As always, let me thank you for a well written response and your continued participation. Thanks for being patient while I wrote this response - some real life stuff came up and I had to take a break, but I'm back now.
Before I go into the crux of our discussion about why morality is hard to define in an atheistic universe, let me answer your objections to Christianity and show that, indeed,Part I: Christianity Rocks!
Remember, these are just reasons why Christianity deserves a closer look over and above, say, Timoteoism. These aren't meant to be ironclad logical traps meant to force you to affirm the truth of Christ (though yes, you should do that), they are more gentle suggestions that maybe the
dissenters from Christianity might have missed some salient points about Christianity and Jesus Christ. For example, Argumentem ad Populem
is the oldest logical fallacy in the book, but I'm not using it to prove Christianity per se, just showing that there might be something going for it.Popularity:
You say it's bad logic to argue from Christianity's popularity. Sure, if we're trying to use that to prove necessarily Christian truth. If we're just being invited to take a closer look at the truth claims Christianity makes
it's obviously not bad logic - it's not even logic. It's just a suggestion. I don't think Christianity is true because 2 billion of my closest friends do, I belive it 'cuz a dude said he was gonna rise from the dead, which wasn't all that out of the ordinary, until said dude actually rose from the dead.Science:
We're so close to agreeing here.
Sure, Science isn't a direct, necessary result of Christianity or Christian societies. You say "some of the best scientists ever have been Christians or that many Christian scientists thought they were uncovering the glory of [God's] creation or whatever."
and that's close. Rather, I'd say the people who invented
the endeavor we refer to as science thought it was a Christian endeavor. I'd argue that science is as Christian as singing hymns or going to church Sunday morning - the people who invented it thought of it as a Christian thing to do.Slavery:
I'm saying Christians invented science, and saw it as a Christian thing to do.
To the inventers of science, Christianity is to Science as Apple Pie is to America.
Are you saying the founders of the African slave trade saw it as a distincly Christian enterprise? Even if you can show that (which is what it would take to show a true parallel), you have to realize that the folks who ended it (whose arguments trumped the ones you list) saw the abolition movement as a Christian enterprise as well.Mass x Acceleration:
This really seems like whacking Christianity with any available stick that comes to hand. Christianity is popular? Must have come about by force. Do you think that Womens' Suffrage came about solely through force as well? What about civil rights? Limited government? The idea of intrinsic value of humanity? If not, why argue that Christianity's propogation is solely due to guys with guns? I mean, look at how Christianity is spreading today - it's either by children born into families whose parents introduce it to them as something that they think is clearly good for them, or else by missionaries who tend to do significant charity work while spreading a message of peace and hope and love and good news. That's not exactly the conversions at gunpoint you seem to be envisioning.
Look, I could point out how the Caananites were sacrificing their firstborn to fire, and how anyone who could listen to their own child screaming as they were literally burned alive doesn't deserve a ton of sympathy here. I could point out that it's very reasonable of God to ensure that his chosen people don't take up that particular barbaric practice, and that given they were rather sponge-like in their worship of their neighbor's gods, God wanted a more surefire way to ensure this one didn't make it's way into Israel.
Rather, though, I think I'll point out two things:
1) You don't really have a problem with mass genocide either. As I keep pointing out below, there's no real objective standard for rightness or wrongness on atheism, so neither of us have a problem with it.
2) If you'd like God to consult you the next time He acts, He's open to that. All you have to do is clothe yourself in glory and righteous splendor, thunder down your voice from the heavens so that the whole earth can hear, humble all those who are proud in their heart, crush all the wicked where they stand, and then He'll admit (see Job 40:2-14, same passage that I mentioned before) that your moral judgements actually count for something. Until then, what you or I think about what is right and wrong isn't really relevant to the discussion.Part II: Morality on Atheism
To begin with, pleasure doesn't need to act or be a thing that can act in order to be considered good in some meaningful way.
Well, sure, in some
meaningful way. The opening 1. ... c5 is a good response to 1. e4 in chess - it avoids mirroring white's move, it makes a play for the center square d4, and it opens up the trade later on with white's center d pawn by giving up your non-center c pawn. It is thus definitely good in a meaningful way. But it's not really morally
good, is it? There's nothing ethically good about 1. ... c5. It's just a (good) move in chess.
Similarly, God is good means that God is ethically, morally, virtuously good. It means He is righteous when He acts and demonstrates His nature, in a way that pleasure isn't. Therefore, when I want to say 'murder is bad' and I want to trace the "why's" all the way to their source, I end up pointing to something objective
, something that actually exists in reality, in the same reality that potato bugs exist in, or Jupiter, or Australia. God, potato bugs, Jupiter, and Australia are all really really there. For reals. Now, granted, this thing is axiomatic - I at no point proved that God exists, I just took it as one of my givens with which my worldview operates.
But the Hedonist doesn't even have that! The Hedonist pursues his why's up to his axiomatic stopping point and ends up at an axiomatic ought statement, just a statement that says "We ought pursue pleasure." There's nothing in there that jumps the chasm to the is side of things. There's nothing intrinsic in pleasure itself that makes it worth pursuing, out here in the real world. All we have is an idea that everybody should pursue pleasure and that will be our working definition of good. Nothing magical is posited about pleasure itself that exists in the real world, rather it's just an axiomatic statement "We ought pursue pleasure" without any feature of reality
anchoring it to the real world.
This is really my central point that you have yet to address. Sure, both of us operate within axiomatic worldviews - it could hardly be otherwise. But at least I'm honest enough to axiomatically posit things that exist in the real world, so that (in my worldview) morality and goodness and truth are all actual concepts that have meaningful values in our world. The Hedonist, or the Rawlsian, or the Utilitarian, or whatnot all posit some ultimate idea or value, but they don't go that one crucial step further to actually posit that pleasure (e.g) actually is
good in the same way that Jupiter is
778 million kilomters from the sun.
I use the world "magical" very carefully in the above paragraph. This aspect of reality that confers rightness and wrongness, righteousness and unrighteousness upon objects that would otherwise be as dry as "increased dopamine levels in the brain" must be itself above nature, or supernatural. Looked at naturalistically, nothing in nature is good or evil. An earthquake might seem evil, until one realizes that naturalistically, those lives that it destroyed are just hunks of carbon whose constituent parts are slightly rearranged. A pandemic might seem horrendous, until one realizes that for every human live lost, a bacterial or viral life (or lives) was gained. This thing that it is the source of righteousness and unrighteousness must be above nature, because everything in nature when examined for it's intrinsic value betrays that it does not have any. But all this is really an aside, the main point is that Hedonists and other naturalistic moral ethicists don't anchor their moral hypothesis to reality.
You object to me "burying" my ought statement in my definition of God. Douglas Wilson (a pastor out in Idaho) and Christopher Hitchens put out a debate a couple of years on the subject "Is Christianity Good for the World." There was a documentary about the series of debates, it took it's name "Collision" because one of them (I think Doug Wilson) said debates like these are really less of a debate and more a collision of worldviews. The reason I bring all this up is that this objection of yours, I think, is more of a collision than a serious point. I'm absolutely playing word games by defining as God something that is just and good and holy - if God does not exist.
If he does not, in fact, exist, then all I'm really doing is packaging up all those things I baselessly have a preference for (rape vs. non rape, theft vs non-theft, strawberry ice cream vs. chocolate ice cream) and assigning those to my made-up God. This is all word games - assuming God does not exist.
Assuming He is actually out there, though - assuming there really is a self-existent ultimate being out there who prefers rape to non rape, theft to non-theft, and strawberry ice cream to chocolate ice cream
- then this is more than word games. Then God's nature decides what is good, and what is good is more akin to the ratio of primes to non-primes than a to a preference for jelly bean flavors. It is something real and something that we have a moral obligation to discover, and then follow. Similarly, asking me what a "bad" god would look like carries a hidden assumption. There is only one God (in 3 persons), and He is good - asking me to describe a bad version is making the implicit assumption that Gods are something that exist only in believers heads. (If you want a bad god-with-a-little-g, then alcohol is a great example. When it gets to the point where it is demanding total obedience over all aspects of a persons life (the way gods are want to do) then I think you and I can agree that it is a pretty horrific master and an evil god. But that is not really your point, is it?)
You ask,And finally, I think I can also legitimately ask why I should follow God or consider His nature to be good and just or whatever*splutter*
He invented the world. That's pretty good, isn't it? The Horsehead Nebula, nacho's, the pleasant buzz of lazy bumblebees on a warm summer day, hot tubs, sunshine, hikes in the middle of mountains across frozen lakes, log cabins puffing smoke out their chimneys telegraphing smores by the fire in the evening, coffee, human industry: all His idea. The Grand Canyon and Niagara falls and the Amazon River and the Mississippi River and Mount Baker and the wild-untamable-ferocious-yet-beautiful oceans, all four of 'em. The silent frozen desert of Antarticta, and the cacaphonic humid greenhouse of the rainforests. You. Me. Your friends, your relatives (even the unpleasant ones), your neighbors, your acquaintances, your hair. Every breath you take is yet one more gift from Him to you, one more way in which He is patiently inviting you to partake more fully in His goodness. For you to stand on your own two legs (that He gave you) and defiantly shake your fist (that He gave you) at Him and yell (with breath that He gave you) that your
moral intuitions (that He gave you) are way better than His morals and from now on you'll go on living (as long as He lets you) without Him or his morality, thank you very much, would almost be laughable - it if weren't so tragically common.
Really honestly and truly, it's statements like these that make me wonder if atheists objections to God are as based in logic as they claim they are.
Regarding the gang-rape thing you say it's a "qualitative difference in the experiences" and you agree with Mill about higher and lower pleasures. I mean, that's great and all, and I agree with you - the pain of rape, both physical and psychological, is horrendous, and probably doesn't compare to the sex act. But my point is that a hedonist or a utilitarian cannot rationally make this point. See, pain and pleasure are measurable.
There is some quantity of pain a person experiences during rape. So long as you get together enough men, that pain is balanced out by the admittedly lesser pleasure each man feels multiplied by the number of men perpretrating the crime, right? I mean, this whole thing is really perverse logic: if the hedonist objects to the experience of the victim, is it alright if the perpetrator drugs the victim first? Should the perpretrator kill the victim after they're done using her so that her life is shorter and thus she experiences less pain? I think this is a fundamental flaw in defining pleasure as good, and it's going to take more than some vague point on "higher and lower pleasures and all that" to convince me otherwise.
You object to my point about your admission of a lack of right and wrong existing in the real world, saying I was objecting to the notion that we can draw some inference about what is or is not right based on the fact that people often feel compelled to rationalize their actions post hoc.
Isn't this just as bad? The notion that we can "draw some inference about what is or is not right" is rather important, isn't it? I mean, you and I rationize our decisions to not eat babies
by rationalizing together and realizing that there is something intrinsically valuable about human life (that goes above and beyond their nutritional content) and thus it's wrong to eat them. I mean, if we're just saying right and wrong exist out there, somewhere, but we have no hope of ever discovering their true objective values, that seems to me to be just as bad saying right and wrong don't actually exist. It seems like my point still stands: under Christianity we can know the truth about what is good and live according to that, but under naturalistic morality either nothing is really right, or something is right but we don't know what. For all we know, it might be baby-eating. Worse, there's no use in trying to figure out what's right and what's not, cuz what is right or wrong is not based on our rationalizing about what is right or wrong.
Let me sum up.
With regards to point 1, we both agree. You've been trying to nibble around the edges to show how Christianity doesn't give rise to the morality that you and I know and love, but my trump card here is really that I don't have to say "yes it does." I can say in fact it has.
It's a historical fact that western civilization has been enormously influenced by Christianity, and you and I would think very different things about science, civil rights, intrinsic values on human life, and lots of other things if it weren't for Christian influence on western civilization. (I assume you're a member of "western civilization," if you're not I apologize for the assumption.)
With regards to point 2, for the most part, we agree. You're main point seems to be that Hedonism (and Rawlsianism, and Timoteism, and all the others) are allowed the same move that Christianity makes. Sure, my point isn't that they're not allowed the same move, it's that they don't really make it. Hedonism, for example, insists on stopping at "We ought follow pleasure." Rawlsian stops at "We ought treat others as though we agreed to this theoretical elaborate game beforehand." Christianity doesn't say "We ought behave as though there is a God who made the universe and these are His rules," it says "There is
a God and these really are
his rules. This is reality. I respect your view on things and your morality as well, I just think they're wrong. (and I respect you enough to tell you that.)
Could Hedonism make the same move Christianity makes? Sure! All it would take is saying there is some magical (see above) property about the increased dopamine levels in the brain that really is
good, that is, it is intrinsically valuable for it's own sake. That state of pleasure (in humans only, I assume?) is good, and holy, and pure, and just. Cheat on your wife? So long as she doesn't find out to give herself "negative" pleasure, it was a good thing to do - You are in fact obligated to do it. Steal something? Better not let anyone find out. Noble sacrifices are out - it's immoral to deny yourself any amount of pleasure, because pleasure is defenitionally good. It's important to note that - it's not just that there exists some theory out there that says we ought pursue pleasure, pleasure is
good. The goodness of pleasure is an unmeasurable, unverifiable part of reality. It doesn't follow from any part of the natural world, it's just plopped down, as magic and as unexplainable as the Christian God. In time, it will grow to consume your entire life - how could the very defintion of all that is good in the world not? - and become an unquenchable thirst for more and more pleasure. It will consume you.Pleasure
will have become your god.
Thanks for the debate, yo!