I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Friday, November 27, 2009

Presuppositionalism Applied I: Village Atheists and Ethics

He’s a little dialogue I had with a village atheist on a forum of a local rag, the Lynchburg News & Advance. I was watching the thread for a while; “Cosmo” and several others had be expressing their hatred for Christians and Christianity relentlessly. It demonstrates the strength of a presuppositional approach.

I like this dialogue as an illustration of the method, especially because most Christians are accustom to challenging unbelieving worldviews in the area of morality. Most apologetic systems stress this point. One feature that makes presuppositionalism different is that it seeks to press unbelievers to justify not only morality, but every other sphere of their worldview. For instance, the following arguments are equally effective when applied to the area of epistemology (one’s theory of knowledge), metaphysics (one’s theory of ultimate reality), anthropology, history, etc. Also, because all these areas are ultimately related more or less coherently within one’s worldview, to pick at one is to shake the whole web.

Here’s one illustration, then, in the area of morality or ethics...We'll pick up at this point in the discussion.

I write:

Cosmo said, “Did anyone see the show on PBS last night about the good Christians in Dover Pennsylvania? Snuck “Intelligent Design” books into the classroom and then lied under oath about doing it. The Judge threw the book at them and fined the town BofE $1,000,000.”

Strange, Cosmo, it would appear that you believe that lying is morally wrong. What standard of morality are you using to condemn their lying? Is this merely arbitrary?

Cosmo responds:

Poor Kevin asks me ...“ What standard of morality are you using to condemn their lying?“...

I’m not. The Judge did when they were caught red handed in contradictory testimony.
It’s OK Kevin. This is still Lynchburg and, at least here, you are safe from science.

Fred.. Do not try to fool Kevin.. he is too sharp to fall for any of your “science” stuff. He knows it’s only “theories”. Theories never produced one useful thing.
Satan’s tricks.

All the facts he needs are in the Bible. Don’t pester him today. He has packing to do for the Ark expedition.

I must ask myself how it could never have occurred to Kevin that treating other people how you would like to be treated is a “good thing”. Perhaps, Kevin is one of those people who NEEDS a threat of horrible punishment in order to control his impulses. Ergo: he needs religion like a wild dog needs a cage.

I respond:

Cosmo wonders, “I must ask myself how it could never have occurred to Kevin that treating other people how you would like to be treated is a ‘good thing’.”

Boy, this is original Cosmo. And, yes, it has occurred to me, Jesus told me; that’s who you ripped it off from as well (Matt 7:12).

See, this proves the point I’m ever trying to make plain to you. You can’t make sense of ethics (or science, or logic, etc) in terms of your own professed presuppositions, so when pressed a bit you wind up stealing bricks from the Rock-solid foundation of the Christian worldview in order to build your sand castle (Matt 7:24—27).

So, of course doing “unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a good thing, because like “loving your neighbor as yourself” such commands are based on the perfectly good and unchanging character of God himself, who alone has the right to exact moral behavior from anyone. Moreover, love, which you reduce to opiate-like brainsquirts, is display on and measure by the cross of Christ. So, for me the concepts of love, good, evil, right and wrong make perfect sense; they have a meaningful reference point in God himself. Therefore, for you to simply call something ethically “good” is to beg the question, and my question for you is not difficult to understand.

What we want to know is this: In the terms of your own worldview, without stealing Christian capital, how can you meaningfully call anything or state of affairs “good” or “evil,” “right” or “wrong?”

That’s all I’m asking of you: Explain how morality makes sense in terms of evolutionary atheism.

Cosmo responds:

Kevin can you be so ignorant of world religions as to not know that “The Golden Rule” predates Christianity by a thousand years at least? Is that possible?

Do you think that Jesus came up with the idea and people said….“Jeepers, I never would have thought of that!“...

Altruism is CLEARLY a survival trait. Sorry, I forgot, everything just “Poofed” into existence.

Here is one for you (Kevin), since you NEVER address anything I ask of you anyway…
Give us all some evidence that religious people—Christians—commit less crime. Since the Bible Belt leads the country in a long list of things like incest, pedophilia, divorce and so on… Show us you have more than empty words. Show us your morality stats.

Why am I even bothering with you? The world is full of religious fanatics just like you. They ALL have the only TRUE answer and the only REAL God. Problem is, they ALL disagree.

Go pester them.

I respond:

Cosmo asks, “Kevin.. can you be so ignorant of world religions as to not know that “The Golden Rule” predates Christianity by a thousand years at least?”

Two points:

1) While there may be many “Silver” or “Bronze Rules” in various religious traditions that predate Christ, you won’t find any “Golden Rule” among them. The difference is that the Golden Rule is a positive precept, whereas all others are negative. That is, rather than commanding to “DO unto others…” the others say “Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” The latter is almost as easy as breathing in light of the former. If you wish to squabble with this, please remember to cite your source; “thus saith Cosmo” won’t cut it.

2) Your statement above only strengthens my point. When asked to offer an ethical standard in terms of atheistic evolution, you first offer Christ’s Golden Rule. Then, when trying to argue against the fact that you had to rob from the Christian Treasury to pay the bill, the best you can do in only point back another 1000 years into religious tradition! You’ve said: “Religion, any religion, has nothing to do with it” (Posted by [Cosmo Wafflefoot] on January 11, 2009 at 7:04 am). But, your “atheistic” answer is only what theologians have been teaching for 3000 years! And whose science is stuck in the stone ages?

Now if you allegedly deduced this answer from your decades of study in the field of neuroanatomical science, then again, imagine, we are made in the image of God, and thus hard wired with his laws in our consciences. On this count, you’re about 6 to 10K years behind the times.

You said, “Altruism is CLEARLY a survival trait.”

Okay, here is your attempt at a definition of “survival trait.”

You've stated: “I have the ability, thanks to my evolved neurology, to “put myself in the place of other forms of life”. That, and that alone, forces me to treat others as I would wish to be treated. When I don’t, uncomfortable chemicals are released in my brain resulting in feelings I don’t enjoy… It’s clearly a survival trait. Empathy pays off… It “feels good” because it WORKS to perpetuate my genes. It’s a survival trait… Clearly, it is genetically advantageous for me to do so… Extending that empathy to all humans and beyond, to all living things, produces the very same brain chemicals I produce in “feeling” empathy for my children, grandchildren, clan…People “lacking” this ability are generally not viewed as valuable to those around them” (Ibid.).

First, it’s our evolved neurological impulses that “forces” us to “treat others as we wish to be treated.” Fine, but this isn’t morality; it’s A-morality, which is another way of saying not-morality. Your materialistic determinism completely eliminates virtue and vice, right and wrong, good and evil. So far from establishing morality, you annihilate it! This also reduces human behavior to that of brute beasts, and no one can say that one dog that has killed another has done any moral wrong; thus neither can any moral judgment be made of humans who respond in the same way to their forced neurological impulses—both are merely predetermined causal events. Therefore, your being “forced” to treat others as you wish to be treated is no better, nor virtuous than the one who is being “forced” to rape small children simply because “It ‘feels good’...and because it WORKS to perpetuate [his] genes,” thus it’s “genetically advantageous for [him] to do so” because “It’s a survival trait.”

According to you, then, “survival trait” is utterly narcissistic and amoral, in a word, SELF-centered.

Now, then, what about “altruism”? Here is a fair and simple definition: selflessness; an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

Do you sense some real tension here? Well, really, an out right contradiction in terms!?! This is like saying “Left is CLEARLY right” or “Black is CLEARLY white”! So, I guess things aren’t as “CLEAR” as they seemed, are they?

Well, a few things are clear:

1) You have to steal the ethical capital from religious traditions in order to argue against them. Thus, you must sit on God’s lap in order to slap his face.

2) When attempting to account for morality, on your own terms, it leads you to the contrary, which is what I keep trying to tell you.

3) Therefore, since you have no basis what so ever for making any value judgments, I am under no obligation to offer you evidence of Christians’ behavior for you to sit in judgment on. (However, if you could offer anything close to an objective morality, by which you could judge another’s behavior, I’d be glad to answer. But, you can’t, and that’s been “CLEARLY” demonstrated!)

Cosmo responds:

Go find a Hindu to pester.

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