Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

The doctrine of the Trinity: one being and three persons

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity

Here’s an article by Jonathan M. to explain what the Bible says about God and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Excerpt:

So, what exactly do we mean when we talk about the Trinity? Writing in the early third century, in his Against Praxeas, Tertullian is credited with first employing the words “Trinity”, “person” and “substance” to convey the idea of the Father, Son and Spirit being “one in essence — but not one in person”. Indeed, Tertullian writes,

“Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are, one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,” in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.”

This concept was established as church orthodoxy at the famous Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Nicene Creed speaks of Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

It is this definition that I am going to assume in the discussion that follows. Succinctly, then, the doctrine of the Trinity may be defined thusly: Within the one being or essence that is God, there exists three co-equal and co-divine distinct persons — namely the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who share that essence fully and completely. This concept is not to be confused with polytheism, which maintains that there are multiple gods. While orthodox Christianity emphatically holds there to be only one God, we nonetheless understand God to be complex in his unity. The concept is also not to be confused with the ancient heresy of modalism, which maintains that God exists in three different modes. The Son has never been the Father and the Holy Spirit has never been the Son or the Father. Modalism is refuted by the picture given to us in all four gospels (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) in which the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice is heard from Heaven “This is my beloved Son. With him I am well pleased.” Similarly, it should be noted that the Father, Son and Spirit do not each make up merely a third of the Godhead. Rather, each of the three persons is God in the full and complete sense of the word.

Having shown that Scripture emphatically rejects the notion that the Father, Son and Spirit are synonymous persons, only five propositions remain to be demonstrated in order to provide Biblical substantiation for the concept of the Trinity. Those propositions are:

  1. There is only one eternal God.
  2. The Father is the eternal God.
  3. The Son is the eternal God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the eternal God.
  5. Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are non-synonymous persons, the concept of the Trinity does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

He then takes a close look at what the Bible says about God with respect to those assertions. There can be no doubt that the Bible teaches that God is one divine substance, and three persons.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is the definition of atheism “a lack of belief in God”?

First, let’s see check with the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Excerpt:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

Stanford University is one of the top 5 universities in the United States, so that’s a solid definition. To be an atheist is to be a person who makes the claim that, as a matter of FACT, there is no intelligent agent who created the universe. Atheists think that there is no God, and theists think that there is a God. Both claims are objective claims about the way the world is out there, and so both sides must furnish forth arguments and evidence as to how they are able to know what they are each claiming.

Philosopher William Lane Craig has some thoughts on atheism, atheists and lacking belief in God in this reply to a questioner.

Question:

In my discussions with atheists, they  are using the term that they “lack belief in God”. They claim that this is different from not believing in God or from saying that God does not exist. I’m not sure how to respond to this. It seems to me that its a silly word-play and is logically the same as saying that you do not believe in God.
What would be a good response to this?
Thank you for your time,

Steven

And here is Dr. Craig’s full response:

Your atheist friends are right that there is an important logical difference between believing that there is no God and not believing that there is a God.  Compare my saying, “I believe that there is no gold on Mars” with my saying “I do not believe that there is gold on Mars.”   If I have no opinion on the matter, then I do not believe that there is gold on Mars, and I do not believe that there is no gold on Mars.  There’s a difference between saying, “I do not believe (p)” and “I believe (not-p).”   Logically where you place the negation makes a world of difference.

But where your atheist friends err is in claiming that atheism involves only not believing that there is a God rather than believing that there is no God.

There’s a history behind this.  Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist.  Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.

So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken.  For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.”  Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does.  It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence.  He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist.”  So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists).  As Antony Flew confesses,

the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist. (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view.  It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all.  On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists!  In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position?  Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists.  If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view.  But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof.  So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions.  They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities.

This is disingenuous and still leaves us asking, “So is there a God or not?”

So there you have it. We are interested in what both sides know and what reasons and evidence they have to justify their claim to know. We are interested in talking to people who make claims about objective reality, not about themselves, and who then go on to give reasons and evidence to support their claims about objective reality. There are atheists out there that do make an objective claim that God does not exist, and then support that claim with arguments and evidence. Those are good atheists, and we should engage in rational conversations with them. But clearly there are some atheists who are not like that. How should we deal with these “subjective atheists”?

Dealing with subjective atheists

How should theists respond to people who just want to talk about their psychological state? Well, my advice is to avoid them. They are approaching religion irrationally and non-cognitively – like the person who enters a physics class and says “I lack a belief in the gravitational force!”.  When you engage in serious discussions with people about God’s existence, you only care about what people know and what they can show to be true. We don’t care about a person’s psychology.

Dealing with persistent subjective atheists

What happens when you explain all of that to a subjective atheist who continues to insist that you listen to them repeat over and over “I lack a belief in God, I lack a belief in God”? What if you tell them to make the claim that God does not exist, and then support it with arguments and evidence, but instead they keep leaving comments on your blog telling you again and again about their subjective state of mind: “I lack a belief in cupcakes! I lack a belief in icebergs!” What if they keep e-mailing you and threatening to expose you on Twitter for refusing to listen to them, or denounce you via skywriting: “Wintery Knight won’t listen to me! I lack a belief in crickets!”. I think at this point you have to give up and stop talking to such a person.

And that’s why I moderate and filter comments on this blog. There are uneducated people out there with access to the Internet who want attention, but I am not obligated to give it to them. And neither are you. We are not obligated to listen to abusive people who don’t know what they are talking about. I do post comments from objective atheists who make factual claims about the objective world, and who support those claims with arguments and evidence. I am not obligated to post comments from people who refuse to make objective claims or who refuse to support objective claims with arguments and evidence. And I’m not obligated to engage in discussions with them, either.

Related posts

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three ways that generosity makes sense in the Christian worldview

I’m planning to be study Philippians today with the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, so I thought I would post something about generosity and sharing.

First, let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that show the importance of sharing generously with others. I also want to emphasize the need to work and to not be a burden to others, and to emphasize that the goal of sharing with others is to build them up.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-11: (Paul speaking)

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

Acts 20:32-35: (Paul speaking)

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Philippians 4:14-18: (Paul speaking)

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;

16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Luke 21:1-4: (Jesus speaking)

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

So in an effort to keep this post small, I’m going to be brief. And practical.

Make as much money as you can

The first point I want to make is that it is impossible to share with anyone else unless you have your own financial house in order. Don’t borrow money. Don’t ask for money.  Study hard things (STEM and useful trades) so that you always have work and are always earning money. In the 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 passage, we learn that able-bodied people need to be working. That is a practical pre-condition of sharing with others. The more money you make the more you have to share. If you want to advance the gospel and build up others, money is absolutely vital. Don’t study crap subjects in school, don’t take useless jobs, don’t neglect the need to build a gapless resume of increasingly more challenging work, don’t get tied down by worldly goods and recreational dating early – so you can finish your education as much as you can. Be practical – charitable giving doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a person who is ordered and disciplined. Unless you are some sort of skilled Christian scholar, don’t be flying all over the world willy-nilly on expensive mission trips, either – there is plenty of work to do right where God planted you. Be a good steward of your money, and the donations of other Christians.

Partnering with others for the gospel

The second point I want to contrast is the giving I prefer with the giving I do not prefer. The giving I prefer is to give to another Christian who I know personally who is involved in ministry that advances the gospel by arguing for the truth of the gospel using apologetics. So, I like to give to groups like Ratio Christi and to Christian scholars who have ministries or who are doing useful degrees. My goal is to spread the gospel in the only way it can be spread – by demonstrating the truth of it using arguments and evidence. I do not give money to anti-poverty groups like World Vision or to unskilled missionaries who just want an extended vacation in order to satisfy some childhood fancy animated by pride and/or vanity. When I give money to another Christian, my goal is to partner with them, not to feel good about myself. I am trying to get something done for the Lord, not to feel better or to make people think I am nice or to “balance the books” with God (which is heretical).

Building your rewards in Heaven

The third point I want to make is to emphasize that this is not a pointless exercise. Everyone who is a Christian accepts that reconciliation with God is achieved not by human efforts to be good, but by acknowledging and conforming your life to a free gift that was offered by Jesus Christ. Christ died in order to pay the penalty for every individual person’s rebellion against God the Father. That atoning death is the basis for our reconciliation with God, and our eternal life with him. However, the passage in Philippians makes clear that our experience of Heaven after we have been saved by grace is affected by what we do here and now. So often, what you hear in church is do this, do that, and there is never any rationality to it, no emphasis on long-term planning or wisdom in decision-making. It’s all just ad hoc emotivism. But I am telling you something different today. You have a few years on Earth to understand the example of Christ, to follow him, and share in his sufferings as you imitate his obedience. You better have some sort of plan to produce a return on God’s investment in you, and it has to be a good plan. Not one that makes you feel good, but one that is likely to achieve results. Plan your charitable giving like your life were an episode of Mission Impossible, and focus on outcomes, not feelings. That doesn’t mean that results are the measure of success, because that’s God’s job. But it does mean that you should prefer the Thomas Sowell approach to the Disney Princess approach.

The soul-making theodicy

The fourth point I want to make comes from a discussion with my friend Blake Giunta who runs TreeSearch.org. He reminded me that one of the reasons why God allows evil and suffering in this world is to allow us the opportunity to be active partners with him in demonstrating the love of Christ to others. God’s goal for us is not to make us safe and happy. God’s goal for us is to get us to freely enter into and sustain a relationship with him – a relationship that includes an accurate knowledge of who he is, and a free response of love and obedience to him. With respect to that goal, God is fully justified in permitting all kinds of evil and suffering, which in turn provide opportunities for us to 1) enter in to his plan of love and redemption for others and 2) demonstrate his character to the watching world through our actions as his agents. The situation is identical to what parents do in allowing their children to be hurt while learning – God holds back from annihilating some evil and suffering so that we have an opportunity to step into the breach. This advances our relationships with him through shared purpose and shared experiences. This is fellowship with God – not just reading devotional, pious-sounding bilge, but active partnering and dangerous action in some non-trivial enterprise. Give him your best – the same best you bring to your work or anything else in your life that really matters.

Personal application

By the way, if you’re looking for a good place to send a few bucks, I recommend TreeSearch.org.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Apologist Blake Giunta takes on atheist Dan Barker on the nature of God

I found  their exchange (20 minutes) on the TreeSearch.org site. It used to be be in WAV format, but I asked for an MP3 and Blake made an MP3 instead.

Many so-called new atheists have latched on to an odd argument against God’s existence that looks like this:

  1. If you can’t tell me what God “Is” then God does not exist.
  2. You can’t tell me what God is.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Of course, when you try to explain that God is an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good creator, they will say “no no no, you aren’t telling me what God IS, you’re just describing properties of God!”

In a recent conversational debate with apologist Blake Giunta, who runs the new apologetics debate web site treesearch.org, this seems to be the argument that atheist Dan Barker tried to use. Of course, the whole silly line of reasoning blew up wonderfully in his face. Blake pointed out that every worldview is going to have its fundamental entities, and these are just going to be such that they, trivially, cannot be reduced to some more fundamental entity which it “is” (otherwise it wouldn’t have been a fundamental entity). Blake pointed out that Dan believes in a fundamental entity, namely matter, and that if Dan used his own argument against himself, he would have to say matter does not exist. it was fun to watch Dan squirm so much about 8 minutes in!

I would have liked to see Blake offer one or two arguments against materialism, and offer one or two arguments for minds, but that might have meant getting the conversation off the path of getting Barker to admit his mistake.

I hope to see more Christians equipped to respond to this argument, because again, New Atheists have been pushing this a lot lately (notably Matt Dillahunty). Blake seems to have his finger on the pulse of what the new atheists are arguing.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , ,

Greg Koukl debates Michael Shermer on God, atheism, meaning and morality

The full transcript of a debate between Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, and Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason. This debate occurred on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and was moderated by Hugh Hewitt.

HH = Hugh Hewitt
GK = Greg Koukl
MS = Michael Shermer

Here is a 32-page PDF with the full debate transcript.

And here’s an excerpt:

GK: Right. Actually, the big question here, Hugh, is whether it’s possible to be good without God. Now I’m not talking about whether it’s possible to be good without a belief in God. I certainly think that’s possible, but be good without God. And the answer to that question hinges entirely on precisely what you mean by good. And so I was going to give an illustration. So a man drags a young girl into the alley, he sexually abuses her, strangles here, and tosses her into the dustbin. Is that act wrong? Now I think everybody listening is going to admit it is wrong. But here is the real question. What do we mean when we say that that act of rape and abuse and murder is wrong? Are we describing the action itself, the object? Are we saying that the object, the rape, the murder, has a quality of being wrong, and therefore, wherever that rape goes, the wrongness follows it, just like your height, 6’ 2”, or whatever it is, is an objective quality of you. Wherever you go, your height follows you in the same way. Does the wrongness follow the rape? Well, if it’s a quality of the rape, if it’s an objective quality of the rape, then it does. And it doesn’t matter what people think about it, or what cultures decides, or what your evolutionary conditioning is. The rape is still wrong. The other alternative is that you’re not talking about the rape. You’re talking about yourself. You’re talking about your genetic conditioning. You’re talking about your culture’s decision about that kind of thing. And if that’s the case, then the truth of the wrongness of the rape is simply in the individual or the subject. And this is why philosophers distinguish between ethical objectivism and ethical subjectivism. Now there’s lots of different subjectivisms in ethics. But simply put, if you’re an ethical subjectivist, you’re a relativist. And actual ethics don’t exist. Ethics are an illusion. If you conclude that ethics are an illusion, there’s lots of different ways to explain it. Michael’s written a really great book, I think, called The Science Of Good And Evil. I’ve read most of it, and it’s well written, and it’s very compelling. But it’s a description about how the illusion of ethics has taken place. If you want to go that route, you’re welcome to go that route. But what you can’t do is you can’t then talk about morality as if it’s objective when your explanations are subjective. So this is a problem that I think all atheists, including Michael, have to solve. Are ethics objective or relative? And if they’re relative, then how can we make moral judgments that are meaningful on other people?

HH: Michael Shermer?

MS: Wow, let’s just get right into it. Well, I don’t think it’s quite so black and white. That is to say I think there are provisional moral truths that exist whether there’s a God or not. In other words, it’s wrong, morally, absolutely morally wrong to rape and murder. And that would be true whether there was a God or not. In other words, if…is God saying that it’s wrong because it’s really wrong, and He’s instructing us in his Holy Scripture that it’s wrong? Or is it only wrong because He said so? And if it turned out there wasn’t a God, would that make it okay? And my answer is no, it really is wrong, whether God says it’s wrong or not. That is to say I think it really exists, a real, moral standard like that. Why? Well, because first, you could ask the person who is being affected, we should always ask the moral recipient of the act, how do you feel about being raped or murdered or stolen from or lied to. And the moral actor will tell you, it doesn’t matter whether, if I could use a current example, I haven’t any idea if Tiger Woods and his wife are religious or not. But you can just ask his wife whether it was morally right or wrong, and she’ll tell you. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a God or not. It’s wrong. And so that’s the first principle. Just ask. Ask the moral recipient of whether it’s right or wrong. But I think Greg’s after something deeper, that is to say is there something even deeper still behind the moral actor’s feelings about how they’re treated. And the answer is yes, I think so. We’re a social species. We don’t live in isolation. We live as members of a group. And as such, there’s no possible way our group could survive, be cohesive, be a unit of any kind of solidarity against other groups, or against a harsh environment. If there were too much violations of social norms, that is if there were constant lying and cheating and raping and murdering, there’s no way a social group could hang together. And as such, as we all know, we’re very tribal. We’re tribal against other groups, but within our groups, we’re very pro-social, altruistic, cooperative. We have a good and evil in our nature. So to this extent, I find myself interesting often in agreement with my conservative friends on most of the things they consider morally, moral truths. That is, we share the same moral values, even though I come at it from a different perspective.

HH: Greg?

GK: Yeah, I’m actually not after something deeper here, Michael. At least to start out the discussion, I’m trying to be as simple and clear and precise as possible, because it’s very easy to weave together a bunch of things that sound persuasive, but turn out to be different things. Like for example, Darwinian evolution, which is a materialistic process, and here I mean the blind watchmaker thesis, the neo-Darwinian synthesis, natural selection working on mutations, and a kind of a cultural evolution that Michael has just referred to as we work together as a group to survive as a group. Those are two entirely different things. One is materialistic, Darwinian, the other one is intelligent design, quite frankly, where the group gets together and makes some determinations to encourage some behavior and discourage others. What I’m trying to do is to be able to answer the question that came up initially, is God necessary for morality, which Michael denies. It’s to say well, what is it that morality, that we’re trying to describe? It is either objective, and therefore an immaterial obligation that applies to certain behaviors, or it is subjective. The things that Michael described were variously subjective, evolutionary elements, subjective cultural elements, but then he affirmed that we all have good and evil in our nature, or an awareness of that. I agree with that entirely. We all are aware of those things. That’s why even if we don’t believe in God, we can still know morality and follow it. The question is what accounts for real, genuine objective morality?

HH: One minute to the break, Michael Shermer.

MS: I’m not arguing for cultural evolution. I’m actually arguing as part of our, what you described as materialistic, natural selection, Darwinian evolution, that it’s not enough to just pretend or fake being a good group member. You actually have to believe it, feel it, and live it. So what I’m arguing is that natural selected certain moral sentiments, as Adam Smith called them, moral feelings, an actual empathy, Adam Smith talked about, we actually empathize with somebody else, we can put ourselves into their shoes and feel their pain, I’m arguing that’s very real. It’s every bit as real a part of our evolutionary heritage as our eyes and our hands.

- – – -

HH: Michael Shermer, when we went to break, you were saying that evolutionary biology has produced a real morality.

MS: Yeah, I think really, Adam Smith had it right in his very first book, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, long before Darwin, that we actually have in our biological nature, our human nature, the capacity to feel other people’s pain. He called it empathy, we think of it often either as empathy or sympathy. That is, we really do connect to other people. A lot of good research on this now, brain scans, you can show somebody a little video of somebody they know, or have feelings for, getting pricked with a pin, and the same areas of their brain light up, the pain receptors, as in the person getting the pin prick. In other words, we have an evolved tendency to really be deeply, emotionally connected to our fellow group members. And that’s why I say groups like World Vision, where you want to adopt a child, it doesn’t help to show a picture of 10,000 starving African kids. What does affect us is one child, a picture of one child with a little biography. That’s how you get people to adopt a child to donate. The reason for that is because essentially they’re tricking the brain, our brains into making that stranger an honorary family member, an honorary within group member, which is why I argue that free trade is one of the best ways of defusing normal tribal tensions between people. It makes them honorary friends, honorary members. Well, what’s going on there is we’re tricking the brain into sort of this evolutionary rule of thumb – be nice to people that are like you and that are related to you, and that you know, and that are fellow group members, and don’t do what our natural tendency is, is to be tribal and xenophobic against those other guys. And free trade is one of the best things you can do for that. So I’m arguing that’s actually tapping something deep within us.

HH: Greg Koukl?

GK: Yeah, basically, I agree with Mike completely here. We do have this tendency, and it seems to be universal among humankind. The question is, what is that tendency, actually? And what is the best way to explain it? And I see like a handful of significant problems with using evolution to explain morality. The first one is that evolution is a materialistic process. And here, I’m going back to an original point, and I don’t want people to lose it. There is no way that you can take molecules, and reorganize them in any fashion, over any length of time, and have pop out of the mixture an objective moral principle that’s immaterial, and that applies to human beings. All you’re going to get is a reorganization of the molecules. And what they can produce, and this is what Mike has done in his book, and he mentioned just s few moments ago, they can produce sentiments. They can produce feelings. They can produce behavior. But this leads us to the second problem of using evolution to explain morality, is that morality is more than sentiments, feelings and behavior. Morality entails things like motive and intention. I mean, you could have a guy walk into a garage, walk out with a hose, and is that wrong? Well, it depends. Is it his hose or somebody else’s hose? Did he intend to take the other person’s hose? Is he borrowing the hose? So we can see here are elements that are part of the moral thing that needs to be explained, that are immaterial, and therefore the Darwinian explanation can’t even in principle go there. It can’t do that job. But here’s the worst problem. Regardless of what our sentiments happen to be regarding moral actions, we can feel good or feel bad or whatever, the problem is that morality is prescriptive, not merely descriptive. That is it tells us not just what we did, but what we ought to have done in the past, and what we ought to do in the future. That is not something that any Darwinian mechanism can describe, because nothing about my biology can inveigh upon me to act a certain way for moral reasons in the future. It doesn’t tell me why I should be good tomorrow. This is a huge difference between these two views, the descriptive and the prescriptive. Prescriptive is part of morality, and can’t even, in principle, be explained by an evolutionary materialistic system.

HH: Michael Shermer, I’ll give you a start on that. We have about 45 seconds to the break, so you may want to…we’ll come back after the break and pick up. But what’s your start to that?

MS: Well, the start would be that again, let’s not think of evolution just as nature red and tooth and claw, and it’s nasty, brutish and short, but that in fact, we have this whole other social evolution. And I’m not talking about cultural evolution where we consciously make decisions, but subconsciously, because it’s in part of our nature to actually, seriously, deeply feel for other people and their actions, and the consequences of our actions, so that we actually have a sense of right and wrong that we’re born with, but then culture taps into and tweaks, one way or the other.

- – – -

HH: Michael Shermer, when we went to break, Greg had made the argument that the Darwinian model simply cannot explain immaterial concepts like morality, that there’s just no way you can rearrange the molecules to get there. You’re saying well, yes you can.

MS: Yeah, I think so, because if we think of morality as another suite of emotions that are involved with other people’s behaviors, the consequences of our actions, how we feel about them, how people feel about us when we do these things, that’s as every bit as important a biological part of our nature as anything else we talk about. So let’s take a real simple emotion. When you’re hungry, nobody does any calculations about the caloric input/output ratios of eating an apple versus an ice cream, although now it’s posted on the walls for us to see. But we just feel hungry, and we feel hungry for certain kinds of foods. The feeling of hunger is a proxy for something else. Evolution’s done the calculating for us. You need food, so we’re going to, your hypothalamus is going to secrete these certain chemicals that causes your stomach to rumble and so on. When you’re attracted to somebody else, a member of the opposite sex, nobody does the calculation by, let’s say, a man finds a woman attractive who has a .67 hip to waist ratio, and an hourglass figure, although that is pretty much universal. Nobody walks about with calipers taking measurements of who they’re going to want to date or ask out. You just look around, and you just go wow, I really find this woman attractive. It’s a feeling you have, okay? So those are kind of simple emotions, but sliding up the scale, the moral emotions are really no different. When I lie to somebody, I’ve violated a social norm, and they respond in a very angry, hostile way. So those emotions that we both share, guilt, shame, anger, disgust, involved a social relationship that whether it was a norm violation, those are the kinds of emotions that are just like hunger and sexual attraction that are built into us by nature, by evolution. Or, if you wish, this is how God created the moral sentiments, just like He created everything else in the universe, through a process of nature. I think that’s equally reasonable to argue. So I don’t see that it has to be an atheistic viewpoint versus a theistic viewpoint to get to our moral sentiments. Why couldn’t God have used evolution to create the moral sentiments as I’ve described them?

GK: Yeah, well, you don’t actually believe that, I know, Mike, so this is kind of like adding God to the soup, you know, if it makes people feel better. But the basic argument is that evolution all by itself can do the trick. And I think if your listeners are listening carefully, what they’re going to hear is Mike has just described, and if I’m being unfair to your assessment here, let me know, Mike, that moral feelings are simply that. They are sophisticated emotions that do some work for us for survival, and even on a group level. Now there’s a name for this. It’s called emotivism. A.J. Ayer, the famous atheist, offered this description of morality. It’s a relativistic scheme of morality. Morality doesn’t actually exist, Ayer argued. There is no objective right or wrong. Rape isn’t wrong itself. What happens is, we have feelings about it, and we express it in moral language, but rape isn’t really wrong. So your listeners are going to have to ask themselves the questions. When they just survey their own moral senses, and we all have access to this, do we want to believe that scientists have figured out that really what we’re doing is feeling sophisticated, complicated emotions, and that the emotions are in us, and we are not seeing anything about the action? Or does it seem like rape is wrong? Look, when I say rape is wrong, I’m talking about the rape. When I say liver is awful, I’m talking about me. I’m talking about my own tastes and preferences. It’s interesting, as Michael has given his explanation, though, that he’s doing, and I don’t know if you are aware of this, Michael, but you’re doing the very thing that I kind of warned against. You give a description of the foundations of morality that turn out to be relativistic, but then there’s a smuggling of a more objectivistic morality in the back door, like when Michael says you don’t have to do what your nature tells you to do, in other words, what you’ve been programmed by evolution to do. You can kind of rise above that. Well, now we’re talking about a morality that isn’t dictated by evolution, but a morality that we can employ through our acts of will, to rise above this kind of brutish evolutionary morality. And that sounds suspiciously like the very thing that I’m talking about here.

MS: But I don’t mean, there’s nothing to rise above by itself. Yes, we have to say rise above our tribal instincts to be xenophobic when we meet somebody who’s a stranger, who’s different from us. We all struggle against that, particularly in a black and white America, where there’s always been this underlying tension. Indeed, so culture helps us do that – education, travel, diversity of exposure to different people. That makes you a little more tolerant. Okay, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is tapping into the good part of our nature, the fact that in addition to that xenophobic tribalism we have, we also have this other side that almost never gets discussed in evolutionary…even in evolutionary circles, you’ll still hear evolutionary biologists talking about, in a way that Huxley did, and Herbert Spencer did in Darwin’s own time, that we have to somehow struggle mightily against our genes to overcome that nasty tendency we have to want to rape, kill, pillage and destroy. Well no, actually, we have this whole other side that’s just as genetically programmed into our nature. And the point of culture – education, politics, economics and so on, is to tap into the better angels of our nature as Lincoln said.

GK: Okay, here’s the question I have for you, Michael, then. You’ve identified that really, we have good and we have bad. That’s part of, under your terms, that’s part of our genetic nature, and we can choose to tap into what you call the good side. Why ever should we do such a thing if there is not a higher standard that directs our action to the better side, your words, than the bad side, your words, if really, ultimately, they are both the result of a genetic evolution, and from outside terms, neither is better than the other. Why should we do that, Michael?

MS: Yeah, well I don’t see how entering God into the equation changes that problem at all.

GK: Well, that’s the next step. What I’m trying to show is that the should comes from the outside, and if we can demonstrate that, then we can ask…

Read the rest by click here to get the PDF.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

RSS Evolution News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,321,188 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,037 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,037 other followers

%d bloggers like this: