debate

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“Is Faith in God Reasonable?” Brief Debate Review: Alex Rosenberg vs. William Lane Craig

creation-of-adam-detailRecently, the atheist Alex Rosenberg debated the theist William Lane Craig. The meat started to happen in the rebuttals, so I will focus on those. For a full review, check out Wintery Knight’s excellent summary.

Craig’s First Rebuttal

Craig pointed out the extreme implausibility of the naturalistic worldview in contrast to theism. He outlined several ways in which naturalism fails as an explanation of reality and cited Rosenberg’s work several times throughout this discussion. He argued that mental states have an “aboutness” which naturalism cannot explain.Then, he pointed out the profound difficulty naturalism has with locating truth and meaning within the worldview. He asserted that libertarian free will and purpose are incompatible with naturalism. Finally, the concept of the “self” and the first-person awareness  cannot be explained by naturalism.

Rosenberg’s First Rebuttal

Alex Rosenberg: He focused on this question quite a bit in his rebuttal: “How is it possible for one chunk of manner to be ‘about’ some other piece of matter?” Yet after saying that this, he asserted that this debate over naturalism has nothing to do with the topic of the debate: “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”

He then turned to a discussion of the problem of evil. “If God is omnibenevolent, omniscience, and omnipotent, then the suffering of animals and humans needs desperately to be explained… Nobody has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation… Dr. Craig needs to tell us how [God] had to have the holocaust!”

He also argued that different religious books are false, so there is no reason to trust the New Testament.

Rosenberg said if Craig could provide an explanation for this, then he would become a Christian.

Craig 2nd Rebuttal

Craig immediately exclaimed his excitement over Rosenberg’s possibility of becoming a Christian, arguing that the logical problem of evil, which Rosenberg seemed to be using, has been largely abandoned due to its immense problems. In order to make this argument, the atheist assumes that if God is all powerful than he can create any world he wants, but this is not necessarily true. It is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something. The atheist would have to prove that there is a world with as much free good in this world but without as much free evil. It seems this premise is impossible to prove. Thus, the logical problem of evil has largely been dropped.

Craig pointed out the fact that Rosenberg was simply mistaken about the importance of metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysical naturalism is false, then it seems clear that theism is that much more plausible.

Craig also once again pointed out that discrediting things like the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an does nothing to undermine the truth of the New Testament documents.

Rosenberg Final Rebuttal

Rosenberg continued to attack Craig as well as the format of the debate. He asserted that Craig was merely repeating himself. Then he commented that the format of a debate does not work to discuss questions like those at hand. One honestly is forced to wonder why Rosenberg chose to engage in the debate, if such were his opinions. Rosenberg attacked Craig’s arguments for “giving philosophy a bad name” and said he would be “embarrassed” to outline Craig’s defense of his arguments.

He did get into some actual comments on the arguments, however. He argued that some things can come into being from “nothing at all,” specifically alpha particles.

Finally, he got to the problem of evil. Here I continued to be confused over whether Rosenberg was sure which variety of the problem of evil he was presenting. He continued to utilize the evidential problem of evil as though it were the same as the logical problem of evil. He was confusing his arguments, mixing necessity with contingency. There is little to comment on here, because it was so confused.

Regarding the New Testament, Rosenberg essentially argued that we cannot know how corrupt the New Testament is.

Craig Closing

Craig turned once more to Rosenberg’s construction of the problem of evil. He pointed out that Rosenberg was mistaken about free will as well as the nature of the God’s creation. He pointed out that the holocaust was not necessary. Instead, he noted that the onus is upon Rosenberg to show that God could have actualized a world with as much good as there is in this world while simultaneously showing there would be less evil, which is of course beyond the ken of the atheist (or the theist).

Craig pointed out that we can confirm that New Testament sources we have go back to within 5 years of the actual events. Furthermore, Rosenberg was mistaken in saying that the New Testament documents were written in Aramaic. They were written in Greek.

Rosenberg Closing

Rosenberg used his closing to present an “obvious” argument for atheism. He argued that science has no need of the God hypothesis and that there is no basis “to invoke God for explanatory or any other purpose” in science. Thus, science has no reason to accept the existence of God. I find it interesting that he chose to save this argument for the point when he couldn’t be rebutted on the argument. Perhaps that is due to the extreme weakness of the argument. Only be equating science with knowledge could this argument have any relevance. This is not to mention that he is mistaken on this, but to show that he is mistaken would take us too far afield. Interested readers can view the links at the end of this post.

Rosenberg closed with “advice from an atheist.” His advice was to tell theists to not demand that their faith be reasonable. He continued with a discussion saying that theists should say “I believe because it is absurd.” He essentially asserted that theists cannot be reasonable. Honestly, this was just an insult. I admit I was not surprised by this comment by the end of the debate, as Rosenberg’s general strategy had seemed to be to denigrate, rather than interact with, theism.

Comments

I was honestly stunned by Rosenberg’s assertion that substance dualism or a debate over naturalism had nothing to do with faith in God. It seems quite obvious that such things are indeed germane to the discussion.   If substance dualism is true, then theism has a much better account than non-theistic worldviews. If naturalism is false, the plausibility of theism increases greatly.

In the Q+A following the debate, someone asked Rosenberg why they should believe anything he said in the debate if he himself doesn’t believe in true. Rosenberg basically answered by saying that he’s just rearranging the brain in a way to meet truth… but of course he already denied that we can know what truth is. It’s just a certain way of orienting the matter in one’s brain! Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous.

Regarding the debate itself, there were a number of non-scientific ways that people voted on the results of the debate. A formal panel awarded Craig the victory 4-2. The local (Purdue) voting on the debate 303-1390 Craig won. Online vote favored Craig 734-59. In other words, Craig crushed Rosenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below!

One awesome line from the debate came from Craig: “The purpose of life is not happiness. The purpose of life is knowledge of God.”

An awesome tweet: “Rosenberg apparently knows not only what God could have done but what would have been best for us for all eternity.” @ThnkngChristian

Links

Wintery Knight provided a simply fantastic summary of the debate.

Glenn Andrew Peoples has a post on quantum events in relation to the cosmological argument which is very relevant to this debate.

Shoulders of Giants?- Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss Jumps off!”– I write on the relationship of science to philosophy as well as Christianity.

Science: “Thanks Christianity!”– Does Christianity say anything about science?

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth

eps-ccI was recently at the Evangelical Philosophical Society conference (see my thoughts on every talk I attended) and one of the sessions was a debate between Gregg Davidson of Solid Rock Lectures and Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis on “Scripture, Geology & the Age of the Earth.” A number of readers requested more information on this talk, and I found it very interesting myself. Here, I’ll touch on the highlights of this dialogue as well as my own thoughts.

Davidson- A Biblical Worldview and an Ancient Earth

Gregg Davidson, a geologist who authored When Faith and Science Collide, and is a lecturer for Solid Rock Lectures, began the dialogue by noting several themes in the young earth/old earth dialogue. First, he noted a tendency to present young earth creationism (YEC) as the only Biblical worldview, while also presenting evidence for a young earth as exceptionally strong in contrast to weak evidence for an old earth. Unfortunately, Davidson pointed out that many people get to schools where they learn geology, astronomy, and more in the sciences and discover that the evidence for the young earth is actually fairly weak, while that for an old earth is quite strong. And, because YECs often link young earth creationism to being the only possible Biblical worldview, they begin to view the Biblical worldview as a whole as extremely weak. If the evidence for YEC was so weak as to falter, then because it is inherently tied to the Biblical worldview, that wolrdview must itself be extremely weak.

Another problem is that YECs fail to recognize that their position itself is an interpretation of Scripture. Their view is not Scripture itself. There is a tendency in debates about theology to view one’s own position as what the Bible teaches, but that fails to take into account the possibility of fallible human interpretation.

Davidson argued for an approach to Scripture that takes note of the fact that God often deigns to make use of “the knowledge of the day to communicate truths about the nature of God.” As an example, he referenced Jesus saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the plants on earth, despite the fact that it is not (Mark 4:30-32). The point was not the size of the seed, but rather the power of faith. Thus,we must be careful not to make Scripture teaching something it does not claim for itself. He pressed that to read into the Genesis text specific dates and time periods is to make the text teach something that it is not claiming.

Turning to the science, Davidson noted that there are any number of evidences for an ancient earth, but that he chose to focus upon just one area from a number of evidences in order to show how interdisciplinary and cross-confirmed the age of the earth is. He focused upon the Hawaiian Islands and their formation and age. There are multiple, independent ways to investigate the age of these islands. The islands were formed by a hot spot–a place where magma shoots up from underneath the crust and bubbles to the surface. This eventually would form islands when enough of the lava cooled and hardened. The islands are on a moving continental plate and so as they move away from the hot spot, the expectation is the islands get progressively older. Thus, in a series of 3 islands arranged thusly: 3-2-1-0 (0 being the hot spot), 3 would be the oldest island.

Davidson first noted the ages that were found by testing the age of the volcanic rock with radiometric dating. These ages yielded millions of years. Now of course most young earth creationists hold that radiometric dating methods are deeply flawed, but Davidson noted that this procedure can be tested for accuracy with independent methods. Before turning to that, he showed a picture of what the estimate for the movement per year of the plate over the hot spot would be based solely upon the radiometric dating. Basically, this works by just taking the distance of 3-2-1 and measuring how far each is from the hot spot, then dividing the radiometric date by that distance to see how far the islands move per year. The estimate yielded movement of 2.6-3.6 inches per year.

Recent technology has allowed us to utilize Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to actually measure the rate that the islands are moving. These measurements yield approximately 3.1 inches per year, which is exactly in the middle of the estimate given by the radiometric dating. Given the measured rate, scientists can extrapolate how many millions of years old the islands are based upon their distance from the hot spot. It’s kind of an inverse way to get the date. They simply divide the measured distance of the islands from the hot spot by the measured rate of movement per year. Of course, this way of measuring is not dependent in any way upon radiometric dating. Thus, there are two independent sources showing the date in millions of years for the Hawaiian Islands.

The coral growth around the Islands was a third confirmation of the ancient age of these formations. This argument was more complex than the first two. Basically, it seemed the argument was that because different corals form closer to the surface, we can look at the coral reefs formed around the islands as they are farther out and see how much the coral has moved up the island as it subducted (moved under the water with the continental plate). Thus, as the islands move farther away, and therefore sink into the water, the coral that can only survive at certain depths is submerged too far for it to get adequate sunlight, and it dies. One can then measure radiometrically the age of rings of corals. When one measures the coral on the islands, they can correlate that with the ages of the corals and the islands themselves. This measurement also lined up with the previous two.

Davidson concluded that the problem with the YEC paradigm is that they will often focus upon rebutting multiple, independent claims. While this may work for each claim individually, the problem is that all of these types of evidence add up to form one cohesive picture. When they are cross-referenced and they all hit on the same age or date range, they all show the same predictions of distance, and the like, it becomes extremely implausible to say that every single way to find the age of the earth is faulty. They form a full picture. Furthermore, Davidson critiqued YECs for often presenting a selective picture of the evidence–only showing the evidence which favors their position.

Snelling- A Biblical and Geological Defense of a Young Earth and the Global Flood

Andrew Snelling is a well-known proponent of YEC, the author of Earth’s Catastrophic Past, and his presentation was perhaps the best defense of his position I have ever seen.

Snelling began by offering the common argument that Jesus taught the global flood and young earth creationism. He argued that the Hebrew word used in Genesis 7:17 is only used for this event, which hints at the incredible devastation.

local-flood-aigFurthermore, the language in Genesis states that the mountains were covered. Snelling’s slideshow had the image shown here on the right, which is becoming pervasive in discussions about the extent of the Flood. The argument is that if the Flood were local, it makes a mockery of the Biblical text. (See a different perspective on this issue with Hugh Ross’ “In the Days of Noah.”)

Snelling outlined several things we should look for if there was a global flood. Among these expectations are:

1) Marine fossils in strata for terrestrial creatures- Snelling named a number of places these could be found. This is an expectation because the Flood covered the whole earth, so the creatures should all be mixed together.

2) Rapid burial of creatures and plants- Snelling noted a number of places where fossils show rapid burial. This is expected because the Flood would have suddenly come upon these creatures.

3) Fossil graveyards- The Flood would have killed huge numbers of animals, so we should expect to find huge fossil graveyards, which we do.

4) Evidence that the ocean flooded the continents- if the Flood were global, we would expect to find its sedimentation upon the continents, and we do.

He argued that these are all evidenced in Earth’s catastrophic past, and he pointed to the Grand Canyon as evidence for a number of these evidences.

Snelling also looked at various geological features he said were evidences for a global flood and a young earth. Among these were several layers of sedimentary rock which are bent. He argued that this can only occur when the rock is liquefied like cement–otherwise it cracks–so this sedimentation had to happen during the Flood.

Discussion- Q+A

Next, there was a dialogue between Snelling and Davidson in the form of them asking each other questions. The highlights were a few specific questions:

Davidson asked Snelling about the Grand Canyon: specifically, he noted that the terrestrial fossils were found in similar strata, but never in the same layers, which instead suggests an ebbing and flowing of the water; not a global flood. Furthermore, he pointed out the lack of any pollinating plants in an entire mile of sediment. He asked how Snelling’s account lines up with this data. Snelling responded by arguing that the fossils are indeed mixed together and that we even find footprints in the wrong layers. He argued that due to “devastating tsunamis” which would have swept the earth, some of this could be undone and/or specific types of creatures/plants might have been swept out of the layers.

Snelling gave a brief outline of problems with radiometric dating giving divergent ages and asked Davidson to comment on the difficulties he pointed out with radiometric dating. He argued that often, old earth proponents and “secularists” simply assume an age for the rock and interpret the tests to get that age. Davidson responded noting that he worked with radiometric labs for quite some time and that there is mixing in the chemicals which can be accounted for. He showed a picture showing how some of this can work and how labs have to account for certain elements contaminating the rocks. However, he pointed out there is a margin of error to account for some of these difficulties.

Rock_StrataDavidson then brought up a slide with images of bent rocks. One was a “bench” at a graveyard in which the middle had sagged despite being made of stone. He argued that with enough pressure/time rock can sag under its own weight or (as the picture showed) even no weight at all. Given this evidence, he asked why bent rocks should count in favor of YEC. Snelling responded by saying that hard rock can be bent by pressure but that if the pressure is sufficient the rock will crack.  He continued to emphasize that in the Grand Canyon one can observe rocks bending without fracture.

Evaluation

I have to say I was struck by how much this interaction turned on the scientific aspects of the debate. I had thought that Snelling would focus more upon an attack of Davidson’s interpretation of Scripture, and while he did some of that, the majority of his responses were related to scientific arguments. Davidson followed suit and kept hammering examples that showed how the YEC interpretations Snelling gave of various natural phenomena failed.

Davidson’s scientific presentation in his paper was extremely strong. It would be very hard to explain away the fact that three completely independent methods for dating the islands lined up so clearly to point towards an ancient earth. If I had been on the border between young earth or old earth going in, I would have come out as convinced of an old earth. I actually did go in as one who holds to an old earth, having been convinced by the evidence a few years ago, and I came away utterly convinced that YEC is false.

Snelling’s talk was a great defense of the YEC position, but it demonstrated the flaws that Davidson was quick to capitalize on. I was really impressed by the fact that Davidson had a number of slides ready to respond to both Snelling’s presentation and his questions. Davidson’s critique of the “bent rocks” was particularly devastating.

Davidson’s critique of YEC: that they focus upon independently repudiating various dating methods, came to fruition in this discussion. He really showed how the YEC paradigm is utterly dependent upon a selective presentation of data at the exclusion of pieces that do not fit.

One thing I would have liked to see was more debate over the Flood and the Bible passages in general. I was surprised by how much the talk focused on the science–though that was extremely interesting.

Let me know your thoughts on the topic. Have you any insights on any of these issues?

Links

I have written on other talks that I attended at the ETS/EPS Conference in 2012. Specifically, check out my post on Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals. I have also written briefly on every talk I attended. See my post on the ETS/EPS Conference 2012.

There are a great many posts on creation issues on my site. You can access them by checking out my page on the Origins Debate.

Naturalis Historia is a site that focuses primarily on the scientific evidence for an old earth. I highly recommend it.

For the theological aspects of the debate (and also more of the scientific discussion), check out The GeoChristian as well as Geocreationism, two fantastic sites.

Finally, for a comprehensive Biblical and scientific old earth view, see Reasons to Believe.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

 Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Objective Moral Truths

Louise Anthony and William Lane Craig agree that there are objective moral truths. Now, this is important because many theists take the existence of objective morality to demonstrate–or at least strongly suggest–the existence of God. Interestingly, other humanist/secular scholars have agreed with Anthony, claiming there are objective truths (another example is Sam Harris–see my analysis of his position contrasted with theism here). The question, of course, is “How?” Consider the following:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

Another devastating objection can be found with a simple thought experiment. Let’s say Anthony didn’t exist. In such a world, there can be no one complaining that her children matter “to me!” Instead, her children just exist as brute facts. How then can we ground their significance? Well, it seems the answer for people like Anthony would be to point to the children’s other family say “Those children matter to them!” We could continue this process almost endlessly. As we eliminate the children’s family, friends, etc. and literally make them just exist on their own, we find Anthony’s answer about allegedly objective morality supervenes on fewer and fewer alleged moral facts. Suddenly “Those children matter to themselves!” is the answer. But then what if we eliminate them? Do humans still have value? The whole time, Anthony has grounded the significance of her children and other humans in the beliefs, goals, and purposes of humans. But without humans, suddenly there is no significance. That’s what is meant by objective morality. If those children matter even without humans, then objective morality is the case. But Anthony has done nothing to make this the case; she’s merely complained that her children matter to her.

Now, some atheists–Anthony and Sam Harris included–seem to think they have answers to these questions. They seem to think that they can ground objective morality. We’ll turn to those next.

Suffering

One of the linchpins of humanists’ claims (like Anthony and Sam Harris) is suffering. The claim is that we can know what causes suffering, and that this, in turn, can lead us to discover what is wrong. We should not cause suffering.

But why not?

Most often the response I’ve received to this question is simply that because we do not wish to suffer, we should not wish to have others suffer or cause suffering for others. But why should that be the case? Why should I care about others’ suffering, on atheism? That’s exactly the question humanism must answer in order to show that objective morality can exist in conjunction with secularism. But I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to this question.

Anthony was presented with a similar question in the Q&A segment of her debate with William Lane Craig. One person asked (paraphrased), “Why shouldn’t I base morality as ‘whatever benefits me the most’?” Anthony responded simply by simply arguing essentially that it’s not right to seek pleasure at the expense of others, because they may also want pleasure.

But of course this is exactly the point! Why in the world should we think that that isn’t right!?

The bottom line is that, other than simply asserting as a brute fact that certain things are right and wrong, atheism provides absolutely no answer to the question of moral objectivity. People like Anthony  try to smuggle it in by saying it’s objectively wrong to cause suffering [usually with some extra clauses], but then when asked why that is wrong, they either throw it back in the face of the one asking the question (i.e. “Well don’t you think it’s wrong?”) or just assert it as though it is obviously true.

And it is obviously true! But what is not so obvious is why it is obviously true, given atheism. We could have simply evolved herd morality which leads us to think it is obviously true, or perhaps we’re culturally conditioned by our close proximity to theists to think it is obviously true, etc. But there still is no reason that tells us why it is, in fact, true.

Moral Facts

Anthony (and Harris, and others with whom I’ve had personal interactions) centralize “moral facts” in their metaethical account. As a side note, what is meant by “moral fact” is a bit confusing but I don’t wish to argue against their position through semantics alone. They claim that we can figure out objective morals on the basis of moral facts. Sam Harris, for example, argues that there is a “continuum of such [moral] facts” and that “we know” we can “move along this continuum” and “We know, we know that there are right and wrong answers about how to move in this space [along the moral continuum]” (see video here).

Now it is all well and good to just talk about “facts” and make it sound all wonderful and carefully packaged, but Anthony and Harris specifically trip up when they get asked questions like, “How do we figure out what moral facts are?”

Anthony was asked “How do you determine what the objective moral facts are”, and responded by saying, “We do it by, um, testing our reactions to certain kinds of possibilities, um, thinking about the principles that those reactions might entail; testing those principles against new cases. Pretty much the way we find out about anything” (approximately 2 hours into the recorded debate).

One must just sit aghast when one hears a response like that. Really? That is the way we discover moral truths? And that is the way we “find out about anything”? Now I guess I can’t speak for Anthony herself, but when I’m trying to find out about something, I don’t test my reaction to possibilities and then try to figure out what my reaction “might entail.” That is radical subjectivism. Such a view is utterly devastating for not just morality but also science, history, and the like. If I were to try to conduct scientific inquiry in this manner, science would be some kind of hodgepodge of my “reactions” to various phenomenon. Unwittingly, perhaps, Anthony has grounded the ontology of her morality in the reactions of people. But this error isn’t restricted to Anthony. Harris also makes this confounding mistake. His basic argument in the talk linked above is simply, “Science can tell us what people think about things, so it can tell us about morality.” This is, of course patently absurd. Suppose I tried to test these humanists’ theories on groups of people by sticking them in a room and having them watch all kinds of things from murder to the rape of children to images of laughter and joy. Now suppose I randomly sifted my sample among the population of the world, but somehow, by pure chance, got a room full of child molesters. As I observe their reactions, I see they are quite joyful when they observe certain detestable images. Now, going by Anthony/Harris’ way to “find out about anything” and thinking about what these people’s reaction entails, I conclude that pedophilia is a great good. But then I get a room full of parents with young children, who react in horror at these same images. Then, as I reflect on their reactions, I discover that pedophilia is a great evil. And I repeat this process over and over. Eventually, I discover that the one group was an aberration, but it was a group nonetheless.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, it means that both Harris and Anthony haven’t made any groundbreaking theory of ethics. Rather, they’ve just made a pseudo-humanistic utilitarianism. They ground moral ontology in our “reactions” to various moral situations. The only way for them to say something is morally wrong if people have different reactions is either to go with the majority (utilitarianism) or choose one side or the other, which essentially turns into a kind of Euthyphro dilemma against atheists. Either things are wrong because enough people think they’re wrong (in which case morality is arbitrary) or things are wrong because they simply are wrong, period (in which case the humanist has yet to provide an answer for moral ontology).

Conclusion

Given the discussion herein, one can see that those atheists, humanists, and/or secularists who desire to ground objective morality still have a lot of work to do. Louise Anthony’s best attempt to ground morality boils down into radical subjectivism. Sam Harris’ account fares no better. Those who are trying to ground objective morality within an atheistic universe will just have to keep searching. The solutions Anthony and Harris have attempted to offer are vacuous.

Image Source:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SecularHumanismLogo3DGoldCropped.png

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

William Lane Craig vs. Stephen Law- Thoughts and Links

Recently, William Lane Craig debated Stephen Law on the topic “Does God exist?” Remember the topic as I review the debate.

Craig 1

William Lane Craig presented a different set of arguments from his normal 5. This time, he argued the cosmological and moral arguments along with the argument from the resurrection. My guess is that the short time allowed was the reason for this change of strategy. Craig argued that actual infinites cannot exist in reality. He pointed out that transfinite math simply does not allow addition or subtraction of infinity, because it is absurd, but in the real world, if an infinite did exist, nothing could prevent it from having things added or taken away. Thus, Craig concluded, there cannot be an infinite past.

He then briefly outlined the empirical case for a finite past, citing Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin’s paper which shows that every model of the universe’s past must account for entropy, and therefore must be finite. I don’t want to get sidetracked from my review of the debate here, but so many people seem to either ignore or miss the point of this argument. It’s not that entropy only disallows an infinite universe that is one state, rather, entropy disallows an infinite past for oscillating universe models, bubble universes, and any other types of strategies people have tried to raise in order to rebut cosmological arguments. I recently got an e-mail in which someone said I’m being dishonest by only referencing the Big Bang as evidence for a finite universe, when there may have been previous universes. Well that’s simply wrong, even if there were previous universes, they would have to take entropy into account. If the past is infinite, all the energy available for the generation of universes would have been used up.

Anyway, Craig went on to argue the moral argument: If objective moral values exist, then God exists. They do, so God does. A great point Craig made is that any argument against the existence of objective moral values must rely upon premises which aren’t as plausible as the objective morals themselves. That’s an excellent point that many tend to ignore.

As far as the resurrection is concerned, Craig presented the “three facts” argument. He pointed out that three facts are agreed upon throughout scholarship on the topic: that the tomb was found empty, different individuals saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, the disciples’ belief in Jesus resurrection despite having every predisposition to the contrary. These facts, argued Craig, are best explained by Jesus’ resurrection.

Law 1

Law began by arguing about animal suffering. He said that the extraordinary amount of suffering which is experienced by animals every day is such that it can weigh against the existence of God. He noted that some people dismiss this as “merely animals” but argued, “I wonder if they’d say the same thing if I took a red hot poker to their… cat.” Note how Law distorted his original argument, however. Certainly, I’d be extraordinarily angry with Stephen Law if he took a hot poker to my cat (I don’t have one any more but I used to). But the reason would be because Law is a moral agent. He is capable of knowing what he’s doing, and would clearly have to be sadistic in order to do such an action. If, however, an eagle came and carried my cat away, I would be extremely upset, but I would not accuse the eagle of having done a morally wrong action, because the eagle is not a moral agent. Yet Law used that very emotional image of himself–a moral agent–as an analogy for animal suffering. There’s clearly a major issue with such an argument.

Law went on to argue that there’s no reason to think that the God whose existence Craig is arguing for is not an evil god. Here I think Law had some decent points… for arguing against bare theism, but not against Christianity (see “Analysis” below). He argued that for certain theodicies, there can be parallel arguments constructed for an evil god. He also noted that Craig’s arguments could work just as well for an evil god (a notable exception would be the moral argument, more on that later… and it’s pretty hard to see how the resurrection would fit into his ‘evil god’ scenario). Law also argued that if the good in the world refutes an evil god, the evil in the world should refute a good God. Law didn’t do anything to rebut Craig’s arguments for the existence of God.

Craig 2

Craig quickly attacked Law’s appeal to emotion with animal suffering. He noted that it was very much anthropopathism to assume that animals had the same response to suffering as humans. In fact, he went on to note three hierarchies of suffering, and pointed out that animals do not have the capacity to be aware of the fact that they are suffering. So despite the suffering of animals, they are not even aware of that fact–something which Craig credited to God’s mercy. Animal suffering, he argued, is also necessary for a number of reasons, one of which is the stability of ecosystems. Without predation, all life on earth would be wiped out. Thus, it is fair to say that animal suffering fits into the divine plan.

Craig countered Law’s argument about the ‘evil god’ by noting that the moral argument specifically rebuts Law’s assertions. Not only that, but Law was arguing against a kind of theism which does not exist. Christians don’t survey the world and conclude God is good, rather, they believe God is good because that’s the type of being God is, necessarily.

Craig presented a number of reasons for thinking a good God would allow evil, which would therefore discount the rebutting evidence of evil. He also agreed with Law that looking at the world alone would lead to a draw, but that, as already noted, the moral argument and the type of being God is would defeat an ‘evil god’ scenario.

Law 2

Law argued that Craig had made a straw man of his position by saying that theism is not inductive. Then he went on to argue that the moral argument is the only one Craig can rely on to establish the goodness of God. He cited Swinburne as a Christian who did not believe objective morality relies on God. He ended his second segment by arguing that surely there is enough evil in the world to make the existence of God improbable.

Craig 3

Craig noted that Law has a strange kind of atheism which grants the existence of God but attacks the character. He pointed out that Law had still not rebutted any of his arguments, but focused merely on the character of God. He also pointed out that appealing to Swinburne was a mere appeal to authority and that he could cite a number of atheistic philosophers who agreed with his premises.

Law 3

Law argued that there are no objective moral values (curious, considering the citations Craig read in the debate). He then attempted to rebut the argument from the resurrection by citing an instance where a number of people believed they saw a UFO when it was really the planet Venus.

Craig Conclusion

Craig once more noted that Law had yet to rebut any of his arguments and that Law persisted in maintaining a strange atheism in which God exists, but may or may not be good. He noted that Law’s attempt to rebut the resurrection did not take into account the religio-historical context of that event and that all claims of experience must be measured by objective criteria, which the resurrection passes. He concluded that because his arguments stood undefeated, God exists.

Law Conclusion

Law basically said “why not believe in an evil god?” and argued that Craig still did not justify objective morals.

Analysis

Law came in with a pretty interesting argument which was unfortunately not the topic of the debate. I think it would be really interesting to see Law vs. Craig on a topic like “Is God good?” His arguments had some weight, but I think Craig did an excellent job rebutting them while remaining on track. Law essentially ignored the cosmological argument and put the topic of the debate aside in favor of arguing about whether God is good. As far as the topic of the debate goes, it’s clear that Craig established the existence of God. In fact, Law was essentially granting that point (in the Q&A he argued that it is not the case that because he didn’t rebut the arguments, he agrees God exists… but it is important to note that he did not rebut the arguments so, on the face of it, it seems that the arguments stand unchallenged). As far as Law’s good points go, I think he had the best points I’ve seen an atheist raise in a debate with Craig so far, but Craig was able to adequately rebut them while sustaining his primary argument: that God exists.

Finally, on the “evil god” hypothesis: Law failed to realize that the concept of “greatest possible being” is central to Christian theism and did not take that into account. Craig perfectly illustrated this when he acknowledged that a “creator” on its own cannot be shown to be good or evil, but went on to point out that that doesn’t affect Christian theism, which holds that God is the greatest possible being. Law was, in a sense, arguing against “bare theism,” which is, as he points out, incoherent. Yet Craig was arguing to establish the Christian God–the greatest conceivable being. Law’s arguments therefore seem to only underscore the coherence of Christian theism, by demonstrating that only with a correct concept of God can theism be coherent.

[The following section in brackets added after the post was up and had several comments.]

[I’d like to point out more explicitly why Law’s argument doesn’t work. The reason is  because his concept of ‘god’ is incoherent. Theism claims that God is the greatest possible being. But Law is arguing that this being could be evil. Each of his arguments about the evil god were designed to argue that God ‘could be’ evil. But then Law would have to assert that evil is a property such that it makes beings great. I don’t see how he could argue this. He’d have to first argue the ontological reality of evil–which would establish the existence of objective morality and thus back up Craig’s moral argument. Then he’d have to argue that evil is, in fact, a property. Finally, he’d have to establish that evil is a great-making property. I don’t see any way he could possibly do this, and the burden of proof is definitely upon him to show these concepts are coherent. Unless and until he does that, his arguments are simply incoherent.]

Links

Stephen Law, his evil god, and radical skepticism– I analyze Stephen Law’s evil god challenge further and conclude that it entails radical skepticism.

http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable– follow the rest of Craig’s tour through England.

Download the debate at Apologetics 315.

Check out more analysis of the debate at Thinking Matters.

Was Stephen Law Guilty of a Bait and Switch? 

An analysis of Law’s argument for an “evil god.”

Doug Geivett writes about “The Missing Ontological Argument” and Law’s misunderstanding of theism.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: Thoughts and Links

The debate I’ve been hyping to friends and family happened tonight: Sam Harris, one of the “New Atheists” and author of the books The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith went up against William Lane Craig, one of my favorite living philosophers. Craig has a PhD in philosophy, as well as a ThD. He’s written extensively on philosophy of religion, apologetics, and time. He’s the author and editor of too many books to list, but they include The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Reasonable Faith, and Time and Eternity. The topic of the debate was “Is Good from God?”

I wanted to share some links for all of you, along with my thoughts about the debate.

Links

Audio of debate here.

Video of the debate here.

Craig rebuts Harris’ allegation of misquotations here.

Craig’s brief post-debate impressions here.

Craig’s thoughts on his strategy in the debate here.

Another analysis of the debate here.

See Wintery Knight’s summary of the debate here.

More links will be posted as I find them.

Analysis of Debate

It is important to note that the topic of the debate is “Is Good from God?” The topic is not “Does God exist?” Nor is it “Is the God of the Old Testament Evil?” Remember this. Also, my apologies in advance for my tense shift throughout. It’s almost 2AM and I’m tired.

Craig Opening

Craig’s opening statement started with him asserting he’d maintain two propositions

I. If God exists, then we have a solid foundation for objective moral values.

He backed this contention up by saying that it is true even if God does not exist, because it is a conditional statement (“If God exists…”). Further, he argued that God’s nature provides the standard against which all moral vales are measured. Important: Note that here Craig is not arguing that objective moral values are grounded in arbitrary commands from God, rather, Craig argues that God is the standard against which morals are judged. It would be true to say God is good simpliciter.

As far as moral duties are concerned, it is these which are constituted by God’s commands, however that does not mean the commands are arbitrary, but rather grounded in the essential nature of God.

Craig’s second contention was:

II. If God does not exist, then there is no strong foundation for objective moral values.

He argued:

1) Why think that human beings have objective moral worth? On atheism, humans are merely “accidental byproducts” of naturalistic evolution. What therefore would mean that humans are more valuable than hyenas, other primates, rocks, etc.?

2) He quotes Michael Ruse, an atheistic philosopher, who points out that morality is, on atheism, illusory. It is a mere socio-biological convention. And to think that morality is objective is simply false. He also quotes Dawkins as saying that we are just machines for propagating DNA. On such a view, how can we be objectively valuable?

3) Craig argues that Harris simply redefines good in nonmoral terms. He argues by stipulation that “well-being” = good, which is to beg the question. Craig argues that Harris has provided no reason to equate the two, and in fact has no grounds from which to do so.

4) Natural science only shows what “is” not what “ought” to be. It can only describe actions, not prescribe them.

5) Harris explicitly denies free will within his writing and so it seems impossible for there to be any culpability for actions. How can someone have “ought” applied to them if they are not free to make choices about their actions?

Harris Opening

Harris begins by noting, as did Craig, the areas of agreement. He agrees that to deny objective morality can lead to some horrific views, and he uses anecdotes to support this claim. Craig and Harris seem to agree that objective morality is something necessary for meaning in the universe. I find no contention with this part of Harris’ discussion.

He goes on to argue that there are “facts” and there are “values.” He argues that science can move from the subjective facts to objective values, although I found his argument here unclear.

Finally, he gets to the point where he specifically outlines his view, which is based upon the well-being of conscious creatures.

Harris argues that “If the word ‘bad’ applies, it is ‘wrong.'” Further, “The minimum standard of moral goodness is to avoid the most possible misery for everyone.” Harris asks us to envision a world in which every conscious being was suffering to the maximum possible extent. He says that this is obviously bad (= wrong) and so we can scientifically determine what is good by working towards the well-being of conscious creatures.

At this point in my notes I wrote “Why?” next to the quotes from Harris. And I think that is exactly the problem. Thus far, Harris has done a good job outlining what he thinks is wrong, but he hasn’t done anything to say why it is wrong, other than by stipulating that it is wrong.

Harris goes on to argue that

1) Questions of right and wrong depend upon minds

2) Minds are natural phenomena

3) Therefore, morality can be understood by science because we can study minds

Against Harris, I would note that each of these premises are contentious, and he doesn’t argue within the debate to support any of them. First, premise 1) is questionable because it actually goes against the nature of objective morality. If something is objectively wrong, even were  there no minds in the universe, the action would still be wrong. Here Harris makes the mistake of thinking that because minds make moral judgments, moral judgments are dependent upon minds. I think that is false, and it needs argumentation to support.

Second, premise 2) assumes physicalism, which is the position that our minds are wholly composed of matter, and there is no non-physical property of mind. I’ve argued against this position elsewhere (see for example, my posts here and here). But the thing is that Harris simply takes 2) as given. To be fair to Harris, this is a debate so he hardly has the time to make a substantive case for physicalism. My point here is that Harris’ argument hardly establishes his conclusion–there is a lot of footwork to be done to establish 1) or 2). I think that both have serious difficulties and are generally non-starters.

Finally, Harris briefly asserts that the God of the Old Testament is evil.

Craig First Rebuttal

Craig’s first rebuttal began with him summing up his contentions I and II above. He points out that Harris didn’t attack either contention directly.

Craig points out that the debate is not about Old Testament ethics, but cites Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? for those interested in the topic.

Harris in particular did not argue against contention I at all, so Craig turns his guns against Harris’ assertions about objective morality on atheism.

First, Craig asks “If atheism is true, what makes flourishing of conscious creatures objectively good?” He goes on to say “They might like to flourish” but that does not provide an objective reason to ground morality in their well-being.

Second, Harris admits that it is possible for rapists/murderers to be happy (in a state of well-being) to the point of being a “peak” in his “moral landscape.” But if that is the case, then an objectively evil entity, on Harris’ account, could occupy the peak of the moral landscape, which would entail a contradiction, because an objectively bad person was viewed as an objectively good thing/state of affairs. I found this particularly powerful to refute Harris, and I liked how the camera shifted to him almost immediately after this statement by Craig. Harris did not look happy.

Finally, Craig argued that because Harris denies freedom of the will, he can’t actually hold that humans have any obligations whatsoever.

Harris Rebuttal 1

Harris started off by saying “that was very interesting.” Fair enough.

Then he says, “Ask yourselves what is wrong with spending eternity in hell”. As he continued along this line of reasoning, I wrote “Harris is curiously arguing against hell…?”

Basically, rather than trying to defend his view whatsoever from Craig’s lucid attacks, Harris turned to the problem of evil. It was here that any doubt in my mind about this debate faded away. Harris made no attempt to defend his position, but rather argued that we have no way to know that Islam is not the true religion, on Craig’s argument, and that the God of the Old Testament is evil. In other words, he abandoned the attempt to defend his position immediately upon the gaping holes Craig’s rebuttal blew through it.

He also seems to have missed Craig’s point that God is essentially good and instead argues against a straw man by asserting that God is not bound by duties, which Craig had already explicitly denied. Then Harris made some offhand remark about psycopathy and religion. He says that he can’t think of a less moral framework than that of the God of the Old Testament.

Craig Rebuttal 2

Craig starts his response by saying, “The less moral framework is atheism!” because it is “not a framework!” Craig seems as baffled as I am that Harris didn’t actually respond to any argument he had leveled against Harris’ “landscape.” Further, he points out that Harris is resorting to red herrings–Sam is trying to derail the debate into a discussion of the problem of evil and Old Testament ethics rather than a debate about whether atheism or theism can better ground objective morality.

Further, Craig notes Harris is totally wrong when he argues the goal of theism is to avoid hell. Rather, theism worships God because He, as the greatest possible being and source of our existence, etc., etc. is worthy of worship, not because of the desire to avoid hell. That is a simple misrepresentation of theism!

Interestingly, Craig also notes that all theists can utilize his contention I, whether they be Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian (etc.). Remember this.

Harris Rebuttal 2

Harris finally attempts to defend his position by saying his position is defended because we “need only assume that the worst possible suffering” for every conscious being would be an objectively bad state of affairs. He says “My argument entails that we can speak objectively about a certain class of subjective facts” namely, moral values. So basically, his argument boils down to “Just believe that x is objectively bad, and my view works!”

Unfortunately, Harris once more gets sidetracked in trying to argue against the existence of God by asserting that the pluralistic nature of religions experience disproves religions. As I’ve noted elsewhere, a mere plurality of opinions does not entail the falsity of all.

Craig Closing Statement

Craig notes that God is the greatest conceivable being, so to ask “Why should we think God is good?” is like asking “Why are bachelors unmarried?”

Further, he points out that Harris has yet to answer the schoolyard question, “Why?” Why, on atheism, should we think that the worst possible state of affairs is objectively bad? We might not like it, but that doesn’t ground it objectively.He closes by saying “All together now, ‘says who?'”

Harris Closing

Again, Harris leads with an argument from religious diversity. He also complains that Craig’s argument for a theistic ground of morality could equally be used by the Muslim, which is exactly correct. Craig said earlier that any theist could ground their morality on God.

Finally, Harris notes that just as we aren’t losing any sleep over the fact that Muslims think we (Christians) are going to hell, he isn’t losing any sleep over Christians thinking he is going to hell. But what kind of argument is this? Someone is unconcerned about a rival hypothesis, so we should think the rival is false? I mean, I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that Harris thinks the basis of my religion is psychosis, because I think it is ridiculous!

Q and A

I simply can’t ignore the Q and A from this one. Some of the questions were just silly, but the two that struck me were both asked of Harris. The first question was from someone who basically asked “If a God were proposed that would meet your [Harris’] definitions of objective morality, would you grant that he could ground morality?” Harris answered very well by saying yes, but then there would be no reason to propose God as the grounds for the morality, for one would have to grant Harris’ account worked.

The second question was the kicker. The person asked, basically “You base objective morality on the an assumption that the worse possible world is bad, why think that is not subjective [based upon an arbitrary assumption]?” Harris answered the only way he could. He said we have to take it as axiomatic that it is objectively bad.

So basically, Harris admits that on his view, we must simply have faith that some things are objectively bad and that the well-being of conscious creatures is objectively good. We must simply assume that something is true, and that is to be our grounds for belief. As Harris put it, it is axiomatic, so it doesn’t have to be justified. On such an account, then, belief in objective morals is, on atheism, a leap of faith–an ungrounded, unjustified (epistemically) leap. I’ll have to be forgiven for thinking Harris failed to adequately defend his position.

Overall, I’d say Harris seemed to fare better than Lawrence Krauss in his debate with Craig (my analysis here), but upon thinking about it, I think Harris may have done far worse. The bottom line is Harris lined up atheism’s best attempt to ground objective morality like a house made of building blocks. Craig came along and knocked them over. Then he laughed.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss-Thoughts and links

The debate took place on March 30th. I recently watched it and wanted to share my own comments, along with some others’ excellent thoughts.

First, the audio of the debate: here.

Second, William Lane Craig’s “Post Mortem”: here.

Third, Wintery Knight posted an excellent summary of Krauss’ “arguments”. I highly recommend reading it: here.

Fourth, the video is here.

Fifth, cosmologist Luke Barnes writes on Krauss’ misrepresentation of “nothing” here.

Sixth, Craig responds to Krauss’ extensive critique here.

DISCLAIMER: This post has been linked to by PZ Myers as a post which demonstrates the “dishonest distortions of some attendees.” For clarification: I did not attend the  debate, but rather watched it online. Further, I answer Myers’ discussion of Bayes in a comment in response to a visitor below. Krauss definitely mistreprents Bayesian theorems in a way which undermines his own position. Finally, Myers’ ad hominem attacks upon Craig do little to back up Krauss’ self-defeating debate. For example, Myers writes that Craig is a “vacuous moron”; he rails against theists who “reject the atheist without thinking”; and he calls me dishonest, though admittedly only through linking to my site. Myers, in other words, uses the same strategy Krauss did in his debate: Calls himself smart, calls his opponents dumb, and declares “win” on the internet.

My thoughts:

Craig Opening

Craig went through his standard 5 arguments set, which remains as powerful as ever. The reason he doesn’t change his opening statement (unless the debate is about something other than the existence of God) is because he doesn’t need to fix what “ain’t broke”.

Krauss Opening

Krauss’ opening statement is simply awful. He starts off by saying Craig is a “professional debater” which is an obvious jab, because Craig is a professional philosopher who is world-renowned in both philosophy of religion and philosophy of time. Krauss goes on to bash logic and philosophy. Against Craig’s argument from contingency, he asserts that some contingent events happen causelessly. For example, he argues that “accidents happen all the time,” and seems to think that this shows that things can happen without cause. Against the Kalam, he argues that the universe is big, and concludes the argument is false. He also says that 2+2=5. He further argues that we can deal mathematically with infinities–something Craig agrees with and in fact deals with in extensive detail in his literature (specifically, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, and elsewhere).

Krauss also seems to argue that Craig’s evidence is not falsifiable, which is strange, considering every argument Craig offered is falsifiable simply by disproving one of the premises. He went on to assert that the universe came into existence out of nothing, for which he provides no evidence. Then he argues that “We don’t know!” if the universe is infinitely old (which runs smack in the face of the Big Bang).  We also “don’t know” if there are objective moral values.

So, summing up Krauss’ opening, we have: logic doesn’t work, things pop into existence out of nothing, things can cause themselves, 2+2=5, and we don’t know anything.

Craig 2

Craig pointed out that you can’t deny logic without using logic to come to that conclusion, therefore defeating Krauss’ schoolyard “reasoning”. Craig then destroys Krauss’ argument from Hume, by pointing out Hume didn’t even have access to the probability calculus utilized in arguments from miracles. He goes on to point out that Krauss’ argument that “accidents just happen” as a way to get around causal reasoning is ridiculous–the example of a friend falling out of bed and breaking a leg is not causeless–he broke his leg because he fell out of bed in such and such a way! He also points out that we certainly can add infinites together (again, if Krauss had actually done any research, he’d have known Craig already responded to this argument), but that actual infinites are impossible because it leads to contradictions. Craig goes on to quote George Ellis, a cosmologist, as an expert who disagrees with Krauss.

Craig then pointed out that there’s a difference in terminology between what Krauss said is “nothing” and actual “nothing.” Krauss simply misrepresented what is meant by “nothing” comes from “nothing.” The quantum vacuum, for example, is not “nothing”. He then quoted Krauss on the very topic, pointing out that Krauss clearly intended to distort the meaning of “nothing.” Nothing, Craig explains, means actually nothing–no quantum vacuum, no energy, no matter: nothing. So Krauss has to point out that the universe can come from actual nothing. He then points out that Krauss doesn’t even argue against moral values, and has to go on to quote Krauss’ body of work to point out his only response to the argument, which is that there is no freedom of the will. So Krauss has to argue that there’s no freedom of the will in order to get around Craig’s argument. Finally, Craig nicely shows Krauss how to logically get to God from Christ, since apparently Krauss was unable to make that same inference.

Krauss 2

Krauss starts off by holding that empty space is not empty–something Craig agrees with, which is the entire point of the argument! Craig has been arguing that there was nothing before the universe–something the Big Bang also leads to, but Krauss either can’t fit his mind around this simple concept (before the universe there was actually nothing) or he is blatantly misrepresenting the argument. My bets are on the latter. Krauss says the beginning of the universe is “fascinating” and we should try to understand it, and then argues that it’s possible to not believe in God. (Fantastic reasoning). He then makes another jab at Craig by saying “he’s not an expert” …but well, maybe he is “because he’s read my stuff.”

Krauss interestingly points out there was a time when there was no space and time, and then it came into existence. He holds that this is for no reason, out of nothing.

He goes on to make what I call the “observer’s fallacy”: claiming that because we’re here, we don’t need to explain why we’re here. As with many terrible arguments, the “observer’s fallacy” proves too much–we’re here to observe x, therefore x is probable or had to happen (and therefore we don’t need to speculate about a cause–or there is no cause). Anything can be plugged in. I’m here to observe the hamburger in front of me to eat, therefore it is uncaused!

Krauss’ argument about “empty space” holds that these quantum events happen with different laws at different times. He then concludes that therefore, these are uncaused or undesigned, there is no God. But the obvious flaw in this reasoning is that he already noted that these quantum events happen due to laws, which then precludes his argument against logic in science. He argues that physics has different, random kinds of laws across an unobservable multiverse which we can’t test. Nice bit of metaphysical baggage to add on there.

Krauss also makes the absurd error of equating mathematical probability with epistemic probability. Krauss is correct in saying that if something is 50% likely, that’s just a chance, not a reason to believe it’s true or that it’s the case. However, he misunderstands (I say this because it’s clear so far that he doesn’t know what epistemic probability is) epistemic probability. One example could be drawn from Robin Collins about the thesis of common descent–if I think it is more likely than another theory, I’m not saying that it has a 60% chance, whereas other theories have a 30% or 20% chance… no, I’m saying that given the evidence, it seems as though the thesis of common descent has more epistemic weight than its rivals–it is more likely epistemically. I doubt Krauss will address this in any way through the rest of the debate, because I really do think, judging by his strategy so far, he doesn’t have the philosophical know-how to do so.

In summary, Krauss’ response to Craig’s rejoinder is: “Everything is random! HA! Also, things happen due to causes, but they are uncaused! I’m here to observe things, so they are uncaused!”

Craig 3

Craig now has to get to the point of debating someone who denies logic. Not an enviable position.

Craig starts off by refocusing the debate on whether there is evidence for God or not–“is it the case that God’s existence is more probable” given the evidence presented “than not.” He points out that Krauss didn’t engage Craig’s theses, but rather went off on tangents. For example, Krauss did not deny that he was using the taxicab fallacy–the idea that everything needs an explanation, but once we get to the universe, it needs no explanation. Then Craig argues that the scientific evidence supports the beginning of the universe, using the same paper Krauss argued had nothing to do with God. Craig’s only intent is to use the research to point to a beginning of the universe, so Krauss was again mistaken in his response.

Craig challenges Krauss to present any evidence to suggest the universe is past-eternal. I sincerely doubt Krauss will do anything of the sort, given how evasive he’s been to this point. Craig also challenges Krauss to actually address the fine-tuning argument and present some reason as to why we should believe in the multiverse which we can’t observe. Then Craig points out that most scientists agree the universe is fine-tuned for life, contra Krauss’ denial earlier.

Finally, Craig points out that Krauss misrepresents the moral argument because God’s nature is necessarily such that the divine commands He issues cannot be evil.

Summary: Craig has challenged Krauss to deal with the evidence at hand.

Krauss 3

Not that it is unexpected, but Krauss starts off by outlining just how clear it is that he doesn’t understand epistemic probability. He continues to think that it is reducible to mathematic probability. Plus, his example is simply wrong. Krauss says (paraphrased) “You wanna talk about probability, how bout we ask some scientists if God exists!” He then says that 90% of the National Academy of scientists are atheists. Okay… so how is this probability? It’s a statistic. Apparently Krauss is unaware of the fact that to have a probability, you must, you know, draw a conclusion. He could have said “The chance for me to pull an atheist out of the National Academy of Scientists is 9/10” but simply saying that 90% of them are atheists is not a probability. Not only that, but Krauss is clearly being disingenuous. Also, he clearly doesn’t understand epistemic probability.

Krauss then randomly brought up the “Old Testament God” and says He’s clearly not compassionate.

He hints at the Euthyphro dilemma… but then says “rationality defines morality.” How?

Closing Statements

Craig simply points out Krauss hasn’t refuted any argument.

Krauss resorts to saying “We don’t know x, we don’t know y, we don’t know z.” Then he makes the infamous “We’re all atheists” argument that is the subject of this post and one I will write soon.

Final Thoughts

Imagine a theist/Christian came to a debate and, in order to establish his point, stood up and said “Well logic doesn’t work. Logic isn’t reality. Philosophy is dumb. Theology is better. Theology isn’t governed by logic. Logic is dumb. Logic can’t prove anything about the universe [this latter is a direct quote from Krauss].”

The Christian would be laughed out of the building. But an atheist can stand up and say “logic doesn’t prove anything… Logic isn’t reality… etc.” and people take them seriously. It’s another example of “atheism at any cost.” Rather than acknowledge the existence of God, to which logic and sound reasoning continue to lead us, atheists reject logic and sound reasoning. Krauss, to his credit, did manage to demonstrate this with profound success: atheism is irrational.

SDG.

——

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Dawkins vs. Craig: Deaf, or blatantly misrepresenting theism?

I stumbled on this video from the recent debate between William Lane Craig et. al and Richard Dawkins et al. which occurred in Mexico. It was via Doug Geivett’s blog (he was another participant in the debate). The video is cut to show Craig’s comments alongside Dawkins’ rebuttals. It seems as though Dawkins either completely missed what Craig was saying, or he is blatantly misrepresenting the case on the other side. I tend to suspect it is the latter, as in the writings of Dawkins which I have read, he doesn’t strike me as the most intellectually honest fellow. Judge for yourself:

The whole debate can be found here.

Searching for Writers

I’m planning to start a new site (in addition to this one). The point of the site is to have internal Christian dialogue, with an emphasis on the fact that despite our disagreements on matters not related to salvation, we are all Christians and should treat each other with love.

The writers for the site will be required to affirm the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian).  The posts on the site will be intended for the lay reader but will feature doctrinal discussion on a loving, Christian level. Specifically, some topics could include: the origins of life (i.e. creation vs. evolution vs. ID), Christian approaches to religious diversity, original sin, baptism, the role of women in the church, the authority of the Bible, the authority of the Church, etc. The posts would be laid out either as a point-by-point dialogue between the contributers (i.e. a back and forth with short e-mails in published form) or as series of posts with writers talking back and forth.

The purpose will be many-faced: to encourage discussion among Christians about issues which are important, while still maintaining Christian love for each other; striving for church unity by increasing respect among members of the Body of Christ; potentially apologetic/evangelistic purposes; and giving glory to God.

Posts on this new site will be short, so as to make sure the time commitment is not too high. I’m thinking about around 500 words as being the upper limit (though writers could exceed that if they desired–these issues are important and some could require several pages to fully address).

Any interested writers should be prepared to demonstrate writing skill and a knowledge base sufficient for engaging in discussion on the aforementioned topics. Applicants may submit an up to 500 word sample of writing on one of the topics above, along with a short biography and affirmation of Christian belief (this part will not count towards the 500 words) to oontabob@yahoo.com.  Applications from Christians of any denomination are accepted, though, once more, adherence to the three ecumenical creeds is a requirement (which includes belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, etc.).

I’m also looking for people talented with graphics/etc. who could potentially help with making pictures/banners/etc. for the site.

Debate Part 2

Part 2 of a continuing debate. Part 1 can be found here. This is a debate between an atheist and myself. The non-bolded text is his (when he’s quoting he is quoting my responses in part 1). The bolded text is my response.

“He then argues that Jesus does not remove responsibility from the law by quoting Matthew 5:18ff…leaving out (5:18 – I understood) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.””.

I didn’t intend to argue that point (the fulfillment of the law), and have at least a rudimentary understanding of this. I was attempting to interject some connective tissue into your original comment to more accurately reflect what I thought Harris was referring to. I will at least mention a couple of points that I’ve questions about to get your take on them.

Indeed, Jesus said “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (It’s impossible for me to think Harris is not aware of this. I wouldn’t speculate as to why it was omitted. Being that he and likely any of his readers know full well the concept and the passage, it seems something dubious was unlikely).

I would ask how you reconcile the next line, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear,…” with the one before it that you mention? ‘Until heaven and earth disappear’ – surely this has not yet happened, and it would follow that the rest of the verse, then, still applies today and until that does happen (“…not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law…”). It seems that that which must come to pass before the law he spoke of would be fulfilled, has not.

I notice as well as the verses continue that Jesus in fact, quite opposed to rendering these laws somehow null by fulfilling them, seems to systematically magnify and amplify each. It follows logically that he has not yet ‘fulfilled’ them in a sense of completion. Anger is elevated to the sin of murder and a lustful look elevated to that of actual adultery. It seems he not only didn’t relegate these laws to the past, but raised the bar quite a lot on what actually constituted sin.

The first and easiest thing to point out is that you’re assuming knowledge you don’t have: what Harris is or is not aware of, and that his readers “know full well the concept and the passage.” How is it that you know this information? Are you suggesting that everyone who reads Harris knows what comes before the verses he cites, and that they know enough of Scripture to interpret it in light of context and other verses?

But your claims to knowing of others’ background knowledge aside, this argument from Harris and others seems to show a misunderstanding of both the concept of justification and the concept of the separation of Law and Gospel. A simple response can be found in one of the greatest Doctrinal works of the Lutheran Church: Pieper’s ‘Christian Dogmatics,’ Volume I, page 532 “Holy Scripture also determines exactly which laws applied only temporarily and locally, for instance, only to the Jews under the covenant of the Law, and are therefore not the divine norm for all men of all times. A great and harmful confusion of the consciences of men is, even to our day, caused by generalizing temporary and  local laws. With reference, for instance to the commandment given Exodus 31:14-15 “Ye shall keep the Sabbath… everyone that defileth it shall surely be put to death,” and Leviticus 19:26 “Ye shall not eat anything with the blood,” and Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (the catalogue of clean and unclean beasts), the New Testament distinctly says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days,” Colossians 2:16. We get this result: Only that is divine Law for all men which is taught in Holy Writ as binding on all. Not even the Ten Commandments in the form in which they were given to the Jews (Exodus 20) are binding on all men, but only the Ten Commandments as set down in the New Testament, as we have them… Commandments given to individuals, e.g. the commandment received by Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, do not obligate others. In general, the rule to be applied to the life and acts of the saints is, in the words of the Apology [to the Augsburg Confession]: ‘Examples ought to be interpreted according to the rule, i.e., according to certain and clear passages of Scripture, not contrary to the rule, that is, contrary to Scripture.’”

Acts 10:15 is another example: “’Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’”

To say that Jesus expanded the Law is inaccurate. He clarifies it and outlines largely which laws God intended for all peoples. Surely one would not suggest he does so for all of Levitical law and otherwise. One of the rules of Biblical interpretation is to interpret scripture in light of scripture, and when one does so in the case of the Law, one can see that to argue that all people are to follow the ceremonial laws and others is not formed on the basis of a Scriptural argument, but on pulling only certain verses and ignoring others.

As far as reconciling “Until heaven and earth disappear,” with what I’ve said, it becomes clear after the previous explanation. Jesus is affirming the presence of the law which continually acts as a mirror to show us our sin and need for Him. He is not abolishing the Law, but affirming it. He’s fulfilling it on our behalf, because we all inevitably fail—especially when compared to the standards He sets in Matthew 5:21ff. His statements must be taken in light of the rest of Scripture. The ceremonial laws set in Leviticus were for the Hebrew people in the Covenant of the Law. We are not bound by these laws, as stated in other passages (Acts 10:15, Colossians 2:16, Galatians 5:6, and elsewhere). To argue otherwise is to argue against Scripture.  It is to argue by selective observation (a logical fallacy).

**I’ve taken a question out of chronological order here, which I generally don’t do, as it felt a bit like a summation to me. As this will likely be the final formal response from me in this particular debate, I thought I’d use it as a conclusion of sorts. It is now the final response**

“Arguing against Christianity by saying it’s bad does nothing to its claims of truth, making the argument an ad hominem attack on the character of Christians rather than an attack on Christianity.”

You mention two separate things here;
1) Arguing that Christianity is bad, and
2) arguing that Christian’s are bad.
Though I would suggest that there is no way to disassociate one from the other. You need only imagine everyone that self labels as a Christian suddenly vanishing from existence – does the religion remain? Of course not. The people ARE the religion.
Arguing that Christianity is bad does indeed call into question the claims of its truth, as it is claimed to be good. If it is shown that it is bad, it is also shown that it is false. Showing that Christians are bad, at best, would show that either the message is terribly unclear (and after two millennium, likely undecipherable to the degree that anything more than a negligible consensus can be achieved), and at worst that it simply, as a system, doesn’t work.

To illustrate with analogy; I imagine a company manufacturing some product. It is shown, let’s say, that none of this company’s worker’s produce anything of merit (or very few if you prefer). Perhaps they are lazy, have a poor work ethic, or arrive to work drunk each day. Whatever the reasons, they each produce substandard products that make it out the door. An outsider visits the company site, and sees all of the substandard products and remarks that the company is substandard. How could one maintain that this company is good despite it continually turning out inferior products? I argue that they couldn’t. Reverse engineer the old garbage in, garbage out saying. If after thousands of years there is still no consensus as to the meanings contained in the bible, and evil is still routinely performed in its name, it is time to reevaluate the merit of the texts.

This is an example of a false analogy. It also again shows a misunderstanding of the core of Christianity. Just as you feel the need to correct me by saying atheism is not a belief, I must correct you by saying that Christianity is not about being good people. To argue against Christianity on the basis that its people are bad is to ignore the central claim of Christianity, that we are sinful, that Jesus washed away our sins in His fulfillment of the law and offering as a sacrifice for our sins, and that Jesus Christ is Lord God over all.

If you want to argue against the track record of the organized religion of Christianity, one can do it in the fashion Harris is doing. But that is to ignore the truth claims of Christianity. Not only that, but Christians acknowledge their own sinfulness that has been around since the fall into sin. It sets up a straw man in place of the truth claims of the argument by saying “you claim to be good [I don’t], and your religion claims to make people good, so you should all be good or your religion is wrong” Christianity is about the core beliefs I outlined above, not about being good. To say a Christian sins is to confirm what the Christian knows: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The institution of the church itself is not inerrant.
“(i.e. condom use, etc.) could be valid against Catholicism, which is not the Christianity I (and about 50% of Christians) ascribe to.”

Certainly you aren’t writing off one of the most powerful and influential churches in history, along with over a billion adherents, as not relevant to a discussion about religion?
I think it reasonable to assume that when he addresses those that hold such beliefs about condom use for example, that it’s understood that he is actually speaking to those that have that particular belief, no? He was after all, addressing the entire nation, of which a good quarter of are Catholic.

I must simply point out that once again a stance of the Catholic Church or other church on an individual issue is to argue about points that aren’t central to the teachings of Christianity. The church can mess up, the church can error. This is because we are human, and it does nothing to the claim that Jesus is savior.

“It seems dishonest of Harris to assert that atheists are completely different…”

I would ask that you give a single example of something that all atheists share other than the lack of a belief in god, if you found that dishonest. Or was it merely the comparison?

It was for comparison.

Day states, “By applying his metric to the state-wide voting instead of the more
precise and relevant county,…”

OK, brakes please. Though I dread the thought of this, if you would like to proceed with these mountains of data, I will be obliged to do so – but only after I check all of these numbers for myself, and from both angles mentioned. I am not prepared to take either of these men’s assessments on…faith, any further. I was willing to stick out my neck a tiny bit as to the veracity of Harris’ method, but to debate specific numbers from his and another source, neither of which I have verified myself, is a bit much – not my style. I couldn’t in good conscience do so. This would of course take a bit of time, so let me know if you wish to argue this to its end.
I can be rather obsessive with research, and will hand you the specifics on a platter with references sited, likely with better detail than both of them. But I ask you be certain this is something worthy of your debate, as it will take quite some time to compile, and it was not my original intent. That said, I am willing.

I will continue to assert I believe that either way this statistic is utterly unimportant. I would like to simplify any search you want to make by pointing to the CIA World Factbook on the U.S. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html ) and its stats on religion: “Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.).” Atheists are decidedly a minority. It seems illogical to point to atheists as the reason for less violence in an area. It also is reading into statistics, a lot. Overall, I just think this entire argument is nothing but irrelevant. Unless you really want to argue that it is relevant somehow, I’d be happy to drop it.

“Day points to a 2001 ARIS study that shows that 14.1% of Americans are atheists.”

Again, the research would need to be done on my end to go much further with this.

“I’ll concede again that I should have been more clear here. Harris does admit that religious people do good things, but it seems to me that his argument centers around the idea that no religion = better people.”

I think that’s a fair assessment of what he says, or at the very least, that religion is not required to do that same good. But I believe what you’ve said here is valid, yes.

“He seems to argue that if religion were removed, more good would be done.”

I believe he does, if for no other reason than the impediments that religion erect – i.e. the issue of condoms mentioned (and the hordes that die because of it), the IUD (birth control) issue and the related cancer tat results, the stem cell research issue… – all of which that, if it were not for the church, would save innumerable lives.
So yes, if religion would stop attempting to legislate morality, much more good could be done. Removal of said religion would likely produce the same effect, though I am not advocating it’s ‘removal’. I’m unclear as to whether or not he is. I didn’t get that impression, but it would depend on how you mean removal, of course – and by what means would be of utmost importance.

This is utilitarianism to the max: What makes the greatest good for the greatest number of people? I don’t think this is a valid moral stance to take whatsoever. The biggest problem is one of the classic examples against utilitarianism: Let’s say that there are 1,000,000 people whose happiness would increase if a minority group of about 100 people were killed. Simply following utilitarianism, one would have to advocate killing these 100 people. A counter argument could then be made that being dead is a very big unhappiness, while the 1,000,000 people wouldn’t be super happy about it, just a little happy. But what if 1,000,000 people would be happier if 1 innocent person were tortured? What if they’d be happier if 1 innocent person were just beaten? Either of these cases seems wholly within the utilitarianist view of ethics. But we can see they are clearly wrong (unless one wants to argue that torture or beating an innocent person can be a good thing). To argue on the basis of a utilitarian view is to accept that ethical stance as a standard of judgment, which, as we’ve just seen, is awkward at best.
“I could stand to reword that part of my blog entry, but again I don’t think I’m attacking a straw man when Harris specifically tries to detract from the good that religious people do (i.e. his Mother Theresa example in which he says she was “…deranged by religious faith.”) If she were not so deranged, she would have been better. That seems to be a valid way to argue from what he is saying.”

When you stated “whether people like Harris want to admit it or not.” you in fact posited something that he did not say, and then refuted it. That is essentially what a straw man is, to set up and refute a position that your opponent did not take.

With regards to Mother Theresa, I have very little information as yet – though it is now  apparently available. Hitchens also has some pretty scathing things to say about her in ‘God is Not Good’. Regardless, I would hesitate to argue her virtues, but would also caution you until you can digest information that surfaced (I believe from her personal letters?). It’s worth taking a look at from what I gather, as it is rather illuminating and casts her in a grim light after all. It was this information that he was basing things on, not the old, untarnished saintly image she’s enjoyed in the past. It’s something I need to look into as well.

Harris wants to discredit the good that religious people do by name calling. Attacking Mother Theresa is simply an ad hominem fallacy. Further, I’ve read some of these things from her diaries, etc. They point to her having the same struggles as all people of faith do—wondering if we’re doing what’s right, wondering if God exists, etc. That doesn’t seem damaging to me.

“…doesn’t do anything to hurt the message of Christ…”

This is one thing we may agree upon, for I have no particular malice towards the figure of Christ, nor much of his teachings. Not all mind you, but much of them. It is religion as a whole, and the behavior of its adherents that I find to be a problem, not the teachings of one philosopher. It is the interpretations of that philosopher, the justification – however ill advised – in his name, the imposition of this code of morality through legislation on to those who do not share the beliefs, etc. Not the man.

Christ claimed to be God. To call Him simply a philosopher does no credit to what He did and said while He was on earth. I’d agree that Christians do not always (or perhaps even often do not) follow the teachings of Christ. This is something I think the church does deserve criticism for—embracing a morality that wasn’t Christ’s. Dietrich Bonhoeffer does a good job in his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” But that is a whole other issue, seeing as how we agree truth claims are untouched.
“It is wholly possible that Christians do good things out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Agreed, it is possible.

“…it implies that the only reason a Christian does good is for reward,…”

I’ve certainly heard this argument, yes. There are many Christians that do just this – as wrong-headed as it may be. But I would tend to focus more on the ‘do good because they are commanded to’ aspect myself. I argue this from personal experience with a rather substantial number of Christians, both on line in and in real life. The quotes from many-a-video for example of Christians stating that;
1) If it weren’t for biblical morality spelling things out for them, they’d likely be completely immoral (I kid you not – perhaps you would be surprised by how many say such things?). -that what prevents them from committing these acts, is that it says so in the bible. ‘How else would one know right from wrong?’ they say.
coupled with;
2) Their complete inability to grasp that an atheist, because they do not have this book that they follow, can still be quite moral indeed. It seems utterly unfathomable to them. That to me says a great deal about their morality.

I am deeply saddened to hear #1 and 2 together. The Bible even says that “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)”-Romans 2:14-15.

Thus, Scripture itself shows that those without belief can know and do the requirements of the Law. The core argument, however, is based on an assumption [that Christians only do good for reward] that is not a logical truth and is invalid.

“The point you make about the result being the same is interesting, given that you just argued above that it is somehow better to do good things without a responsibility to do so.”

It seems you are confusing the result, with the intent? Yes, I maintain that the intent of said act is important when attempting to assign a value judgment to that act – even if the outcome is identical.
For example, giving a large sum of money to charity when one has little to give would rightly be considered more altruistic, than giving money when you’ve plenty to give because you expect to get a tax write off.

Your correction from obligatory to objective is noted. Though if I were a student of Freud… 😉

Again this whole argument is based on the assumption that Christians have questionable intentions when they do good (i.e. they do it for wanting a reward). This may be true for some, but it is untrue to apply it to all. It also seems to assume that the only reason atheists or nonreligous people would do good is out of the kindness of their hearts. This also seems an invalid assumption, as [you noted] tax write offs and other rewards (a feeling of being a good person, having others see how charitable one is, etc.) could influence some.

“One could make the same argument for the history of irreligion.”

By irreligion, are you referring to essentially every cause not directly tied to religion (as it can mean absence of, indifference to, or hostility towards religion)? If that’s the case, then I would certainly agree. Religious reasons for violence vs. every other possible reason for violence…religion might stand a chance in that instance!

It seems like you had access to “The Irrational Atheist” by Day judging from your more recent e-mails, and so can see that from the Encyclopedia of War one can determine that religion is the cause of 6.98% of war. This seems to undermine the idea that it is a major cause of war in the world.

St. Augustine said “We are never to judge a philosophy by its abuse.” I believe that violence in Christianity is not just abuse of Scripture, but it goes against the core tenants of the teachings of Christ and the beliefs that the church was founded on. The same beliefs that exist in the core of Christianity today.

“I think simply looking at an overall # of death rate, it is possible that irreligion has lead to more violence than religion.”

I don’t know that that would be possible, but I would be interested as well in the results of such a tally. One reason of the cuff, is that the inherent inequalities in technology, transportation, etc. presented by the times would make comparable calculations impossible. Much like how we adjust today’s value of a dollar to day’s of old to see how much something was worth a hundred years ago.

By the time a man could openly admit being atheist without fear of being say, burned alive by the church, technology had progressed by leaps and bounds which always, always translates into more advanced warfare. So certainly these (atheist) leaders that you site had much more gruesomely efficient ways of disposing of their fellow man than did their theist predecessors. I shudder to think of the Catholic church (for example) having in their possession advanced WMDs during the dark ages.
I’d still be morbidly interested in the count if it were possible, but it would hardly be equatable.

Your use of “Dark Ages” exposes a presupposition against religion. Historians in general are completely abandoning the phrase because it paints a picture different than what is historically true.

Arguing that the church being in possession of different technology would mean they would have killed more people is an example of a non sequitur argument. It doesn’t follow logically that the church would have used those weapons. It also is arguing from common sense—yet another fallacy. We can’t know what would have happened in this case. You can only argue that it “makes sense” that the church would have killed more. This does nothing in the sphere of logic.
“It is also worthy of note that Harris specifically tries to get around these people by calling them irrational and makes some attempt to try to put them outside of atheism…His argument here seems to be that these people are irrational, so they can be dismissed. Yet I’d make the argument that Christians in particular who try to use that belief system for violence are irrational. Either both can be discounted, or neither can.”

I think we’ve touched on this already, but it bares repeating even if we have. He attempts to stress, as does any atheist thinker I have read, that one can not be said to do something ‘because’ they are atheist.
This is because there are no tenets, beliefs, dogma, rules, laws, scripture…nothing necessitated by atheism, excepting a lack of belief in a god. This leads to nothing necessarily. Humanism, for example, may indeed have some things to answer for. I’m not the one to ask.
But atheism in and of itself says nothing, asks nothing, certainly instructs or demands nothing. It is a lack of belief. Period.
Therefore, one can not attribute any particular act to an individual ‘because they are an atheist’. I hope this becomes clearer to you as we go.

But one can say that an atheist does an action, i.e. Stalin killing millions of his own people. Also, this argument seems to smack of a double standard, because again, Harris specifically points to rationality as being the judge by which people can disassociate with people of the same background (i.e. atheist). If this is the standard, then those who kill in the name of Christ can be discounted as well.

I, however, don’t want to argue that atheists are violent automatically, and I believe it is wholly false to do so for religious people, especially in light of the evidence (like that of wars).
“1. God is morally perfect   and   2. God commands killing
are incompatible…alternative readily makes itself available: 3. There are some whose moral depravity is such that God will not suffer them to live”

Of course, this only works (assuming for the moment that it does in fact work) if you assume that number 1 is in fact true. I have no reason to suppose this. I would further suggest that this argument places the proverbial cart before the horse. To judge an entity as morally perfect in advance, and then proceed to insist that all of his actions are moral because of this and based on nothing else – certainly nothing objective – is completely backwards for a reasoning animal.

I expect this may come up in our future dialogue, so I’ll leave it at that.

I do indeed assume that God is morally perfect in that post because the argument is against Christian theism, which asserts that God is morally perfect. The argument says that those two points within Christian belief are incompatible. So it is a completely valid presupposition.

Further, Alvin Plantinga points out in “God, Freedom, and Evil” that the theistic definition of God is a maximally great being—maximally great would include maximally great in morality, hence God is morally perfect.

To argue with me on that point is to miss the entire argument. Theists are attacked on their own idea that God is morally perfect, so that premise is simply granted for anti-theists to argue against.

“…clearly not recording stories of massed killings in the name of the Lord for the sake of showing God’s moral imperfections (which, I would argue, points even more towards the innerrancy of Scripture, but that’s a whole other issue),”

Yes, the idea that the more outlandish the possibility, the more true is the statement. I’ve heard many versions of that very peculiar argument, but I wouldn’t mind hearing yours at some future point. This is why the tacking on of miracles to the old, rather dry bible, had such a profound effect. Sadly, it works.
Interesting use of adjectives there. What this paragraph has shown is simply an argument based on nothing. I could call atheists anti-theistic arguments dry and old and have similar logical effect—none. Please refrain from such terminology in the future of our debate. I’d like to keep it at a more intellectual level.

Further I’m not sure what you’re implying when you say the “tacking on of miracles.” Surely you are not implying that miracles were written into Scripture later. That would be an interesting argument to make, and the burden of proof would certainly be on the affirmative.
“Those who argue that the God of the Bible is evil are merely skimming scripture for verses they believe will back them up in out-of-context situations.”

That’s a rather rash and sweeping generalization. Along with many other theists, you rest on the position that if one does not come to the same conclusion as you have, that they must not have read it. I imagine you know full well this is not the case.

I would further submit, that there is simply no context that one can place some stories of the bible in, to somehow make them justifiable (sending bears to rip apart children for teasing a bald man comes to mind, and that’s one of the less extreme stories. There is no proper context for this that would elevate to some moral platitude, no moral justification whatsoever. It’s a disgusting little story used to frighten people, and nothing more).

Are you suggesting that you have the authority to interpret Scripture? Reading is not equivalent to understanding. There is a long line of people whose lives have been dedicated to hermeneutics, exegesis, and other methods of studying scripture who have not come to the conclusion that it endorses violence. The church fathers, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, countless studies in Systematic Theology,  and modern voices in the church (Bonhoeffer, Van Til, Walthier [maybe not so modern]) and the like can all be found to assert a central teaching that Christ is Lord and savior. The teachings of Christianity are not of violence. To take the extremists as the norm is to be intellectually dishonest.

Not only that, but to claim that one outside the church (i.e. yourself) can find scriptural authority to back up violence the church has endorsed is to employ the argument from authority. You’re claiming yourself as the authority on scriptural intepretation and as the authority to judge the motivations of the church now, or hundreds or thousands of years ago. That alone is enough to reject such an argument. I’ll not deny that you can read the Bible, but to argue that you have better knowledge of it and its meaning than those within the religion, with accumulated knowledge of thousands of years, is false. And I can say all of this without appealing to God. There’s simply no way to justify you placing yourself in the position to interpret scripture over and above the actual authorities on the text.

Now this is also an argument from authority, but one that trumps yours. And an argument from authority, whilst weak and not formally valid in logic, is informally an argument that can be made within the structure of logic—in that we can show that people who are experts in the field (not us) have this position. The problem is that your authority (yourself) is not even close to the authority of thousands of years of accumulated students of Scripture backed up by entire fields of study that are governed by the rules of logic and have an intimate knowledge of the religion.

“by the assertion that God’s role as Judge could mean He cannot allow certain evils to pass unpunished.”

Again, the evil of teasing a man about his baldness required that children be mauled by bears? Is this god’s idea of the punishment fitting the crime?

“but it is also to argue without a knowledge of the culture that such a text originated from.”
Again, children – teasing – bears. In any age, that is simply sick. We can get more into other stories of course, that one is just so elegantly morbid, it served well.

I don’t really want to go through and discuss every violent story in Scripture. But if you’d like to, I’d willingly go over each one at length. Because the bear story is a hard one, it bears (pun unintentional) repeating:

“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths’ came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!’  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” -2 Kings 2:23-24.

An initial point I’d make would be to point out that we are not the judges of the world, God is (according to my worldview—which whoever brings this argument up is arguing against, so my presupposition is valid). Therefore we do not define what is “morbid” or “sick,” God does. Arguing that God is evil because of this act is to stand in judgment of God. This is unacceptable from a theistic view which presupposes His supremacy.

But I do believe a better explanation is needed in this case. I used a couple sources here, but my main one was Geisler’s “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.”

1. These men were holding the prophet of God in contempt (see previous chapters and verses to see just how God selected this prophet). This was no innocent mocking, but a direct attack on God’s authority, as Elisha was acting as the voice of God to the people. Hence, these young men were mocking the voice of God.

2. These young men were not innocent. Their great number compared to Elisha shows the danger he was in, especially in light of their sin of mocking God. Not only that, but it says the young men came out of town to jeer at him. They didn’t want the confines and authority of the city to limit the actions they could take. Calling him a ‘baldhead’—a reference to the baldness of the lepers was another sign of the contempt with which they held Elisha. He was not safe.

3. Elisha’s curse served as a warning and a sign. He was God’s prophet, and God would not suffer threats or mocking.

4. The nature of their mocking becomes clearer looking at what they say. “Go on up…” When looking at what had happened just before (Elijah ascending into heaven), it can be seen that this was essentially a challenge to Elisha’s authority as God’s prophet. The Hebrew word here, alah refers to “ascend.” It is the same Hebrew word used in 2 Kings 2:11 to describe Elijah’s being taken into heaven. What cannot be seen in the English is revealed in the Hebrew.

God’s punishment can then be seen as protecting His prophet, a warning, an act of Divine Judgment, and a confirmation of Elijah as prophet.
“This is an issue of semantics and I’m willing to concede the point that Harris does not adhere to Jainism.”

Though I appreciate the concession, I have to make this clear.
‘Semantics’ is generally conjured when the difference between words is somewhat trivial, and not important to the point being made. When you pronounce a very well known atheist who’s made it his work to combat religion, an adherent to a religion, that is certainly not just semantics, but an egregious error that I felt needed correction.

“Though it is clear that he has some interesting views on spirituality”

I believe you are referring to the fact that he practices meditation perhaps? I’m not clear on the significance of this? To be clear, it is meditation utterly devoid of anything ‘supernatural’ if that helps.

I was hoping we wouldn’t have to get into this.  http://skepdic.com/news/newsletter74.html#3 “Harris presents himself and atheism as rational, yet he doesn’t apply very rigorous standards of rationality when dealing with the subjects of reincarnation and the paranormal.”

“’These are people who have spent a fair amount of time looking at the data,’ Harris explains. The author … Dean Radin … proclaims: ‘Psi [mind power] has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments.’”

“That Harris would take seriously Stevenson’s beliefs about xenoglossy is disconcerting.”

I also find it hard to believe that this is coming from a man who claims to be a voice of reason. Harris indicates that Stevenson’s stories about xenoglossy are either true or they’re fraudulent, which is a false dichotomy. Stevenson could have gotten the translation wrong, he might be gullible, he may have made a mistake, he may be  exaggerating, or  he could be a pious fraud. Harris says that he can’t see how something could be a fraud if it makes so many people miserable. What about religion?”

“The fact that I have not spent any time on this should suggest how worthy of my time I think such a project would be. Still, I found these books interesting, and I cannot categorically dismiss their contents in the way that I can dismiss the claims of religious dogmatists.”- Harris

http://atheism.about.com/od/godlessatheistpolitics/tp/SamHarrisProfileBeliefs.htm

“Most criticism of Sam Harris comes from religious theists, but secular atheists have also found things to disagree with. The most prominent criticisms from atheists probably focus on his ideas about “rational” spirituality and mysticism which sound to many like little better than the sort of mysticism served up by traditional religions. Harris argues that “we cannot live by reason alone” and that it’s possible to tune one’s brain to perceive the world differently than usual and that this lies at the heart of spiritual traditions, including religious ones. He believes it’s important to cultivate skills in this area, not just to cultivate skills at skepticism, science, and critical thinking.”

Quotes from The End of Faith:

“There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.”

“Spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply rational.”

“Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith.”
“combined to his specific exclusion of Eastern religions from his general attack on religion show at least a predisposition”

Predisposition? No, I wouldn’t extrapolate that at all. If anything, I would guess (and that seems to be what we are doing now), that he prioritizing. That is, focusing his efforts on the religions he sees as the largest threat to our well being (i.e., the Abrahamic faiths).

“Fair enough, then I’ll say that these men were atheists. The people who did violence and were Christian can still be compared to as a legitimate analogy. Atheists who do violence. Christians who do violence. I’d argue both are bad.”

Yes, of course both are bad. No one in their right mind would argue other wise in my opinion. The point being, that a theist has a book chock full of violence that their god has committed or commanded others to commit, on which they base their morality. They have used this for centuries to justify some very nasty behavior indeed!
The key difference when one tried to attach some act to an atheist ‘because’ he is atheist, is that there are no such texts, tenets, dogma, etc. as mentioned. I’m repeating myself too much now, I’m sure you’ve understood.

I’m repeating myself too much too. As my friend pointed out, justifying claims doesn’t make something true or valid. Eisegesis is not the same as exegesis.

“Belief in a God can, however, give an objective standard by which all actions must be judged. Thus there is a better basis by which to reject certain actions than if there is no objective standard.”

I’ve more responses to this than would be manageable. I’d like to merge it with the above questions of objective vs. subjective morality above, and give them a separate debate. It deserves and requires it in my opinion, as I hear nothing more frequently from theists, than the morality questions.

Agreed.

“To argue that Christianity is violent is to go against the core teachings of Christianity from its founding”

Yet it stands in direct opposition to the reality of what the religion has produced in practice. In this case, the intent of the original if it is as you posit, and I’ve no particular reason to object, does nothing to rescue the reality of what it has been, in reality, in practice. The reality trumps the ideal.

Reform in the Church has been needed in the past and will be needed again.

“as we do have a strict definition of what it means to be Christian in the Bible.”

Again, those 30,000 sects scream loudly that the clarity you believe you have is either an illusion, or 29,999 sects have it wrong, and you got very, very lucky by picking precisely the right meaning. Additionally, that number is undoubtedly much larger concerning those that disagree on the meaning. Certainly even you, in your own congregation, disagree about the meaning of some text with another in your flock. I pick that number because it is easily understood.

You’re confusing doctrinal differences with theological ones. Christianity is built on Christ as savior and Lord. The “30,000 sects” have disagreements about things that are not the core of Christianity. I trust I will not have to repeat this again.

“Christians who use the Scripture to justify violence have missed what Christ himself says about violence.”

Ah, but we just got a little closer. I don’t deny this. I am not necessarily saying that all the evils done in the name of the bible, were done in the “true spirit” of what Christ taught.
But it is this vast majority, that are in your eyes ‘getting it wrong’, that comprise the religion, and dictate the policies of the religion on massive scales. It is they that are fighting the wars, killing the doctors, withholding the birth control, mutilating the genitals, retarding scientific progress, urging the end times by deliberately flaming the wars in the middle east, interjecting their pseudoscience into public classrooms, wedging their warped agendas into politics, into ours laws…it is they that OWN your religion and always have. If you are this type of Christian that I think you are claiming to be, you are indeed a minority, and you should be as horrified by their actions as I am. They are a death cult, pure and simple. And these are only the more overt damages caused by religion, speaking nothing yet of the psychological injuries it necessitates among other things.

Ad hominem attacks against Christian actions don’t dispute the truth claims of Christianity. They can dispute individual doctrinal stances, of which there are many differences.

Also, “retarding scientific progress?” That’s utterly false. Newton? Copernicus? Galileo? Pascal? Boyle? Leibnitz? Francis Collins? Bacon? Kepler? Descartes? Faraday? Mendel? Kelvin? Planck? Need I go on? Theists. All of them. I could make a longer list. I’m sure these names are easily recognized. Einstein was a deist, not an atheist. It seems clear that there have been a number of rather major scientific discoveries by theists. I challenge you to claim that someone like, oh, Gregor Mendel, was “retarded” by religion.  These men were not “retarded” by their faith.

“Conceded. Though the atheism you are describing is a “soft atheism” that goes against the definition of atheism as seen in both the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy”

I would actually refer you, rather than a definition in a book, to the real world community of atheists, where the type of atheism you seem to think is universal, is quite the minority.
http://richarddawkins.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=742
This is one sampling of the community at Richard Dawkins’ forums. Your version of atheism is trumped roughly 2.5 to 1. Incidentally, if you’re still searching for your ‘real’ atheist, they are there as well, and would love to speak with you I’m sure!

Argumentum ad populum. Here you’re arguing from consensus in order to redefine a word. “My version of atheism” is that which simply defines the term. Logically, your claim of a 2.5 to 1 ratio does absolutely nothing to the definition of atheism.

Also I’d at least like to think a book has a better chance of getting it right than a forum on the internet. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy and the Encyclopedia of Philosophy seem to me better sources from which to define a term.

I never claimed my idea of atheism is universal. I claim that those who assert their atheism are actually just agnostics in disguise.
regarding this; “the definition of atheist was written by a soft atheist, afraid to embrace the totality of the stance.”

That’s just silly. I would say ‘offensive’, but I don’t offend easily. The majority of atheists I have met and spoken with (no small number), adopt the position they do because it is the intellectually honest position to take.
One can not know with complete certainty that ‘anything’ does not exist (or for that matter, does exist if you’re in the solipsist camp), and this is conceded by any thinking person. It is simply not possible. To claim such a thing involves FAITH, which most rational minds I’ve encountered, have little use for. It is not out of fear as you suggest, but out of integrity evolving from a carefully thinking, reasoning, logical mind.

“One can not know with complete certainty that ‘anything’ does not exist.” Hence the problem with atheism. Interestingly, “not knowing” is agnosticism.

“This seems ad hominem to me. Rather than attacking any specific argument, he is attacking, say, Catholics, for preaching abstinence”

The argument he puts forth throughout is essentially, that religion does harm. He lists in your example, many ways in which religion is doing harm. I see no ad hominem attack. Perhaps the personal nature of the address is what’s distressing you. It is, more than a formal argument here (which would take a very different form), as if he were standing before a room of people speaking to them. It certainly does contain emotional appeal, granted. But i would hesitate to call it ad hominem, as he is directly addressing the ills he claims are doing the harm.

But what is it that he is arguing then? If he’s arguing that religious people can be violent, I’d agree. If he’s arguing Christians have used scripture to justify violence through eisegesis—incorrect interpretation of the text—I agree. But it seems that he is trying to discredit Christianity with his argument, an argument that is arguing against the people within a religion, not against the beliefs of that religion. Hence it is ad hominem… unless he is simply arguing for reform within the church.
“Another thing I’d love to point out is that Harris is a wonderful example of the argument from atheism”

You’ll get no argument from me on that. I find the argument quite silly. I can appreciate what its inventor might have been trying to do, but I find the delivery completely sloppy, and as you say, never should have included the word ‘atheist’. I find it to be a play on words that just didn’t work well.

I’m glad.

**The following was moved to the end to act as a conclusion. I will break from form some for this reason, but I trust the ideas conveyed are still quite rational, and offer some insight…**

“As far as whether Christianity sanctions bad things, I think that is nothing but an unfair charge…It seems clear that the Christianity Christ preaches is not one that condones violence. ”

That is ‘seems clear’ to you is of little consequence to the reality that it is most certainly NOT clear to many, many millions who use it as their moral compass.

This would be one of the major points of contention. Allow me a bit of a diatribe in an attempt to explain…

But this is not now, nor apparently has it ever been, what the church (and ergo the majority its followers) has actually done in practice. This is indeed, the ultimate no true Scotsman fallacy here.
That the church itself, the institution that presumably has the clearest understanding of the meanings contained within the bible, has been the perpetrator of such unimaginable evil (just peruse the medieval torture devices crafted and implemented by the church for a tiny sampling of its horrific past) is precisely the point.
If the church itself, responsible for disseminating this sacred information to the masses, has acted thusly – what are the masses to take from this? The result is unavoidable – the hatred, bigotry, paranoia, intolerance, etc. that we see daily from the religious. They are only regurgitating what the church has fed them for centuries. This in no way exonerates them from responsibility of course, but certainly the vile men at the top of the heap have much to answer for. This is the ‘religion’ that those like myself are speaking of.

The cry I hear again and again, invariably, is that the other guy simply didn’t understand what the bible really said, or meant. But the one speaking of course, ‘has it’. They, of all the millions of believers present and past, understand the word of God like no other. They have unlocked the code at the end of the labyrinth which is the text of The Holy Bible. This would help explain the 30000+ sects of Christianity. There is simply no consensus as to what the book means or even what it says for that matter, and that, coupled with the unending amount of the physical and psychological brutality it contains…it is no wonder that such evil is committed in its name. It could hardly have resulted in anything else.

I suggest, that complete and unquestioning FAITH without reason or logic or evidence of any sort is the true violence. Blind faith in another man’s doctrine is a violence to the mind – a thinking, reasoning mind, which is truly the only thing that gives us our privileged status on this rock. Through faith, one seeks to extinguish this, and they succeed.
It was after all men that wrote these texts, codified them, rewrote them, translated them, added bits, subtracted bits, enforced them through the ages. And what evidence have we that these men had the authority to do so? These men told us so. They were instructed by God directly the theist proclaims. And we know this, as well, precisely because these men said they were.

At the end of the day though, honestly ask yourself, do you think that I or any other atheist cares in the least what thoughts you have in your mind? What faith you claim to have in some matter? It is precisely because of all of the things mentioned that we would even bat an eye towards a man of faith. I can’t imaging having given such things a second thought if it weren’t for the actions of the theist down through history, and more importantly to me – right now. I am perfectly content having someone believe whatever it is they choose…if they can refrain from attempting to force it on any one else.
So far, theists have been notoriously, almost constitutionally incapable of doing this. That, is the problem with religion.

The “no true Scotsman” argument applies if and only if there is no definition of what it means to be whatever it is that is being argued. Christianity has a clear definition within the Bible, complete with the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Any who does not follow that command and claims a Christian action is indeed not a true Christian, based on the central text of the religion.

I, too, shall now conclude.

Christianity has been the central belief of the Western world for well over a thousand years. During this time, there have been huge leaps in science, medicine, human freedom, and the like. The greatest discoveries in the history of science have all been made within a Christian era.

The Bible stands as a whole. Taking any single verse outside of the context and not allow it to be interpreted by the whole of Scripture is arguing from selective observation—a logical fallacy. One need only look at Systematic Theology and find that violence is not the result of the church, it is the aberration. I’m not claiming that I know Scripture well enough to interpret it perfectly. I’m claiming that thousands of scholars of the Bible over the past two thousand years do know it well enough to interpret it correctly. Those who have used it for violence suffer either the flaw of selective observation or they simply use emotional appeals—not scriptural ones—to make their point.

Christ Himself is the Light of the World. Christians are told in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Scripture teaches clearly a life of love and peace for the Christian.

St. Augustine, in one of the greatest works in Christianity, “City of God” says of the Kingdom of God in Book II, Chapter 29, “The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.” This is what Christians look forward to: a city in which the standards of this world are no more. A city where holiness, truth, and felicity are enjoyed for eternity.

He says of a Christian life in Book XIV, Chapter 7: “When a man’s resolve is to love God, and to love his neighbor as himself, not according to man’s standards but according to God’s, he is undoubtedly said to be a man of good will, because of this love.”

The core of Christian faith is not doctrinal concerns over baptism, communion, or the like. Christians believe in the Triune God and Jesus as Lord and Savior. And the commands that are given are to love God and neighbor.

I close, with the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Debate on Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”

I have received permission to repost this. Some things are quotes from my blog, specifically “But Christians are Bad People” and others are quotes from Sam Harris’ “Letter…” (abbreviated due to laziness, not lack of respect). Some editing was done (i.e. removing names and extra info at the beginning, also added “if you’d like” to my bracketed side note on Matthew 22, and a few spelling errors were corrected).

This is a debate between an atheist and myself on Christianity in general. We decided to use my most recent blog and Sam Harris’ “Letter…” as the starting point. This will likely be only the first of many such posts.

His text is in normal print. My responses are in bold.


“Christians do bad things, so Christianity must be bad.”

I would argue that opponents of Christianity such as Sam Harris, would likely say that “Christians do bad things – and as the Bible specifically instructs in and sanctions such things – Christianity must be bad.”

I realize Sam Harris attempts to outline a case that the Bible commands evil in the beginnings of his book–citing Deuteronomy 13:6, 8-15. He then argues that Jesus does not remove responsibility from the law by quoting Matthew 5:18ff (page 5-6 in PDF form, 8-10 in the book). The problem is that Harris takes the Matthew verse out of context by either unintentionally or otherwise leaving out 5:18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” One of the core teachings of Christianity is justification. Jesus paid the price. The Law that is written in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) is indeed not abolished, but fulfilled in the person of Christ. Jesus’ statement that He came to earth to fulfill them (the Law He states will not be overthrown) outlines this idea.

Paul makes this point clearer throughout his letters to the churches. Galatians 5:4-6, 14 (the rest of the passage can certainly be read, but I don’t think its wholly necessary to get the meaning)- “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [a requirement of the Law] nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love… The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

This is ultimately a doctrinal and theological issue. It seems it is one that Harris does not understand. His argument stems from taking Bible passages out of context and arguing against one of the core teachings of not only the church fathers, but also of Paul and Jesus himself–that Christ came as the sacrificial lamb to fulfill the Law, which no man can ever do.

As far as whether Christianity sanctions bad things, I think that is nothing but an unfair charge. Christianity’s command can be summed up by what Paul stated before and by what Jesus Himself said of the law (Matthew 22:37ff [read before it for context if you like]): ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It seems clear that the Christianity Christ preaches is not one that condones violence. Whether one wants to twist it to do so is another matter entirely.

“Christians are bad, so Christianity is false.”

In the second paragraph, you have changed the premise of your argument from
“…so Christianity must be bad.”
to
“…so Christianity is false.”.
Those are quite different. If you intend to argue both positions (or rather that someone else holds both positions) that’s fine, but a clearer distinction would be helpful.

“This is blantantly false, and I’m honestly shocked that someone like Sam Harris…”

Again, your first premise is closer to what Harris has stated – the second I find questionable. The second is what you refer to here, and attribute it to Harris. I find no reference in his book that suggests he takes this position – correct me if I’m mistaken. That is, have you a reference that indicates that Harris thinks that because Christians do bad things, Christianity is false?

I should have stated that more clearly. It’s a problem I’ll hope to rectify a bit by taking —‘s advice to lessen my amount of posts and increase the editing and thought on each. Harris doesn’t specifically argue that Christianity is false. He does seemingly believe it should be rejected because of the initial premise, however. Though, to be fair, if Christianity is true (i.e. exclusive claim to eternal life in heaven), then it should be embraced by all means. The only logical reason to abandon it would be if Christianity were false. Arguing against Christianity by saying it’s bad does nothing to its claims of truth, making the argument an ad hominem attack on the character of Christians rather than an attack on Christianity.

Harris, it could be said, argues that Christianity specifically teaches bad things, but I’ve already demonstrated his lack of theological knowledge on the first point, and his other points (i.e. condom use, etc.) could be valid against Catholicism, which is not the Christianity I (and about 50% of Christians) ascribe to. It seems dishonest of Harris to assert that atheists are completely different while shoehorning the Christian right into a Catholic view. There were several times, whilst reading his book, that I found myself saying to his “You believe…” statements “No I don’t.” Those times are straw men arguments to me, though I would say that Christians who believe, say, in not having birth control, should try to defend their position (one I disagree with).

“The first is that there is no way to test whether or not removing religion from an area would lead to an increase or decrease in violence.”

I would suggest a simpler test; read the text of their holy scripture, and see if it advocates and/or sanctions said violence. If it does, the religion is violent. If it’s holy scriptures are replete with violent act after violent act, the religion is violent.

Admittedly, I do find (at least) the international data concerning religious vs. non religious nations rather interesting. Though, Harris himself states;

“Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality…these statistics prove that atheism is compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; (and) …that widespread belief in God does not ensure a society’s health.”

“A very good breaking down of Harris can be found in The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day…”

Day states, “By applying his metric to the state-wide voting instead of the more
precise and relevant county,…”
Perhaps you could explain to me why a ‘smaller’ sampling of the public would give a more precise result? When gathering a stat, a larger sample is surely a better indicator? A minor point of contention on my part, but I do find it interesting (perhaps even disingenuous) that he felt the need to invent yet another category of stats, in an attempt to prove the ones used invalid.

Let’s do justice to what Day is pointing out, however. He’s taking the same sample size (i.e. the U.S.) and simply giving a more in depth analysis of what the statistics show. He’s being more specific with the data. Rather than showing that red areas have higher violence than blue areas, they show that blue counties have higher violence on average than red ones.

Examples Day gives: Florida–11 blue counties account for 44% of the state’s population, but more than 50% of its murders and 60% of the robberies. Maryland–5 blue counties with a murder rate of 13.22/100,000 verses 0.89/100,000 in the red counties. Washington, D.C.–voted 91% blue but has the highest murder rate in the nation, almost 7 times the average national rate.

Harris’ examples of cities are also taken by state, but not by county. When one goes by county, 13/25 of the safest cities are in red counties (verses the by state of 8/25), while 21/25 of the most dangerous cities are in blue counties (verses by state 12/25). In other words, when one gets specific with the data, it can be shown that red areas are potentially safer than blue areas.

To say that it is a “smaller” sampling is inaccurate. Rather, it is looking more specifically at the same sampling. An analogy could be the body. Sam Harris points to one’s midsection and says there is something wrong with it. We can use that same data and zero in on, say, the kidney and point to that as the problem area. The same amount of data is there (we have examined the midsection), but the more specific information leads to a more correct conclusion.

“…how is it that showing violence by political beliefs automatically shows a correlation to religious beliefs?”

Because it can be shown that there is a strong correlation between the population’s political and religious beliefs. Therefore, show a correlation between violence and one’s political affiliation, and one can extrapolate from this.

It is fair to say that certain geographical locations in the U.S. are in fact predominately one party or another (thus the whole red state – blue state dichotomy), and that those parties do in fact represent certain religious affiliations more than others – the stats bare this out quite well, and candidates stake their chances of winning an election on it.

e.g. – The ‘deep south’ is predominately quite religious  – compared to say, the much more liberal coastal areas, and to some extent, the mid west. The break down is shown here; http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/adherents.gif

The blue and red correlates very closely to this reality; http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2008/statemapredbluer1024.png

Certainly it isn’t perfect, but it is quite illuminating, and certainly enough to gain some reasonable insight as to the connections present between political and religious beliefs in the U.S..

Okay, let’s examine this in detail as well. Day points to a 2001 ARIS study that shows that 14.1% of Americans are atheists. About 1/2 of eligible Americans vote. So assuming that every eligible atheist voted, that means that 28.2% of the vote was potentially atheist.

The problem is that exit polls show that atheists were less likely to vote than religious people, accounting for about 10% of voters in CNN exit polls. They went about 2/3 blue. But the problem is that Harris seems to want to use this to show that non-religious people are less violent. This discounts all those who didn’t vote, and it also means that only 16% of blue voters were actually non-religious. It seems kind of ridiculous to attribute all that nonviolent behavior to a lack of religion when it is only 16% of the voting total.

So I stand by my idea that using votes to determine religious belief seems pretty silly. Not only that, but if we do use it as a determining factor, it would show the opposite of what Harris wants to argue.

“…religion does do a lot of good, whether people like Harris want to admit it or not.”

“It is undeniable that many people of faith make heroic sacrifices to relieve the suffering of other human beings.” – Sam Harris
“While there is no doubt that Christian missionaries are also moved by a desire to alleviate suffering, …” – Sam Harris
“While missionaries do many noble things at great risk to themselves,…” -Sam Harris

He has no trouble admitting that at all. (straw man)

I’ll concede again that I should have been more clear here. Harris does admit that religious people do good things, but it seems to me that his argument centers around the idea that no religion = better people. Note especially pages 12-13 in the PDF version of “Letter…” He seems to argue that if religion were removed, more good would be done. I could stand to reword that part of my blog entry, but again I don’t think I’m attacking a straw man when Harris specifically tries to detract from the good that religious people do (i.e. his Mother Theresa example in which he says she was “…deranged by religious faith.”) If she were not so deranged, she would have been better. That seems to be a valid way to argue from what he is saying.

But one major thing could be said here theologically as well. Christianity isn’t about achieving goodness. It isn’t about being good. It’s the fact that we are not good that means we need Christ. Whether or not one wants to say Christians are worse than non-Christians doesn’t do anything to hurt the message of Christ–because it’s not based on being good people, it’s based on being saved people.

“But those who are, say, Christian, are commanded to be good,…”

This is in fact a strike against Christianity in many an atheist’s mind; that the idea of Christian morality is ‘commanded’ of its adherents.
Atheists, while also displaying morality, which you concede (“…people who don’t believe in God do good things too. Okay. I’ll agree,…”), do not require this command, nor the promise of reward or threat of punishment.
As Harris states;
“…which is more moral: helping people purely out of concern for their suffering, or helping them because you think the creator of the universe will reward you for it?”
– or in my own words, ‘because he commands you to do so?’

Here Harris completely misunderstands large amounts of Christian belief. Again the assumption is that being Christian = better morals. But that’s not what Christianity is about.

Also, this explanation of goodness begs the question entirely against the Christian. It assumes that a religious person only does good things out of belief of reward (or perhaps fear of punishment). The conclusion has snuck [edit: sic, blast!] into the premise. It is wholly possible that Christians do good things out of the kindness of their hearts. The Christianity I believe means that I am saved. Any good that I do is for other reasons, not for the hope of reward. The premise in the argument begs the question because it implies that the only reason a Christian does good is for reward, so the good acts they do aren’t as good as one who doesn’t do it for a reward.

“…whilst atheism can at best offer an evolutionary view of morality that is not obligatory”

Perhaps you can explain to me what the negative is here, assuming that the result – a person acting with moral responsibility – is the same?
I should mention also, I find your choice of ‘obligatory’ very interesting! As it is defined; “required as a matter of obligation; mandatory”. Again I refer you to the above question, of which scenario might make one more moral.

I meant to say “objective” not “obligatory.” This was wholly a mistake I can ascribe to lack of sleep. The point you make about the result being the same is interesting, given that you just argued above that it is somehow better to do good things without a responsibility to do so. But again, the use of obligatory was a complete mistake. Read it as “objective” and that is my meaning.

“…unclear as to whether or not institutionalized religion is indeed a major cause of violence.”

I had a ridiculously long list here, and have decided it would be of no avail, at least not in this discussion. The violent history of religion would require its own debate. It does after all entail a couple thousand years of history.
Suffice to say for now, there is more than ample evidence to support the notion that religion not only breeds and justifies violence, it also aids and abets and condones it when it isn’t directly responsible for it. Political violence and the power and persuasiveness of religion have on countless occasion had a rather symbiotic relationship.

One could make the same argument for the history of irreligion. Harris concedes as much when he points out that Christians bring up people like Pol Pot, Stalin, and the like. Interestingly, I think simply looking at an overall # of death rate, it is possible that irreligion has lead to more violence than religion. It is also worthy of note that Harris specifically tries to get around these people by calling them irrational and makes some attempt to try to put them outside of atheism. Page 14 on the PDF version of his book (40ff in the book) demonstrates Harris in a very uncomfortable position.

“The problem with such tyrants is not that they reject the dogma of religion, but that they embrace other life-destroying myths. Most become the center of a quasi-religious personality cult, requiring the continual use of propaganda for its maintenance. There is a difference between propaganda and the honest dissemination of information that we (generally) expect from a liberal democracy. Tyrants who orchestrate genocides, or who happily preside over the starvation of their own people, also tend to be profoundly idiosyncratic men, not champions of reason. Kim Il Sung, for instance, demanded that his beds at his various dwellings be situated precisely five hundred meters above sea level. His duvets had to be filled with the softest down imaginable. What is the softest down imaginable? It apparently comes from the chin of a sparrow. Seven hundred thousand sparrows were required to fill a single duvet. Given the profundity of his esoteric concerns, we might wonder how reasonable a man Kim Il Sung actually was.”

His argument here seems to be that these people are irrational, so they can be dismissed. Yet I’d make the argument that Christians in particular who try to use that belief system for violence are irrational. Either both can be discounted, or neither can.

“Further, is it not obvious that much religion embraces peace?”

No, it isn’t. (begging the question) The Christian Bible is simply one of the most violence-ridden pieces of literature I’ve encountered. Page after blood soaked page espouses more brutal rape, slavery, torture, genocide, sacrifice – and often to the elation of, or under the direct command of, the Creator – than you can shake a stick at.

The Bible does indeed have much violence in it. I’ve argued that things such as killing that is endorsed by God can be logically defensible here. I can sum up:

“In this case, the one presenting the argument is suggesting that:

1. God is morally perfect

and

2. God commands killing

are incompatible. Thus, in order to counter this argument, all that needs to be done philosophically is show there is no inconsistancy. In other words, all that needs to be done is show another alternative. That alternative readily makes itself available:

3. There are some whose moral depravity is such that God will not suffer them to live

This third explanation gives a logical “way out” of the supposed dilemma presented by the first two statements. While this explanation may not seem satisfactory to some who would wish to debate the finer points of individual verses, cherry-picking out-of-context Scripture does nothing in light of the fact that option 3. is logically valid. The defender of the faith need not even demonstrate that this statement is true, only that it is possible.

Thus, I conclude that to have 1. God is morally perfect and 2. God commands killing is not a contradiction in light of 3. There are some whose moral depravitiy is such that God will not suffer them to live.

The case for God’s love could fill numerous volumes, but it is clear from Scripture that God is intentionally portrayed as the definition of Judge, morally perfect, and righteous. The writers of the inspired Word are clearly not recording stories of massed killings in the name of the Lord for the sake of showing God’s moral imperfections (which, I would argue, points even more towards the innerrancy of Scripture, but that’s a whole other issue), but they are rather recording these stories to show that God is indeed God and He is in control. In His moral perfection, there are things He cannot tolerate. Those things are punished in righteousness. Those who argue that the God of the Bible is evil are merely skimming scripture for verses they believe will back them up in out-of-context situations. Further, they are rejecting the Holy Spirit’s role in directing true and upright teaching of the word.

Finally, even if one does not accept Scripture as innerrant, the Word of God, or as being passed on by the Holy Spirit, the philosophical problem of evil in the Bible is solved quite simply, contrary to general belief, by the assertion that God’s role as Judge could mean He cannot allow certain evils to pass unpunished.”

Arguing that God portrayed in the Bible is evil is to not only do so by specifically searching for verses to support the case in light of much evidence to suggest otherwise (just see God’s interactions with the nation of Israel in light of their constant apostasy, the example of Jesus, the Psalms, and all kinds of other verses that deal with the mercy and goodness of God), but it is also to argue without a knowledge of the culture that such a text originated from. In other words, to argue that God is evil in light of the Bible is to look on such acts with modern eyes and completely discount the fact that the Biblical world was a completely different place than the world we have.

“Harris himself actually endorses a religion: Jainism. How is it that one can decry religion while adhering to it?”

There’s a couple of things wrong with this statement – almost to the point that I would respectfully ask that you amend your blog, and make the correction. But that feels beyond the scope of what we’re doing here. I’ll abstain from that request – but do consider what it is you’ve actually said;

First, he does not endorse this religion. He highlights it as an exception to the rule. That is, he notes that it “preaches a doctrine of utter non-violence”, and he does so in order to contrast it with Christianity, which is replete with violence.
He states, “If you think that Christianity is the most direct and undefiled expression of love and compassion the world has ever seen, you do not know much about the world’s other religions.” He then goes on to use Jainism as an example of a more compassionate religion.
This is not an ‘endorsement’. It’s simple compare and contrast for the sake of illustration.

Second, you then choose to use the unfortunate phrase ‘adhere to’ when describing Harris’ statements about Jainism – stating he in fact adheres to Jainism. Certainly you know he does not adhere to this or any religion?
He neither endorses nor adheres to this religion, and never attests that he does. Do consider your words.

This is an issue of semantics and I’m willing to concede the point that Harris does not adhere to Jainism. Though it is clear that he has some interesting views on spirituality (I grant that Wikipedia is not the best source for this type of thing, but the quote from End of Faith, combined to his specific exclusion of Eastern religions from his general attack on religion show at least a predisposition).

“…it is telling that Harris feels the need to include a chapter about Are atheists evil?”

Do tell? I’m not at all clear what you think this exposes about Harris?

I can explain for you why this inclusion was quite necessary in a book of this sort. Day in and day out, the American atheist is absolutely inundated with accusations from his Christian neighbor, that he is without morals, “spiritually” bankrupt, brimming with sin, in a word, evil.
This type of misguided thinking has earned the atheist the ‘least trusted minority’ in America award. A 2007 Gallup Poll showed the following; The question was whether or not you would vote for a particular (minority) for President. The following groups and the percent that ‘would’ vote for them that follows was the result;
Catholic-95%, Black-94, Jewish-92, Woman-88, Hispanic-87, Mormon-72, married three times-67, 72 yrs old-57, homosexual-55, and finally atheist-45%.

The need for a look into the morality of the atheist was an important component of the discussion – esp. in a book addressing a ‘Christian Nation’.

I’d personally never argue that atheists are evil. My inclusion of that little tidbit was generally pointless and I’ll acknowledge that.

“and proceed to try to move atheism as far away from the evils that have been done in the name of rationality/atheism as possible.”

Or more accurately, to show that no such connection can be made. A simple question; Do you honestly think that any of the evil that Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao perpetrated, could be said to have been done in the name of ‘rationality’? I’d be quite curious to hear you justify that if it is your belief. I consider what these men did to be the very height of irrationality.
I should note though, that there is no necessary link even between rationality and atheism. While I certainly see atheism as a rational position, one need not come to it exclusively through rationality. I have encountered atheists that believe in ghosts, for example. Quite irational in my opinion.

Yet Harris, and it seems you, continue to argue using points from people who are Christian and irrational. This doesn’t really seem fair. Also, I doubt that someone like, say, Stalin, would say they were being irrational. My main point is that either both types of irrational extremities (violent Christians and violent atheists) don’t need to be addressed, or they both do.

Regarding the inclusion of atheism in that quote, simply, nothing can be done in the name of atheism. It’s a statement without meaning. As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, atheism is simply the lack of a belief in a god. Nothing more. How you one do something ‘in the name of’ a lack of a belief?

Fair enough, then I’ll say that these men were atheists. The people who did violence and were Christian can still be compared to as a legitimate analogy. Atheists who do violence. Christians who do violence. I’d argue both are bad.

If you wish to tack on some other world view or belief system (secularism, humanism, etc.), they actually begin to carry some baggage, and one might say they did something in the name of some ideal that that particular world view or ideology holds. But then you are no longer talking exclusively about atheism.
Atheism has no system of belief, no doctrine, no dogma, no worldview…only a lack of a belief in a god.
When we say something was done ‘in the name of a religion’, it is precisely because religion does include all of the things I mentioned. It is quite simple to open any cherished scripture, and find justification for practically any evil man can dream up. No such thing is possible by simply not having a belief in a god.

Belief in a God can, however, give an objective standard by which all actions must be judged. Thus there is a better basis by which to reject certain actions than if there is no objective standard.

“Sam Harris accuses Christianity in particular…He goes on to attempt to disassociate atheism with these obvious atheists” by saying “While it is true that such men are sometimes enemies of organized religion…”  [Here I’d like to note that this is completely deceptive.”

I will agree, within this section anyway, that he did seem to directly avoid saying that the men were atheists. It felt disingenuos to me. He does elsewhere, but that isn’t relevant. I have to concede that he might have been more direct here. I don’t appreciate the dodge either. That said…

“These men absolutely were enemies of organized religion and wholly atheist. Harris is attempting to downplay the evil of these men.] “

It’s entirely honest on his part to say ‘sometimes’ in this case, as Hitler was in the list. Hitler’s atheism, as you know, is quite debatable, and he was a staunch bedfellow with the Church as well (however opportunist that relationship may have been). It would have been inaccurate to claim that ‘all’ of his list were enemies of religion and that they were all atheists. I can’t say for sure that this is why he stated it this way, but it would have been inaccurate to do other wise.
I saw no effort on his part to downplay the evil the men did either.

“Isn’t it obvious that those who champion murder in the name of God are just as irrational as these atheists that Harris, Dawkins, and the like are quick to condemn as irrational?”
Yes, it is quite obvious to me that they are indeed just as irrational. The point is they have centuries of dogma and scripture to justify (or lay blame on if you prefer, not really the point) their horrific actions, as I explained above.

Arguing this is false in light of the points I’ve already made, but it seems to be the central issue, so I’ll address it again. To argue that Christianity is violent is to go against the core teachings of Christianity from its founding (and indeed the person of Christ) to the present day. Not only are the two core law statements to love God and neighbor, but Christ specifically condemns violence in all forms. To argue otherwise is to beg the question. Again, it would be easy to pick out violent examples from Scripture and debate them on a verse-by-verse basis, but that is not the core issue. Christianity teaches the entire Bible points to Christ at the center. What does Christ teach? Nonviolence.

This may sound like a variation of the “No True Scotsman” argument, but it isn’t, as we do have a strict definition of what it means to be Christian in the Bible. One need only look at what Christ Himself says and one can find what is indeed a “true Christian.” Not only that, but Paul, Peter, etc. are further examples of what Christianity means.

“Either Christians are evil because of religion and atheists are evil because of a lack of religion”

Again, I refer you to the above statements. Christians can use the very scripture their religion is based on to justify the evils they do. Atheists have no such justification. An atheist committing an act of violence must assume the responsibility solely on their own. There is no dogma to point to and say “See, that’s what happens when you are an atheist.”. No ancient scripture or holy text, no authorities from whom rules and such are handed down, only an individual making a choice.

Christians who use the Scripture to justify violence have missed what Christ himself says about violence. There can be nothing more clear than this when one simply reads what Jesus says.

“I’d argue that atheists like Stalin could defend their killing from an atheologically defensible position as well: personhood doesn’t matter, so we can kill as we please.”

There is no such position in existence. Not having a belief in a god says nothing of one’s beliefs about the worth of a human life. It does not put special value on it, nor does it devalue it – it says nothing at all about it – or anything else for that matter. It only denotes that one has no belief in a god.

Conceded. Though the atheism you are describing is a “soft atheism” that goes against the definition of atheism as seen in both the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. See further points about that here.

“I do, however agree that either side can use those beliefs (or lack thereof) to condone violent actions.”

How is it you arrive at some belief system (that would ‘condone’ an action), from the statement that one dose not have a belief in a god?
How is it one would use a ‘lack of a belief in a god’ to justify any particular action, let alone a violent one in particular?
I urge caution and thought here. What I am asking is how you arrive at that solely from a lack of a belief in a god, which is precisely what atheism is. Anything extraneously tagged on, and you are no longer discussing atheism.

“His examples include preaching abstinence over use of condoms,…All of these are ad hominem attacks (or ad Deum)”

How is mentioning that the church preaches abstinence an ad hominem attack? I submit that it most certainly is not.

“One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not—that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral—that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year. You believe that your religious concerns about sex, in all their tiresome immensity, have something to do with morality. And yet, your efforts to constrain the sexual behavior of consenting adults—and even to discourage your own sons and daughters from having premarital sex—are almost never geared toward the relief of human suffering. In fact, relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. Your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.”

This seems ad hominem to me. Rather than attacking any specific argument, he is attacking, say, Catholics, for preaching abstinence. I’m almost willing to concede your point here except for the virulent nature of his attack in this section. I may be reading too much into it, but this passage seems full of emotional appeal and very much like an attack on people who would dare believe such things and less like a legitimate complaint.

I won’t comment on your subsequent three fold explanation – mostly in the interest of length (this is already ridiculously long!). I’m quite interested in discussing morality as it pertains to religion and atheism in the future though. Let’s hope we can return to this.

Well. That’s quite a lot. More than enough for now, I’m sure. Hopefully it wasn’t too terribly dull, and I’ve left you with something worthy of response. Hope to hear from you soon,

Another thing I’d love to point out is that Harris is a wonderful example of the argument from atheism (page 5 in PDF) which I address https://jwwartick.com/2009/07/24/the-argument-from-atheism/.This argument is demonstrably false because by definition a theist is not an atheist, check out the blog for a longer rebuttal.

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