Christians Have No Ultimate Standard of Morality!

I just don't see where a Christian ethic based in a divine commander has any fewer problems than a Godless ethic, especially when Christians have understood so many different ways of obeying those historically conditioned commands down through the centuries. It just looks like a human enterprise to me, which has similar serious problems.

What we know is that down through the ages we have all come to better understandings about how to get along in our world. Not that there are still backward people who want to blow up abortion clinics and become suicide bombers, only that civilized people are, on the whole, better people than those of the past. There have been certain ethical improvements over the years which makes Hitler look better when compared to Genghis Khan; our problems with regard to racism seem "slight" by comparison to the evils of slavery in the South (and sanctioned from the Bible); and we no longer lynch people without a trial (when convicted, our death penalty is that we simply put them to sleep); the problem of equal pay for equal work for women is small when compared to the day when women couldn't vote and were regarded as chattel. With each successive improvement Christians began reading the Bible in light of these social developments, but for the most part they were against every one of them. Present day Christians stand on the shoulders of earlier Christians who interpreted the Bible in inhumane ways, and yet they claim they wouldn't have done so. That's just not probable.

So where does that leave us? In the same boat. Trying to get along with one another, to live decent and happy lives with one another the best we can. The problem is that Christians (and other religions of the book) believe the way we should live our lives is commanded and sanctioned in the Bible. That's the only difference. I think such a claim is a farce, given the history of the church. Just because Christian ethics have evolved in the same direction as civilized society has traveled doesn't mean the Christian can claim her ethic is better. I think a strong case can be made that the way society has traveled in turn changed how the church interpreted Biblical ethics, not vice versa.

Christians repeatedly argue that as atheists we have no reason not to murder others, or create mayhem. They claim we don’t have an ultimate standard for knowing right from wrong, or for abolishing such things as slavery.

But Christians are not off the hook here. Christian, as a believer in God, upon what basis does your God make the ethical and moral judgments he's made? On what basis does he apparently seem to consider Hitler and Genghis Khan in the wrong?

The philosophical Euthypro dilemma applies wherever the buck stops, with us, or with your God. That's why Erik J. Wielenberg talks about eternal Platonic values, in his book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. You must assume some eternal standard that exists apart from God if you wish to continue calling God "good." For if the word "good" means anything at all when applied to God, it means he's conforming to some standards of goodness. If not, then God is, well, God. He can command anything and call it "good" simply because he commands it.

So, we're in the same boat. Christians just fail to see it. It's ignorance on their part to say otherwise. Some things are just obvious, and that's all one can say about them.

Again, the bottom line is that Christians cannot say God is "good" without comparing him to a standard that is outside of himself, otherwise all they can say is that God is, well, God, and that's it. The characteristic of goodness is meaningless to God. God does what he does and calls it "good," no matter what he does. Anyone, including God, can call his actions and commands "good," if he defines the word good.

For all you know God has done evil in the past, or presently does evil, or will do evil in the future and simply call what he does "good." At that point we have no clue as the precise definition of the term as ascribed to God except to see how he behaves (and when we look at this world it doesn't look like God is good all). The fact that Christians believe God "doesn't lie" because he says so, doesn't mean he cannot lie, since whatever he does is by definition "good." If he lies about not lying and calls it "good," there is nothing we can say against his actions because he defines the word. Christians have no basis for believing what he says...none. God is, well, God, and that's it.

And to think Christians complain because as an atheist I don't have an “ultimate” standard for morality. Christians have no ultimate standard of morality too! No one does, not even your God.

So don't go pontificating to me anymore about how atheists have no reason to commit murder and mayhem if you cannot exonerate your God from doing likewise. If Christians want to maintain that God can do whatever he wants to us, then it merely means he's more powerful than any of us. It doesn't mean that what he does is truly good.

There is no ultimate anything, for anyone. Christians only claim the moral high ground. But claiming something doesn't make it true. They haven't been fully consistent or forthright about what it means to say God is the ultimate standard for goodness. It doesn't make any rational sense, the only sense God purportedly created in us, which is all we have to assess the claim that he is the ultimate standard of goodness.

Either none of us do, or all of us do (located in eternal metaphysical moral truths)! It's that simple. Sink or swim, that's our choice.

69 comments:

Bruce said...

Again, the bottom line is that Christians cannot say God is "good" without comparing him to a standard that is outside of himself, otherwise all they can say is that God is, well, God, and that's it.

Exactly. Christians cannot make any value judgments about God unless they are willing to admit that they are using a moral standard that is distinct from God. And this would mean that God is not the ultimate arbiter of good and evil. Unless they are willing to admit that, then I don't want to hear any more about how "Jesus loves me". The best you can say is that "Jesus says he loves me and I'll just have to take his word for it but he could be a real son-of-a-bitch instead".

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John:
We are of course going down the same path, you going directly to trhe point, and me, as usual, wandering and covering a great deal of the side paths.

The reason why I think both paths are necessary is that your path makes you vulnerable to the 'Creationist's Trap." The idea that certain 'eternal Platonic values' exist, like the idea that 'there is order, and are laws in the Universe' leaves open the possibility that both are true because they are part of a Creation. I don't happen to accept this, but I have to admit that there is no way to logically decide between 'that's just the way it is' and 'that's the way it is because it was created this way.'

The 'Creationist's trap' is the jump from 'A God' created the Universe this way' to 'MY God created the Universe this way.' That is why I am spending so much time and space proving that if a 'Moral Creator' exists, it cannot be the same as the YHWH of Judaism, or the 'Eternal Father' or 'Triune God' of Christianity. (I could go after Allah and Ahura Mazda as well, but there's no need to for this audience.) Either that, or all the developments in ethics that have happened since the Testaments are in fact wrong, and that slavery, the subjugation of women, Levirate marriage, the hypocrisy of Judah, and the 'Law of Hospitality' are truly good, and our condemnation of them is wrong and evil.

Which goes to the one serious weakness in your argument. This is the statement that 'You must assume some eternal standard that exists apart from God if you wish to continue calling God "good."'

While I would agree with that statement personally, it is also possible to argue that 'God is good by definition' and that 'good simply means going along with God's plan for the Universe.' People who hold this view --and I believe that this is a statement of the Triablogue position on the VT shootings -- argue, consistently, that if this position leads us to deductions we find morally repugnant or 'sick' this is merely a statement of our own limited understanding and not a weakness in the argument.

(Of course, as I argued in comments previously, this also leads to the conclusion that God has no will of his own, that he is locked in to his own plan and any 'choice' he makes must be determined by that plan, not a position that the Triabloguers would rush to embrace.)

Of course, the flaw in the position is thew same one I mentioned above, the necessity -- and impossibility -- of proving that 'God' and 'my God' are one and the same.

Sorry if I took to long on the obvious, but I thought these were worth stating.

John W. Loftus said...

Prup, I do believe we should press home the flaws in the morality of the God of the Bible, and I do. Keep doing what you're doing.

What I'm arguing for here is that this eternal moral standard cannot be God, especially if we want to describe God as "good." I don't think there is an eternal Platonic standard of morality. Some atheists like Wielenberg do. But if there is such a standard, then God must abide by that standard just as surely as we must. Two other things follow; 1) We can be moral without God; and 2) We can judge any purported actions by God based upon that standard.

However, if it becomes a logical contradiction to say there is something God must abide by, since by definition God is behind everything as the creator of it all, then there is no moral standard to judge God's actions as ultimately "good," just like there would be no moral standard to judge our actions as ultimately good. At that point we are in the same boat. There would be no ultimate moral standards for believer or non-believer alike.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I realized that after having posted a discussion of various positions, I failed to state my own. (Might as well, if I'm shoting at other people, put myself as a target as well.)

I do not believe in 'ultimate moral standards.' Since 'good' and 'evil' are judgments on specific actions of human beings, I believe that the terms are the responsibility of humans. However I also believe that communication, co-operation, ethics, and most particularly empathy are evolutionally 'programmed' into us because they are the most important survival traits we possess. This is why I believ that there is an observable progress in our ideas of what is ethical over time -- and in many ways our invention of communication tools from radio to the internet over the past century has immensely speeded up that progress as it has reduced our individual and group isolation.
I do not claim that this is a 'straight line' progress. Certainly we have had evidences of false starts, of wrong paths, etc. But in general we have and will continue to progress.

(Examples of that progress would include, besides the ones John has mentioned,

a) the replacement of despotism and hereditary absolute monarchy with democracy -- now the universal ideal of almost every country, even if it is honored in the breach and formalistically;

b) the increased understanding of and acceptance of various cultures and the increased blending in of facets of these cultures into the 'home cultures' of whoever is doing the blending (there's GOT to be an easier way of saying that without assuming our own culture as central -- help, anyone)

c) the abandonment of 'sacred-book based' sexual morality and the growth of a sexual morality more realistic and useful. (The trouble with the 'sacred-text' morality isn't just that it doesn't make sense, but it doesn't work because people can't be convinced to follow it.)

And many others I'll discuss sooner or later in the flood of Prupian words.

Lindsey said...

I think it's important for theists (of all sorts) to distinguish between atheists who are strict physicalist and those who aren't. For the pure physicalists, morality questions do indeed pose a serious problem. If morality is relative (which most serious philosophers would not agree with), then there is moral responsibility. Right and wrong are purely products of evolution, and they are in fact contingent upon our existence and our defining the concepts (for whatever survival purposes they serve).

However, you're hard pressed to argue that certain immoral acts are only immoral because evolution produced the sort of creatures that would label it as such. If that's true, then we could have developed (in some possible world) so that torturing babies for fun increased our survival and so we deemed in morally acceptable. Do you really believe that? Intuitively, there seems to be some sort of moral standard that predates our existence (or is independent of it), and we merely developed the capacity to recognize it.

Now this isn't a problem for the atheist who believes in physicalism-lite. They, after all, believe in abstract objects and propositions that are mind-independent. So they can fully accept this moral standard with no problem. But if you're dead-set on a purely physical world, best of luck holding anyone morally accountable for anything...

The point is, Christians are wrong in thinking that all atheists have no base for morality. But, many atheists should consider to what degree they are willing to sacrifice their physicalism for moral arbitrariness.

gwc said...

in the math world, we jokingly call the proof technique you describe Christians to use as proof by tautology--"this proof is true because i define it to be true"

Curiosis said...

Morality is a social construct. It exists only to allow humans to live and work together.

Imagine that you were all alone on an island. Can you do anything immoral? No, because there is no victim for your immoral act.

There is no objective morality because the rules are made by humans based on our desires.

I once read that murder will be considered immoral so long humans dislike being murdered.

We have morality for the same reason that sports have rules. Imagine a football game with no rules. It would be utter chaos, and likely nothing would ever be accomplished.

The rules of the game only make sense in the context of a goal. The goal in football is an exciting game where no one is injured, and everyone has a fair chance. Any rule contrary to these goals is discarded.

Logismous Kathairountes said...

I would like to say that most Christians I know understand that we attribute goodness to God, as the Creator, in a different way than we attribute goodness to a mere man. God is good in a different way than man is good. I wish we would use two different words for it, actually. It would get rid of the confusion that leads to misunderstandings like what we see here.

A man is good by conforming himself to God's will. God is, as you say, well, God. There is no way to describe the source of all being, that by which all things exist, in terms of existence. The closest you can get is tautology - He is what He is. "I AM that I AM". It's even a bit dicey to make the statement "God exists". I understand what people mean when they say it, (They mean "He does things") but properly, they should say that "God is that by which things exist".

That means that the statement "God is good" is used (irritatingly, to me) to mean "God is that by which good things are good".

We do not hold God to a standard of ethics above Himself. What resolves the conflict you're seeing in Christian doctrine is that our definition of 'absolute' (and 'ultimate') is, basically, 'that which God does'. Since He's the source of that which is absolute, we can be held to an absolute standard to which He is not held, being as He is the source of that absolute standard - To hold Him to it is a tautology - He is it. It is us holding ourselves to Him.

We're grateful to Him for having given us, for instance, the 10 commandments, since they give us what amount to good hints about how to hold ourselves to Him. We don't think that the written law is enough, or that it is the absolute standard of ethics.

Anyway, this difference between the way goodness is attributed to a man and the way it's attributed to God is why it's a key logical cornerstone of Christianity for Jesus to be fully man - It means that for Jesus to be good, He has to do the same thing that we have to do if we want to be good. Unlike God the Father, Jesus has to conform to the will of the Father in order to be good, just like we have to. Again, God the Father doesn't have to conform to His own will - because what he does is already in conformation to His will.

Furthermore, I think that the Moral Creator is the same as the YHWH of Judaism and the Eternal Father and Triune God of Christianity, and that He gives us various writings and wise men and prophets at various times to help us conform to the absolute standard of morality, which is Himself, but that those writings are not the absolute standard of morality. Find out what it means that Jesus said "Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard". Ok, I'll tell you: It means that God the Father, when He gives law, is a pragmatist. He gives laws according to the people who'll have to follow them. Jesus, on the other hand, is an impractical idealist, which I like about Him.

The law that God gives does evolve along with society - But the law that God gives is not the Christian morality. God is the Christian morality. The law that God gives won't save you from death any more than the laws that men give each other.

This is a very difficult subject to discuss, and it's one that is not often well understood. I hope I made sense.

John W. Loftus said...

What you said, Logismous Kathairountes, does make sense. What you've done though, is you've conceded that the word 'goodness' doesn't apply to your God. He is what he is, and he does what he does, and that's all we can say about him, if he exists.

But in conceding this you don't know whether he is good, do you? Is he?...or isn't he? You cannot say! You don't know whether he's a devil in disguise. Away then, with any talk about the goodness of God or his commands. The only reason a Christian should obey God's commands is because God says he should, or else. With the threat of hell, that makes God no different than robber with a gun to our head. But "good" what's that? He is what he is and he does what he does.

This sounds pretty much like what we mean when we say "man is the measure of all things." For the buck stops with us if there is no God. That's what we're left with. We can define what "good" is. In language reminiscient of how you describe your God, we are what we are. We do what we do. And that's all there is to it.

Thanks for writing.

LivingDust said...

Loftus,

You said - "Just because Christian ethics have evolved in the same direction as civilized society...."

The reason why society became civilized is because of the ethics clearly spelled out in the Word of God. Mans application of it has always been spotty, but the new law and new ethos came directly from Jesus Christ.

Christianity did not claim the higher moral ground, it IS the higher moral ground.

John W. Loftus said...

Livingdust, I think the evidence points in a different direction. Christians have been forced to re-read and re-think what the Bible said because of social movements for the most part, and most of these Christians were against these social movements.

Stu said...

Interesting post John. I have a few thoughts.

Firstly, if "man is the measure of all things", including morality, and "we can define what 'good' is", who is "we" and "man"? Is it the individual, or society, or the consensus of the human race? If it is society, what grounds do societies have for judging other societies? I think C.S. Lewis made this point in 'Mere Christianity'. For example, if a society saw it as 'good' for society to eliminate a race of people (e.g. the Jews in Nazi Germany), who judges whether this morality is itself moral? If it is the case that the human race in general constitutes a 'meta-society' in which morality is decided, what happens if everyone's morality is skewed, for instance if the Germans had won WWII and taken over the world? Would elimination of a race of people then become 'good' simply because it is deemed by the society to be good? And if the society is corrupt, who can judge it to be so, and on what grounds?

Sorry for playing devil's advocate here, these are some arguments that people use on me :-)

John W. Loftus said...

Stu, I don't like the Devil, nor his advocate. ;-)

But I like what Richard Carrier said about these questions here. Scroll down to January 24, 2007 date and download his presentation.

LivingDust said...

Loftus,

What teachings of Jesus Christ did Christians have to "re-read and re-think"?

BTW, His teachings, the highest moral ground for humanity, can only fulfilled in a persons life when that person is filled with and led by His Spirit.

John W. Loftus said...

Livingdust, teachings about women, racism, slavery, the death penalty, and war, silly.

John P said...

LivingDust said:

"The reason why society became civilized is because of the ethics clearly spelled out in the Word of God. Mans application of it has always been spotty, but the new law and new ethos came directly from Jesus Christ."

So the only civilized world is that that evolved from the word of Jesus Christ? I guess that rules out China or India? Only western (read: Christian) civilizations need apply?

LivingDust said...

Loftus,

You said - "Livingdust, teachings about women, racism, slavery, the death penalty, and war, silly."

Ill treatment of women, racism, slavery, the death penalty and war were part of human society well before Jesus was born and continued after he died. All of them continue to this very day. The vile sins of this world have and will always be with us.

Jesus came to redeem mankind through His atoning death. He did not come to solve the ills of human society. The world needs to "re-read and re-think" the Bible and more clearly understand the truths of Christianity.

What you need to do is find a society that rests on a Godless ethic and go live in it for a few years and THEN return to the USA where we have a deep, longstanding God-filled ethic and try to convince us that there is no difference.

Benny said...

LivingDust,

I believe the point John was making was that misogyny, racism, slavery, death penalty, and war are all things that most rational people have come to condemn, but which the Bible does not. If the Bible is an accurate description of your touted God-filled ethic, then it seems we don't really need it any more, if we ever did in the first place. Because we have grown beyond the moral and ethical teachings contained in the Bible.

Yes, there's certainly a difference between the US and "god-less" societies...

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies":

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

Another study, which suggests strong belief in both God and the Devil, such as espoused by Evangelicals, is correlated with high homicide rates:

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-7.html

Your God-filled ethic doesn't seem to be all that it's cracked up to be.

Logismous Kathairountes said...

John,

There's no way, under my account of things, that He could possibly be a devil in disguise. For God to be evil would be like for biology to get a fever. It doesn't make sense. Sytax error! Statement does not parse!

Your argument seems to go:
1)IF God is the absolute standard of ethics
2)THEN He cannot be called good.
3)THEREFORE He might be evil
4)THEREFORE He must not be the absolute standard of ethics

Step #3 is incorrect - God cannot be called evil for the same reason that He cannot be called good.

Furthermore, it is possible to have a telos that is not outside of oneself. A Christian follows God's will (this is different from obeying His commands) for the same reason that a computer computes or a sailboat sails - It's what we were made to do. It's a sad state we're in to have to be threatened to do what we were created to do.

In sum: God is the absolute standard of morality, so it's silly to ask whether God is good or evil, BUT it's not nonsense to talk about the goodness of God or of His commands, because He is that by which things are good.

Also, just as a side note (I don't intend to discuss it very far): Think about what it means for something to "be what it is", or to "do what it does", and "that's all there is to it". I've thought about it a lot, and it seems like there can only be one being, numerically speaking, for whom that can logically be true: If I am what I am, and that's all there is to it, and you, in your activity of being what you are, happen to change me, then suddenly we find out that I'm not what I am anymore... Just something to think about. Basically, you can't make everybody into God, because people change each other, and God doesn't change. That which "is what it is" doesn't become something else - And I know I'm becoming something else all the time.

Nina said...

LivingDust,

Since you are a staunch Christian, you would consider anyone who doesn't subscribe to your faith system as godless. 'cos if you admit a Muslim or Hindu is a person-of-god, you indirectly admit that their faith system is also TRUTH.

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What you need to do is find a society that rests on a Godless ethic and go live in it for a few years and THEN return to the USA where we have a deep, longstanding God-filled ethic and try to convince us that there is no difference.
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Since you don't define what is a godless society, let me take the freedom to assume all non-christian societies are godless as per you. That makes India, Dubai, Tibet and a good majority of nations to be godless. If you say there are no sense of morality in these country, all I can wish is that you read some newspapers or search on internet so that you will not be pitied as a hapless fundamentalist. In countries like India, the morality of western countries - especially the US are spoken of with contempt. The hindu lobby there, just like you, would give you books and scriptures older than the first ever copy of bible to prove their point.

Whereas i higly respect the civil freedom the US gives to its citizens, it is really condemnable to see how such a great country is bowing to the pressure of christian fundementalists and infringing on personal freedom these days. If your faith has a virtue, it will exist on its own merit. It will not have to be put as a law.

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Ill treatment of women, racism, slavery, the death penalty and war were part of human society well before Jesus was born and continued after he died. All of them continue to this very day. The vile sins of this world have and will always be with us.
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You miss the point. The whole discussion is about morality of religion(Christianity in this forum). Not only that the christian god doesn not condemn all these but also condones at times. It was only after the mankind in general recogonised most of these are immoral or brutual, that christian fundamentalists were forced to adapt an re-interpret bible to fit the bill.

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Jesus came to redeem mankind through His atoning death. He did not come to solve the ills of human society. The world needs to "re-read and re-think" the Bible and more clearly understand the truths of Christianity.
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I don't have a problem if that is what you think. Your take. I can't beleive that a preacher who was put to death some 2000 years back is my savior.

John W. Loftus said...

Logismous Kathairountes, if we cannot call God either good nor evil, then God is, well, God, and that's it, if he exists.

Then why are we supposed to obey him? Because he tells us to. If we don't he threatens us will hell, so we must obey out of fear, and that's it. How can we love a being who is neither good nor evil? If he's neither good nor evil then he could tell us to murder someone, or practice child sacrifice, or own a slave (and in the Bible that's just what we see). We still want to know if what he commands us is "good." But by your admission we cannot say that. God is, well, God, and that's it, if he exists.

There is likewise no reason to suppose he acts in truthful and loving ways toward us, either. He may be planning to reward those of us who are skeptics with eternal bliss for following the evidence, rather than gullible people who were blinded by faith. You cannot trust a God who is known to be neither good nor evil. He cannot be trusted. Ours is to blindly obey.

However, I have some moral notions about murder, rape, child sacrifice, and slavery that tell me these things are wrong, and so is being untrustworthy and unloving. I could be wrong, of course, but those are my strongly held notions. With those notions I ask whether it's rational to believe in such a God, and I conclude that this is one of several reasons why I don't.

At this point, the whole notion of God’s goodness means nothing to us at all, as John Beversluis has argued: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards."

LivingDust said...

Jesus Christ (the founder of Christianity) DID NOT come to this earth to create a new morality. He came to redeem the human race from its fallen condition. He cannot be shaken, thwarted, coerced, diverted or manipulated. Wars, racism, death, destruction, ill treatment of women, disease and slavery (all conditions of mankind) do not change God. God is beyond good - He is Holy. He is sovereign and immutable. The goal of the Christian life IS NOT about "morals" its about imputed righteousness and holiness for a fallen race of beings.

richdurrant said...

Someone above stated that God doesn't change he would have to be the same always. If he needed prophets in biblical times why not now? Does God want us to be left guessing at what this or that meant in the bible? Watching us be in such confusion over who, if anyone , is right? Doesn't it follow that if God doesn't change he would be consistant in having a prophet now to be his mouthpiece to us and clear up all these problems we have in understanding the bible?
And Loftus, there are those of us who, like you, do good things because we want to and not out of fear of hell. I may subscribe to different things that I consider good which you don't, no surprise, but I also don't put you in an automatic immoral state because your an atheist.

Lindsey said...

John,
You said: However, I have some moral notions about murder, rape, child sacrifice, and slavery that tell me these things are wrong, and so is being untrustworthy and unloving. I could be wrong, of course, but those are my strongly held notions.

Does that mean you are conceeding the existence of an objective moral notion. Or do you believe the moral judgements you hold on those issues are really just contingent on how we evolved?? Or do you think we evolved to point of being able to recognize moral truths. I'm curious to know what sort of athiest you are. Because if you really want press home that your morality is superior to that of Christianity, then you ought to make sure your morality is based on a firm foundation (of sorts). Otherwise you leave yourself wide open to counter attack (at least when you condemn the morality of Christianity). If those notions are only strongly held, but not backed by some objective standard, then you can't really judge any other system of morality and say it is worse. By saying one system is worse than another, you conceed that there is some ulitimate standard by which you are judging them both because you argue that yours more closely matches that standard. If not, then really you're just saying you prefer you're sort of morality, and well, that's just a matter of preference.

John W. Loftus said...

Lindsey, I fully agree with Michael Shermer in his book, The Science of Good and Evil. Get it to understand my view if you'd like.

The way it stands is that my moral notions against rape and murder and slavery are quite simply obvious. You can't go any deeper than that.

As I've said, there are no ultimate foundations for morality for any of us. There is no ultimate reason to be good. There is no ultimate reason to go on living. But there are plenty of non-ultimate reasons. These reasons are obvious to me, and used to judge the ancient barbaric God of the Bible with. I can certainly compare my non-ultimate reasons against the Christian non-ultimate reasons and conclude mine are better than theirs. But these reasons are not the only ones I rejected Christianity, either.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

L.K.:
There is a classic scene in animated cartoons where a snake, chasing a prey, manages to tie himself into a pretzel shape, or a bow-tie. You are doing a good job of acting out this scene.
I don't know if you've been reading my series "...Unless a better be provided." in which I am dealing with precisely this sort of 'moral creationism.' (Part 2B will be up before the end of the week, btw.) If not, I'd appreciate if you did and your comments on it.

In the first place, you say "A Christian follows God's will (this is different from obeying His commands)..." How do we know God's will except through his commands? (Are you accepting some form of Origen's 'double faith' theory, where the commands are for the masses, but the elite has some special knowledge of his will? Or are you saying something else -- or nothing, as I suspect.)

You also say that "God is the absolute standard of morality" but then, either the god you are talking about is not the same as the 'god of the Testaments,' or our morality is totally wrong. We are wrong to think of Levirate marriage, or slavery, or putting our family above the 'Law of Hospitality' as wrong.

We are wrong to think of rape -- of an unbetrothed female (which, in Biblical times referred to one who was barely over puberty) -- as a more serious offense than claiming your wife wasn't a virgin.

We are wrong to think that there is nothing wrong with having sex with your wife during her period.

We are wrong to seek medical help for communicable skin diseases rather than taking the sufferer to the priest and making suitable offerings.

We are wrong not to put to death our rebellious children.

(But perhaps you are like Marcion and reject the Old Testament and the Jewish roots of Christianity entirely. So let's look at some of the New.)

We are wrong, if we discover a burglar in our house, to defend ourselves or prosecute him, instead we should call him back and point out to him the valuables he missed.

We are wrong not to hold our property communally, like the early Church did.

(For that matter, we are wrong to condemn polygamy, because, as I point out repeatedly, 1 Timothy and Titus accept it except for deacons, bishops, or overseers -- depending on the translation.)

You also argue, in relation to Christians following God's will, "It's what we were made to do." This means either that Christians are somehow different from the rest of us -- and then what about converts. Were they not made to follow God's will and then suddenly, retroactively made to follow it? Or you are taking the same position that some Muslims do, that everyone was born Christian only they didn't know it, and they do not 'convert' but 'revert' to Christianity. (For Muslims, replace Christian and Christianity with Muslim and Islam, of course.)

Bruce said...

richdurrant: I may subscribe to different things that I consider good which you don't, no surprise, but I also don't put you in an automatic immoral state because your an atheist.

Just wondering, do you think you represent the majority or minority viewpoint about atheists? And if you don't need God to be good, then why bother with him? Because he threatens you with eternal damnation? Sounds like a real good guy to me.

LivingDust: Jesus Christ (the founder of Christianity) DID NOT come to this earth to create a new morality. He came to redeem the human race from its fallen condition.

There we go again, punishing the children for the sins of the parents. This God guy just sounds better and better the more I learn about him.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

richdurrant: (Btw, Lindsey and Living Dust, I have much to say to you, but have to go out for a couple of hours, so it will have to wait.)

Your comment about "does God want us to be left guessing at what this or that meant in the bible?" is interesting. I argued that if the Bible were written by God, he was foolish not to either wait until printing was invented, or to 'inspire' its invention before he wrote his book.

That way we might still argue over the meanings or translations, but we'd at least be sure we had the originals, without later additions (like the 'story of the woman taken in adultery' which, I was saddened to discover, was almost certainly not original.)

Anonymous said...

Objective moral values assumes a kind of ultimate goal or cosmic design plan for human beings, which makes no sense on naturalism but makes good sense on theism (which presumes a design plan for humans).

richdurrant said...

bruce:Just wondering, do you think you represent the majority or minority viewpoint about atheists?

Rich: Don't know don't care where I fit here to be honest.

bruce:And if you don't need God to be good, then why bother with him? Because he threatens you with eternal damnation? Sounds like a real good guy to me.

Rich: Are you a law abiding citizen because of the threat of jail or because you want to be?

My point was, bruce, there are those who do good because they want to and not out of fear of eternal damnation.

Prup, I just don't see how a God who is suppose to guide us would leave us guessing at any point in time. If he waited until the printing press was around, that's alot of people left out of the loop. It just doesn't make sense that God would not provide a way for us to know his will, especially since there are many different kinds of things we deal with today that aren't going to be mentioned in an ancient text.

Lindsey said...

John,
By saying that your moral intuitions are *obvious* you are saying that there really is a fact of the matter when it comes to morality. Do you think slavery, child prostitution, sacrifices, etc could *ever* be morally right? If not, then you're admitting that there are necessary moral truths. If moral truths are necessary, then they *by definition* can not be contingent. If our morality is a product of evolution, then it is contingent (could have been otherwise), and so you can't really hold the obvious moral truths that you do. You're forced to admit that it is possible for such obviously immoral acts to actually be moral in other possible circumstances (worlds, etc).

jay said...

I think logismous answered the "God is good" question effectively, so I'll take a stab at the civil rights question (though not to a level that others could, and I'll probably get beat down).

To claim that "they (christians) were against every one of them (progressive changes)" lumps all people who did anything under the banner of Christianity to be of one mind, which has never been the case in all of history.

While there is some doubt whether Abraham Lincoln himself was a "bible-believing Christian", there is no doubt what he did was "good", and therefore of God (as are all truly good things - isn't that convenient?). There is no doubt that there was a growing movement of Christians soundly speaking out against slavery well beforehand, as evidenced by documents here http://www.tektonics.org/classics/slaverevolt.html

The bible does not specifically condemn slavery per-se, but does condemn kidnapping, man-selling, and battery, which were all functions of early American slavery. Slavery in ancient times, as I understand it, was a voluntary way of paying off debts, like bankruptcy, and was for a limited period of time - 7 years max, unless the slave wanted to continue on permanently. Mistreatment of slaves (as was common practice in pre civil-war America) was strictly forbidden. It doesn't make slavery okay, but it begs some extra thought and attention to the subject beyond patent dismissal.

Martin Luther King, Jr, obviously was a Christian who founded his passion for civil rights on a biblical foundation. Women's equality is arguably first found in the New Testament, where the testemony of women is relied upon to demonstrate the empty tomb. The equality of all men, in which anti-racism finds its strongest case, is directly from scripture. Even the parable of the Good Samaratin is an example of breaking down racism in ancient culture.

Also, I'm sure you're aware that the justice system of the western world as we know it is rooted in Levitical Law.

False and twisted interpretations of scpriture have been used to justify evil, that is obvious. But someone could just as easily twist darwinian evolution to justify genocide, racism, classism, mysogeny, irresponsible genetic manipulation, human and animal experimentation, etc. That doesn't prove it to be false any more than twisted christianity proves christianity false.

I'm curiuos if you are suggesting that atheists are responsible for most of the "good" progress in the world? I would concede that its possible for non-christians to do good (if Lincoln was a Deist, for example). To not concede that would be rediculous. But what I think the position of most christians on this board is, is that all good is of God, and belief is not a prerequisite. In the same way, all truth, wisdom, mercy, and love is also of God, though it may not all come from believers. Its a bold claim, but if God indeed is, then He owns everything.

I'm kind of surprised, though, with some of these statements. Surely you've heard these responses before... yet still the same soundly refuted broad brush comments about christianity keep surfacing as if they've never been addressed.

I get the feeling these same debates will continue in identical form for thousands of years... I think my short time is probably better served doing something else more productive, like showing people that God is good, rather than telling them.

Thanks for the reminder, John.

John W. Loftus said...

You're welcome Jay.

If God does exist after all, then the only thing he will care about is whether we were good to other human beings. So, let's do so.

Lindsey,

Have you read Shermer's book already?

While you order it and read it, you might try to explain to me how there are eternally existing Platonic ideas and moral values out there which are not part of the material universe.

LivingDust said...

Bruce,

The Doctrine of Sin is a study unto itself and quite lengthy. I'll just say this - every human being is born with a disease - sin. Sin is rebellion against Holy God. No human being is immune from its many consequences. It is 100% fatal.

Now this will likely throw you for a loop, but God in His grace, He knowing the horrible consequences and effects of sin saw fit to subject every human being to death. Eternal life in the sin condition would be a miserable, horrible life. Death is a graceful escape from eternal life in the sin condition.

God did send a remedy.

John W. Loftus said...

Livingdust, have you ever thought about what it means to say we were born in rebellion (or as rebellious creatures)?

A baby cannot rebel. It doesn't have the ability to think coherently yet in order to rebel.

The only possible way you could think this if your God blamed that baby for his parents (or Adam's) sin.

But that's absurd. You do realize this, don't you? I can no more be blamed for my great granfather's actions than that baby can for her parents.

The only reason you believe this is because you believe an ancient writer named Paul who got this belief from the non-canonical book called The Wisdom of Solomonchapter 2:23-24. This book had more of an influence on the New Testament writers than most any other canonical book in the Old Testament. Augustine, for instance, quotes from it 300 times.

LivingDust said...

Loftus,

A newborn human baby has all the traits and characteristics necessary for rebellion, just as a baby bird has all the traits and characteristics for winged flight.

When the baby bird hatches from its shelled egg it cannot fly. It has not sufficiently developed. Similiarly, a human baby when born does not have the capacity or ability to rebel, but with ample development it will begin to rebel and show its self centered nature for all to see.

A human baby is not condemned for its fathers or grandfathers rebellion. It will, at a very young age, confirm its inherent nature by exhibiting rebellion.

Humans, confirming the Book of Genesis, are a fallen race of beings, who experience death because of there inherent nature and propensity for rebellion.

Even WITHOUT the explaination we are provided by the Old Testament and New Testament, simple observation and study point to mankinds rebellion against each other, our environment and the laws of the single being - God.

God is Holy. He is Sovereign. He is Immutable. Rebellion against Him is futile and will be forever banished from His presense.

He has a cup of wrath for sinful, rebellious, unholy human beings and angelic beings. Nothing can endure His fierceness.

John W. Loftus said...

God is Holy. He is Sovereign. He is Immutable.

Is this some sort of chant or something, akin to "Allah is Gracious...Allah is Good...Allah is Great?" ;-)

Seriously, what exactly have I done that is so bad to deserve eternal punishment? I followed my mind, the one your God purportedly created in me. I slighted him by not believing in him. Terrible. Terrible.

We who live in democratic free lands disagree on everything...everything. From weight loss techniques to religious beliefs. And we do so sincerely. Have you ever heard someone say, "You don't accept Atkin's diet because your heart is hardened and wicked?"

That's simply laughable. (Sorry).

Your arguments are quite simply silly...and absurd.

But you sure can chant well. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Poor little John is a victim

LivingDust said...

Loftus,

Don't be disingenuous. You know exactly what I am saying.

You and I are subject to the laws and precepts of the single being, the Creator of the universe, the great I AM. No matter how much we stick our head in the sand, His ways prevail, His laws stand firm, we are called to His righteous standards.

I've expressed to you what I have observed and learned about our Creator God. You can deny all the evidence and proof that blasts you in the face from every direction, but does He change His character? No, not for you, not for anybody. The Creator does not bow to the created. The created bows to the Creator.

Unless, rebellion has the heart.

live-n-grace said...

"It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." - Patrick Henry

Our "wonderful democracy" is based on Christianity. I would also recommend watching "Amazing Grace" and the first push for the freedom of slaves was by, gasp, a Christian! We are corrupt from birth. To say that only society is corrupt and we are born innocent is complete nonsense. How did society get corrupt in the first place? To say that we can become better by education and knowledge is also complete absurdity. Cho was at a university, right? Then to throw in that Christians bomb abortion clinics is also foolishness. That is taking those on the outskirts of Christianity, that don't even follow the basics of Christianity, love thy neighbor as thy self.

John, reread your post and then tell me what you have done so bad to deserve eternal punishment. You're straight up denial of God is the single most unforgivable sin. Yet only God knows when this is.

Yet I wouldn't be complaining about eternal punishment and God not being good. He has given you a chance to believe. He as sent his son to die for your sins so that you might have eternal life. That God, the creator of the universe, would die for us, would you not say that is amazing? No, you wouldn't and that is what I find quite amazing.

Heather said...

Live-n-grace,

Do you actually have a reference to a paper of Patrick Henry's that actually has that quote? From what I've been able to find, the quote is falsly attributed to him -- it can't be found in his surviving papers.

** I would also recommend watching "Amazing Grace" and the first push for the freedom of slaves was by, gasp, a Christian! ** The movie also left out the fact that the ship captain was a slave trader for quite some time after converting. I also believe that the push for freedom of slaves was started by the Quakers and another group that most Christians also persecuted.

Lindsey said...

John,
The same way that the concept of a triangle (as an abstract object) just is... mind-independant. The same way that P and -P is a contradiction, in this world or any other. The same way that the number 2 is prime... you get the idea.

Maybe on the book, college textbooks set me back a pretty penny as it is.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Yeeesh! I go to Downtown Brooklyn, take a nap, and watch some tv, and look what happens!

Lindsey: before I get to your points, you can probably find the Shermer book in your college library, or in a decent-sized city library if your college is a strongly Christian one. (I was hoping Questia had it, but they only have his THE BORDERLANDS OF SCIENCE:Where Sense Meets Nonsense. Still worth getting, though.)

Now to your points.

You argue for the existence of some 'objective moral standard,' or deny that an atheist can judge a moral system. But I just don't get this argument. There has been an observable development in our understanding of ethical behavior throughout the years, a development that has speeded up immensely over the past century. We have come to understand ourselves better, our interrelatedness better, our responsibilities better. No, it isn't a straight-line development (or we wouldn't have GWB as President) and certainly some areas have not been a major part in it (particularly the Islamic World -- which IS changing, but much more slowly and with much more resistence).

But yes, I can argue that the 'common opinion of mankind' has changed in the right direction on this. I can -- and will when I (finally) reach Part V -- suggest certain principles that are useful for constructing a better ethical system.

But, as I argued in Part I of my series, it is almost better to accept the idea of a 'God-given' objective moral standard. Because that definitively proves the 'God of the Testaments' is NOT the 'moral creator.'

Can you explain, btw, how you argue that "If our morality is a product of evolution, then it is contingent (could have been otherwise), and so you can't really hold the obvious moral truths that you do"? I DO argue that our ethical sense is a product of evolution. But I argue that for a conscious creature, communication, cooperation, and empathy are necessarily survival traits and that an ethics based on these -- that is on respect, honesty, and responsibility -- is not 'contingent.'

But of course all ethics are determined by the specific situation. Perhaps there could be another world where such acts as you mention COULD be moral. If we reach a time where we have to deal with such a situation, then our ethical sense will change. (After all, my claim is that our ethical sense is 'developing' not 'fully developed.' A hundred years from now, or maybe ten years from now, we'll look back at some of our current moral judgments with wonder -- the way we look back at the condemnation of mixed-race marriages a few decades ago and wonder what we were thinking of.

Not my clearest comment, but hopefully I made my point.

Lindsey said...

Prup,
I appreciate your honesty in saying that "perhaps there could be another world where such acts as [I] mention could be moral." That's really what I was getting at with the contingency stuff. It seemed to me (and all I really wanted was clarification) that John was arguing that his moral intuitions were correct, and would under other circumstances still be correct. In other words, in no possible world would child prostitution (let's say) be moral. That makes his moral truth claim necessary (which by definition means it couldn't be any other way no matter the circumstance). That leads straight to there being at least *some* necessary moral truths (evolution is contingent, so they'd have to be independant of that). But if you think they really could be otherwise (though I don't think that's very rationally persuasive for some moral claims, including child prostitution), then you are free to believe in moral relativism consistently. In which case, go for it, though I won't jump on that boat. But if you want to make concrete (non-relative) moral judgements, then you can't go that route.

For example, how can you call the immoral acts of the OT immoral if what we believe to be moral today is going to change tomorrow? I know you don't think it's likely to head that way, but let's just say it did. Then you're critique is without a solid base. (I'm less certain of this then the prior paragraph)

John, I just wanted to know if you were fully committed to moral relativism. If you are, then there are some serious problems that ensue (as far as what could possible have been considered moral). But if you're not, then you have to deal with the Plato-esque moral standard. That's all. I just couldn't read all of your responses without seeing you appeal to both, which of course is contradictory. But maybe I just read them wrong.

Lindsey said...

Sorry for the horrible grammatical errors. And fyi, I go to one of the largest most liberal secular universities in the country. Shocker I know! Maybe after exams I'll hunt the book down.

John W. Loftus said...

Lindsey, for the sake of argument let's say that everything [EVERYTHING] we believe is based upon our genes and social environment, okay, which isn't what I'm arguing, although there is a real force to such an argument. Think about this. What if relativism is the case? Again, what if everything we believe is because of when and where we are born? It could be, couldn't it?

Now exactly how is this assertion logically inconsistent? By claiming this someone is claiming to know something that is objectively true, which he cannot say unless he gives up the notion that everything we belive is relative and "determined." So what? It could still be the case. And if he affirms relativism, he may just get lucky to be right about it, even though his belief in relativism is based upon his social conditions, and even if he has no other objective reasons for this claim. Again, it could be the case.

I don't think relativism can be refuted, do you now see why? Again, just because someone might believe everything is relative does not render his belief in relativism inconsistent or logically contradictory in any way. It could still be the case regardless of his socially and genetically caused reasons for believing it.

However, if relativism is the case, then by claiming it's logically inconsistent to affirm relativism you may exclude as impossible what might still be the case.

Lindsey said...

John,
I never said moral relativism on its own was logically inconsitent. I have other reasons to believe its false, but that's not the point. The point is, it's logically inconsistent to be both a moral relativist AND a moral objectivist. This is clearly true, and there's no getting around it. The inconsitency I saw in your argument was that you appealed to BOTH, but you must pick one. So which will it be?

The deacon has a post on this, and the comments are insightfull. Timmo quoted Russell:
"I am accused of inconsistency, perhaps justly, because although I hold ultimate ethical valuations to be subjective, I nevertheless allow myself empathic opinions on ethical questions. If there is any inconsistency, it is one that I cannot get rid of without insincerity." Unquestionably, Russell is persuaded in the existence of objective, moral values. He is caught in an intellectual bind between his deep seated intuitions about morality and his philosophical views about logic and language.

For what it's worth...

John W. Loftus said...

Lindsey, I was making the argument that if either one of these atheistic ethical positions obtains, then we have good reasons to be moral without settling that dispute. There are two possible ways for atheists to justify their morals, okay? Christians cannot justify their morals in an ultimate standard. So we are all in the same boat, trying to justify morality. Again I offered two possible ways for an atheist to do this. My argument was that Christians have no way to do this.

Besides, if moral relativism isn't logically inconsistent, as I think you admitted, then any other reason to reject it by looking at evil acts which we'd all reject as horrific. However, moral relativism is consistent with us all agreeing that these evil acts are indeed evil acts (i.e., torturing a child for the fun of it). Just because we all agree that this is evil doesn't make it objectively wrong, on relativist terms anyway.

Logismous Kathairountes said...

Prup:

I'll check out your series when I get time. For now I'll address your comment.

I would reject that 'double faith' theory. How do we know God's will except through His commands? Recall that all earthly communication is untrustworthy, in that words change meanings, and each person has different ideas of what a word means: So it's a paradox for God (Who is unchanging - Universal) to issue commands as words (which change - Particular). The solution to this paradox is the Holy Spirit - Who is a spirit in common to all believers. Here's how we know what God's commands are, when we do happen to know what they are (sometimes we don't): We have His Spirit.

As for the issue of the morality accepted by historical Christians changing through time: If no Christian were to hold the correct morality, ever, this would not contradict Christian doctrine, which is that we are all sinful. I know you've heard it before: "Not perfect, just forgiven."

But besides that, there's "Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard." Sometimes God gives different laws to different people. This is part of the paradox I mentioned above - That the Universal God should give particular laws to particular people. It's a paradox that is solved by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, by which we can discern what God wants for us individually.

Christians are different from the rest of you. Find out what Jesus meant when He said that we must be born again. Converts are not merely 'converted'. The old person is killed (this is baptism) and recreated. In Christ I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. Thanks be to God!

The fact that a person can be killed and recreated is another central paradox of Christianity, which does not come about by any earthly power, but which God does even though it's paradoxical. He can do things that are impossible because He's omnipotent - That's what it means to be omnipotent, and it's why atheists don't think that an omnipotent being can exist.

Every miracle is such a paradox - For instance, the bush that burns and is not consumed, or the water that turns instantly into wine - Which is why atheists don't believe in miracles.

Anyway, we're going to have a sticking point about paradox. I'll sum up what I think: When God created the universe, He created physics and logic along with it. Physics says how things happen in the universe. But sometimes, God decides that some particular thing should be done a different way - And when I believe in both physics and logic and in God's power, I believe in a paradox.

I understand that you might not believe in anything beyond physics and logic, and so for you, paradox = wrong. Since I believe that physics and logic were made by God, paradox = wrong is a special case which only applies in things that don't have anything to do with God.

Speedwell said...

Christians are different from the rest of you. Find out what Jesus meant when He said that we must be born again. Converts are not merely 'converted'. The old person is killed (this is baptism) and recreated. In Christ I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.

I used to be a "born-again Christian." Now I am an atheist. How do you account for this?

By the way, you can't tell me I was "never really a Christian." I was just as much a Christian as any church-reared, devout young lady could be. Otherwise you are going to have to tell me how you can tell the difference between someone who believes that she is a Christian and is right, and someone who believes she is a Christian and is wrong, at a point in their lives before either of them leaves the faith.

One Wave said...

First of all,

Clap,clap,clap...standing ovation for logismous kathairountes...outstanding!!!


Now my gloves are off, respectfully.

John said:
"We who live in democratic free lands disagree on everything...everything."

Yes, it is nice to live where we have the time to disagree and have civil discussions about it.

Not everyone has that luxury and for them, the difference between Christians and the rest is real and obvious.

Being born and raised in a culture dominated by Christian morals is inseparable to your psyche.

Go live in a country that has no trace of biblical ethics and then come back and tell us how we have no standard for morality.

If you are reading the Bible as a textbook or religious guide then of course you would come up short. God is living. The Being He is cannot be contained in the Bible any more than your being can be contained in the letters you have written or the blog you are operating.
You are alive, and your actions may change depending upon situations, your writing may not reflect your entire person. In order for me to really know you, I must meet you and see you live day to day, listen to what you say, watch what you do and ask questions.

Logismous,

I still think I know you ;)

The only point I am at odds with you about is that God created physics and logic along with the universe....
From my perspective, these are things that we give names to in order to make sense out of what we see. I believe that God created all of space and all it contains just as He Himself is. The universe and all that is, simply is the way He made it and continues through His command.
All that we learn about it is like preschool and as we learn about realities we were unaware of before, we give those realities or concepts names and think we are smart.

The universe is a paradox in itself and that's one reason I don't understand this notion that God must be all we think He should be when the world around us itself is not exactly what we expect it should be.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

If moral standards are to have meaning then we need justice. If crime ultimately pays then there is no practical reason to be virtuous. Since justice isn't dispensed perfectly in this life, it must be dooled out perfectly in a state beyond this life. In order for perfect justice to be dispensed after this life then you need a morally perfect Judge.

One Wave said...

John,
Another point here:

"A baby cannot rebel. It doesn't have the ability to think coherently yet in order to rebel."

I agree with you, but I observe in myself and others that we would rather be the leader in our own sphere than to follow the dictates or preferences of another. Whether benevolent or otherwise, the desire to rule is evident in most people, or so I observe.

That is how I think God perceives rebellion.

If the Bible is true and people had a choice from the beginning to follow God out of love instead of pursuing their own pleasures, I believe we would be in a utopia.

Calvin said...

One Wave,

Do you mean pursuing your own sinful pleasure?

Disintrested benevolence toward God is evil. It would be silly indeed to come before God and say I love you disinterestedly. The only way to glorify the all sufficiency of God in worship is to come to Him because in His presence there is fullness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. The persuit of pleasure is not just tolerable; it is mandatory: Delight yourself in the Lord! The persuit of pleasure is proper and mandatory for every kind of love that pleases God. The pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. If you aim to abandon the persuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God. Love doesn't seek it's own private limited joy but instead seeks it's joy in the good of others.

One Wave said...

Yes, Calvin, I should have added 'sinful' in there.

I agree with you completely. Pleasure is good and created by God.

Sinful pleasure would be that which exploits, uses or hurts another to gain pleasure for one's self. Or, pleasure which is derived from misuse of the body as it is designed.

Does that sound more complete?

Calvin said...

Yes. That's sounds perfect!

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

OneWave: Oh, this is going to be fun. You say "Go live in a country that has no trace of biblical ethics and then come back and tell us how we have no standard for morality." But what countries are you thinking of? Japan? Not, perhaps my favorite country, but one I think I could live in. India? Some problems with the extreme puritanism that comes from the British conquest, but still livable unless the Shiv Sena gets too much power. (I'll let Troy discuss China, since he DOES live there.)

The Muslim countries? But Islam is very much based on the Old and New Testaments, and their ethical code is much closer to the Testaments than is ours. (The Qur'an accepts the entire Creation story in Genesis, considers Adam, Moses, Noah and Jesus as prophets, and almost every story in it comes from the Bible except for a story about a 'hamstrung she-camel' that no Muslim I have corresponded with understands.)

In fact, it is very easy to see that the Muslim countries have ethics based on the Bible without the Enlightenment, which is their problem.

Russia? The culture, even during the Stalinist era of nominal atheism, was based in the principles of Russian Orthodox Christianity, as was the Russia of the Tsars. The same with Serbia, the most barbarous of European countries.

The principles you so celebrate are, in fact, products of the Enlightenment. I can't point you to Rushdoony's works without having read them, but you might study some of the ideas of his followers to see how they argue against just these principles in their attempt to re-create America in the mold of the Bible.

Societies that have been declaredly based on the Bible in recent history -- I won't go back to medieval times -- include Calvin's Geneva, Puritan New England -- though they had the escape clause that people like Roger Williams could use to simply move away -- and apartheid South Africa.

As for societies with 'post-Christian' ethics, I would very much enjoy living in Scandinavia (except for the climate), England and the Netherlands. And a comparison of regions of America show me that areas such as the wonderful mosaic of cultures that is New York City -- and especially the Brooklyn that I call home -- is much more livable than areas in the 'Bible Belt.' (If you are going to mention crime, don't. The crime rate in NYC was, at its worst, never as high as in cities in Texas or Detroit, and it is currently the safest large city in America -- despite the opening to SNL.)

One Wave said...

Prup,
I'm not talking about Bible belt, I'm not sure I'd make it there because they are extremely fundamental. I am just learning about fundamentalism as a form of the Christian religion, so I don't know too much about it, but here I am talking about God's ideals.

I'm only addressing the morals found in the Bible.

Do not steal. I dare you, in a nice way, to find a Muslim country where the Muslims do not steal from one another. In Iraq, they throw their trash into the neighbor's yard and the neighbors do it right back.

Do not lie. Again, find me a Muslim country where you can depend on a person's word, or at least they would attain to that standard.

Stalin was hardly operating under the spirit of God's morals. I'm not talking about denominations or Orthodoxy...which I see some problems with as well. All religion has problems, all people have problems.

I think if you visit Russia today and visit a Christian church the first thing you will notice is their joy. In a culture where domestic abuse is rampant, hospitals are run on the ability to pay for services and comfort, and wealth is the goal, I think you will find a huge difference between those who say they know Jesus and those who simply claim to go to church. I think you'll find that here.

If you can show me that there was not a thread of Christianity that promoted charity, grace, love and peace all through the centuries I might give some more consideration to your argument that the principles I celebrate are a result of the Enlightenment. I don't think so.

Of course Islam bases some of their ethical code on the Old Testament. I stronly disagree, depending on which group of Muslim's you are talking about, that they base any of their ethics on the New. They are descendants of Ishmael, according to the Bible they are also sons of Abraham but as the rejected son, they have a different view of God. They believe in god who cannot see across the ocean.
I could go on for a long time about Islam, but I love Muslims as people and I don't want to attack them.

I wouldn't mind living in Japan, as an American. To adopt the belief system would be another matter. Same with China. What a person believes is everything.

In what countries did the Enlightenment begin? What was it in the minds of the people that caused them to think in terms of being enlightened? It was not from Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, or any other ism. You know that enlightenment did not sprout overnight, it grew and had many steps along the way.

So I ask you to defend the thought processes involved that did not stem from any form of the Mosaic law. The ten.

I think it's safe to say that if God is the author of those commandments, which He would rather write on the heart than on stone tablets, and if He was truly the beginning of all things, any other form of them would be copying His original idea. So any form of the Mosaic law, or laws of common sense and benefit, is there because it always has been...just not always written down.


Calvin,
I'm glad that's more complete! I am adding that while pursuing pleasure without God may not be sinful in His eyes, it is not as fulfilling in all aspects as pleasure with Him. I love the story of the Israelites eating in God's presence. It's too bad they seemed to miss the point of His invitation.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Well, let's hope the various comments in this thread give me the push to overcome the small writer's block I've been in. They seem to be likely to fill the bill.

I'll try to take the comments by each poster rather than do them chronologically. And lets start with L.K.

First: granting your proposition for the moment that a god exists who created the ultimate standard of morality for the Universe (the 'u.s.m. god') what is the relationship between this god and the 'god of the Testaments' who has decreed certain commandments and made various moral judgments?

One position is that the Testaments are not, in fact, reporting of actual events, or written, 'inspired' or 'guaranteed' by the god they write about, but are instead stories revealing humanity's growth in understanding of the divine, of 'adventures with the divine.' That is an understandable position, -- and one probably taken by the majority of Christians and Jews, but it leads to a major problem for them.

We have any number of plays written by the early Greek authors which use the Pantheon as characters in order to teach moral lessons. We can read them and gain benefit from them without feeling that they attest to gods that have any basis in reality, and we cannot be sure if the authors, in fact, accepted the reality of these gods, or if they merely used the mythology of their time to frame their discussion of strictly human matters.

We also have many later works that are unabashedly fiction, but which teach us much about both humanity and ethics, from writers such as Shakespeare and Cervantes to modern writers such as Rex Stout, Louis Auchincloss, G.K Chesterton, Robert Heinlein and Charles Schulz -- to pick some of my favorites of the hundreds of examples I could have chosen.

If we accept the Testaments as 'human documents' how do they differ from the books and plays I have mentioned? We can read them, and learn much from them, without ever accepting the reality of either the characters in them, or the 'main character' of God.

Or we can consider them as 'non-fiction.' But then we have to look at the relationship between the god of the Testaments and the 'u.s.m. god.' From this approach, we can make only three conclusions -- and for now I will speak only of the Old Testament God who is ratified by the New.

a) The OT God is not the same as the 'u.s.m. God.'

b) The OT God IS the same as the 'u.s.m. God,' and all his pronouncements on moral issues are to be taken as reflections of the 'u.s.m. God' and where our morals differ from these pronouncements, it is we who are wrong.

c) The OT God is the same as the u.s.m. God, but he made pronouncements in the OT that do not reflect this u.s.m. God's views.

The trouble with this position is that by making such pronouncements and telling such stories, the OT god did not just 'accept immorality' but -- because he knew his pronouncements would be followed -- 'caused immoral acts.' Examples can and will be found in my series -- yes, Part II B is late, but it will appear soon. But someone who defends this possibility must explain this and defend it.

(Okay, this post merely restates what I have written elsewhere, but I believe it does so in a discussable form. More to L.K. in the next post.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

L.K.:
John made a point to you that you didn't respond to, except indirectly in a comment to me. Let me repeat it even more strongly.

The only 'limitation' that any theistic religion places on God is that he tells the truth.

If God can lie to us we need not believe, we cannot believe him in anything. (For the sake of this, I will even grant you your 'holy spirit,' as the actual communicator of God's word -- with all the problems this will lead you into if challenged.)

If God can lie to us, then we have no way of knowing, in a hypothetical 'post-death' meeting with him, if he won't explain that he created us for his own amusement, seeing how absurdly he could get us to act, with our silly costumes, absurd attitudes towards sex and other pleasures, and the battles we fought in his name. 'Oh, and by the way, that nonsense about eternal life? That was a lie too.' *Poof*

(I referred to examples of 'popular culture' that I found useful in my previous post, but one of the best discussions of the possible evil of religion has been carried out through the ten years of the tv show, STARGATE SG-1. -- not STARGATE ATLANTIS, an absymal show by the same people. The two groups of villains in the show both use religion as their weapon against humanity. The first were the Go'a'uld, parasitic aliens who used human bodies who were the reality behind the pagan gods of the Egyptians and others, using their technology to get the humans to worship them and thus provide slave labor and other benefits.

The second villains were the Ori, 'ascended beings' who, through the use of their sacred 'Book of Origen' and the powers held by their emmisaries, the Priors, attempted to convert the whole galaxy to worship them and follow their book, promising them that they too will 'become ascended' through the Book. But, as we discover, the promise is a sham, the Ori in fact gain strength and power from the worship they receive. power they hope to use in a battle against another group of ascended beings, and their followers receive none of the promised rewards. (A nice touch is that the Priors are unaware if the fraud, and lead their flocks -- frequently through horrible actions -- in all honesty.)

More later on your misunderstanding of my point on Christian morality having changed, since your response is totally away from what I am saying.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

L.K.
You say "As for the issue of the morality accepted by historical Christians changing through time: If no Christian were to hold the correct morality, ever, this would not contradict Christian doctrine, which is that we are all sinful. I know you've heard it before: "Not perfect, just forgiven."

But that's not my point at all. My point is not just that Christian morality is not a perfect one, but that secular morality has far surpassed Christian morality, and that Christians have been desperately seeking ways to find these new ideas buried in their own sacred texts.

As for the idea that 'we all are sinful,' I would say, rather, that all of us have tendencies towards selfishness and blind self-centeredness and lack of empathy that cause us to act unethically. And also that one major weakness of Christian (psuedo-)morality is that it exacerbates these tendencies. (This will be one of my points in Part IV.)

Yes, "That the Universal God should give particular laws to particular people" is a paradox -- and as a reader of G.K. Chesterton I don't necessarily have problems with paradox. But that the 'perfectly moral' Universal God should give blatantly immoral laws to particular people is not a paradox, it is an absurdity.

live-n-grace said...

Prup, classic: "what is right in your own eyes." I see America going down the drain as Christian values and morals are leaving the mainstream.
I am sorry but this argument is complete foolishness. That Christianity is not morally perfect is complete idiocy. It's the people that fail, we are the ones who stumble because we are still sinners.

I have an idea! Open strip clubs for all! Gay clubs on every corner! Free abortions right in your own home!

HA! Morality.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Live-n-grace:
If America has 'gone downhill' morally, there must have been a time when it was at the top of that hill. When do you imagine that time to have been? Was it the 50s -- when I grew up? That's usually the time people look back to, the "Happy Days."

The time of 'Ozzie and Harriet' -- and PAYTON PLACE. The time of legal racial segregation, and George Wallace and Orval Faubus. The time of McCarthy's lies, and the John Birch Society. The time of the Cold War when a substantial part of the populace was hoping for a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. with the cry "Better Dead than Red." The time when three of the most powerful (and evil) Americans were closeted homosexuals, Cardinal Spellman, J. Edgar Hoover, and Roy Cohn -- probably McCarthy as well, but I'm not absolutely sure of him.

But yes, America has gone incredibly downhill morally over the past six years, accepting torture, accepting the most corrupt Congress in history, accepting an attack on habeas corpus and a President who -- with his signing statements -- has decared the right to ignore laws of Congress, etc. And the responsibility for those immoralities is our 'born again' President and the evangelical voters who have been his strongest supporters.

More in a second comment.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Live-n-grace:
I guess I am a complete idiot, then, because in Part III and IV of my series -- it may be a couple of weeks before I get them up -- I'll be demonstrating the contradictions, absurdities, impracticalities, and yes, immoralities in the Christian moral code, and then demonstrating how the basic ethical philosophy behind Christianity is not merely counter-productive but leads to more immoral behavior -- and yes, behavior you would consider immoral as well as I -- than does a secular ethical code and philosophy.

As for the 'suggestions' you make, gay bars on every corner would be economically impractical -- there aren't THAT many gays, bis or bi-curious people around -- but they'd show an improvement in morals since they would mean an end to the hypocrisy of the closet and the bigotry of homophobia. (There is absolutely nothing immoral per se in gay sex.)

I find strip clubs tacky and sad (as well as absurdly overpriced -- but then I go to neither gay bars nor strip clubs). It is sad that we are so repressed sexually that we are willing to pay ridiculous amounts to see a woman naked. But immoral, no. (And, btw, anyone involved in the sex industry will tell you that their profits will go way up when a convention of evangelicals are in town.)

As for abortion, I'm one of those who believes, with Gov. Cuomo, that they should be 'safe, legal, and rare.' If we had a sensible sexual morality, decent sex education -- including teaching people how to have sex ethically and responsibly -- whether they were married or not -- and better access to birth control, abortions would be just that.

live-n-grace said...

What is "secular ethic code"? Whatever it is, I can guarantee you it isn't love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self control.

I don't understand, at all, how you consider Christianity immoral.

By the way, my view of secular ethics would be Rosie O'Donnel. Someone who is "tolerant" and is full of hate and bitterness.

I guess people being more comfortable is more important than another life.

Well, the bible basically predicted that this would happen, so I am not too suprised. But it is troubling to see so many people build their lives on sand and just how shallow their lives really are. You are fat and happy and think you have the world on your finger, and know just how to live in the world. The fact is, you don't want to believe in God. You don't want to fear God. You want to live life just as you think you should, and that your own wisdom is supreme. This will lead to destruction, and, as you should know, life is very short. Eternity is, well, eternity.

I just ask you to look at the love of God. Not at other Christians, not at "morality", not at how the earth came to be, but rather at the love of God. How deep and how wide is his love! How fathomless and priceless is his unfailing love! There is nothing better in life. Not sex, not food, not books, not wisdom. Knowing Jesus Christ and being loved by God is the best thing there is. You know that God died for you so that you could live eternal life, what else do you want? Him to be with you and help you for a short time here on earth? He is! He is living within us! I can feel him in every being of my body, in the center of my bones. It is your choice. I am not here to condenm you, the bible isn't here to condemn you, Jesus didn't come to judge you. I, it, and he are here to show you love. That all of your wrongdoings can be forgiven. That you can be a NEW creation in Christ, that you can live ETERNAL life. For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God! Not by works so that no one may boast.

I yearn so much for you to see this. May God bless you and the grace of God be with you.

Live-n-grace

architect said...

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What does sex have to do with knowledge?

Can the existence of a distinct human soul be scientifically proven?

Why do some nobel-prize winning scientists (Francis Crick from DNA fame, etc..) believe that earth is the product of aliens sperm?

Why was the greatest secret of evolution hidden in the drawers of the Smithsonian until 1985?

If humans define morality, it can also be put aside for various human needs. Is there such a thing as an absolute ethical standard?

Why did the world's greatest atheist, Professor Antony Flew, recently renounce atheism?

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Anonymous said...

--But if there is such a standard, then God must abide by that standard just as surely as we must. Two other things follow; 1) We can be moral without God; and 2) We can judge any purported actions by God based upon that standard.

Points one and two obviously don't follow at all. We might be incapable of them.

Anyway, don't confuse what a Christian says with Christianity. God IS the definition of good in any religion. Just ask Job.

And the drivel at the top about "progress" as the march of democracy & acceptance of cultures - that is sublimated Christianity based on a myth of equal, infinitely valued souls. What Saul preached to bring non-Jews into his sect. (Sexual "morality" today is not very pagan either, but more so also an outgrowth of Christian myths of equality. Certainly feminism and gay rights are as they appeal to equal "human rights.")

--Right and wrong are purely products of evolution?

Morality is about Right, and the body is never Right or Wrong. Only our understanding of it can be so.


--Christians are wrong in thinking that all atheists have no base for morality

They are very right because we don't. And neither do they. Neither do cockroaches, rats, monkeys, or anything else. That doesn't mean all these species are not occasionally kind and helpful amongst themselves.

The sad fact is, after reading blogs like this and Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, most so-called atheists today are really just smug Christians hiding behind some two-bit logic. You want to take the sponge and wipe away the horizon then pretend you know which way to go?

david said...

Drew has recently posted an article related to this topic and the problem of evil in general. He would love for some of the philosophers over here to interact, but so far he has been largely ignored when commenting at DC.

Beginning Wisdom - The Problem of Evil part 2

John W. Loftus said...

Here is a partial response.