here, because you can't take that too far. In any case, we have the Bible, which is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. It is the only rule for faith and practice. How do I know that the Bible is the Word of God? Because God the Holy Spirit convicts me of its truth. So there's my epistemology. The Holy Spirit first convicts me of the truth of the Scriptures, and then whatever the Scriptures say I believe. The Scriptures say that God is good; in Him there is no shadow of evil. In fact, the Scriptures say that God defines good and evil. To obey Him is good, to disobey is evil.

As to the conflict in morality. Naturally, in such a difficult situation, I would want to know the exact circumstances of the fugitive. Why does the other man want to kill him? If the other man wanting to kill him is a police officer, and the fugitive is a cop-killer, then I would be very hesitant to hide him. On the other hand, just such a situation as you describe is related in Joshua Chapter 2 when Rahab hides the Israelite spies, and lies to various people who want to find the spies. We know, further, that this lying was at least forgiven her, because Rahab is mentioned in Hebrews 11:31, and the verse commends her for giving a friendly welcome to the spies. But even here, Rahab knows more about the spies than I would know about the fugitive in your example. Was Rahab justified in lying? For the answer to that, I think the following web page is helpful:

I especially appreciated Keil's commentary on the matter.

But in the situation you have described, as you have described it, there is no such knowledge about the fugitives. I think there is a flaw in the situation as you have described. If the would-be killer of the fugitive is willing to kill me if I lie, then why would he even ask about the fugitive in the first place? A man that far determined to kill the fugitive, so determined in fact that he would be willing to kill anyone who stood in his way, is not going to be put off by me.

I think it is much more difficult to come up with a bona fide conflict of moral absolutes than you might think. In fact, I think it is impossible. Why? Because in God there is no contradiction. God created the world. God cannot be divided, and something good that He created, such as the Law, will also not be divided. Now something that is fallen from that goodness, such as men, can and will be divided until God makes it whole again. If you're going to try to come up with a conflict, then I'm going to insist that you come up with something that could actually happen in the real world.

So you are saying that you reject moral relativism? If so, I heartily agree with that sentiment. However, before you build on a foundation of conflict between moral absolutes, I ask you to answer my challenge to the possibility of a conflict.

I also agree that a society in which murder is accepted will soon cease to exist. However, you have defined "wrong" to mean that which causes society to cease to function, whatever "function" means. (Incidentally, I agree that just because people think something is wrong does not mean they won't do it. This happens with me all the time. It's called sin.) I dispute your definition of "wrong". I would also be very hesitant to regard "wrong" as that which causes gratuitous suffering to another. I do not wish to cause gratuitous suffering to another, but that means different things to different people. Some people suffer inordinately when they are late for a very important date. For example: I am a bus driver (really). Suppose, through no fault of my own, the bus I'm driving gets behind schedule, and as a result, a student who wanted to catch my bus is late for an exam. He suffers inordinately for being late, and yet would call the bus being late "wrong"? The problem is that suffering is a subjective term, not objective. The problem with the definition of "wrong" as whatever causes a society to cease to function, is that different people think different things about what it means for a society to function, and also to cease to function.

My definition of wrong is outside myself. The Bible is not going to change any time soon. My definition of wrong is also outside anyone else. Thus it is objective, not subjective.

Ah, now to Paley's argument. You still do not seem to understand me. Here's my version of the argument: knock out your premises 2 and 3 entirely.

1. Human artifacts are products of intelligent design.

2. The reason we think human artifacts are products of intelligent design is that they are complex, and orderly.

3. The universe is vastly more complex and gigantic than a human artifact. (Note: this vast complexity is considerably beyond the powers of humans to duplicate.) It has much order, much complexity.

4. Therefore, as the human artifact required a designer who was more complex, namely the human, if we look at the universe around us, we should expect it to have a Designer who is vastly more intelligent and powerful.

Therefore, I am saying that premise 2 as you have stated is not the focus of discussing the argument. I would heartily agree with you that to say the universe resembles man-made objects is a leap of logic! It's simply not true, in fact. I do not think I need show that the universe resembles human artifacts.

Ok, I see that what I was really doing was objecting to your use of the word "recognize", in terms of Hume's argument. I think you ought to have used the word "distinguish".

I still do not think Hume's argument has any weight. The reason is that Hume is a materialist; at least that is what I understand about him. He believe that what we can see or hear or touch, or in any way sense with our senses is all that really matters. He seems to deny that humans have a spirit (or soul, or whatever you want to call it). He thus leaves the human imagination out of the picture. Could a human being not imagine a universe lacking order? It would be difficult, I grant you. But at least, the human can certainly imagine the difference between object A having a high degree of order, and object B having less order than object A. In fact, he wouldn't even have to imagine this: such things exist in our world. As an example, compare your average "three-chord" wonder pop song with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. I don't think anyone would seriously doubt that the Symphony is considerably more complicated. Reasoning analogously, he could then "ramp up" the size and significance of these objects, and come up with very little less than a universe. Let me ask you this: how do banks train their employees to spot counterfeit bills? They do not give them a bunch of counterfeits to handle. Instead, they make the employees handle real money, and only real money, so much that when a counterfeit comes their way, it's easy to see. In a similar way, I believe God has so created humans, that they recognize order because God is ultimate order, and has put a great deal of order into the world and into humans that they recognize it when they see it.

My comment to your comments on my explanation that some being is responsible are really only two. The first is that I have an explanation, whereas you do not, as you have admitted yourself. If you recognize that logic cannot arrive at all truth, then you recognize that there has to be faith in something. This faith is not opposed to reason; it's simply beyond it. It has a longer reach than logic. That doesn't imply that logic and faith are fighting each other! The second is that you seem to be of the opinion that science will answer this question. Science can arrive at no truth whatsoever. The reason? Science is based on a logical fallacy: the inductive fallacy. We perform an experiment 100 times with the same result every time. Therefore, if we do it again, we'll get the same result. But that's simply not true. It's probably true, and so we gain great predictive power, but it's not true. Gordon Clark, a great theologian, once said that science is a collection of useful falsehoods.

Nihilism or God? False dilemma? I still do not think so. R. C. Sproul thinks the same, and I agree with him. He probably has a much better explanation than I can give. He started up Ligonier Ministries, which I would highly recommend you look into. I'm going to refer you to him on this one. I will say this, however: you have introduced a false dilemma of your own: seeking happiness rather than truth. If the two were opposed, it would indeed be a dilemma. But they are not, at least not always. Our view of what will make us happy is sometimes different from what God knows will make us happy. When our views coincide with God's then there is no dilemma.

Claim: life is meaningless if complete justice does not exist. If complete justice does not exist, then there are breaches of justice, even large breaches of justice at times (Crusades, Holocaust, Stalin's millions come to mind). Suppose you're a victim of a monstrous injustice. If you have no hope of ultimate justice, then why try to do anything good? Your good works will not be rewarded, and your evil works might be rewarded. (I understand this use of "good" and "evil" depends on what that is. I stand by my definition of the Ten Commandments.) But even your own view of good works might not correspond with what actually happens. Thus, you could easily be tempted to do wrong things because the advantages seem to be more immediate. But then wrong things will not only cause society to cease to function, but it will destroy your soul. There will be no ultimate meaning to your life.

This argument is not yet complete, but I have to run, so please reserve comment for later.

My last point: I firmly deny that you have to abandon rationality to be convinced that Christianity is true. Again, logic cannot take us everywhere. You must have assumptions on which to exercise your logic. Christianity simply provides a particular set of assumptions (among other things). I actually believe that logic is subservient to the Bible. I can use logic for the very reason that the Bible uses it.


At 10/11/2005 11:38:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

These types of discussions, when done between two people willing to discuss the matter intelligently, can be quite involved and hopefully enlightening for all involved. My later statement about logical absolutes was that I believed you would argue that as an atheist that I cannot believe in logical absolutes. Not that I do not believe in logical absolutes. I reject relativism in regards to logic and ethics, though I'm aware of a philosophical argument that tries to make the atheist justify himself in believing in such things.

My statement towards the wager is simply that one of the premises is that reasons cannot decide at all. Involving reason at all to narrow down the gods undercuts the argument to begin with. You cannot use an argument that begins "Reason can decide nothing here... therefore you must wager" and then say "Yet we will now use reason to show that only Christianity and atheism are the viable options of the wager". You can't have your cake and eat it too, so one who uses the wager must either 1) accept the premise of the argument that reason cannot help, and therefore fall prone to the "many gods" objection, or 2) say reason can help in determining God's existence, in which case the wager fails (in that you don't have to "wager" because reason can decide whether or not God exists). We both seem to be of the opinion that it's not a very good argument overall, perhaps highlighted by us focusing on more interesting topics and arguments. :)

I touched briefly on the "merely following rules" aspect with a comparison of a person who doesn't murder out of fear of punishment and a person who doesn't murder because they do not wish to cause their fellow man unnecessary suffering. Given the sheer length and still having to compress a lot of ethics into one reply, you probably missed it (there's several things I've not focused on due to the interest of length). In the first example, we have a person acting purely from self-interest, whereas the motivation of the latter individual comes from a genuine concern for others. The latter individual has a desire not to murder from their beliefs, whereas if the former person could get away with murder and it benefitted him, such an individual might be tempted to commit the crime. As I pointed out, we both agree that the motivation behind following rules is important. We simply disagree on the basis and methods involved. You stated that one must follow the Ten Commandments with their "heart, mind, and soul"- in other words, they have a genuine interest in doing so.

However, I must disagree that following the Ten Commandments is not purely an external affair. From above with my example of two people contemplating murder, one could follow the Ten Commandments purely because they fear punishment from God. Thus, one can follow the rules, but not have a genuine desire to follow the rules. And a discussion of the Ten Commandments in terms of whether they define a moral action or not is one we can easily resolved: I agree that the Commandments that deal with social ethics (the last six) are generally good rules. The first four are more a concern only if God exists. The six that I agree with, however, are ones that all societies in some form have. I'm not saying we can perfectly define right and wrong for every situation (there are several ethical positions, each viewing the proper way of acting differently- such as utilitarianism, which believes in performing the action which causes the greatest good to the greatest number, and deontological ethics, that believes rightness is attributed to the individual action), but that we can come up with a core morality that, were we to think up every plausible exception to, would be moral absolutism. Since that's a lot of exceptions to define out, we are left with moral objectivism.

You wished me to present a more clear-cut, real world example of a moral conflict in action. Admittedly, I should of used this one originally since it reflects the real world rather well: You are a German citizen in Nazi Germany who believes that your country's belief of exterminating the Jews is wrong. To this end, you have helped Jews escaped or sheltered them. One morning, you receive a knock on your door to find a Gestapo officer asking whether you have any Jews in your home. At the moment, you know that you do have a Jewish family well-hidden within your home (to where that even if the Nazis search the house, it is highly unlikely they would find them). You can chose to either tell the truth, thus resulting in the deaths of the Jewish family within your home (possibly yourself as well, but that's a non-issue for this example), or lie and very likely save their lives.

I would say that such are the goals, and your previous post suggests it as well. Consider your argument of justice. Relying on it implies that a perfectly moral world contains people who resolve their conflicts fairly. This is ideally what we are working towards by being moral (at least in terms of moral actions relating to resolving conflicts). Actions which do not resolve such conflicts fairly are condemned by those wronged. Consider likewise that almost everyone believes it is wrong to torture a child for the fun of it. This suggests that undue suffering should be prevented- and ideally our actions contribute to this. As to the other two, survival of society, one would say we want to avoid the state of nature proposed by Hobbes, and give up some personal freedoms for protections (though unlike the Monarch of Hobbes, we adopt a more free society more along the lines of the Social Contract Locke puts forth). Human flourishing is best exemplified by Abraham Maslow's concept of self-actualization.

Your example of gratuitous suffering is not a valid one, and I should of explained what I meant by the term more from the start. I do not simply say suffering because I am certain we can think of perfectly acceptable instances where suffering is justified. A mother watching her daughter learn to sew who allows her child to continue despite pricking her finger, punishing misbehavior, and similar situations are valid forms of suffering. Gratuitous suffering instead deals with unnecessary aspects of suffering. Torturing a child for the fun of it, setting a cat on fire, punching someone to get them to shut up- these have no justification because they cause completely unnecessary and pointless suffering. The fun derived from torturing a child does not outweigh the suffering to the child, since a transient subjective feeling does not compare to the harm done to a living creature with a personality. Note that in these examples the suffering inflicted is directly caused by the individual for inappropriate reasons. You are not able to control traffic, kids not getting on the bus on-time, etc., and thus cannot be blamed for the suffering the late student experiences. However, say you intentionally swerve into another car to delay the child precisely to have him be late (although in this case endangering the children by such a reckless action would be more a concern than merely being late for an exam!)- then you would be guilty of having caused the child gratuitous suffering.

That said, we can see from the effects of the action and intent of the individual performing the action whether an action is right or wrong. Moral actions prevent harmful effects or promote good effects from the above goals of morality, and vice versa for immoral actions. Additionally, intent plays a part as to responsibility. In your driving example, you did not act immorally despite harm resulting because it was neither your intent nor within your power to prevent. In the example of a mother teaching her child to sew, the transient moment of minor pain does not outweigh the knowledge (and perhaps joy of learning) that accompanies the pain. On the other hand, the one who tortures a child for fun is aware of his actions and wants that harmful action to occur. Suppose those that you have no desire to torture a child for fun, but unknowingly do so. For instance, a mad scientist hooks up an elevator button so as to send a painful shock to a child everytime it is pushed. You push the button on your way to your home unaware of the scientist's plan, sending the child a painful shock. Though you are the one who shocks the child, it is not your intent, nor are you aware and thus cannot be condemned (such would be more directed towards the scientist in this matter). For a more realistic example, suppose you go mountain climbing and upon reaching the top pull loose a rock that causes a landslide that crushes a village and kills everyone. As an accident, it was not your intent though great harm resulted. If you instead knew it would crush the village and pushed the rock, you would be guilty of willfully causing great harm.

Note that my definition lies outside myself or individuals- the actions and results of said actions determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. They may change slightly due to circumstances as I've highlighted in my previous reply, but a core morality exists from this that allow us to have moral objectivism. Relativists make the mistake of assuming that because conflict exists, it is impossible to find an answer. However, just because you say 2 + 2 = 4, and I say 2 + 2 = 5, does not mean we cannot know what 2 + 2 equals merely because we have a conflict.

So God does not change. Lets imagine a universe where God is exactly the same as he is, except that in this universe torture is what God wills. Now, in virtue of God's will, which will not change in this universe, we have a universe where torture is now morally acceptable. Therein lies your problem. If it's subject to God's will, then we can imagine a possible universe where God's will is that in which he wills torture to be morally acceptable- all while fulfilling the criteria of being unchanged. Thus, we have a world where torture is morally acceptable, and a world where torture is not morally acceptable. Thus, under Divine Command Morality, there is no inherent wrongness with torture. On the other hand, I can say that because morality is based upon the effects of an action instead of what a being wills, we cannot imagine a world where murder is morally acceptable, because in each world we have gratuitous suffering result from murder (unless murder is reworded to mean something else, but then this becomes an argument of semantics). Thus, there is objectivity behind my basis of morality, whereas yours lacks such.

You might, of course, say that this is a nasty play of words and hypothetical reasoning. However, construction of examples, especially in terms of what is possible and impossible (which is what possible world arguments deal with) allows me to expose that basing morality upon a being's will is subjective- and saying that they do not change their mind does not change its subjectivity. If I claimed action X to be moral, and throughout time maintained that action X is moral, it does not make it so. Additionally, it does not provide a basis for why it is moral. Why do I say it's moral? That bit gets ignored.

Your claim that God can do with his creation as he wishes leads to another problem for you. If God desires, is he just for creating an innocent child (I know you will respond that no one is innocent because of original sin, so this child is not human) and torturing it for eternity? If I create a race identical to humans from nothing, does this give me the right to enslave, torture, or kill? If no, then you destroy what you've said, and imply that there is some inherent wrongness in the act of doing whatever one likes to something alive that one creates. Your lego analogy misses the point- legos are not alive. If I own a dog, I do not have the right to torture it even if I've raised it since its birth. On the other hand, if you say that it's okay for someone to torture, enslave, or kill what one creates, then you have a bigger conflict of morality than you'd care to admit.

Your explanation of first and second causes do not shift responsibility. If a gang leader orders his cronies to rob someone and kill them, he is no less guilty if he stands by watching the person harmed. Likewise, to use my landslide example from above, if I see someone trying to cause a landslide to cause harm and I do nothing to stop it, then I have willfully condoned what the individual has done. After all, if it's within my power to prevent and I do nothing, then I certainly didn't want it stopped! In the same vein, if God, being omnipotent and omniscient, does nothing to stop genocide, rape, and torture, it certainly doesn't seem like he has much difficulty with such things. It's no defense to say that God will punish the wrongdoers later, as it doesn't erase the original injustice done.

This typically is where the theist relies on free will, though I will not assume this is the case for you (if you are one who believes in free will, I am already aware of how you will resolve the problems of an omniscient, omnipotent deity by saying he is outside time- a bad defense as it is- but I am curious as to a biblical basis for free will- I have never heard one, but have heard several that support predestination).

The problem with the "God is justified being angry and ordering people to commit genocide" (which is precisely what is meant by "wipe out the Canaanites"!) is that additionally I have to ask you: Was it possible for God to punish without genocide? I assume that being omnipotent it is certainly within his power, and equally possible for God to punish them in a way that causes the Canaanites to repent so that their offensive behavior is not a future problem. If it is possible, then we have a better outcome (Canaanites that are punished and repent) without bloodshed. Yet, God decides to engage in a much more horrid method, and thus you have a problem: Either God could punish the Canaanites in a method that did not involve genocide which causes them to repent, or it's impossible for him to do such. If impossible, that's rather difficult to reconcile with omnipotence. If possible, then you have God who chooses a worse outcome as opposed to a better outcome.

In neither case do we need to make an assumption about our views of man. Whether good or bad, we have an instance of genocide. For a more real-world example, let's consider Nazi Germany again briefly. Certainly what they were doing was deplorable. Did they deserve to be stopped? Absolutely. Ought we have wiped them out? Of course not. While many grave injustices were committed, we tried to make a distinction between the actions and attitudes themselves from the people. It was the actions punished. In the same vein, even if man is the most terrible creature in existence, if it is possible to cure people of their wicked condition, it ought to be taken. I am aware you'll say that Jesus Christ did just that, however, such an option was not available to the Canaanites. Plus there are additional problems with that answer, but that's a different topic. The point is, if God is omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (which some Christians deny, thus making themselves more consistent), and perfectly moral, then it follows that such a being would act in the best way possible to save all creatures. Genocide does not seem to accomplish that end all to well.

Okay, back to Paley. We still seem to disagree on this matter, once again, with your version I find premise 2 at fault. Complexity is not necessarily a trait from which we can infer intelligent design from in regards to human artifacts. Consider a simple spear that I make out of a branch from sharpening one end with a rock. We have a crude, very simple artifact that in actuality has very little complexity beyond a sharpened point! Yet the spear is a human artifact, and this is because the sharpened branch-spear now has purpose to it. It is now a weapon to hunt with, or defend myself with. In the same vein, a watch has a purpose behind it- to tell the time (or on some newer watches, more nifty features like stopwatches and calculators). Purpose is the unifying theme behind human artifacts (much the same that I would point out that a stick used by a chimpanzee to "fish" for ants has design to it- it now has a purpose created by the chimp), not complexity. Otherwise, you then dismiss the simplest of tools a human can make- my branch-spear is no longer possessing design! This is why the argument I presented is more applicable- the resemblance of human artifacts to the universe is NOT in terms of complexity, but in terms of purpose. Hence, you must show that purposeness exists from analogy of human artifacts to the natural world/universe. If you establish such, then the design argument is sound.

A word of caution before we continue this thought! Proving the design argument as sound does not necessarily entail God exists. The designer could be mortal (consider the person in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who designed the earth), a collection of deities, that the universe itself is sentient, a collection of deities are involved, or that the designer is not even around- like a clockmaker who winds up the clock and lets it wind down without a concern.

Hume is a local skeptic (as opposed to a global skeptic, who denies we can have knowledge), and has large doubts of induction which leads to him not believing it can bring us knowledge. His beliefs in this regard is irrelevent to his criticism, and being a materialist does not entail a denial of human imagination. Materialists simply point to the brain we all possess (unless you're an eliminative materialist- some good philosophy jokes about not having a mind can come from them!) as the source of personality and imagination. CAN you imagine a world that lacks design, order, and/or both? If so, I would very much love to hear of it. To me, it seems more like imaging not existing, or like saying I can imagine a world where the Law of Non-contradiction is false.

Simply having an explanation does not make it a good one. We can surely see the result of this- beliefs that mental illness is caused by demons or the "Stone of folly", bleeding patients cures illness, or that maggots simply appear on bad meat! Implying having an explanation is superior to admitting one does not have one is a form of intellectual dishonesty, and rarely are these explanations derived from observation or reasoning. One is certainly not in the pursuit of truth if one views the importance of having an explanation as paramount compared to ensuring it is the correct one. From this, being able to explain things with "God is responsible" doesn't work. In regards to the second part, science does not given us certainty precisely because it is based upon induction (I believe we are both aware of the distinction between deductive and inductive logic). It is certainly POSSIBLE that next time we drop an object it will fail to fall due to gravity, but given previous testing and experience it is highly unlikely. However, whether this inhibits us from knowing anything via induction (oddly enough, if you believe induction cannot lead us to knowledge, you find yourself agreeing with Hume on epistemic matters more than you think!) is a matter of debate itself.

Deductive logic, on the other hand, argues from premises that, if sound, make the conclusion necessarily true. Yet, let's evaluate Paley's argument in terms of your criticism of science, and more importantly, induction. How do we have any knowledge of the universe, or human artifacts? Through our senses- sight, sound, touch, hearing, and taste. However, having these senses means that they may not necessarily present a true perception of what things really are. Perhaps are senses deceive us, perhaps we are trapped in a simulation similar to that presented in A Mind Forever Voyaging or the Matrix, or perhaps our perceptions are mere representations of the universe, not the actual thing. If this is the case, we cannot have any knowledge to evaluate your argument, because our perceptions of the universe and human artifacts could be completely wrong. You may not even be really reading this reply, but instead hallucinating you are.

See where this is going? If you walk along the slippery slope of discounting induction because it does not entail certainty, you eventually move along to being unable to count your senses, and that leads to global skepticism, even solipsism. Perhaps we need to discuss what truth, and more importantly, knowledge is. I'm hesitant to open that can of worms, seeing as how we're spilling all over induction, ethics, argument from design, and the relationship between logic and faith.

To discuss logic and faith, let's give some examples. The term can have different meanings to different people. I assume you use faith as religious faith in this regard. Suppose I drop a dime to the ground to see if it falls. I have a high degree of probability that the coin will fall due to gravity. I trust that gravity works, and I believe that gravity will work. My belief stems from a strong inductive argument in favor of gravity, but the coin could freeze in mid-air upon leaving my hand (However, should the coin freeze mid-air does not necessarily disprove gravity- other natural forces at work could be responsible- that requires examining the situation with reasoning and observation, which is precisely what science does). However, let's say someone comes to my door. I have never seen him before, and the fellow states that I am late in paying him a million dollars for a repair job conducted last month. Given my salary, I would be very inclined not to believe him because there is no evidence to suggest I ordered any such repair job. In fact, one would say that because I do not own a million dollars, the fellow's claim cannot possibly be right. It is possible that I am wrong- perhaps I signed a paper requesting such that I was not aware of or forgot about, for example. In either case, my trust (or as I am trying to highlight, faith in a more mundane form) derives purely from observation and reasoning. Consider yourself. You believe it extremely unlikely (or impossible) that atheism is correct. This is due to your religious experiences (the Holy Spirit), the design argument, and the Bible. Your faith is dependant upon these reasons. It is possible to have doubts while maintaining overall trust in the belief ("Hrmm, this passage of the Bible appears to initially go against it, but this passage shows how it does not") yet if significant evidence against your points were constructed to where you believed your reasons to be fundamentally flawed, your trust in your belief would end. Logic and faith aren't necessarily against each other- they complement each other in most situations. Your claim that one must have faith in something because logic cannot arrive at all truth does not make sense. I don't need to have a belief, let alone an opinion, much less trusting my belief or opinion to be true in regards to a method of finding truth. I can, for instance, shrug and say I don't know and leave it at that. Perhaps we will learn more of it later, perhaps we won't. Perhaps this method is inherently unknowable. This is why "But you must have faith in something!" misses the point. I hold faith (moreso trust of a belief being true) in beliefs of which I possess reasons to justify them being true.

You'll likely respond that I'm not addressing the form of faith you're thinking of. Hebrews 11:1 specifically- "Faith is the evidence of things unseen...". As I highlight above though, such is a foolish proposition. You have reasons for your belief in Christianity, and they likely rest upon this (if, on the other hand, you would believe without your religious experiences, the design argument, or the Bible, or even evidence against these, then yes your belief would rest on faith). However, let's suppose you would believe in Christianity even if you had no good reasons, or evidence was against Christianity. In this example, there is no testimony of the Holy Spirit to convince you- God is but an emptiness you call out to longingly to find (I sound sort of like Kirkegaard!) and this desire- despite nothing from God to convince you of him, despite no evidence for God's existence (or evidence against his existence), you believe. This is the type of faith I presume you refer to- that without reason or in spite of reason, you maintain trust in your belief. Then I would have to say that in your example you simply believe your belief is true. This does not allow you to know you are right- knowledge involves justification (if I believe there is a race of lawyers living under the surface of Mars, and we later happen to discover this elusive race, I did not know my belief was true- I simply believed it to be true and it happened to be so). Furthermore, it prevents evaluation of positions to determine what is true and what is not. If I believe in unicorns, and hold to my belief regardless of any evidence against it or no evidence for unicorns, I am in the same position as a Christian who relies on similar grounds to establish their belief (to say nothing of other theists). Mere belief and subsequent trust that the belief is true is not evidence, and as you say, this form of faith does not oppose reason- it ignores reason completely.

In terms of the nihilism matter: I am a tad busy, and will look at Mr. Sproul's work later on, however, might you paraphrase the particular points he tries to make in terms of nihilism resulting from God not existing? I believe that it would give our discussion more focus on precisely where we disagree. As to the happiness vs. truth bit, I see how you believe I introduced a false dilemma. Yet, the apparent false dilemma arises from assuming I mean subjective happiness as opposed to objective happiness (I mentioned the distinction in passing last reply, so I'll expound). Objective happiness is not a feeling- it is a state of being. Aristotle categorizes objective happiness consisting of intellectual and moral excellence. It is this form of happiness that matters, and one would say the search for truth is contained in it. However, in terms of a conflict between subjective happiness and seeking truth, truth takes precedence. Better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

I understand that you will complete your argument later, but some points to consider I wish to raise in advance. That monstrous breaches of injustice exist does not mean that there's no reason to not be good. If anything, one could reason that being good allows ourselves not to cause similar atrocities that we condemn. Similarly, one does not need to be acknowledged of one's good to be rewarded for it. I remember some sort of inspirational story wherein an individual throws washed up starfish back into the ocean, and another points out that his actions are of no consequence because there are countless starfish in a similar plight on countless beaches, to which the man throws another in and says "Made a difference to that one!". Rarely are the moral heroes of today, those who challenged injustice in its various forms, made on the spot. You get involved, it begins as a small act that becomes something greater. There are countless said people that we don't even remember- either because their deeds aren't remembered, or have been forgotten. The effects endure, and it is quite difficult to say that any particular action was meaningless since it has caused things to be the way they are. In addition, you are avoiding the distinction between and individual and societal meaning of life. An individual has the power to find meaning on their own, which is not to say such an individual cannot mess up and make their life less meaningful than what it could be. As I highlighted with objective happiness, intellectual and moral excellence allows one to understand the world around them and know the proper way to act and live. To what end? The growth of the individual. Whether you label it that or the development of the soul is meaningless- growing as a person is something that has a great meaning to many people, and has greater effects beyond the self which brings us to our next point. Societal meaning lies beyond the self, and is the individual's contribution and effect they leave on the world. A consideration of morality allows us to see whether these effects were good or evil, and the effects may not be entirely noticeable to ourselves. We see that contributing to society, for instance, an older generation imparting its wisdom to a younger generation, is something that likewise has effects upon others and the world.

As to the last matter: the only assumptions upon which logic rests is that the law of identity, excluded middle, and non-contradiction are true, mostly because attempting to prove them presupposes them, and denying them likewise assumes their validity. These are known as properly basic beliefs, such as the idea that an external world exists. In each case, these properly basic beliefs rest on the basic problem that trying to prove them assumes their validity, just as denying them assumes their validity. The problem the theist is in is that they claim God is likewise properly basic, but one can remove God from logic, ethics, and all such things and still have it work without presupposing God.

We will continue this argument, and I look forward to doing so.

At 10/12/2005 12:29:00 AM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Final Reply to Anonymous.

At some point, people recognize that they are unable to convince someone else of their position. And they also recognize that they may have made mistakes.

I'll tell you one mistake I've probably made several times in this whole debate: not praying.

Another mistake I've made, though I think most of the time I was aware of it and trying to avoid it, is arguing on the basis of anything other than the Bible. I stand by what I said earlier: you will simply not be convinced of the truth of Christianity unless the Holy Spirit changes you. And yes, I still deny that this forces the abandonment of rationality.

I will say, along with the apostle Paul, that, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.' And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." - 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. (ESV)

I typed all of that out for you to read; please do me and you a favor, and read it carefully.

I had thought to obey another part of Scripture, where it says that, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete." 2 Corithians 10:3-6. However, there are good and bad ways to attempt to obey this passage. It might have been presumptuous of me to attempt it. (Which, of course, means that it probably was!)

The rules of debate say, usually, that the person who spoke first gets to finish. I spoke first, and so usually I would finish. I will waive the right in this case; you can reply and I won't delete it. But I won't reply to you any further about this post.

I will say further, that your comments have not materially changed my beliefs. I stand firm on the Word of God, and along with Martin Luther, I can do nothing else.

For further reading in apologetics (which means defense of the faith, in the unlikely case you didn't know), I would recommend the following three authors: R. C. Sproul, Francis Schaeffer, and Cornelius Van Til. Since you're a philosophy guy, I'd recommend starting with Van Til, actually. He's very much into all the philosophy stuff.

I will end on this note: you have been very courteous in avoiding ad hominem argumentation. I honor you for it. It does get very tiring to have to bother with all that! I also say that I have enjoyed the discussion, it being on the level it was. May you know, if you didn't already, that not all Christians shun logic and debate.

In Christ.

At 10/12/2005 02:04:00 PM , Anonymous Zan said...

Adrian, your last answer was the best. It is very hard to debate with nonChristians. They are blind to the Truth. If you use the Bible for reference they just dismiss it because they don't believe it to be the Word of God but just a book written by men like the Koran. My hats off to you. It was quite the debate.

At 10/12/2005 04:22:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

I have observed this debate with great interest from the beginning and have been quite impressed by the effort on both sides to keep the debate on a civil, courteous level.

The debate, while certainly an argument, never reached the level of a fight. My hats off to you both for debating in an appropriate manner. (

I especially commend you, Adrian, for choosing to end the debate at this point. I do believe that at this point there is little reason to continue. Your reasons for ending the discussion were Biblically sound and civilly expressed. I also find myself at times so involved in the "logic" of arguments that I forget the necessity of the moving of the Holy Spirit for a change of heart. I have often been ashamed to discover after a debate that I also have failed to use the powerful weapon of prayer.

I have learned quite a bit from you both through this debate, although it certainly went way above my head oftentimes :). Thank you for a challenging mental exercise.

At 10/13/2005 08:39:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's not much else to say for myself. It has been an interesting discussion, and I hope at the very least the presentation of arguments and information has been enlightening as to our respective positions. I thank you for recommendations for additional readings, and will definitely look into them when time permits to better understand your position (admittedly, I was originally going to reply that I simply didn't have the time to continue!).

My hat is off to you as well for being polite and avoiding ad hominem argumentation. While I am likewise unconvinced by your the arguments you have presented, this served as a welcome return to debate over these topics, and I thank you for the stimulating evenings spent reading and analyzing your arguments.

Until next time, I wish you a good evening.

At 10/18/2005 09:59:00 AM , Blogger Danny Patterson said...

Wow, a man after my own heart! Very nicely argued, Adrian, and all the while doing it with, "with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed (1 Peter 3:15b-16).


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home