Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Chad Meister: can atheists rationally ground morality?

Philosopher Chad Meister takes a look at the attempts of some prominent atheists to make rational sense of morality within their worldviews.

Here is the abstract:

Atheists often argue that they can make moral claims and live good moral lives without believing in God. Many theists agree, but the real issue is whether atheism can provide a justification for morality. A number of leading atheists currently writing on this issue are opposed to moral relativism, given its obvious and horrific ramifications, and have attempted to provide a justification for a nonrelative morality. Three such attempts are discussed in this article: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s position that objective morality simply “is”; Richard Dawkins’s position that morality is based on the selfish gene; and Michael Ruse and Edward Wilson’s position that morality is an evolutionary illusion. Each of these positions, it turns out, is problematic. Sinnott-Armstrong affirms an objective morality, but affirming something and justifying it are two very different matters. Dawkins spells out his selfish gene approach by including four fundamental criteria, but his approach has virtually nothing to do with morality—with real right and wrong, good and evil. Finally, Ruse and Wilson disagree with Dawkins and maintain that belief in morality is just an adaptation put in place by evolution to further our reproductive ends. On their view, morality is simply an illusion foisted on us by our genes to get us to cooperate and to advance the species. But have they considered the ramifications of such a view? Each of these positions fails to provide the justification necessary for a universal, objective morality—the kind of morality in which good and evil are clearly understood and delineated.

[…]We can get to the heart of the atheist’s dilemma with a graphic but true example. Some years ago serial killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to over thirty murders, was interviewed about his gruesome activities. Consider the frightening words to his victim as he describes them:

Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”….I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.5

While I am in no way accusing atheists in general of being Ted Bundy-like, the question I have for the atheist is simply this: On what moral grounds can you provide a response to Bundy? The atheistic options are limited. If morality has nothing to do with God, as atheists suppose, what does it have to do with? One response the atheist could offer is moral relativism, either personal or cultural. The personal moral relativist affirms that morality is an individual matter; you decide for yourself what is morally right and wrong. But on this view, what could one say to Bundy? Not much, other than “I don’t like what you believe; it offends me how you brutalize women.” For the personal relativist, however, who really cares (other than you) that you are offended by someone else’s actions? On this view we each decide our own morality, and when my morality clashes with yours, there is no final arbiter other than perhaps that the stronger of us forces the other to agree. But this kind of Nietzschean “might makes right” ethic has horrific consequences, and one need only be reminded of the Nazi reign of terror to see it in full bloom. This is one reason why thoughtful atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others don’t go there.6

But what about cultural moral relativism—the view that moral claims are the inventions of a given culture? Most thoughtful atheists don’t tread here either, and this is one reason why: If right and wrong are cultural inventions, then it would always be wrong for someone within that culture to speak out against them. If culture defines right and wrong, then who are you to challenge it? For example, to speak out against slavery in Great Britain in the seventeenth century would have been morally wrong, for it was culturally acceptable. But surely it was a morally good thing for William Wilberforce and others to strive against the prevailing currents of their time and place to abolish the slave trade. For the cultural moral relativist, all moral reformers—Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., even Jesus and Gandhi, to name a few—would be in the wrong. But who would agree with this conclusion? Thankfully, most leading atheists agree that moral relativism is doomed.7

So what do they affirm? Here are three accounts that recent atheists have defended: (1) objective morality simply “is,” (2) morality is based on the selfish gene, and (3) morality is an evolutionary illusion.8 Let’s take a brief look at each of them.

Have you ever heard any of these three categories of objections? If so, click on through and see Chad Meister’s responses.

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

What should we make of Richard Dawkins’ claim that God is very “improbable”?

Look, here is a summary of Dawkins’ argument against God from Common Sense Atheism.

They write:

Can we put [Dawkins’ argument] into logically valid form? Sure. That’s what Erik Wielenberg did in his recent paper “Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity.” Here is Wielenberg’s formulation:

(1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)

This is less rhetorically engaging than Dawkins’ formulation, but at least it is logically valid.

So what can be said of this argument? Is it compelling?

Not really. The problem is that Dawkins’ argument engages the existence of a God that nobody believes in.

For example, consider premise (2). It’s not clear what Dawkins means by saying that God must be at least as complex as the complex universe he supposedly designed. Some writers2 have assumed Dawkins to have meant that something is complex if it has many different physical parts. But if so, then premise (2) becomes:

(2a) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe has at least as much physical complexity as such phenomena.

Of course, theists do not assert that God is physical. I suppose Dawkins could support such a premise as (2a) with an extended defense of physicalism, but he provides no such defense, and that discussion would move far beyond the scope of Dawkins’ critique of religion, and of course would make the argument from complexity itself unnecessary.

But perhaps Dawkins has in mind the definition of complexity he arrived at after an extended discussion in The Blind Watchmaker:

…complicated things have some quality, specifiable in advance, that is highly unlikely to have been acquired by random chance alone.

But this gets us nowhere. If we plug this definition into Dawkins’ argument, then Dawkins misses his mark. It makes no difference whether God is complex in this sense, for theists do not assert that God acquired “some quality… by random chance alone.” Rather, God is usually thought of as a necessary being, not one that contingently evolved by chance from previous being.

Wielenberg explains this by showing two versions of the God Hypothesis:

(GH1) There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

(GH2) There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.

Dawkins’ argument might be effective against (GH1), but few theists assert (GH1). Theism asserts something more like (GH2), but Dawkins’ argument does not apply to it.

So Common Sense Atheism thinks that Dawkins is saying that God is contingent, physical, complex – basically an improbably arrangement of parts.

I read a post about this on TreeSearch, and it listed some Christian scholars who agree that God is not a complex arrangement of parts.

Blake writes:

a) *William Lane Craig: “As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable quantities and constants, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas-it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus-, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity.” [Reasonable Faith 3rd (Crossway, 2008), 172.]

b) *Robert Koons: “…an infinite mind might be extremely simple. God needs no representations and no sense organs: everything (including every possibility) is immediately present to His mind. God needs no inference engines, because God never has to infer anything. …all of God’s attributes take values zero or infinity …We need so many parts precisely because our knowledge is limited and mediated by physical processes. God has immediate access to all facts, and so needs no internal complexity at all.” [“LECTURE #15: Objections to Design” online at leader.edu]

c) *Richard Swinburne (Professor of Philosophy at Oxford): “A finite limitation cries out for an explanation of why there is just that particular limit, in a way that limitlessness does not. As I noted in Chapter 3, scientists have always preferred hypotheses of infinite … when both were equally compatible with the data… [listing multiple examples] There is a neatness about zero and infinity that particular finite numbers lack. Yet a person with zero powers would not be a person at all. So in postulating a person with infinite power the theist is postulating a person with the simplest kind of power possible. God’s beliefs have a similar infinite quality. …” [The Existence of God 2nd (Oxford, 2004), 97.] Swinburne continues to emphasize the point for 13 more pages, covering all God’s essential properties.

d) In fact, as noted by *Robin Collins (Physicist, Prof. of Philosophy): “Medieval philosophers and theologians often went as far as advocating the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, according to which God is claimed to be absolutely simple, without any internal complexity.” [“The Teleological Argument” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion eds. Meister & Copan (Routledge, 2007), 417.]

So, remember this if you ever hear that Dawkins argument – ask them what they mean by God being “complex”, “fine-tuned” or “improbable”. If God is a mind, like you and I are minds, then he is non-physical. Minds are not a complex, improbable arrangement of parts.

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

How do atheists incorporate the Big Bang cosmology into their worldview?

It’s easy! Just watch the video of his debate with William Lane Craig, who responds to Atkins’ explanation.

So, just who is this Peter Atkins, and why is he a good spokesman for atheism?

From his Wikipedia bio.

Peter William Atkins (born August 10, 1940) is an English chemist and a fellow and professor of chemistry at Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical Chemistry, 8th ed. (with Julio de Paula of Haverford College), Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics, 4th ed. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins’ Molecules and Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

[…]Atkins is a well-known atheist and supporter of many of Richard Dawkins’ ideas. He has written and spoken on issues of humanism, atheism, and what he sees as the incompatibility between science and religion. According to Atkins, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.

[…]He was the first Senior Member for the Oxford Secular Society and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of The Reason Project, a US-based charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The organisation is led by fellow atheist and author Sam Harris.

Now watch that 6-minute video above. Peter Atkins thinks that nothing exists. He thinks he doesn’t exist. He thinks that you don’t exist.

If you watch the full debate, he also argues that objective morality doesn’t exist, and that moral values and moral obligations are illusory. That’s right: atheists cannot even make rational statements about morality because there is no such thing as an objective moral standard in their worldview. This denial of morality is in addition to denying the mainstream science of the Big Bang cosmology. I don’t have the ability to believe things are true that are obviously false the way Atkins does, so I guess I can’t be an atheist. Oh well, I tried!

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Not just aborting babies with Down’s syndrome – Dawkins supports infanticide

Listen up you atheists, the Pope has spoken

Listen up you atheists, the Pope has spoken

The UK Telegraph reports on the latest Dawkins blunder.

Excerpt:

Richard Dawkins, the atheist writer, has claimed it is “immoral” to allow unborn babies with Down’s syndrome to live.

The Oxford professor posted a message on Twitter saying would-be parents who learn their child has the condition have an ethical responsibility to “abort it and try again”.

His comments were dismissed by charities and prompted fury online from opponents but he insisted his stance was “very civilised” because foetuses do not have “human feelings”.

He claimed that the important question in the abortion debate is not “is it ‘human’?” but “can it suffer?” and insisted that people have no right to object to abortion if they eat meat.

[…]Anti-abortion campaigners describe the practice of aborting foetuses on physical grounds as a form of “eugenics”.

But Prof Dawkins strongly defended its as simply standard practice and ridiculed his critics as portraying him as “a horrid monster”.

The row erupted during a debate on Twitter about calls for further changes to Ireland’s abortion laws in the wake of the case of a rape victim who was forced to carry the child until she could deliver by caesarean section.

One participant said they would suffer a real ethical dilemma if they were carrying a child with the condition.

Prof Dawkins replied: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Another pointed to recent figures asking: “994 human beings with Down’s Syndrome deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012 – is that civilised?”

He responded: “Yes, it is very civilised. These are foetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.”

I’m really not sure why anyone is surprised by this. Dawkins is an atheist and as such, he has no rational grounding for objective moral values and duties. He also does not have any rational grounding for free will, which is required for making moral choices and bearing moral responsibility. To an atheist, what people ought to do is decided by conventions and customs that vary by time and place. There is no objective moral standard for the way humans ought to be. Dawkins is an evolutionist. He believes in survival of the fittest. The unfit should die – if necessary, directly at the hands of the fit.

Listen to what he writes in his book:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

–Richard Dawkins, (River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

I’m not misrepresenting him – the man is a very consistent atheist, and there is no room for morality on atheism. It’s not rationally grounded.

Here’s how far Dawkins takes his view that there is no evil and no good:

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

But wait!

He goes even further than mere abortion – he also supports infanticide:

Richard Dawkins even advocates for adultery. So I’m really not sure why people are so fascinated by atheism, when this is the kind of person it produces.I am not saying that every atheist is going to treat morality as all personal preference and social convention. Just the ones who really understand it, and are consistent with it. Real atheists don’t have any rational grounding for morality in their worldview. This man has 1 million twitter followers. He is their spokesman because he reflects their views.

And finally, in the past, Dawkins has expressed that his goal is to destroy Christianity. Is this the same kind of destruction of Christianity that his fellow atheist Stalin wanted? Given Dawkins views on murdering innocent unborn and born children, I think we can infer what he means by “destroy Christianity”.

By the way, Nick Peters has also written about Dawkins’ comments, and I stole the image of Pope Dawkins from his post.

Filed under: News, , , , ,

You can eat a meal with Richard Dawkins if you contribute $500,000 to his fan club

I wanted to post on this yesterday at 2 PM, but somehow, the post was never published. I blame Jonathan M., because I was Skyping with him while writing it, and must have forgotten to click “Publish”.

Nancy Pearcey and Jay Richards tweeted this story from the UK Spectator.

Excerpt:

[T]he Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.

When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts.

But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’

The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.

At this point it is obvious to everyone except the participants that what we have here is a religion without the good bits.

I thought this was the weirdest thing. Atheist Pope who attacks Roman Catholicism is now collecting indulgences from his gullible followers. That’s just weird. But at least I understand now why he refused to debate William Lane Craig after seeing his atheist buddies go down in flames against Dr. Craig – it’s the money.

Filed under: News, , ,

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