Monthly Archives: September 2014
IN SEARCH OF A MORAL FOUNDATION
Knowing that morality must be grounded in some authority, the skeptics’ desperate struggle is to find any alternative other than God. The real issue becomes identifying the basis for morality.
Umm, no, we (at least I) reject that morality needs to be “grounded in authority”. As I have explained I am confident that morality need not have been bestowed upon us, a believable supernatural-free alternative can explain morality without the extra parts a god brings.
It’s very hard to see why they would be anything more than a subjective impression ingrained into us by societal and parental conditioning.
Unless I have well misunderstood this quote from William Lane Craig, I agree with this as a definition of morality and think that my previous explanations fit this very well.
When humans play God they usually act in their own self-interests, not the interests of others.
There’s a reason it’s called playing god when they do this, remember Exodus 34:14? Gen. 7:4?
The author continues, attempting to explain that science can’t be the “arbiter of ethics” to which I kind of agree. Science can tell you about the consequences of actions we take but the ‘why’ is left up to the individual. Science can tell you what is likely to happen as a result of an action you take and be used to decide if one action would be better than another, but still the decision is left to the person.
However, when you hold to a worldview that only science can give you truth, you’re forced to look to it for all your answers.
Not forced, but it is the best way. If science can give an answer or provide data about the repercussions of your decisions your decisions would be supported with that behind them. Science isn’t there to decide for you, it gives you reasons to make your decisions.
Again I will say, do you know of any answer provided by philosophy or religion that is better (better supported and a better explanation) than one provided by science?
If evil has an anniversary, this might be the date. It was on this day that our world changed forever. Lives were lost because of the acts of terror; our vulnerability was exposed. Everyone alive knows those images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center, people fleeing in terror, and New York’s Finest searching for survivors.
I will agree that this was a terrible occurrence but exaggerations need to be avoided. “Everyone alive” doesn’t actually know about this attack. There are people living in parts of the world that don’t have press, don’t have electronics, and even in our own country there are people alive who don’t know about it. I have two daughters who don’t, they will someday but will simply be a history lesson to them, unlikely to be as poignant to them as it was for the people who witnessed it. It isn’t surprising that this author would be this exaggerated and closed minded, also unsurprisingly the author makes no mention of the motivation for the actions; religion.
That moment sparked a new mission in my heart, a mission to help the people of New York in the best way I knew how; starting a church in Manhattan that would minister to the city on a daily basis.
I’m sure that the people of the city needed actual help during this time. This is a big problem for religious people. Good can be done for other people without preaching to those you are helping. Soup kitchens, missions to the third world countries, or starting a church amid a nation-wide disaster are needlessly stroking the ego of the higher ups. Why can’t the churches come in and help without attempting to convert everyone they help?
The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not ‘cowards,’ as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith – perfect faith, as it turns out – and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
This quote is from Sam Harris, the author uses it as evidence against Harris for “gathering the worst aspects of various expressions of faith into one big picture”. Nothing like the author continually gathering the same four names against atheism, Zedong, Pot, Hitler, and Stalin. Harris’ position doesn’t need me to defend it but I must say that he wasn’t simply showing the bad parts to show the bad parts of religion. He wanted to point out the problems with faith, believing without enough evidence.
Somehow these people can’t tell the difference between a suicide bomber and a Sunday school teacher.
It can be argued that the difference between a Sunday school teacher and a suicide bomber is a slippery slope but the extremists the author speaks of are simply following the most basic principles and tenets of their religion. They understand the world thinks their views are wrong but they are so determined they are correct and their faith is true that they will do what they deem necessary. The author has written this book in opposition of atheists denouncing his god’s existence claim, but I wonder how much the author understands that his certainty in his god is shared with those suicide bombers’ certainty in their’s.
ALL MORALS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
The American Declaration of Independence declares that it is “self-evident, that all men are created equal,” yet it is also self-evident that the morals they live by are not equal.
Yes, I agree, so why would we not think that the moral systems had evolved alongside the societies they are in?
To say that everyone’s beliefs are equally valid is self-refuting. Not everyone can be right.
Again, I agree, now why should we believe your god over every other god? You feel the same about all those other gods as I feel about the god of the Bible.
But without God, the absurd notion that everyone’s morals are true becomes a living nightmare.
Everyone’s beliefs can’t be equally valid but the author says his are. The ignorance is palpable and hurts my head. An atheist does not posit that all moral systems are valid, only that they all came to be naturally. The problem for the theist comes in explaining all of these differing moralities when they believe that morality was decreed by a supreme deity.
Certainly without a transcendent God or source of moral authority, it comes down to whatever are the opinions of the majority. So from where does this universal sense of right and wrong come?
I have already explained where I think morality came from and I won’t rehash it here.
We no more invented morality than we invented numbers or even reason itself.
I agreed that we didn’t invent the idea of numbers, the concept of quantity, but we did name them. We invented the name, just the same as good and evil. We didn’t invent the idea of right or wrong but we gave them the name right and wrong, the name moral and immoral. We gave them a name according to how it affected the self, the others, and the society.
NO GOD – NO EVIL
The author recounts a story in which he was on a flight and speaking to someone he learned to be a philosophy teacher in England and “a militant atheist.” He asks why the professor is militant and the professor gives two reasons, evolution and evil.
My next question was easy: “So why are you a militant atheist?” He replied, “Two reasons. First, I believe in evolution.”
After the professor and the author speak the author comes to the conclusion that he wasn’t an expert.
Just because someone has a PhD doesn’t mean he is an expert in every area of life; he may be a microspecialist in only one or two subjects.
Duh. A PhD is not given out after one expresses their expertise in every field imaginable, it is for a single specific subject. The author uses this to negate the professor’s ability to assess the evidence and his trust in the scientific process to nullify this as a reason to abate his belief.
The professor changed his course, announcing that evolution was not his main reason for rejecting God.
The professor didn’t “change his course” (see the first quote from above), the professor said he had two reasons to disbelief the god claim, evolution was only the first. This statement by the author is only used to make it seem like he has somehow won this nonexistent debate. The professor brings up his second reason.
“If there is a God,” he said, “why is there so much evil in the world?”
If there is no God, there is no such thing as evil. You see, without God evil doesn’t really exist.
This statement by the author that no god=no evil is directly correlated to the the concept that he couldn’t comprehend from the last subsection, just one page before this. “When people dismiss belief in God as illusory, they tend to view the concepts of good and evil as illusory as well.”
The unbeliever can’t describe the world we live in without borrowing the biblical concepts of good and evil.
Actually, just two pages ago the author quoted Richard Dawkins explaining the concept as “genetic predisposition” but the author simply brushed it aside.
GOOD AND EVIL ARE NO ILLUSIONS
The author begins Chapter 3 by recounting the 2012 shooting in Aurora, CO.
Wearing a gas mask and a bulletproof vest, he began firing a gun randomly into the panicked crowd, killing twelve and wounding fifty-eight. Terrorized children and their parents huddled in horror and prayed to be spared from this adman’s attack.
Thank goodness the 12 and 58 didn’t pray to be spared, only the ones that were actually saved, or else it would have been bad for that god. But the author makes no reference to those people who died’s faith, only the survivors, remember counting the hits and ignoring the misses?
When people dismiss belief in God as illusory, they tend to view the concepts of good and evil as illusory as well.
Duh, the terms ‘good and evil’ are only used in association with the god claim, just like the term atheist. The terms change when you use ‘good and bad’ or ‘moral and immoral’, the action doesn’t change but the implications do. The author quotes Dawkins who “deemed notions of good and evil to be mere artificial human constructs.” I must agree with Dawkins as it is the very same as I explained above. Dawkins explains “genetic predispositions” as the motivation for most of our actions. As much as I agree with Dawkins I tend to think that ‘nurture’ has just as much a hand in our actions and predispositions as ‘nature’ does.
God also blesses mankind by restraining our evil nature.
This isn’t the author but he quotes Larry Taunton likely because he agrees with the statement. There is one problem with this statement; what about free will? If god is “restraining our evil nature” free will to act upon, or not act upon, that nature is also restrained negating the free will that is supposedly given us.
Quoting Hugh Ross:
Evidently, God designed the laws of physics so that the more depraved people become, the worse consequences they suffer.
So, if I understand this right, the worse people act the worse the world becomes and the more people suffer, and somehow this has something to do with the laws of physics. Of course it doesn’t. The more people act bad in a society, the worse off the society will be, the worse off society gets, the more bad outcomes to the individuals. This is the basis for the idea of the evolution of secular morality. Those bad actions become well known for being bad for people and society and the people and society agree (informally) that that action is reprehensible. There you are, secular morality.
In reality, the existence of good is actually a bigger question to answer than the problem of evil.
No, no it isn’t. The polarity of good and evil is unavoidable. Just as the terms ‘good and evil’ or ‘atheist’ are meaningless without the god claim, the idea of ‘good’ is meaningless without the idea of ‘bad’. Just as if there was no god there would be no atheists, if there is no bad there would be no good.
As long as there have been people doing things that harmed other people, themselves, or society there have been people on the other side who want to do good but also want to stop those other people doing bad. This is not a “bigger question to answer”, it is an inevitable occurrence.
Real faith is not blind. It is evidence-based and requires all our efforts in pursuit of the truth.
This is the opposite of the definition of faith both that the author has explained earlier in this book and that the Bible explains in Hebrews 11:1.
The challenge for skeptics is to follow the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of preconceived ideas, not closing their eyes to the obvious when it contradicts their worldview.
I agree. This is one more point that the author makes that I agree with, its too bad that I have to cherry pick them (just like the author and most believers cherry pick their beliefs).
Ironically, it is the nature of skeptics to be unaware that they are blind to the truths evidencing a supernatural Creator.
This is funny, the author has, hopefully unknowingly, made an illogical statement. Saying the creator is supernatural means that it isn’t in the natural world. If however you were to believe that the creator has influence in the world there would be/could be natural, demonstrable evidence and faith wouldn’t be a requirement.
Here in the book I drew a small flow chart to show how I understand belief. Belief is the top and has two subsets: 1-faith and 2-reason. Faith I explained as subjective and experiential based, a belief held in light of lack of evidence. Reason explained as objective (yes and experiential) based, a belief held based on demonstrable evidence.
RELIGION AND SCIENCE ARE ANSWERING DIFFERENT QUESTIONS
The late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard spoke about faith and science being “non-overlapping magisteria.” This means they are two-distinct, equally valid spheres of existence.
“Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, [John] Polkinghorne argues. In fact, both are necessary to our understanding of the world. ‘Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why.
This is quite a different stance than the author has taken in other parts of this book. He does not simply let religion explain the why questions, he asserts that the answers to the how questions are also answered by religion. It is curious that the author would use these quotes seeing as they don’t coincide with what he has been explaining. If religion only attempted to answer the why questions and kept out of the how of the world works the debates wouldn’t be as polarized. Science doesn’t attempt to answer the why questions, science doesn’t even acknowledge them.
There is no real conflict between science and God, but there is a conflict between naturalism and faith. Naturalism is the belief that all that exists is nature.
The conflict comes when one side oversteps their position. What experience do we have of anything super-natural, anything beyond nature? None, other than unfounded claims.
The author again brings up Albert Einstein. I agreed already that Einstein made many comments that may be construed as deistic but he made so many others that denounced that stance. In bringing up Einstein the author again changes what kind of god he is defending. Many parts of this book have been devoted to espouse the god of the Bible but quotes like these and many others are only effective for a deistic non-personal god. Flip flopping like this makes a debate and arguments hard to refute, it’s called moving the goalposts.
LIMITS OF SCIENCE
Science is certainly important. It explains how the physical world works. It is the process that is used to investigate how to grow crops, cure disease, and develop inventions that make our world safer and more interconnected through technology.
Curiously, the author uses examples of where science answered the question correctly after religion was proven wrong. Growing crops has been a power endowed to many a god throughout history, and disease was (and still is by some) explained as sin or possession. Think about it for yourself, do you know of any question to which an answer was posed by the scientific community but the religious community provided a better, more correct, answer. This doesn’t mean religion could never get something right but it does mean that we are more likely to get a correct answer through the methodical, demonstrable, scientific way.
Finally, the author provides an example of something he says science can’t prove. Peter Atkins is quoted as saying “science is omnipotent” to William Lane Craig; what isn’t quoted is the context. Atkins was clearly being comical, this wasn’t “shockingly asserted”. The items that the author states science can make no claims on are ethics and morality, mathematics, and reason.
Ethics and Morality
Science can’t tell us how we should live our lives-what is right and wrong, good and evil.
Agreed, this isn’t a point for science. That does not however make it default to the area of religion. Many people, myself included, think that the idea of assuming a moral standpoint from a separate individual is less than admirable. Riddle me this; If you hold that the Bible is the moral teachings of God and you choose to follow it but what if you don’t agree with one or more parts in it (slavery, rape, genocide, etc)? Who’s morality did you use to decide that the idea of a raped female being forced to marry her rapist so long as he paid enough for her was wicked? Who’s morality did you use to decide that the god of the Bible was more moral a character than the god of the Qur’an, or Ganesha?
Science can’t answer the deepest ethical issues of our day.
For instance, scientists can study the consequences of certain actions, such as charity or abuse. However, they can never justify why one action is morally superior to another.
An example, lets say murder. Science can have a hand in explaining why it would be detrimental. Let’s think about a community of a set number of people. If someone murders or multiple people murder some of the citizens, citizens are lost. With that, perhaps professions or hobbies are lost that were helpful to the community. That loss causes harm to the community, demonstrable harm. The society and the people discover this loss of a professional and the harm that it caused and perhaps (unknowingly and informally) hypothesized that murder shouldn’t be done. Eventually laws are made against it and the idea of murder became reprobate.
Morality and ethics have been evolving as long as we have been. Good things were advantageous to the society, like justice, fairness, and mercy, these became moral or ethical behaviors. Bad things were those that were disadvantageous to the society, like, dishonesty, murder, rape, stealing, etc became those immoral or unethical behaviors. The examples I have provided are, pretty much, in the black and white parts of the spectrum, but what about those behaviors or actions that fall in the gray area between moral and immoral?
Stealing is wrong, but what if I stole very little, very inexpensive food to feed my two daughters? Murder is wrong, but what about during warfare? Mercy is moral, but what about the justice that has been waived? Fairness and honesty are morally superior to stealing and lying because the society isn’t harmed when its people are fair and honest to each other as it would be if everyone was stealing and lying. The justification is in the result of the action.
Math is pretty complicated to think about. The author makes points like:
The mathematical order in the universe was discovered, not invented.
Even more basic than the order are the numbers themselves; they must be accepted as simply true.
Numbers are an arbitrary representation of an amount or a quantity, and the author even agrees with this a little later in the subsection.
Mathematics is an abstract creation of rules and relationships by the human mind.
The author states that numbers were “discovered” to lend credence to the idea of a creator that put them there, not wanting to accept that they are simply a universal constant that couldn’t be any other way. 1 plus 1 can only be 2, the numbers can have different symbols, they could have different names, but the idea of one (single) is universal.
It’s because of this mathematical order that we can explore the world around us with such confidence. Mathematics allows us to send probes into outer space as well as into our own bodies.
This statement is ridiculous. Space travel and medical technology are scientific advances. Yes, they have mathematical bases, but the advances aren’t purely mathematical. Again and again the author is flawed in his logic and explanations.
In other words, if math is the basis of science, then science can’t be math’s source of verification. It would be like a house holding up a foundation rather than a foundation holding up a house. This is a glimpse of how difficult it is to have science be the ultimate judge of whether God exists, since God is the Creator and ground of all being.
Not all houses have a foundation as we know it now. The ground itself can be the foundation for many houses. The ground is there, just there, it isn’t made or invented to be a foundation. We built the house on that ground because it worked, that doesn’t mean the ground was there to be our foundation.
For someone attempting to breakdown a wall supposedly being built between science and religion the author just keeps attempting to putdown scientific means. By the author’s own analogy and explanation, “if math is the basis of science, then science can’t be math’s source of verification” so if “God is the Creator and ground of all being” what can be used to verify God’s existence?
Similarly, God has created us to be rational creatures.
This is not how an argument goes. You can’t just state that your position is the correct one. You must provide evidence for your position, not consistently flawed arguments.
We can think abstractly, learn languages at an amazing speed, and know the difference between right and wrong. In contrast, natural selection would only have developed in us the basic abilities to survive: acquire food, avoid danger, and find a mate.
Think about it. If natural selection develops the ability to find a mate and avoid danger, just how did we get to that point? I explained above about a possible way that morality/ethics evolved and it fits here too. We see someone who mates with someone who is just and truthful and compare it to someone who mates with someone who murdered them just after and we learn from that situation. It is both beneficial for the individual and also to the society for mates to be honest and true, those thoughts easily develop into those ideas of moral and ethical behaviors.
The notion that the only rational beliefs are those that can be confirmed by scientific observation, experiment and measurement is yet another self-refuting proposition, since it is a statement that itself cannot be confirmed by scientific observation, experiment and measurement.
What?! Just another babble session for the author. I think he just has these throughout the book talking in circles in an attempt to confuse readers. Science is only what we call the idea or way in which we learn about the world. Similar to numbers, the name or letters could change but the idea of confirming truth in your life would be the same.
God must necessarily exist in order for atheists not to believe in Him.
HA HA HA. I thought only the crazy YouTube creationists would use this line. It is ridiculous to even think about it. God doesn’t exist because there are people who doubt his existence, atheists exist because there are people who claim he does exist. If no one claimed a god existed, true, there would be no one called atheist. That is because the term is only used in connection with the god claim. One could say ‘we are all atheists to all the gods of history except I go one farther’, or, better yet, ‘we are all born atheists until we are taught about religion’. But of course no one calls babies atheists, it’s not because they know god exists, no, it is because they have no concept of god.
The biggest limitation of science is that it can’t tell us why we are here. Why was the universe made? Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing?
This isn’t a “limitation of science”, science doesn’t answer the ‘why’ questions. Science answers the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ questions. Another question I posit to you is how do you know there is a reason at all, how do you know there is a ‘why’. The author talks about Richard Dawkins calling the ‘why’ questions “silly” and meaningless. He then brings up a debate from “a couple of years earlier”. I’m glad he points this out and I hope Dawkins understands now that no one can ever change their position. Dawkins states that the why question was the reason he got into science, “my interest in Biology started with the fundamental questions of our existence”. Clearly Dawkins is talking about when he was much, much younger. Like all kids he didn’t fully understand everything and he only says the why question is why he got into science not that it was what he thought science should or could explain since he has matured mentally and scientifically.
IS SCIENCE THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING?
While reason is obviously vital for our existence, it must not be applied in an unreasonable fashion. This tendency is seen when reason is used in a reductionist fashion and attempts to limit truth to only that which is scientifically and empirically verifiable, even eliminating logical and philosophical means of attaining knowledge.
What?! If this makes sense to you leave me a comment to enlighten me. I know of no other way to ascertain knowledge/truth than through scientific means. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that every decision, every day we must go through the formal steps of the scientific method. I am saying everything we know was discovered by the scientific method even if it was unknowingly and informally done.
A kid will taste dirt, most don’t like and don’t then try to eat it again. This is an informal scientific method. The child has unknowingly made the hypothesis that the dirt was edible, possibly tasty. They performed the experiment by eating it and the conclusion came out that they didn’t like it. From that they made a decision that they wouldn’t eat more dirt, but as a kid we have limited memory and limited knowledge of the world around us. This doesn’t mean the kid will never eat dirt again, maybe somewhere else the “dirt” is sand or mud, the method may start over at the hypothesis. We don’t say the kid is performing a formal science experiment but there is no doubt kids are scientific in their learning.
This philosophy is called scientism and is the belief that science is the only source of knowledge; not even philosophy or theology may weigh in on the ultimate questions that face our world.
Scientism is a philosophical position that all of life’s challenges and riddles can and should be handled scientifically.
Wow, I never knew this word or idea existed but this is me. I am a scientist. lol. I believe that most of the positions that religion has proposed an answer for including disease, cosmology, equality, etc have been proven wrong by scientific means. What “ultimate questions” does the author suggest can be answered without a scientific answer? NONE.
Science is certainly important, but is not able to answer the ultimate questions.
Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of out day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. -Leon Wieseltier
Science studies what’s at the edge of understanding, and what’s at the edge of understanding is usually fairly simple. And it rarely reaches human affairs. Human affairs are way to complicated. -Noam Chomsky
What questions?! The author and the people he quotes talk about things that science can’t explain or even entertain but do nothing to provide examples of such.
Therefore, we must look for something beyond science to guide us through this complexity with justice, fairness, and mercy. Yet finding such a source of ethics that originates in humanity is not easy.
These may be the “difficult questions” the author keeps referencing but he still isn’t clear as to what he is talking about. This last clipping is very close to a debate on morality that I won’t delve too deeply into in this post. Does it come from a supernatural being or have humans developed the ideas of justice, fairness, and mercy through our own growth? Click here to watch a video about the idea of secular morality. If morality were bestowed upon us by a superior being why would the idea of what is moral be so different in different regions around the globe? Almost as if each group had their own ideas and grew with them being influenced by other cultures, their influencing those other cultures, and changed their beliefs accordingly.
UNBELIEF IS THE PRODUCT OF NOT THINKING
Another section of the book devoted to claiming atheists are simply angry and want to deny that they know about the existence of god, “like a lawyer who doesn’t want any evidence to come forth in a trial that could discredit his client, the skeptic is threatened by the believer who makes a case for god based on reason.” It is actually very nice (for me) that the author used the title “skeptic” in this statement instead of atheist, but less than useful for the author. We are all skeptics by nature for almost all claims that are made. Whether it is a Sasquatch, Nessie, unicorns, talking on the phone with the president, or ‘it tastes like chicken’. The strangest thing to me is that the same skepticism isn’t automatically applied to claims of such a larger magnitude, like ‘I created the universe in seven days’. For most the best reasoning for this suspension of skepticism is indoctrination.
After quoting Romans 1:18-19 the author states:
This is why there is such frustration and anger on the part of atheists when God is mentioned. All their hard work of suppressing the truth gets sabotaged.
Sorry, but if you think this is true I am going to tell you once and for all it is not. I am not attempting to suppress any evidence, the evidence that has been brought out has been lacking and/or fallacious so I don’t need to suppress it. I do however want to invalidate any “evidence” I can so that the person presenting it will understand it is unacceptable for use as evidence and that it shouldn’t be used in the future.
The author explains about turbulence on a flight causing him to momentarily feel fear but “sound reasoning can restore my faith in flying”. This is again a differing definition of the word faith that was set in the beginning of the book. This faith is one based on evidence of the aeronautics field and of past flights, as the author said he had “flown several million miles” in his lifetime.
Unbelief can result from failing to remember.
Or, it could be the result of not being convinced of potentially the most important questions of our lives being answered in an single, ancient, ignorant, and deplorable text. Unbelief is not something to be ashamed of, we all don’t believe claims everyday. We don’t go through life believing everything we are told until someone disproves each claim. The default position is disbelief.
Jesus performed many miracles, such as feeding thousands of people from a handful of bread loaves and a few fish. Time and time again, although His disciples had experienced miracle after miracle they would forget Jesus’ power as soon as they faced another challenge.
This is astounding. If you saw a man feed thousands of people with very little food, gave back the gift of sight, or brought someone back from death you would not forget it. You would not question that person again. I have seen Magnus ver Magnusson and other Strong Men do incredible feats of strength and to this day I would not question that they could do it again. I may say ‘no way’ or ‘unbelievable’ but those comments are not the same as the author is speaking of the disciples’ forgetting Jesus’ powers. Along with comments about the strong men I commented in my book about looking up deification.
The idea that the disciples could forget about the accomplishments of Jesus when they had perfect, first-hand, evidence of them is a minimum thought provoking. Perhaps, just think about it, perhaps Jesus was a man who did some good deeds, had some followers, and started a small church. Tales of this man over the years of verbal storytelling got exaggerated into tales of a god come to earth. Have you ever played the game telephone? Even over just a few people in a group a sentence or very small story gets changed, think about years and years of possible change. That is at least a point for skepticism of the stories of Jesus, not to mention the much older stories of the Old Testament.
Which of these events would be more memorable?