Atheism on the Ropes: Naturalism’s Failure to Provide an Adequate Account for Value

On the RopesIn my experience, this is one of those topics that drives many atheists crazy – the idea that materialism does not allow for a thoroughgoing account of moral and ethical values.

Many atheists are perfectly comfortable with confining the notion of value to a mere evolutionary product of the brain which serves to amplify a human’s fitness for survival. But I wonder how many of them have really thought this one through.

People in general are not convinced of a concept of value that ultimately fails to transcend their own thinking. After all, if ‘values’ reflect nothing more than the delusional musings of “bewildered apes” (Chesterton) then let us drop the pretense and live as if values were truly fictional. Even John Lennon in all his “imagining” never imagined such a nightmare.

By “transcendence” of value I have in mind the view that values have a mind-independent reality. An example would be the view that some actions and beliefs are good or evil in and of themselves. Or, if that’s too esoteric, the belief that human life is valuable and would remain valuable even if every last person on the planet quit believing so.

The philosophic naturalist/materialist has a difficult time assigning ‘truth’ to claims of value for the reason that values are not reducible to physical substance, thus they lack any real existence. The naturalist idea is that all the activities of the mind (consciousness, cognition, value judgments, etc.) must ultimately be reducible to mere physiology. Nothing—including thought itself—can fall outside the physical domain.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: values are either ultimately subject to our personal fancy—attitudes, hormones, biases, etc.—and are thus imaginary, or they reflect mind-independent truths with real existence that is either self-referential (teleological view) or God-referential (theistic view).

The naturalist can say as much as he wants about morals and ethics being obvious to everyone and not dependent on religious teaching to ground them as imperatives, but the rub comes in the actual everyday existence of the individual himself. When faced with a moral issue the materialist can simply disregard such voices of conscience as mere delusions of biology speaking out of turn and go about doing whatever it was he was planning on doing in the first place.

The Christian has no such option. When faced with the issue of, let’s say, adultery the Christian has no wiggle room whatsoever. Adultery is a violation of God’s will—period. Of course the Christian can disregard his conscience just as easily as the materialist, but does so based on outright disavowal of authoritative values good and evil. He cannot play the ‘biological illusion’ game with himself.

In short (and I’ll say it as bluntly as I can), if the naturalist were to live in congruence with the naturalist worldview it would be next to impossible to avoid becoming a psychopath. I argue that materialists, as a rule, are not psychopaths due to the fact that they do not live a life compatible with their espoused theory (thank God). The reality they live, as opposed to the reality they think, assumes the reality of value.

For those who will be angered by this statement, please consider what it means to believe that human life has no value in reality. If you believe humans do have mind-independent value, relax, you’re not a thoroughgoing materialist.

The Christian (and here I speak for Orthodox Christians, since I realize the category ‘Christian’ is quite broad) is called to live life according to the righteousness of God. This, of course, is impossible to do without failing continuously along the way. However, the Christian does not thereby live in contradiction; rather the call to live righteously is a life of faith that entails continual striving for virtue, repentance, humility, and love for God. Contradiction only occurs if the Christian believes he can both eat at “the table of demons” and “the table of the Lord,” to use St. Paul’s analogy.

I could write much more on this topic, but I feel that addressing some of the more common objections from naturalists might go a long way. I will cover three that I encounter the most (some of which were already touched on) and will address whatever else may come up in comment posts later.

Some Objections

(1) A God-hypothesis is not necessary to account for moral and ethical values. Evolution has already explained the appearance of value in our minds.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that the above is true; let us imagine that moral and ethical values are built into our DNA (so-to-speak) and can be fully accounted for by evolutionary processes at work in human development over the ages; that humans are endowed with a sense of altruism via survival-trait influences. Even if one dismisses a God-hypothesis there is no conceivable way to ground morals and ethics in evolutionary processes with any sort of seriousness. At base this leaves the idea of values as still being mind-dependent imaginations subject to change with each new subject (person) in control of such dispositions. An internal motivation to benevolence does not equal an imperative to act. At best one can only say he is biologically oriented to do good to his neighbor, but since such orientation lack ultimate moral authority his actions are wholly subject to whatever he decides is good.

(Extra things to consider: Any evolutionary account of the place of reason presupposes reason’s validity and cannot confirm it without circularity (Nagel). For example, if one proposes that thoughts are fully accounted for by biological processes, yet one can only know this according to biological processes, then the notion is hopelessly question-begging. Similarly, one cannot confirm logical inference by using the hypothesis that evolution has selected our logical thought processes for their accuracy.)

(2) There is no reason to believe that values need to be mind-independent. Humans are “gigantic lumbering robots” (Dawkins) and have no actual value. Indeed, “the notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval” (Peter Singer).

I’m double dipping a bit here, but the trouble with this line of thinking is that no one really believes it (minus the psychopaths as noted above). If belief can be measured in the degree to which one appropriates his ideology to his actual life, and not just his phantasmal existence as pure reason, then I’ve literally never met an atheist who believes that they only do and say whatever the total-system determines for them to do and say. For example, no one believes that their love for their children or spouse is a biological illusion, or that their life has no meaning beyond survival and reproduction (which is meaningless in that no organism ultimately survives anyway), or that any of their deeply held beliefs are a matter of mere physiology, mechanically determined through a great chain of cause and effect stretching back to the Big Bang. And if one did believe his thoughts were nothing more than physical determinism at work and not that of free-agency then there is no reason to believe one’s thoughts are true (please see my other article here for more on this). Under this notion, thoughts need not track with so-called ‘truth’ so long as they track merely with biological events that just so happen to be happening in their brain.

(3) Our thoughts of value need not be a matter of material reductionism; they are simply emergent properties of the mind.

The emergent answer appears to handle the dilemma with sophistication and put an end to the speculation, but in fact it adds endless speculation and fails to move the ball downfield in any meaningful way. The problem with claiming emergence is not that it is not a viable alternative to reductionism. The problem is that it is not explainable in scientific terms. The best one can say is that a complex system interacting with another complex system somehow produces the mind which produces the sense of value and everything else that goes with it, but this is essentially no different—or at least not incompatible with—a theistic claim. A Christian could just as easily say that the mind is an emergent property of the brain interacting with another complex system, i.e., the Logos of God, and through that interaction value becomes known. This is of course an unacceptable conclusion for the naturalist in that it is not a “scientific” explanation, but again, as it stands, the naturalist version of emergence lacks scientific explanation as well. But beyond all this, it still does not raise value to anything north of arbitrary human disposition.

Closing thought

Of course the assumption of this article is that the good majority of humanity simply doesn’t buy the proposition that values are biologically manufactured concepts with no correspondence to reality. High flying scientists and academics may be satisfied with materialism on this count and turn their noses on humanity, but the average person who is not caught up in academic group-think (the likes of which is disobeyed only at the peril of one’s reputation as a “thinker”), wholeheartedly discards it. The trouble for materialism comes when it attempts to break out of its textbook and enter the real world. When it does it runs up against real, living, existing human beings who simply know that they are not the measure of all things and that value transcends their own thinking. It is for this reason that a naturalist/materialist-informed atheism is “on the ropes” as a viable worldview for humanity at large.

Thanks for reading.

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77 thoughts on “Atheism on the Ropes: Naturalism’s Failure to Provide an Adequate Account for Value

  1. Take the theistic world view, where values transcend human subjectivity because it’s about God’s subjective opinion, and explain how that accounts for the perception of value.
    Remember your explanation had to equally account for the sociopaths and psychopaths who disagree.

  2. Okay, I’ll turn my challenge into a rebuttal: the only thing we know does exist is the perception of values. That is an issue of psychology and never needs to refer to transcendence.

  3. Have you read “Nihilism” by Father Seraphim Rose? I read the first half, the second half I skimmed as it was a bit too heavy for me, but its similar to this topic. I thought maybe you would like this book? I really enjoy all your blog posts, so needed today, thank you for writing.

  4. Eric, you fascinate me. As I scroll down the page I see links to “related” posts about arguments against atheism and why atheists fail. I really wonder what drives you to feel as if you must discredit others’ beliefs. (For all I know, it’s just good for blog traffic.)

    You are certainly not alone in this. I recognize there are plenty of prominent atheists who strive to discredit the beliefs of the religious (and plenty of people who are religious who strive to discredit the beliefs of religions differing from their own). I always wonder what drives them as well, but I don’t know any of them in person to ask.

    I am not trying to make any arguments for or against any of the points you’ve made in this post. I am just genuinely curious about what drives you to write posts like these.

    P.S. If you would have asked me to be your friend again on Wednesday, I would’ve checked the “yes” box. You’ve totally missed your window now. 🙂

  5. Ah, Lesley, welcome to the blog.

    Why do I write post like these? First off, for the record, I have written 88 articles for this blog, only 3 of which have anything to do with atheism; that’s like, less than 5%. One of them, “The Finest Argument Against Atheism” was followed by an article entitled, “The Finest Argument Against Christianity.” So you can almost erase one of them. And the one about the “10 atheist arguments and why the fail,” etc., was in response to common charges levied by atheism against Christianity. I was not attacking but playing defense.

    Why have I written these 3? Because they contain part of the reason why I am a Christian. This blog is about my personal journey through Christianity. Apologetics is a sizable part of that journey. Not to mention it also falls in line with my other masters degree in theology. Apologetics is a huge part of the study.

    If you are offended in anyway by the articles, I would invite you to read them and let me know which parts you find most offensive so I can take note. My intention is not to offend, but to push both sides – atheist and theist – to move the debate to higher philosophical and theological grounds, if nothing else, so that its funner to participate.

    P.S. you have no choice but to be my friend, at least until I give you back your video series. Bam!

  6. Irene, funny you should bring it up. I was eyeing that book just a few weeks ago and intended to pick it up. Maybe I will now. Thanks!

  7. Not offended. Simply curious. Thanks for explaining.

    P.S. I’m pretty sure I can just replace it for like $20. I would *totally* pay that to not have to be your friend. Bam!

    (You know I kid, right?)

  8. Yes, I know we’re friend (because you need me). And I’m glad it wasn’t a matter of offense. Also, the true reason I write is because I’m a theology nerd. Those not cursed with such nerdness will not understand. Its a disorder making its way into the DSM 6 in a decade or so.

  9. Your argument seems to be based on the incorrect understanding that non-theists do not hold anything or any value as more important than themselves. Yes, it is more than possible despite a complete lack of objective values. This is where your argument fails. Even a nihilist (ahem) will not live life as if there are no values important to them and/or more important than themselves… generally speaking. Those that live as you wrongly suggest the materialist does probably are psychopaths. It should be noted that among psychopaths, a great number of them are believers.

    Your argument does not acceptably account for psychopathy. It also does not correctly account for the wide variation in world view of atheists/non-believers/materialists/nihilists etc. What you have created here is a fine looking straw man.

    A very nicely built straw man, but a straw man just the same.

  10. Philosophically we must argue from two truths; 1. I exist. 2. Other people like me exist. Trying to argue from any other viewpoint is madness. You say that the only thing we know that exist is perception of values. You cannot separate your perception of values from the existence of values (See #1). I mean you can, but at that rate you might as well move to Colorado and check out permanently.

  11. Excellent points. This is exactly where I attack Atheism when discussing World Views. Atheists are hypocrites of the highest order. Christians are hypocritical because we fail at achieving a standard we strive for. Atheists don’t even try to live the World View they espouse. They are some of the most moral, gentle nice people I have ever met. Why? Because they try to live by the ‘law that is written on their hearts.”

  12. 1. If they are truly psychopaths, then I question if they are believers. Just because someone says they are Christian doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Just as if someone says they are an atheist doesn’t mean they are really an atheist. Their actions are what speak louder than words.

    2. Yes is does account for psychopathic behavior. How do we know people are psychopathic? Not because they think of themselves; everyone does this (even Jesus said to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, so Jesus is not denying that self interest does not exist or that in it of itself evil); but because they have no ‘conscious’. They have no guilt in hurting others to get what they want.

    Now what is interesting is that if you are truly an atheistic neo-Darwinist materialist then this viewpoint shouldn’t bother you at all. Darwinism is survival of the fittest. Power makes right. Hitler was just progressing the evolutionary tree. Yea, it didn’t work out for him or the 6 million plus Jews he killed but hey you are going to break a few eggs when making the evolutionary omelet.

    But of course this is hogwash. No one accepts what Hitler did and in fact if you find it acceptable we don’t find you acceptable.

    And therein lies the problem with Evolutionists. They say they don’t believe in God’s laws but then the moment one is violated and it effects them they are calling it out. If their automobile is stolen they are the first to call the cops.

  13. No true Scotsman argument doesn’t fly for you cannot know the mind of another. Faith vs. works, in that last moment you do not get to judge, so it says in your book. You can only assume that they are hell bound sinners but then you are cautioned against that too. Right?
    That is but one definition of psychopath – google it. You keep throwing up straw men and falacious argument as if it makes you sound smart. It is both arrogant and ignorant to call the laws of common sense and reciprocity the laws of your god. I find you both arrogant and ignorant. You are using evolutionists as if it is a world view. It is not. Your ignorance of the facts of things makes me doubt that you know even the facts of your own belief. Ignorance is a sin if I recall correctly for you need only be ignorant of the christ to fail to get into heaven.

  14. Hello, “myatheistlife,” thanks for your reply.

    I think you misunderstand my argument. First, I do not contend that “non-theists” do not hold anything or any value as more important than themselves, or that materialists are, eo ipso, psychopaths because they believe the tenets of materialism.

    Here’s the argument: IF a materialist (not a mere non-theist) is going to “live” their espoused theory of existence rather than merely “think” their espoused theory, then they would almost inescapably become a psychopath. The fact that one rarely sees a materialist turned psycho is because most materialists do not actually live according to the philosophical presuppositions of materialism.

    Also, lacking a value realism is not limited to believing human life lacks value but also disregarding such notions as good and evil, right and wrong, etc., as mind-dependent imaginations. Again, I’ve never met such a person and I know a lot of so-called materialists. The only conclusion I can come to is that materialists by and large are not living their espoused philosophy.

    Now, as far as “straw men” arguments, isolating one aspect of an argument and divorcing it from the body of the argument from which it depends in order to make a frontal attack easy is by definition a straw man argument, which I feel is what you’ve done. My reply here is to try and clear up any misunderstanding because I’m fine with disagreement, but disagreements based on misunderstandings keep me up at night. 🙂

  15. Given that “The fact that one rarely sees a materialist turned psycho is because most materialists do not actually live according to the philosophical presuppositions of materialism. ” how can you assert with confidence that “IF a materialist (not a mere non-theist) is going to “live” their espoused theory of existence rather than merely “think” their espoused theory, then they would almost inescapably become a psychopath.” while not knowing exactly what is in their heads. Further, what makes you think that materialism is a world view?

    =The theory of materialism holds that all things are composed of material, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material properties and interactions. In other words, the theory claims that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action.=

    It does not mandate what is done with those thoughts, feelings, and actions other than determine that they can only affect the material world. This is not a world view. Atheism is not a world view. Humanism is a world view. Theism is a world view. You really need to get a clear understanding of what a world view is before making assertions such as you have.

    You start off with materialism then throw in realism as if they are interchangable. Realism: the quality of a person who understands what is real and possible in a particular situation and is able to deal with problems in an effective and practical way. This also is not a world view. It is context specific and discusses pragmatism, not world view.

    Good/evil and right/wrong are two different things despite some overlap. Good/evil is generally used in connection to absolute values where right/wrong are used for both absolute value discussions and context sensitive subjective value discussions.

    You know a lot of so called materialists but have never met one that fits your description of what you think the world view is limited to for materialists and you conclude that they are doing it wrong? That’s arrogance. Your proper conclusion should be with the evidence, that a materialist understanding does not require you to be a psychopath nor will it make you one. The fact that you can’t seem to wrap your head around that says more about what is wrong with you than what might possibly be wrong with materialism.

    Go and read what the straw man argument is all about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    I have tried to correct you on your misconceptions, ignorance, and sloppy attitude toward other points of view. These failures on your part are what you used to build a straw man argument – define your foe incorrectly then attack the incorrect understanding of your opponent… the straw man.

  16. I want you to read my comment again. This time, pay particular attention to whether you really think I mean perception of values are the only thing we can be sure exist, in a global sense, or whether imean it within the context of the conversation.
    Secondly, if you think assigning value to actions and perceiving action as having values means values exist in some transcendent way, then I’ll have to ask you to plug the yawning chasm of reasoning between thkse 2 statements.

  17. Are you really comfortable asserting that atheism isn’t a worldview? Or materialism? Consider how much tremendous ground this gives up.

    The way I see it, if you’re going to discuss matters that are so lofty as touching on value and meaning, you better get your ducks in a row. Worldview, constrained belief system, coherent body of thought–whichever semantic hair you care to split. If neither atheism nor materialism fall into these distinctions, what the hell are they then? Lol, mere topics of online arguments? Talking points. If so, we can literally say to hell with them! as there are surely finely things/more pressing matters for human beings to “talk” about.

    If they are not, more importantly, WHAT THE HELL are they doing entrenched in our educational system? What the hell business do they have to be enmeshed in our collegiate framework?

    But no, sadly, I don’t really think atheism or materialism are quite THAT simple to dismiss. I think, for instance, Nietzsche, Russel, Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris would all be fairly dismayed to hear that neither are worldviews.

    If an idea is not internally consistent, after all, then it has no business dressing itself up and parading itself around on scholarly turf with the dean’s wig. It had better come to the table with its four corners erected and four walls nailed into placed.

    Magic trump cards shot from the hip will not do.

  18. Sorry, one thing I forgot to clarify: Why a worldview/constrained belief system is important for credibility, academic or otherwise.

    This is an important point because assertions/series of statements which lead us into the territory of “believing anything” are deserving of our censure and utmost rebuke, as I see it.

    Believing “anything” at any rate is not acceptable. Too much of modern life and the internet itself already thrives on that kind of hogwash.

  19. Hello again, myatheistlife.

    Paul said much of what I would have said concerning materialism as a worldview. One cannot take on the idea that values are not real and not have that notion invade every waking hour of one’s life. Of course one can ignore such notions and pretend they don’t apply to real life, but that’s precisely my point – the vast majority of supposed materialists either (a) have not thought through their espoused theory of existence and thus are simply unwittingly defying it all day long, or (b) the have thought it through and wittingly refuse to live by its tenets.

    You said: “It does not mandate what is done with those thoughts, feelings, and actions other than determine that they can only affect the material world.”

    Of course, thoughts never “mandate” what is done in our real life. But when one claims to believe something, such as ‘good and evil don’t exist’ and then live as if they do then you have clearly defied your beliefs.

    Let me ask you: Shouldn’t your espoused theory of existence mandate what you do? If not, dump it. Don’t live in contradiction with yourself.

    Then: “You start off with materialism then throw in realism as if they are interchangable.”

    Hummm, not sure what this is about. I noted “value realism” which has nothing to do with materialism. Perhaps you’re reading faster than you are comprehending.

    Then: “Good/evil and right/wrong are two different things despite some overlap. Good/evil is generally used in connection to absolute values where right/wrong are used for both absolute value discussions and context sensitive subjective value discussions.”

    And, therefore… ? (or was this a completed thought?)

    Then you mention that because I know many materialist but no psychopaths that I must simply be mistaken about the materialist view. Maybe the concept of “psychopath” is hindering you from appreciating the fact that materialism claims two terrible things: (a) that human life has no real value, and (b) good and evil are purely mental constructs with no base in reality. LIVE those tho ideas… and you are a danger to yourself and others. Does that help?

    In closing (and this may be my last response), I get the impression that you are a little embarrassed of materialism and the fact that it codifies the worst sort of ideas about existence (you clearly don’t want it “mandating” your actions). I don’t blame you for wanting to imagine it is true and then live your life in non-conformity to its tenets. As a Christian I have a very different problem: I believe Christianity is true and deeply desire to live according to its tenets, but fall short constantly. I would not espouse a theory that I did not intend on striving to live in congruence with, and its difficult for me to understand why anyone would choose to believe a philosophy which they had no intention of taking seriously.

  20. Paul

    It doesn’t matter if I’m comfortable with it or not, atheism is not a world view nor is materialism, mathematics, or the color red. We may use these to inform our world views but they are not in themselves a world view.

    World View: A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.
    [1] The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung, composed of Welt (‘world’) and Anschauung (‘view’ or ‘outlook’).
    [2] It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception.
    Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.

    Atheism and materialism are not sets of ethics nor explanations of the world. They are single item facets of the world. One can, indeed, be an atheist but not a materialist or a person can be both. Having two world views is ‘just not cricket’, you only get one. If I were a humanist (which is a world view) and an atheist you are saying that I’d have two world views. It doesn’t add up.

    I’m going to need you to explain this statement better: “WHAT THE HELL are they doing entrenched in our educational system?” You seem rather excited about it but there is not enough context there to understand why you even make the statement.

    There is nothing lofty about matters which touch on value or meaning. Both of these are subjective qualia. Outside the observer’s perception of a thing it has no objective meaning or value. There is nothing lofty about that. I believe I’ve explained why and how atheism and materialism fit into a world view, noting that neither are the sum total of a world view by themselves.

    Your thoughts on Nietzsche et al might be interesting, but what you think they would think is just an interpretation, a subjective valuation of what you believe I’ve said against what you believe they thought or think.

    This bit of fluff is pure unsupported opinion: “If an idea is not internally consistent, after all, then it has no business dressing itself up and parading itself around on scholarly turf with the dean’s wig. It had better come to the table with its four corners erected and four walls nailed into placed.”
    Surely you have a better explanation of what you were trying to convey.

    == This is an important point because assertions/series of statements which lead us into the territory of “believing anything” are deserving of our censure and utmost rebuke, as I see it. ==

    A valid statement which you don’t personally seem to take to heart. Witness your assertion of what a world view is and what are the constituent parts.

  21. Eric Hyde,

    You have introduced the question of what is real. Is the color red real? Is love real? Are we just programs in a simulation? Can you prove it?

    While you make generalizations about the ‘vast majority’ of materialists, you have yet to show that I’m a psychopath or in fact not living the world view that I hold.

    Good/evil and right/wrong have overlap. Are you certain that these materialists are living in belief of good/evil? Perhaps you just don’t know how to tell the difference between what you imagine and someone living their life in accordance with what their world view says is right and wrong.

    ==Let me ask you: Shouldn’t your espoused theory of existence mandate what you do? ==
    The short answer is no. Theory of existence is not a world view. It does not give moral guidance nor suggest right or wrong. That I am a material being in a material existence does not give me a world view nor mandate what or how I should live.

    == Maybe the concept of “psychopath” is hindering you from appreciating the fact that materialism claims two terrible things: (a) that human life has no real value, and (b) good and evil are purely mental constructs with no base in reality. LIVE those tho ideas… and you are a danger to yourself and others. Does that help?==

    That statement makes you a dangerous person. First, it is false and secondly it makes you wrong but you don’t see that you are. Materialism does not claim that life of any species has no real value. It merely says that it does not and cannot have supernatural or objective value. That’s why it’s a problem for you it would seem. Only supernatural value seems to be of any value to you if I’ve understood correctly. That seems to be your point in spite of complete lack of credible evidence for claims of the supernatural.

    You continue to show an inability to understand the concepts and ideas that you criticize yet you state that I’m being false, that I’m dangerous. My, but that’s fun. It is not materialists which seek to suppress the rights of others, burn witches, or prolong the spread of AIDs and on and on. Pain and suffering in this life are often enough exacerbated by theistic belief. You claim to believe in a world view that you cannot actually live by. This is not a virtue in my opinion and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.

    Your opinion on what the ‘worst sort of ideas about existence’ are is an interesting thing because you yourself claim to believe in that for which there is no credible evidence. In fact, you appear to deny anything for which there is evidence in favor of your ‘faith’ which you know you are not good enough for – so you say. Your fervent belief tells me that if evidence contrary to it were presented you would deny it or resort to mental gymnastics to avoid having to accept it.

    You have spent much time here judging others without trying to understand their point of view, or so it seems to me. I doubt that is congruent with your faith.

  22. Myatheistlife (response to above)

    Reading your posts has made it evident to me that you are confusing “methodological naturalism” with philosophical naturalism/materialism (the two terms can be used almost interchangeably. I like what one author wrote: “materialism makes an argument about the ontology of the universe, while naturalism takes a premise – effectively that of materialism – to make an argument on how science/philosophy should function.” So which ever term you prefer to use, fine).

    Methodological naturalism indeed has nothing whatsoever to say about values. If I am reading you wrong and you are not confusing these two, then unfortunately you are misinformed about materialism. Here is a definition taken off Wikipedia: “In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that all things are composed of material, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material properties and interactions. In other words, the theory claims that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action.”

    If physical matter is the sole cause of all our mental activity then our thoughts are merely what the ‘total-system’ has delivered to us to think. In other words, notions of value and good and evil have no mind-independent reality – hence, you cannot ground them in anything with ultimate seriousness.

    Alex Rosenberg (who has been called the “mad dog naturalist,” teaching philosophy at Duke) has been able to follow the implications of materialism. He wrote, “There is no such thing as morally right or wrong. Individual human life is meaningless and without ultimate moral value. We need to face the fact that nihilism is true.” How would you like to be locked in a room with that guy for a couple of days without food. Yikes.

    Hope that helps.

    This will be my last reply unless you note something that has not already been covered in the article or my responses thus far. We seem to be going in circles. Cheers.

  23. Meeting Mr Rosenberg would probably be quite interesting. Morality is subjective and as such there is no moral absolutes. Killing in one context is wrong but in another context is right. Ultimate moral value would be an objective moral value and there are none. There are various interpretations of nihilism, but at least one of them is true. Meaning and value are qualia, perceptions and nothing more, even if they are shared among many such as the qualia of the color red.

    I opine that you mistakenly conclude that materialism necessitates a lack of free will thus intimate that free will comes from other than the material world. This hypothesis is one that you cannot show supporting evidence for.

    Implying that nihilists are canibals is crude but seems to be the tone that you prefer – demonizing your opponent rather than address the arguments is certainly what I have come to expect from Christian apologists.

  24. Ah, free will hasn’t been brought up (not much anyway). Where do you get your free will?

    Further, if good and evil are meaningless perceptions, why do you judge cannibalism as evil or wrong?

    I don’t get it. What are these mysteries you speak of: “right” and “wrong”?

  25. Good, Evil, and Meaning are qualia – just perceptions based on our own individual knowledge compared to some other standard where good/evil are generally compared to moral standards of religions and right/wrong compared to ethical standards of individuals and groups/societies. Right/wrong and good/evil are not meaningless but they are without objective meaning. To call them meaningless is to misunderstand subjective meaning. What is good for you is not necessarily good for me but it is still good in the context where you are the subject.

    Cannibalism is only wrong in some contexts. For many sailors it was right as it meant survival. To judge right and wrong we need to assess the standard by which we make the judgement. If we choose always a single standard it will often be wrong such as ‘thou shalt not kill’ unless god tells you to kill.

    Free will exists in every entity that has the ability to form thoughts. Thoughts themselves are an act of volition. The imagination of our minds is the hearth of free will. Free will is limited in that the ability to move is not the free will but the choice to move is. Steven Hawking has free will yet can do very little.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/free%20will

    Further, because free will is the act of thinking, it can be said that if the mind is an emergent property of the brain then free will is based solely in the material world. There is no free for you will before you are born nor is there any for you when you are dead.

    Cogito ergo sum… so it was said, and that I am, I am volition.

    Next up, what is a thought?

  26. So, good and evil are based on one’s accumulated knowledge and compared against “other standards” of morality… hun… so in other words, they don’t really exist, we’re just making them up as we go, and going with the majority vote? How does that hold up?

    Again, you didn’t explain what you mean by good and evil. On what are they based that has any hint of ultimate seriousness?

    And you have free will even though your thoughts – including your volition and all other such impulses – are wholly governed by firing neurons in your brain reacting according to the last state of the total-system at work? How exactly does that track with so-called “truth” and not merely atoms in motion?

  27. “To judge right and wrong we need to assess the standard by which we make the judgement.”

    Precisely. What “standard” establishes “right” and “wrong” in a wholly material existence? Introducing another term (standard) which also requires the same establishment is question-begging.

  28. “Free will exists in every entity that has the ability to form thoughts. Thoughts themselves are an act of volition. The imagination of our minds is the hearth of free will.”

    Nah, that’s just lifeless atoms in motion in your brain making you say what you’re saying. You just think you’re thinking freely because it feels like it. What you call volition is just natural instinct and environmental stimulation at work, it has nothing to do with a mythical “free agent”. But prove me wrong. Prove that you have free will. If you demand objective proof of God then I demand objective proof of free will scientifically demonstrated.

  29. I could do this all night and then some, but as your responses are coming in its clear that you’re arguing a completely different thing. I’m asking you for standards which reach beyond mere instinct and human opinion and you give me instinct and human opinion as the standards by which to build the standards.

    I’ll leave you to it.

    Cheers.

  30. How does it hold up? The society you live in has rules, some you will like others you won’t but you choose to follow the rules to take advantage of what that society offers you in return. Those rules were made up as society evolved and your society picked the particular rules it has to effect the kind of society they want to live in. This is usually done by majority vote though in some places edict rules vs. voting. How is your society working out for you? How’s it holding up?

    What is so-called ‘truth’?

    Our brains are very complex calculators of a sort – the simplistic view is that they analyze the world around us and calculate ways to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Alruism gets shot down by this. Our decisions on pleasure/pain is what makes volition special and not simply reacting to our environment. There are signs all around you that this is true – obesity, drug addicts, addicts of every kind and so on.
    Only by using the more advanced part of our human brains can we see that long term benefit has an edge over immediate gratification. That advancement in the mammalian brain is what makes humans different.

  31. Standard is the rules or ethics (in this case) by which you adjudge the rightness or wrongness of something else. This is true whether you use your own internal ‘standard’ or some external standard or one commonly accepted by those in your society. It is not necessary to use the same exact standard for every value judgement as this would lead to problems – do you judge right and wrong in a football game by what it says in your holy text?

  32. I’m going to assume that you, as a Christian, believe in free will. The only thing we’re arguing about is its source. To throw a wrench in the works all you need do is prove that a god exists and gave us free will. Short of that evidence, we have only the natural world with which to explain it to us.

    A frontal lobotomy removes free will. It is assumed that it does not remove the soul, unless you have an explanation on how the soul can be removed from the brain by a doctor.

  33. One more, then I seriously have to work:

    “How does it hold up? The society you live in has rules, some you will like others you won’t but you choose to follow the rules to take advantage of what that society offers you in return. Those rules were made up as society evolved and your society picked the particular rules it has to effect the kind of society they want to live in.”

    This is also what you use to establish the “standards” by which you judge good and evil. By this logic the Salem Witch Hunts were good and right according to their point of evolutionary progress and the “rules their society made up… to effect the kind of society they wanted.” This argument of yours effectively renders good and evil exactly what a materialists should render them – mere human imagination – made up – with no foundation, no imperative, whatsoever. No one orders their lives by such standards when push comes to shove, thus “materialism fails to provide an adequate account for value.”

  34. Value is subjective – you keep saying it like you think it is objective. We have hundreds of post apocolypse movies that demonstrate pretty much how people will make judgements when push comes to shove. We all carry an internal standard which we choose from the many experiences and knowledge that we acquire. When others drop any pretense of a shared standard it does not follow that each individual will also drop the shared standard. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  35. Eric, I’m not sure which I find the most absurd, Christianity or atheism. Atheism because they believe that the purely physical somehow evolved unfathomable Consciousness or Christianity because they believe that a loving God created humans incapable of meeting his standard and then condemned them for it.

  36. Nope, this one has to do with your article here regarding atheism and Christianity. The point is valid in either article it seems to me. I guess I could have selected a different blatant contradiction if you think that would have been more appropriate as there are plenty to choose from which we can discuss one point at a time if you wish or I’ll go away if you wish.

  37. I take it you do not wish to address the other contradictions. Can’t say I blame you. BTW, am still waiting on your explanation on the one above. Do I need to restate it for you?

  38. Well, this post doesn’t cover the whole of the subject. Morality can be defined in scientific terms. Although being a purely human affair, it has an objective and a subjective side.
    We can define morality as “The tendency of humans to maximize the well being of another human or another animal species as well.”
    When we can define a moral value as “A quality by which one can maximize the well being of others.”
    And our highest moral duty is to “Do whatever that maximizes the well being of others maximally.”
    Our lowest moral duty should be “To avoid the worst possible doing that will minimize the well being of a person.”

    But for the arguments sake, let’s assume the above is not true. Then also, theism doesn’t solve it. Because if God’s will is good then it immediately raises the Euthyphro’s dilemma.

  39. rounaqb, unfortunately I think you’ve missed the point of the article.

    As to the Euthyphro dilemma, one must understand the gods with whom Plato had in mind. The Greek gods were understood to be every bit as much captive to fate as humans. They were not creator gods who escaped the prescribed roles etched out for them by cosmic fate. In this sense the Euthyphro dilemma fits perfectly. It fails to have such an effect on the Judeo-Christian God.

  40. Can’t handle it huh? When you can’t offer solid answers, just delete or ignore the question, right? I can put your belief down in about two minutes. I do it to apologists regularly. :-). The belief simply does not hold water. You’re a smart guy but like millions of others are plagued with what I call “belief blindness”. Should you wish to debate the issue privately I would be more than happy to do so. openobserver@yahoo.com

  41. In that case, the most common answer that is given by religious apologists is that, moral values are the reflection of the ‘nature’ of God. But that doesn’t solve anything, as the same question can be posed:
    Why is God’s essential nature good?
    *God can’t will anything evil.
    *God won’t will anything evil.
    *Anything that God wills will not be evil.

    Sorry if I have gone off topic.

  42. Well, there’s two things to consider. First, that which is good is that which serves the purpose for which it was created. If I put carrot juice in my gas tank my car won’t run too well. The use of carrot juice for this application would be a perversion of it’s created purpose (both for the car and the juice). Same with human relations. Ex: Christians contend that sex in marriage and only in marriage is good since this was the reason for which sex was created. Fornication would then be a perversion of sex’s purpose/nature. This is why the “dilemma” doesn’t work when applied to a Creator God.

    Secondly, as an Orthodox Christian I believe that God is who He is based on His own will. He ‘could’ will evil if He wanted to, the fact that He doesn’t from eternity to eternity is no commentary on His ability to. Again, God, in Orthodox context, is not bound or determined by anything outside Himself – such as fate, i.e., God must will good and cannot do otherwise due to cosmic fate. Further, the reason why we believe He is good and not evil is because good is a creative and life giving principle. Evil is destructive and at root death. Evil only lives parasitically on that which is good. Thus, God can be good without being evil, but He could only be evil by being a combination of evil and good. Evil has no ontological being of itself.

  43. Well, this doesn’t follow. Good and evil becomes arbitrary if it changes with the main purpose. If God willed to change the purpose for which he created mankind, then good and evil will relatively change. Thus, morality ends up being subjective despite of the consideration of theism.

  44. When considering theism in general, yes of course morality ends up being subjective, but we are considering Orthodox Christianity’s theistic claims in particular. Under this rubric morality is anything but relative. But again, this is a matter of faith, Christian morality cannot be reduced down to a system of ethics but rather reflects the nature of the Kingdom of heaven, one that is established from eternity to eternity by the will of God. His purposes are without change. Sorry if that spoils whatever debate was about to ensue. 🙂

  45. Hi Eric,

    Your articles and comments have given me much to think about.

    You are basically saying that our morality,our values are,and has to be, anchored to a higher power: If God had not commanded us to be good, we would have no reason to be good, and no justification for condemning those who were not.

    We need to then ask: Does God have reasons to command us to be moral ? If so, then why cannot we too make use of those reasons, because like all other reasons, if they are good ones, they will stand on their own without reference to who is giving them?

    On the other hand, if God has no reasons for what He commands, then your morality is cut loose from its anchor. If Gods’ command, “thy shalt not kill” was just an arbitrary thing,God could just as easily have commanded us to “kill at will”, and those traits would then be the definition of goodness which we we are all bound to follow.

    I cannot see how any rational person could conclude such nonsense.

    Furthermore somebody has to analyze, and interpret Gods’ objective morality for us. You? Me? The Pope? Those delightful folk at the West-bro Baptist church? You yourself discuss the disunity in these matters in Christianity and call it, “The Finest Argument Against Christianity”

    Your morality is not really anchored in God, it is anchored in the belief that you know what God wants via the interpretation, or explanation you have accepted as being the correct one.
    I think we have to face up to the fact that there is no consensus among believers about what God wants us to do. Even when there are scriptures containing lists of divine commands, there are disagreements about interpretation.

    If your values are reliant on human interpretation, then to use your own words Eric,I must ask, are these values not then just “subject to our personal fancy—attitudes, hormones, biases, etc.—and are thus imaginary,” ?

    Eric writes, “When faced with a moral issue the materialist can simply disregard such voices of conscience as mere delusions of biology speaking out of turn and go about doing whatever it was he was planning on doing in the first place.”

    Where do we learn our values Eric?
    By positive and negative emotional conditioning,by our parents, our family, later in life our peers, not some objective God.
    If morals are emotionally based, then people who lack strong emotions should then be blind to the moral domain.
    This is just what we find with psychopaths. They suffer from emotional deficits.
    It has been shown that psychopaths treat moral rules as mere conventions. This suggests that emotions are necessary for making moral judgments.The judgment that something is morally wrong is an emotional response. So no Eric a materialist cannot disregard voices of conscience if they have normal emotions, they will also experience anger and disgust when an action is performed by another person, and guilt and shame when an action is performed by one’s self if it goes against their conditioning that they have internalized.

    How else do we explain the huge amount of variation we see in values and morals across cultures and across time?Anthropologists found evidence for cannibalism in 34% of cultures in one cross-historical sample.

    Eric, this idea of yours that without God in your life all is for naught and incomprehensible is just that, an idea. It has no basis in reality.

  46. Hi Sean, thanks for your well-thought reply.

    You said: “You are basically saying that our morality,our values are,and has to be, anchored to a higher power”

    Sort of. I actually began by making it a little easier for the materialist conscience and said it must be based on a “mind-independent reality” if it is to be anything more than imaginary. And indeed, nothing in the philosophical materialists worldview can accommodate “good” or “evil” or “value” in an ethical-moral sense, within the material continuum. Thus whatever they may think of these notions they must, at the end of the day, admit they are mere intellectual conventions (not merely emotional conventions as you later stated).

    This next part is where I think your main misunderstanding is found. You said: “We need to then ask: Does God have reasons to command us to be moral ? If so, then why cannot we too make use of those reasons, because like all other reasons, if they are good ones, they will stand on their own without reference to who is giving them?”

    Read this analysis a few times over and you will see that you made the implicit assumption that “good” is something that exists in and of itself – so much so that even any so-called “god” is subject to it. Thus if reasons are “good” ones they will stand on their own, thus giving God a reason to commands such things, etc. What you miss from the Orthodox Christian understanding is that God is Good. Goodness is equated with God’s very essence in Scripture and in the Church tradition, thus, for us, God does not command something because it is good – as if He is holding to a cosmic script existing outside Himself – rather goodness exists because of who God is; His commands to us in human language are expressions of Himself.

    A materialist has no such foundation. He/she must rely, as you do later in your post, on an idea that one is simply a recipient of positive and negative emotional conditioning, by our parents, our family, later in life our peers…” My point is that once one comes to believe such materialist dogma and is fully conscious of the fact that what they hold as good and evil are simply what they’ve been socially “conditioned” to believe then all bets are off. The game completely changes and one now has the conscious power to throw off such conditioning through simple extension of their ability to choose otherwise – to recondition themselves to something else which is equally arbitrary.

    I’m trying to hit the highlights of your post as they occur to me as such, so forgive me if I’m skipping something you are more invested in, but let me answer one more thing.

    You said: “If your values are reliant on human interpretation, then to use your own words Eric,I must ask, are these values not then just “subject to our personal fancy—attitudes, hormones, biases, etc.—and are thus imaginary,” ?”

    First, of course one believes what he does about God based on an interpretation. It cannot be otherwise – not for any belief system (including materialism). The rub for the materialist when giving an account of value is that he/she cannot claim any mind-independent reality of his values. The believer in God can. Whether or not he get’s his interpretation about God correct is another issue. Again, if you cannot locate the nexus of good, evil, values, etc., outside one’s own bio-chemical brain matter (which the materialist believes is merely a high powered machine whose mental product is the result of pure physical determinism) then such notions must be understood as imaginary figments which can be manipulated at will since they have no foundation in truth.

    Lastly, this: “So no Eric a materialist cannot disregard voices of conscience if they have normal emotions, they will also experience anger and disgust when an action is performed by another person, and guilt and shame when an action is performed by one’s self if it goes against their conditioning that they have internalized.”

    Sure they can. They will likely always have emotional reactions to good and evil (because such things are more than notions – they’re real), but they have no material basis for calling something good or evil, thus they have no basis for value in general once it is teased out to its end game. It matters not a wit what they have “internalized” due to their social conditioning.

  47. Thanks for taking the time to reply Eric,

    You state,” God does not command something because it is good – as if He is holding to a cosmic script existing outside Himself – rather goodness exists because of who God is; His commands to us in human language are expressions of Himself.”

    If we go back to an old atheist favorite: the genocide of the Canaanites, where God commands Joshua to go on a killing spree.
    Do we really find any Christians today that would believe such a thing to be good, because God commanded it? As far as I can tell most Christians I know would not believe such a thing could come from God BECAUSE they believe God is good.

    Eric you state further that, ” The rub for the materialist when giving an account of value is that he/she cannot claim any mind-independent reality of his values. The believer in God can.”

    Isn’t that the problem, it is merely a claim? Here on the ground, no such objectivity of values appear to exist at all. We just do not see any consensus among believers about what God wants us to do. And when disagreements arise among even Christians that share the same pew,(EG whether to spank children or not) they too appear to have no material basis for calling something good or evil and rely on their emotions and social conditioning, or perhaps resort to reasoning the thing out.

    Reasoning things out doesn’t get us very far either. At best, reason can tell us which of our values are inconsistent, or contradictory, and which actions will best help us toward our goals. But,reason cannot tell us which of our goals to follow.(“the righteous road to hell” comes to mind)

    If one looks at http://www.thearda.com/whoisyourgod/fourgods/ ,we find Americas four Gods, the study shows that the perceptions that people have of their God stems largely from their socio economic standing in society, which is very much dictated by our values. People that value hard work and education highly are unlikely to be in the poorer uneducated classes of society which believe in an authoritive God. The more educated and wealthy; percieve God to be more “distant”.
    This points me to believing that our values even dictate(to a large extent) our perceptions of God.

    You state of materialists,”…. but they have no material basis for calling something good or evil,”
    I am not convinced that the theist does either Eric – Just because somebody is operating on a belief,an article of faith, and CLAIMS to have an objective anchor for his values, it does not follow that, this is indeed the case.(lets face it how does one even begin to check that a moral standard exists independant of the human mind? In what form does this “thing” exist? Where is this “thing” located? How does one gain access to its information/revelations? If many people claim to have access to these standards and they differ; Who do we believe, and how will we know who to believe?)

    To me, the fact that there is no consensus among believers about what God wants us to do; that our perceptions of God seem to be based on our values; that our morals appear to be emotionally based does not point to any form of objective morality anchored on anything.

    I agree that your argument makes more sense than that of materialism, but it does so because of what you claim, not what you explain, or show to be the case here on the ground.

    Thanks for your articles and comments Eric, you certainly have had me thinking hard the past few months. Looking forward to your reply.

  48. Hey Sean,

    We may be in danger of already of talking past each other. Your last post relies heavily on “consensus” among Christians for being the standard to which a belief in mind-independent value depends in order for my argument to wash. Once again, I have to point out that consensus has nothing to do with the point being made.

    For the sake of argument, let us pretend that there is not a single point upon which Christians agree with each other (though historical Christianity, i.e. Orthodoxy, has agreed on all major points of doctrine for 20 centuries), let us say something like, “no two Christians agree on what constitutes a lie.” Even this sort of scenario would not change my argument, because, again, we are dealing with the premise that believers believe in a source of value that transcends the human mind whereas the atheist-materialist has no such thing.

    The believer – and let’s extend it out to all theistic religions, not just Christianity – believes that God is the basis for value, thus, let us say, they can believe that the human being has eternal value based on the belief that God created them. The honest materialist cannot say anything like this. For them there was no creation, just one mechanistic genetic haphazard chance after another, which finally resulted in mankind. He/she must concede that any value placed on human life is merely a reflection of a neurological survival trait based in some mysterious need to prolong the life of one’s own species. Such traits can be disregarded whenever the materialist decides his own personal need(s) supersede biology’s grand ‘plan.’

    Hope that is starting to clear the waters. We can talk all day about the disagreements between Christian groups, it’s fun, but its irrelevant to this discussion. In fact, as a converted Orthodox Christian from Protestantism, I fully agree that the disagreements are the best attack against Christianity. But it is, in the end, pointing not away from the truth of Christianity but to the authentic Christianity. Anything beautiful has its counterfeits. Anything precious has its corrupted counterparts.

    It might help to think of a simple question: Can the materialist give an account for value? I say no. Can the Christian, whatever stripe he may be, give an account for value. I say yes.

  49. Hi Eric,

    I do not see any account for value given by Christians, or yourself. What I see is a claim.A detailed explanation of your claim would be an account.

    None the less let us look specifically at this claim. God is good – goodness exists because of who God is. No God, no goodness.
    Let us tease this out to its end game.

    Consider the following moral judgement that seems obviously true to me.

    “It is wrong to torture babies”

    To say that moral values depend on the existence of God is to say that this moral judgment is NOT true unless God exists.Therefore If God turned out not to exist next Friday — then torturing babies is ok and may well become a favorite pastime of the now godless Christian mothers.
    Really Eric are you sure about this? The pain of another human being would mean nothing without God?

    Think about your child.To say that the moral worth of your child depends on the existence of God is to say that your children are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern you feel for their well being has no real ethical significance. Your children are not inherently lovable, you just love them because of who God is ; you have a god-given moral duty to do so?

    Eric there is no way that any parent could think this way, and yet it is what your argument ends up giving us. This morality is no better than that which is behind atheistic nihilism that you so abhor. It’s the view that the only kind of “obligation” there could possibly be is the kind that is disciplined by promise and reward or threat of punishment. It is only such views that could not comprehend any value inherent in the nature of things,

    For someone who thinks that another being’s pain is not IN ITSELF a reason to give aid, or that the welfare of a loved one is not on ITS OWN enough to justify sacrifice, well Eric then you said it,”all bets are off” aren’t they?

    Commands issued by a tyrant would have all the same features as those of your God. The belief by followers that whatever the great leader decides is good and in the best interests of all.If all “moral” really means is “commanded by God,” then we cannot have what we would otherwise have thought of as moral reasons for obeying Him.

    God is extremely powerful, and can make us suffer if we disobey Him, The same can be said of Stalin, or Hitler. Do we have a moral duty to obey nutters like these? I think we actually have a moral obligation to disobey tyrants.
    The same goes for worshiping God. We might find it in our interest to flatter such a powerful person, but there could be no way in which such a God was deserving of praise.

    Lastly, for your claim that ‘what God commands is good’, and that ‘God is goodness’, to explain morality, it must also explain what makes God good. How will you do this without referring, or appealing to “good” as something that exists in and of itself?

    The circular nature of this “All good is from God and God is all goodness type thinking seems problematic to me.There must be something wrong here; How can the mere claim of an anchor outside of human consciousness suddenly make something true that still faces the same challenges as any other moral position that appears so “wrong”. IE that it still has to be reasoned out?

    If you use terms of God to define goodness, then terms of goodness cannot be used to define God. But you do define God using terms of goodness. Therefore defining goodness in terms of God cannot be true Eric.

  50. A detailed explanation of God and how God is the source – the ontological reality – of goodness is what the discipline of Christian theology is all about. This would take quite some time to give a “detailed” account of the Christian “claim” about God. I assumed that was understood and a blog post is no place to lay out such a project; however, the Orthodox Church has laid it out in detail through the liturgy, catechism, scripture, writing of the saints throughout the ages, etc. But its still faith, don’t get me wrong. No explanation of such things is to be equated with the sort of explanation that methodological naturalism would provide.

    To the body of your post: would my child have value without the existence of God? Pretending I was an atheist answering I would say unequivocally yes, however, I could not defend it. Just because me and my culture wants to believe that my child has value there is nothing in the material world – no mind-independent reality – that is supporting such a notion. Again, if I’m going to think like a thorough-going materialist I must believe that the universe is a closed causal existence. Nothing would exist but material substance, hence mental processes would need to be explainable wholly in terms of natural cause and effect, i.e. natural law. Morals, good, evil, etc., have no place in such a near sighted view. The fact that atheistic materialists do not carry this obvious requirement of their philosophy into their personal lives is exactly the point of this article (or at least one of the points). Atheist-materialism fails the existential test, that is, it cannot be lived.

    Not without being a psychopath.

    Out of time at the moment. Sorry if I’m leaving a bunch of things undone. Cheers.

  51. “God” ……. is a homo sapien invention to deal with the fear of physical death. It is pernicious because it also gives rise to defending one’s “religion” (a higher level of evolution to cope with the fear of death). Religion is a distillation of that fear within cultures. Both are the bane of mankind. Eric Hyde you are perpetuating the same myth’s of religion which manifests as the hatred of one against another. “God” is not love it is the foundation of hatred.

  52. Kevin, I know your post was more or less an act of trolling but you offer an opportunity to flesh out a question I’ve always had for materialists. For the materialist’s worldview to work one must put to flight all ideas of values, meaning, good, evil, etc., as figments of the “homosapien” imagination. That being the case why then do some materialists take their philosophical positions so seriously? Seems a consistent belief in materialism would leave one entirely uninterested in changing other people’s minds about things, and would leave one without the passion to take his/her own thoughts very seriously either since all opinions on reality would be essentially meaningless.

    If you return to this discussion perhaps you can address this contradiction of the “philosophically passionate” materialist.

    Cheers.

  53. It’s typical to see such a feeble reply in labeling me a troll; do you see the hypocrisy of doing so in light of you then proceeding to reply? A reply which I must point out is so ‘all over the map’ I wouldn’t even begin to attempt to address other than to say, assigning labels to others and telling them what their philosophy is or isn’t, is preposterous and outside the lines of any possible mature, philosophical discussion.

  54. Hey Eric,
    “…. why then do some materialists take their philosophical positions so seriously?”
    Why shouldn’t we Eric?

    Our moral values are learned the same way as all of our values, through social conditioning -: Work values; political values; Social values; recreational values. Great families, organizations, groups and even nations have been built on values that are not anchored on some mind-independent reality like God.
    Your repeated claim that” Atheist-materialism fails the existential test, that is, it cannot be lived. Not without being a psychopath.” is obviously nonsense.
    It is the theist’s claim that seems problematic to me.
    The God is good and goodness is of God does not make sense. If we go back to the slaughter of the Canaanites, God commands all Canaanite men, woman and male children including infants to be killed. This means that unlike psychopathic materialists often do, theists cannot claim that the killing of infants is absolutely wrong. For in the Canaanite genocide, the murdered infants are really experiencing the goodness of God according to you. A moral act; in fact it would be the moral duty for the theist to carry out the killings of infants if so commanded by God, and to do Gods good work.

    A quick look at Merriam Webster dictionaries meaning of “objective” gives us
    b : of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind — compare 3a
    3a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.

    The morally good killing problems, aside. For their claim to be taken seriously, theists need to tell us what God wants; his intentions and what He wills – are in the realm of sensible experience and perceptible by all observers. The theist also needs to do so dealing with the facts as perceived without distortion by his personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations for their claim to hold water.

    Reading what you have written on this basis for your morality Eric, RE:” on interpretation and that “No explanation of such things is to be equated with the sort of explanation that methodological naturalism would provide.”

    I fail to see how any argument you can make holds up to your claim of an objective mind independent basis for your morality. The very definition of “objective” disqualifies anything you could say from holding up.

    Perhaps this is why theists just keep reasserting this claim and never bother to explain it. You do not seem to have any difficulty on expanding and explaining the pitfalls you perceive with materialism. We just ask for to go into the same detail and expansion with your claim. Or is that too much to ask?

  55. Sean, you said:

    “Your repeated claim that” Atheist-materialism fails the existential test, that is, it cannot be lived. Not without being a psychopath.” is obviously nonsense.”

    But it seemed to make sense to you earlier when you wrote:

    “It has been shown that psychopaths treat moral rules as mere conventions. This suggests that emotions are necessary for making moral judgments.The judgment that something is morally wrong is an emotional response.”

    And this is precisely what I’m arguing, and what you’ve already agreed to, that for the materialist moral rules are mere conventions. Adding that one must have proper emotional brain functioning doesn’t change this one wit, in fact it only confirms just how made-up, imaginary, morals are for the strict and consistent materialist. Thus, such a person lives in a state of disequilibrium concerning what they know intuitively – i.e., that good and evil are real and transcend material existence – and their espoused belief – i.e., that good and evil are emotional conventions reinforced by social conditioning.

    For example, the materialist can never honestly say that such and such is good or evil without adding the qualifier “because our social conditioning has determined it to be so,” or something similar, which lacks any sense of authority or imperative to act accordingly (except that this or that might get one killed or imprisoned, etc). However the theist can say that such and such is good or evil in and of itself because he/she believes in the ontological reality of good and evil, and not merely some imaginary convention. He/she has an actual imperative to act accordingly.

    That ‘s about as much as I want to say on the matter. We’ve gone back and forth a number of times. No sense in repeating further.

    You then said:

    “I fail to see how any argument you can make holds up to your claim of an objective mind independent basis for your morality.”

    Hum…, when exactly did I use the word “objective”? I don’t think terms like “objective” and “subjective” help us much here. The terms are loaded with connotations which are context dependent. I would not apply them to most theological subjects because they cause more confusion than clarity. But, it was a valiant try and dismissing my argument out of hand. 🙂

    The fact of the matter is that how the materialist is to think in terms of good and evil, which form the foundation of morality and value, had been a major problem for centuries. Perhaps one of the greatest philosophical minds to ever live, Immanuel Kant, struggled with this problem on a level most materialists today simply can’t approach with their usual ‘drive-by’ take on all things metaphysical. He struggled to figure out how a society could conceive of an authoritative test of morality without injecting God into the equation (specifically the Judeo-Christian view of God). He finally came up with his famous Categorical Imperative which has, of course, been shown wholly useless in practicality, though it was a brilliant thought.

    Later Nietzsche took of the same challenge but did so much more honestly. He simply faced the facts: If God is to be removed from our purview of morals we are left with a situation where we must move beyond the notion of “good and evil.” He understood what most materialists today simply don’t have the concentration or honesty to grasp, that is, that without an ultimate source/ground/being of good there is simply no use in thinking in terms of good and evil, for they would be wholly imaginary, no different than belief in fairies. He looked at the prospect of this with terror, but he remained honest with the facts of the materialist worldview.

    I invite you to do the same if you are truly a committed materialist. Consistency in thought might not be popular today, but it sure is more interesting.

  56. Eric,

    You state,”However the theist can say that such and such is good or evil in and of itself because he/she believes in the ontological reality of good and evil, and not merely some imaginary convention. He/she has an actual imperative to act accordingly.”

    How can you say this? The theist cannot say such and such is good or evil in of itself because he/she believes in the ontological reality of good and evil, Well you certainly cannot! You state that “goodness exists because of who God is; His commands to us in human language are expressions of Himself.” Therefor if God commands the killing of Canaanite babies, as he does to Joshua, this is a good thing. This means that killing babies is not always an evil act to the theist.A command to kill babies can also be a good act and an actual imperative to act accordingly.

    Your basis for your morality does not hold up to what you claim it to be Eric and you skirt and avoid the issue. The argument is materialists have no basis for their values, theists do. I am questioning your claim as your claimed anchor does not hold up in reality.

    You also avoid telling us how your claimed basis for your morality can be perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations by all observers; for it doesn’t appear that it can looking at all the variances we get from theists. Just the other day a theist informed me that God is all powerful and all knowing and has morally sufficient reasons for all of the evil in the world. Reading your God is good and goodness is from God claim, this tells me that all of the so called evil in the world is according to Gods’ will.This makes all acts labelled evil in the world actually good acts according to your God is good claim.

    Sorry Eric, I fail to see how your claim makes for some sort of superior moral argument to that of the materialist. BTW, I never agreed that for the materialist moral rules are mere conventions.

  57. Sean, you never agreed that for the materialist moral rules are mere conventions? You’ve said repeatedly that morals are present in the human being due to social conditioning. What exactly is your understanding of social conditioning if not a substrate of convention? If both the psychopath and the materialist view morals as conventions, i.e., agreed upon codes of conduct between human entities (codes, incidentally, lacking ultimate authority) then if follows that one must be a psychopath if he is to attempt to live his philosophy of morality. One can accept and dismiss the conventions of morality whenever it most suits the individual’s desires in the moment.

    Let me address a few of your points. You wrote:

    “You also avoid telling us how your claimed basis for your morality can be perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations by all observers”

    And:

    “Sorry Eric, I fail to see how your claim makes for some sort of superior moral argument to that of the materialist”

    I have told you how the “basis” of my morality can be perceived without distortion. The basis is the plain logic that if value, good, evil, etc., are to be believed to have ontological reality then something about them must transcend mind-dependence. This is necessary since good and evil are not to be found as material entities in the material world – which constitutes the confines of existence of real things for the materialist since they believe the natural world is a closed causal system. I have given you the proposition that God is the ontological source for good, thus all notions of good are founded in Him. By contrast one discovers what is evil, hence one’s understanding of value and morality unfold. Now – and this is where we seem to be talking past each other – what the precise moral code or value one comes away with is beside the point. I am not arguing a specific morality, I’m arguing that the theist simply has a real basis for his/her morality that is imperative for him/her. The Materialist has no such option and must confine his/her ideas of good and evil to something lacking ontological reality.

    The difference makes a world of difference, I’m hoping this time I’ve been successful in translating it for you. If not we may just have to call it a day. 🙂

  58. Hi Eric,
    I stated, “If morals are emotionally based, then people who lack strong emotions should then be blind to the moral domain. This is just what we find with psychopaths. They suffer from emotional deficits. It has been shown that psychopaths treat moral rules as mere conventions” IE: they treat moral rules as merely a way in which something is usually done because they lack strong emotions.

    Furthermore, I wrote,” This suggests that emotions are necessary for making moral judgments. The judgment that something is morally wrong is an emotional response. So no Eric a materialist cannot disregard voices of conscience if they have normal emotions, they will also experience anger and disgust when an action is performed by another person, and guilt and shame when an action is performed by one’s self(and of course other emotions) if it goes against their conditioning that they have internalized.”

    I do not think that you can decide if something is moral or immoral unless you have both these self,(guilt and shame)- and other,(anger and disgust)-directed emotions. You may be disgusted by a pig ear, pig snout and pig testicle fry up I have made you for dinner, but unless you are a devout Jew, Muslim or a vegetarian for moral reasons, you wouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed of eating it and therefore would not find it immoral like the Jew, Muslim or “moral vegetarian” would.

    Emotional conditioning is not merely a convention for acquiring values Eric: It is essential. You as a parent and a councillor know that moral reasoning only works by drawing attention to values that have already been internalized through emotional conditioning. No amount of reasoning can engender a moral value, because all values are, at bottom, emotional attitudes. You may through extensive reasoning, perhaps persuade someone that something is right or wrong; but the only arguments that will work are ones that appeal to prior sentiments.

    The example I continually give, and you continually ignore shows this. The mere idea of killing babies evokes strong emotions of disgust and anger in us and I feel guilt and shame just daring to think such a thing. You will never convince me Eric that such a thing can be good if an almighty God commanded it.

    We were conditioned as children to know that merely being negligent in the caring of a baby was wrong, never mind causing harm. We naturally care for, nurture and protect babies, It is in my bones. I put it to you that only a psychopath could ever be convinced to kill babies because some almighty righteous good God commanded it.
    I reject your proposition that God is the ontological source for good, thus all notions of good are founded in Him. I reject your notion of their having to be some mind independent basis for our morals to be binding upon us. There is just no consensus among Christians as to what these morals actually are and morals appear to change all too frequently for your claim that the basis of your morality can be perceived without distortion. God commands some pretty awful things; I cannot see how these things can be deemed good because of who commanded them.

    Thank you for your time Eric, I will continue to work on this “morality problem” of mine. You certainly know how to get one thinking 🙂

  59. Whether people believe a thing has no bearing on whether it is true. That the vast majority of people believe in human value is not compelling evidence that there is human value.

    The mainstream materialist position on this is, as you say, nonsense. But that’s more an argument for nihilism than it is for religious belief.

  60. In the words of Bill Clinton, it depends on what your definition of “is” is. But in seriousness, I don’t really disagree with your points. From a purely logical perspective this cat can be skinned many ways. As far as the view from Christianity, I’m perfectly content to make it a statement of faith, and in fact would defend it as such and resist any proof of the faith being offered.

  61. So I didn’t have time to read everything above. But: it seems that people exist, Hitler existed, Hitler did harm, I don’t like harm nor what Hitler did. Agreed, right? One can (and many do) say, “Hitler was evil” to refer to the harm, and one’s dislike of that harm, right? If so, then atheists can have a morality that is sensible, meaningful, etc. Most theists say there is more to morality than this. I keep asking them to say what the more is, show that there is more, and show that this more proves that god exists, but no one seems able to do it. Can you do it? Also, please avoid the Appeal to Consequences Fallacy (such as when you say, “if morality has no external to the universe standard, then one could possible adopt a different standard tomorrow”,) and please avoid the “we just know” appeal to intuition, which proves nothing. No, “evil” is not a thing that is related to anything beyond our universe, as far as we know. You say ” if value, good, evil, etc., are to be believed to have ontological reality…” We don’t know that “value” has an ontological reality outside of our universe. We know that there are people (valuers) who value, prefer, gravitate more towards some things, etc. No one should believe that value, good, evil, etc. has an ontological reality outside of our universe, given that there is (virtually) no evidence for that. “God is the ontological source for good”: untrue, as far one can tell, but if you define god, and good, then perhaps that would change. Given the usual meanings (perfect being, creating happiness), it is false. “thus all notions of good are founded in Him”: simply false. There are many notions of good in the world, and none of them are known to actually come from god, and most/all are known to come from people, cultures, etc. “the theist simply has a real basis for his/her morality”: false. In your response, please define good and god, and how we know that those things exist. I define moral terms in terms of things that we know to exist (people, harm, preferences) (“real things” as you would say). It is possible that we are simply using the terms differently. I suspect you agree that people exist and harm exists and preferences ‘exist’. Then the only remaining job is to see whether the things that you claim to exist (a perfect god, a metaphysical sense of “good”) actually do. I look forward to your definitions and evidence.

  62. Hi jcb, your argument seems to be a long run of assertions without any of the evidences for your argument which you want from me concerning my own argument. You start your post in the middle of your argument rather than at the beginning. “Hitler did harm” and since we both agree, viola, we have a sensible morality. False: the Nazis claimed the same thing, their morality was sensible. Your burden under a materialist perspective is to demonstrate why our morality is the right one and the Nazis the bad one. In addition, since your only qualification for morality is sensibility then you must show how ours is more sensible (whatever that could possibly mean) than theirs. Under your restrictions of philosophy it is impossible.

  63. So, you aren’t going to answer any of my questions, or try to define your terms? That makes it seem like you aren’t interested in defending your position. My “argument” was that people exist, harm exists, preferences exist. If you agree, then I don’t need to say anything else about my assertions. If there is a dubious claim that I make, state what it is, and I will do my best to show that it is true. What is the middle of my argument? What is the beginning? If I start in the middle, but there is a beginning and end also, what does it matter? The fact that Nazis claim something has no (obvious) bearing on anything I’ve said. You already said you agreed to what I said. Here’s what you said, “I agree that your claims are true, but the Nazis claimed that their morality (which you don’t define or explain) is also sensible, and thus your claims are false.” This doesn’t follow. Nothing I said indicates that my position is a materialist one. No, I have no burden to explain why my morality is the “right” one. No, I would not agree with your assumption that there is a “right” one. If there is, explain what “right” means in this context, and how we know it. My claim was that Hitler exists, he did harm, and I don’t prefer it. All of those are true, we know them to be true, and that’s all I mean by “sensible” (like “reasonable”). Like I said earlier, and which you ignored, you might mean something else by “morality”, “right”, “good”, etc. If so say, what that is (what your definitions are). We might just be using the words differently. If so, then, since you already agreed to my assertions (about Hitler, harm, preferences), all that is left is to see whether your assertions are true.

  64. jcb, this article is not attempting to prove God’s existence, it is merely demonstrating why one has a logical, reasonable foundation to evaluate something as good or evil – to believe in value – if one believes in a eternal “source”, i.e., not human mind dependent. The materialist has no such logical reasonable foundation for their values other than “I like this” “I don’t like this”. These values change and hence bringing up Hitler as you did makes an excellent point of illustration. The Nazis also “liked this” and “didn’t like this”. My point in the article is materialism offers no support for their assumed values, the theist, and specifically the Christian, does have a support for their assumptions. The point is: which point of view is more internally consistent? The materialist is wholly inconsistent in holding values of good and evil with any seriousness, hence why their world is falling apart left and right.

    That’s all. If you would like me to define God please investigate the Orthodox Church, the Nicene Creed is a good place to start for such a definition. I do not seek to “prove” this doctrine of faith in the interest of preserving it as a “doctrine of faith.”

  65. So, is there an argument/demonstration, or not? You seem to say both, which is contradictory. Regardless, you say that you have demonstrated that people value things (is that what you mean by “believe in value”?) and this shows that it is reasonable that there is a god (no, this does not follow), or that there is a not human mind dependent thing (huh? No). That people value things does not show that there is a god, or that any particular (relevant, significant) not human mind dependent thing exists. (If it does, say what that thing is, and how we know it). Yes, I know that people exist, and that I value certain things. Yes you are right that at some point around here, I might not know what other forces lead me to value certain things. That doesn’t prove anything here, other than that I don’t know everything (and neither do you, nor does anyone). The phrase “reasonable foundation” seems to be a contradiction. If something is foundational, then one cannot appeal to something deeper than it to say that it is reasonable. Regardless, nothing I have said is false, it seems. You are wrongly suggesting that because I don’t know something (everything about the origin of my values) then other my claims (which?) are false. This doesn’t follow. Yes values can change, and often differ among people. If materialists can’t show (or haven’t shown) where their values “came from” that doesn’t show that they don’t have values, nor does it show that someone else does know where they came from. No, the theist doesn’t have more support for their claims, but if they do, make the claim, and provide the support. Someone who values happiness is not being inconsistent (nor do you show that there is an inconsistency here). No, this atheist position (my assertions above) is quite solid and reasonable and probable, and supported by the evidence. It is unfortunate that again you have refused to define god (just say Perfect Being if that’s what you mean), or “good”. Yes, if you have no interest in offering evidence in a productive, polite way, please don’t bother responding. I have shown that one can talk about morality in terms of persons (Hitler), actions and effects (Hitler killed people, did harm), and preferences (I don’t like that Hitler did harm). You already knew all that. But then, that’s why my claims are true. You then said, but on your account, there are questions that you haven’t answered, and probably don’t have an answer for (such as “why do you value That rather than something else”?) That seems true: I don’t have answers for everything. You then implied that something interesting follows from this, like that one of my assertions is false. But this is the mistake. My not knowing the answer to a particular question doesn’t by itself show that any of my assertions are false. I think your point is something like, but there is probably an answer to that question. (Something doesn’t come from nothing.) I agree. But we seem to disagree in that you seem to think that my failure to answer your question falsifies my previous assertions (it doesn’t), or you think that because there is probably an answer to that question, you have the particular answer (God, etc.) to that question. Clearly you haven’t shown that (god) to be proven true by anything said here, and thus the atheist account of morality that I gave is true (makes only true assertions). Whether there are other truths (about god, etc.) remains to be seen, and has not been proven here.

  66. Hi jcb. I finally found the time after putting my kids to bed to respond in full to your initial post. Hope it satisfies. Here you go (I quote you and then respond):

    “So I didn’t have time to read everything above. But: it seems that people exist, Hitler existed, Hitler did harm, I don’t like harm nor what Hitler did. Agreed, right?”

    I agree he existed and did harm.

    “One can (and many do) say, “Hitler was evil” to refer to the harm, and one’s dislike of that harm, right?”

    You could say his harm was evil, but you could not say that about all harm, obviously. Furthermore, “evil” is a very odd word for a strict materialist, which is a huge point in the article. You conflate harm and evil, but the first is observable and the second is pure myth – made up to describe nothing more than your disgust with the sort of harm he did. Taking the materialists playbook, our emotions and thoughts are the result of antecedent physical conditions of our brain and the environment, and nothing more. It is simple material cause and effect. To go further than this and use a word like evil, which is not observable and has no phenomenology or substance outside of one’s bias perception, to speak of it is to reflect religious fairy tales. Or… there is a real thing called evil and it is perceptible by intuition and revelation – two things you reject, as we will see in a moment.

    “If so, then atheists can have a morality that is sensible, meaningful, etc.”

    Pause. Yes they can. They can invent whatever form of ethical behavior they want, but don’t mistaken this for giving value to something as good or evil. There is nothing good or evil in atoms and molecules or in living processes. One does not say the lion is evil for killing his prey, he can say that he harms his prey, and maybe if they could talk and rationalize abstract concepts like justice and other mythical ideas, then they too could develop an ethic, but good and evil please. Man is just another animal. Or… there is a real thing called good and evil, etc., see above.

    “Most theists say there is more to morality than this. I keep asking them to say what the more is, show that there is more, and show that this more proves that god exists, but no one seems able to do it. Can you do it?”

    Absolutely not, and I would never attempt to do so with someone who rejects intuition out of hand as a tool of knowledge (which you do below). One who lives only in their left brain, a sort of phantom of pure reason, is simply pretending. We are intuitive through and through – so is science, by the way. Without it you can come to know almost nothing at all about the human being. And if you know nothing about that then everything else doesn’t matter. Also, even if I could convince you of this it would not “prove” that God exists. It would be a strong evidence for consideration but it could never prove.

    “Also, please avoid the Appeal to Consequences Fallacy (such as when you say, “if morality has no external to the universe standard, then one could possible adopt a different standard tomorrow”,) and please avoid the “we just know” appeal to intuition, which proves nothing.”

    The consequence of not having a transcendent reality of good and evil, which gives us the ability to value things, is used in this article to demonstrate that the theist is more consistent in his morality, whereas the materialist is hopelessly confused. But I’ve already stated this in another reply.

    Now here is where we get to the wild assertions:

    “No, “evil” is not a thing that is related to anything beyond our universe, as far as we know.”

    As far as who knows? You, the biology journal peer-review society, the ethics philosophers, the textbooks on mechanical engineering, etc., who knows this exactly?

    “You say ” if value, good, evil, etc., are to be believed to have ontological reality…” We don’t know that “value” has an ontological reality outside of our universe. We know that there are people (valuers) who value, prefer, gravitate more towards some things, etc. No one should believe that value, good, evil, etc. has an ontological reality outside of our universe, given that there is (virtually) no evidence for that.”

    Again, what do you mean by evidence? Material evidence for good and evil? Of course not. Surely this is not your angle, however if you mean there is no logical, or philosophical evidence then we have a lot of talking to do. Again, just because there is a real existence of good and evil, however that existence might be, does not force one to believe in God. You could take Nagel’s approach and believe in some sort of teleological principle at work which is also somehow intelligent, yet not god… somehow… I don’t know, he’s still working it out.

    “God is the ontological source for good”: untrue, as far one can tell, but if you define god, and good, then perhaps that would change.”

    Again, “untrue” as if science has laid waste to such ramblings. As far as atheists can tell, sure. But so what? The Orthodox Church defines God a number of ways but we try to stay apophatic about it. Basically, we believe He is supra-essential, meaning He is above even essence, He is above being, He does not exist in a manner likened to the total aggregate of everything in the physical universe. He is ontologically Trinity, and it is a mystery that we Orthodox understand is beyond understanding, hence why it is fruitless to attempt to prove God using methods of science that measure only material things. This God is good, and what that means in his “being” is also a mystery. All that we know is what is made available through His energies, which is essentially his immanence in the world, as contrasted with his transcendence. We know His goodness by way of – brace yourself – intuition, which is inwardness, which is something wholly irrelevant to the natural sciences and wholly relevant to living breathing human beings.

    “Given the usual meanings (perfect being, creating happiness), it is false.”

    No explanation given for this assertion, but to each his own.

    ““thus all notions of good are founded in Him”: simply false.”

    Same.

    “There are many notions of good in the world, and none of them are known to actually come from god,”

    Same.

    “and most/all are known to come from people, cultures, etc.”

    This is a non-answer. What is culture if not the way a community worships? The etymology of the word “culture” bears this out: cultus is Latin meaning, “worship.” Every last culture in history was religious to the core, even the Pre-Socratics of Greece. They discovered the ‘substance’ of good and evil in a religious context knowing that it was something connecting this world and the next.

    ““the theist simply has a real basis for his/her morality”: false. In your response, please define good and god, and how we know that those things exist.”

    “False”! Ha, I love these declarations, wild, blind-leap declarations. I hope it is evident that the atheist uses as much faith for his blind declarations as the theist. Only the theist will admit it.

    “I define moral terms in terms of things that we know to exist (people, harm, preferences) (“real things” as you would say).”

    And these are precisely the sort of terms and things that have no solid foundation. They are moving goalposts and when the individual is caught between his socially made up ethic and the desire of his heart (plug in money, food, sex, whatever) he realized within himself how flimsy his ‘morals’ are, and how arbitrary their pretend rule is over him.

    “It is possible that we are simply using the terms differently. I suspect you agree that people exist and harm exists and preferences ‘exist’. Then the only remaining job is to see whether the things that you claim to exist (a perfect god, a metaphysical sense of “good”) actually do. I look forward to your definitions and evidence.”

    This is what you were hoping for, but please read my last response to you. This article is not attempting to prove God but rather kick the legs out from under materialism. I’ve done the “prove your god” thing 100’s of times online and it is almost completely fruitless. One discovers God in ways that textbooks and apologetics can never touch. I’ll leave that between you and Him. 

  67. Hi EH,
    You say “You could say his harm was evil”. In my post, I said, Hitler’s doing harm was not liked/preferred by me. Is that what you mean when say “his harm was evil”? If you mean something else, what is that, and do you think it has anything to do with proving god? (many people make the moral argument for god, which I have been arguing here against).
    You also keep referring to materialism, yet I have never endorsed it here, so it seems like you are having a discussion with someone other than me. Nor have I seen you define materialism (but I didn’t read everything you’ve posted). Why is “evil”, which as we know now, I use to refer to harm and my dislike of it, an odd word for a strict materialist? And, does anything interesting follow if one is not a strict materialist, like you? If so, what?
    I did not conflate harm and evil, as mentioned above. “evil” is the word I use to refer to both harm and my dislike of harm. If something were just harmful, I would say that’s harmful. The important thing here though is that “evil” doesn’t seem to describe any metaphysical thing (particular since we virtually know of no metaphysical things). Hence, one can use “evil” in a nonsensical way, as many do, or in a meaningful way, as I do, to describe actually things, like persons, effects, and preferences.
    Yes, harm is real. Evil is pure myth if it attempts to describe some metaphysical property that we can’t say exists.
    Our emotions are largely, and perhaps wholly, the result of antecedent physical conditions.
    Yes, you suggest there is “a real thing called evil” that is “perceptible by intuition and revelation”. Well, that’s what I have been asking for. I hope, as I continue to read your post, you will prove that there is such a thing. And if you “accept” intuition and revelation, and it turns out I reject them, then I hope you will show why I should be accepting them. (I’m not sure what you mean by those things yet)
    I don’t recall ever saying anything about “inventing whatever form of ethical behavior they want”. What I would say is that people often do value various things, and some value kindness, while others do not. This is not “giving” value to something. It is a description of the fact that people value things. Right: atoms by themselves are not usually harmful or preferred: I wouldn’t refer to atoms as good or evil, per se.
    The lion! This reminds me that I might have left something out of my account of evil. Yes, I too would not say that the lion is evil, even thought it does harm, and even though often I don’t like lions killing other animals. But typically I use “evil” to also say, that being intentionally did something contrary to some standard, like kindness. Hence, lions are not “evil”, but Hitler is. Yes, if animals could reflect and consider justice, they might be moral agents, and thus “evil” might apply.
    W is this intuition? Is it just a feeling? Is my intuition as good as yours? It’s all a bit murky.
    You say there is more to knowledge and truth than just reasoning well, but I have yet to see that you are right.

    You say “we are intuitive”, but you have still not said what that is. You have not shown that with intuition we come to know anything. Examples? Just to help move the conversation along, it does not seem that we know that stove will cause us harm by intuition. Rather, reason and sensory experience seem to tell us that.
    Right, intuition (in the way you have so far described) does not prove god. What does it prove? No, intuition isn’t strong evidence for god. (Again, you should define god here). Yes, intuition might lead us to ask more questions and investigate further.
    We value things. You say that there is a transcendent reality of good and evil. Well, what does that mean, and how do we know it? If you simply mean, there are probably more things that exist than just what we currently know of, I agree. If you mean something more, say what that is please.
    Nothing said so far shows that the theist is more consistent about morality than the atheist. (Also, consistency is an absolute term: I’m not sure you can be “more” consistent.) Consistency, as logic books define the term, means “not contradictory, i.e., possible” To say that X is more possible than Y makes no sense. Perhaps you mean your X is more probable than my Y. If so, prove that that is the case. Perhaps you simply mean, 2 or more of my claims are contradictory. If so, be clear as to which.
    I can’t speak for the materialist that you refer to, but it doesn’t look like anything I’ve said is confused in any way that helps theism.
    When I say “as far as we know”, I mean me, and anyone I’ve talked to. If you are the guy who does know, just show me that you know. Otherwise, saying “there are no unicorns as far as we know”, is a reasonable, true thing to say. (Don’t get in such a huff about the phrase “as far as we know”, just provide evidence to show that some other guy does know, if you think some guy does know.)
    If you think there IS evidence of “evil” outside of our universe, then give it! I don’t know what you mean by the term yet, so first you have to define evil, and Then you could tell me what evidence you think there is for such a thing. Then, if I disagree, we could have a conversation about what evidence I think is needed.
    Again, you haven’t told me yet what you mean by “good” or “evil”, and what is “real” about their “existence”. (I did all that though)
    If you thing “god is the ontological source for good”, prove it! Define god and good, and then show that god is the source of good. If you use the words differently than I, you might be able to do that.
    Your critiques here make it seem like you don’t want to try to make your case. Yes, for most atheists, and for many theists as well, there is no evidence for a perfect god, and no evidence that that god “makes” Hitler’s unkind actions that I don’t prefer have a metaphysical property that some call “evil”. Please, make the case and cut through the nonsense.

    Saying god is “above even essence” seems to be gibberish. Can you give an example of that that we both know to be true?
    You says “god is a mystery”. That doesn’t help to show that there is any reality to that god.
    I am fine with you saying that your god can’t be proven with science. But if you insist that it can be proven, surely you will say how? Otherwise, it doesn’t look like it can be proven in any way, and is in fact a fiction.
    You say “this God is good”, but you don’t say what “good” is here, nor how you know that the Mystery has the (also so far mysterious) property of being good.
    Honestly, up until this point, you were talking like a normal person. Now, honestly, you sound really weird and seem to be saying virtually nothing. “This God is good, and what that means in his “being” is also a mystery.” Say what now?
    You say “All that we know is what is made available through His energies, which is essentially his immanence in the world, as contrasted with his transcendence. “ Huh? Can you try to be a lot clearer?
    You say you know god’s goodness (still undefined) by “intuition”. You don’t say whose intuition. Hence, the claim is partially false, because my intuition does not lead me to that knowledge. Whether you have an intuition that shows that this god actually exists in some fashion and is not just a delusion has not been demonstrated.
    Not all that surprisingly, you still haven’t said what this “intuition” amounts to. Still just a feeling?
    If you say that there is a perfect being, that statement is false. If it is true, show it. If intuition is all you need to show that something is the case, and you use intuition to show that god exists and is perfect, then my intuition shows just the opposite. Thus showing the absurdity of using intuition to try to show something about external reality, the existence of a perfect being, etc.
    We do not know that all notions of good are founded in God. Thus it is not known to be true: hence false.
    I have a notion of good (happiness). There is no evidence that it is founded in any god. Again, if you think there is evidence, provide it. If intuition is your only evidence, then my intuition which concludes the opposite of your intuition leads us to a stalemate. (I doubt you accept everything anyone else might say is true based on their intuition). What we are left with here is just that you feel/believe that God exists, and since you have no evidence of any other sort, you have to appeal to a mysterious “intuition” which conflicts with others intuitions. That’s belief and opinion, not knowledge or fact.
    “There are many notions of good in the world, and none of them are known to actually come from god,” Again, this looks true, and if you disagree, prove it.
    Culture is many things, including often worshippers and rituals. What do you think this shows? That there are worshippers doesn’t show that the thing worshipped actually exists.
    Yes, sadly, almost all cultures historically have been religious, and gotten a lot of things wrong.
    You say “the Pre-Socratics of Greece…discovered the ‘substance’ of good and evil in a religious context knowing that it was something connecting this world and the next.” This looks false. What did they discover? How did they discover it? In what sense is good and evil a “substance”? How does it connect his world to the next? What is this next world? How do we know what it is? (Basically all that is nonsense: there is no next world that we know of, there is no substance that we know of that connects this world to the “next” world, etc.) Again, if you do know, just prove it, rather than rail about my assertion that you/we don’t know it. And if intuition carries the day, mine says that you are wrong, thus carrying the day.
    Once again you complain that I say X is false, yet instead of showing that I am wrong, you just complain, while again failing to define your terms. When I say “X is false” I am telling you what seems to be the case. If you know that I am wrong, prove it! Just interpret my “X is false” as “it seems false to me”. I am happy to be shown wrong, if only you would attempt to do so. No, my declarations aren’t blind. They are based on what I know. I don’t know everything, so if you know things I don’t, please, demonstrate! Again, amazingly, you complain rather than enlighten.
    There is much evidence that shows that people exist, so it seems false for you to say those terms “have no solid foundation.” No, George Washington is not a moving goalpost.
    My ethic isn’t “made up”: it describes real things, and involves true statements. The real things are (for example), people, harm, and preferences. Examples of the true statements I made are “Hitler exists”, “Hitler did harm”, and “I don’t prefer harm”. These are true, and thus not “made up” in any sense that is problematic for my account.
    You say this is made up. How so? You say this is flimsy. How so? More importantly, what is false about my account? Nothing it seems. Is there something my account leaves out? If so, what?
    Sadly, you end by saying you are not going to do what would really help in this discussion: define god or good.
    To summarize: there is no (reliable) evidence showing that a perfect god exists, nor showing that there is a metaphysical, known, understood property called “good” and evil”.
    Don’t worry: my intuitions confirm that everything I said here is true! ;]
    Also, my intuitions told me that God said to tell you to send me all your money!
    (endless “intuition” jokes…)

  68. Hi jcb, sorry if my constant reference to materialism annoys you, but you have not revealed your own philosophical position and since the article is about materialism I am simply making the argument based on the content of the article. I also notice you require definitions for pretty much everything, right down to intuition and materialism. I gave you a concise definition of the God I believe in, which is not a personal creation but a well-known theology which has been articulate for 2 millennium, which you have plenty of access to since you seem to be on the internet and all. You mocked this definition, which is fine, but it reveals that you have little to no knowledge of historic Christian theology which makes these sort of conversations very difficult for me. I will need to allow you time to look of these definitions for yourself and study a bit about Christian beliefs before we will be able to have a productive discussion. Many of your questions and responses tell me that you have not even read the article. I’m more than happy to continue with you (provided you do not post any more novels; my time is a bit limited for such posts) but I will need you to do some due diligence of research into these topics first. Thanks. Cheers.

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