Profile of Orion
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Messages - Orion
If God Is the Essence of Goodness, What Is the Essence of Evil?
As I described in my prior post, evil is merely an inferior, parasitic attack on goodness, just as falsehood is an unnecessary contradiction of truth. Good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without goodness. But still … what exactly is evil?!
It is interesting to note that just as falsehood is nothing more than bogus truth (it claims to be factually correct, but is not), evil itself claims to be justified—but is not. Even the most ruthless human beings in history, such as Zedong, Stalin and Hitler, thought they were doing the right thing and attempted to justify their actions. And what about people who openly admit they are evil and morally wrong? The hard-core Satanist who proudly claims to be wicked really means: “I am good—liberated to do whatever I want! And it’s those uptight religious people who are the problem.” In other words, the irony of evil is that it claims to be objectively good! Evil is nothing more than false moral goodness.
But if God’s nature is ultimate goodness, what is the implication about evil? In essence, evil is corrupt self-justification raised in rivalry against God’s true righteousness—it tries to stand independent of God on its own. In terms of our world, human self-righteousness and evil are one and the same.
This is precisely the point of the often-mocked story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3. Every created free moral agent must make the decision between submitting to God’s eternal goodness (entering into a healthy relationship with God) and attempting to be independently self-justified (rejecting relationship with God). Adam and Eve tried to challenge God’s righteousness and become “like God” … “knowing good and evil” for themselves. That is the moment humanity became corrupted and fell into darkness.
Ever since the Fall, we humans have been trying to be right. There is nothing that feels quite as good as being correct all the time, whether we are debating religion, politics, economics, science or everyday relational conflicts. Humanity’s deepest desire is to be right—and since God is truth and goodness, it is not a stretch to say that humanity’s deepest desire is to be God—to be omnibenevolent—to be all good and all justified. But since only God is the definition of goodness, we are out of luck.
As WLC has demonstrated, God is the paradigm of goodness, and the paradigm is always superior to imitations—even perfect imitations. Inescapably, the imitation defines its perfection based upon the paradigm. A perfect imitation of the Mona Lisa would still be measured against the Mona Lisa. So even if a human were to somehow perfectly imitate God’s benevolent characteristics in every single way, that person’s goodness would still be subordinate and inferior to God’s ultimate goodness.
Can We Be Good without God?
In many philosophical discussions, the question is raised as to whether it is possible to be morally good without believing in God. As a former atheist, I had an extremely strong conscience prior to believing in God, adhering to many of the same morals as Christians. And many of the atheists I know, including friends of mine, are very honorable! So shouldn’t an atheist who does all the right things be able to justifiably proclaim moral independence from God? In short, the answer is no. Apart from God (the paradigm of goodness), human moral goodness has no definition, which instantaneously undermines any attempt to be independently righteous. And if our goal in being “good” is to proudly throw our supposed holiness back in God’s face, it only proves we have been warped by self-righteousness.
A few years ago, I saw a billboard along an interstate from an atheist organization. It depicted a beautiful blue sky with white, puffy clouds and read: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” But the billboard could have been more accurately written: “Are you self-righteous? Millions are.” In turn, that could be even more succinctly stated: “Are you evil? Millions are.”
Unfortunately for those who are attempting to be morally justified apart from God, it is that very self-holiness that has corrupted them and severed their relationship with God. And lest you think I am merely criticizing atheists, I am directing the same accusation at myself. In one form or another, every human on this planet (yours-truly included!) has demanded the right to be the Almighty’s moral equal, which blatantly demonstrates our lack of respect for God and our overestimation of ourselves. So it really should not come as a surprise to us that our relationship with God has suffered as a result of our “personal goodness”.
This is why Jesus uniquely invites us to surrender our self-righteousness to Him through faith (John 3:16), rather than endlessly trying to earn our way to a righteous status through our own moral accomplishments (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16). Believing in Jesus is far more than mere intellectual acknowledgement of Christian religious doctrine (Genesis 15:6, Habakkuk 2:4, Ephesians 2: 8–10)—it is an act of total surrender to God as the paradigm of goodness (1 John 1:5). In place of our fallen self-righteousness (Philippians 3:8–9), Jesus promises to infuse His true righteousness into us through His presence (2 Corinthians 5:17)—and to transform us from the inside out (Philippians 1:6). Whereas other religions offer solutions for human evil based upon our self-effort (whether through good works or meditations), the Biblical Jesus alone offers us redemption based upon divine righteousness.
And because Jesus uniquely offers to redeem and transform us through His divine goodness rather than our own inferior self-righteousness, this leads directly into The Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone.
Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
Premise 2: Objective morality does exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
Let me start with Premise 2—the idea that objective morality undeniably exists. There are those who attempt to deny this truth, but ironically, the denial of objective morality’s existence is, in itself, an attempt at creating an objective moral truth. Case in point: if there is no objective moral law that divides right from wrong, then everything is in fact justified ... which is effectively equivalent to saying that everything is objectively good, regardless of anyone’s opinions. And that is indeed a form of objective morality. So since even the attempted negation of objective morality ends up espousing objective morality, it is 100% safe to say that objective moral truth exists.
But before we start looking at the implications of objective morality’s existence for worldviews, it is important to note that the old adage of “there is no good without evil” is totally false. At first it seems ironclad—if there’s an up, there’s a down. If there’s a right, there’s a left. So doesn’t evil somehow help lend good its substance? As a necessary opposite—two sides of the same eternal coin? In a word, no.
To demonstrate why evil is not goodness’s necessary opposite, simply look at good and evil through the same lens as truth and falsehood. Truth stands true on its own, but falsehood only gains its definition by contradicting/perverting truth. The same is true of good and evil. Life can exist just fine without murder, but murder only gains its definition by attacking life. Sex can exist just fine without rape, but rape is a brutal perversion of sex. A similar duality holds for every other good thing and its evil counterpart. The good has substance in itself, whereas the evil is always parasitic on the good. Translation: there is good without evil, but there is no evil without good. Evil is inherently inferior and unnecessary.
But if objective goodness exists (distinct from inferior, unnecessary evil), there must be some sort of explanatory ultimate that defines goodness, which leads us to the three fundamental worldviews: atheism, pantheism and theism. At this point in the debate, the Euthypro Dilemma is usually invoked, first by the atheist in an attempt to knock down the necessity of God for objective morality, then countered by the theist, then countered by the atheist, and back and forth until it results in infinite regression. Once the Dilemma has run its course, the debaters are forced to turn to other logical tools, since objective morality must have a stopping point. And we are again left with our three basic worldviews:
ATHEISM: Atheism proclaims an impersonal ultimate, namely non-sentient matter and energy. So if atheism is true, any objective moral laws would be an inherent part of the eternal physical cosmos—axiomatic values akin to the laws of physics.
PANTHEISM: Pantheism also proclaims an impersonal ultimate, only it is impersonal spirit instead of physical matter and energy. Again, objective moral laws would be an inherent part of the eternal spiritual cosmos—perhaps a law of karma.
THEISM: Theism alone proclaims a personal ultimate—an eternal, sentient, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Being. Objective moral goodness would be part of God’s inherent nature. Any moral imperatives would stem directly from God’s nature.
So which ultimate explanation for the existence of objective morality is the most plausible? If more than one is potentially valid, then the Moral Argument cannot be used to support just one worldview. But on the other hand, if only one explanatory ultimate could possibly be valid, then the Moral Argument instantly narrows truth to that worldview.
Interestingly, both atheism and pantheism attempt to define objective morality through an impersonal ultimate, which would leave us with equations like:
-Impersonal Matter and Energy = Goodness/Love
-Impersonal Spirit = Goodness/Love
But the insurmountable problem for both worldviews is that concepts like goodness, love, compassion, loyalty and honesty are, without question, personal in nature. So how could personal attributes possibly find their ultimate stopping points in something completely impersonal? Asteroids do not love and cannot be the embodiment of goodness. Though pantheistic spirit is more mystical than straight-up atheism, non-sentient spirit still cannot truly be good and cannot be the embodiment of love.
In stark contrast, an ultimate personal Deity could indeed be the embodiment of both goodness and love. Of course, this is precisely the contention of the Bible in 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:16 (among other Scriptures). As such, theism is the only possible valid explanation for the existence of objective morality, which leads us straight back to Premise 1 and the resulting Conclusion—the Moral Argument for God’s Existence is correct.
For those who are interested in this topic, I look forward to a robust dialogue! My subsequent posts also expound on it further:
If God Is Good, What Is Evil?
The Moral Argument for the Christian God Alone
Jbejon also demonstrated the power that this gives monotheists, which I was hinting at towards the end of my post. Consider Hitchens, the atheist who loves denouncing religion as an immoral force that is allegedly poisoning the planet. Since atheism cannot possibly posit a valid basis for objective moral truths, then within the framework of his own religion, Hitchens has no intellectually or morally valid reason to make such claims. Dawkins and many others also sometimes denounce religious people as potentially "wicked". But apart from objective moral truths, distinctions like "moral vs. immoral", "good vs. evil", "kind vs. wicked" and even "nice vs. nasty" fall to dust - they become arbitrary and therefore worthless (ultimately). The atheist who invokes moral truths and then posits atheism at the same time has inherently contradicted and defeated him or herself. The chess match should instantly be "checkmate" for the theist as soon as the atheist starts making moral complaints (which is inevitable).
Regarding whether morality is higher than God, I certainly understand the clarification you're making. However, it's quite possible we're just wrangling about technicalities at that point. As Jbejon stated, what theists are bothered by is the idea that moral truths are independent from God. Arguing about whether the alleged independent source of moral truths (that also govern God) is higher, on the same plane as, or lower than God may not be all that profitable. Certainly theists believe that because God's nature is goodness, He is obligated to obey His own nature (see my notes on why pantheism fails the objective morality test - a hypocritical Deity is no basis for objective moral truths). All in all, I'm 100% confident that any alleged separate objective moral truths can ultimately be proved to be baseless and incorrect.
As soon as someone says there are moral truths that are independent of God, I'd immediately have to ask where they come from, etc. An explanation must be provided, else the "morals are separate from God" proponent is just engaging in wishful thinking. And as Jbejon and I have pointed out, the issue of moral truths will all come full circle back to the Deity's nature.
It seems that this all boils down to Socrates' famous question: what is holiness? That is precisely the origin of the (a) "is it holy because the gods love it?" or (b) "do the gods love it because it is holy?" debate. That split has now been translated into monotheistic terms, as demonstrated in the Craig/Antony debate. Socrates' question is often posed in philosophy classes in an attempt to root God out of moral questions. Once God is out of the picture, people can bicker about moral questions without ever really answering the fundamental question of, "What the heck makes something right vs. wrong in the first place?" The analysis typically goes like this:
(a) If something is holy because God loves (or wills) it, then we effectively have arbitrary divine command theory. What if God changes His mind? Murder could be wrong one day and right the next. Allegedly, the pagan priest tried to show Socrates that there are points upon which all the Greek gods agreed, but Socrates still pointed out that saying "polytheistic divine commands show us what is good" does not really answer the original question: what is holiness?
[At this point, the philosophy professor cans the analysis and just tries to make a sales pitch for option (b). Since (a) doesn't fly, the only other posited alternative must be correct.]
(b) Well by golly, if morals are not defined by divine commands (whether polytheistic, monotheistic or pantheistic), then it must be that the gods or God (or whatever) loves things because they are already objectively holy. In other words, goodness is indeed objectively goodness all by itself (stemming from a source even higher than God - something to which even God is morally obligated to submit) ... and we don't need God or gods to define it for us, hence God is unecessary for the existence of genuine moral truth. So let's just quit talking about God, shall we?
[However, note how utterly dishonest this is. The analysis of (b) also completely fails to answer Socrates' original question: what is holiness? In fact, these philosophers are completely dodging the question.]
It all breaks down to this - we must provide a viable answer to Socrates. As Craig clearly demonstrated, the atheist usually attempts to shoot down (a) and then casually walk away from the entire problem. But if moral truth is indeed defined apart from God, what pray tell defines it? Does it exist in the magical alternate universe of a priori morals that are established by nothing, defined by nothing and enforced by nothing? Perhaps the tooth fairy defines morals? Richard Dawkins? Our inner children?
The truth is that option (b) is also a miserable failure when it comes to answering the core question (what is genuine moral truth?). All (b) claims is that moral truth is independent of divine commands - it never actually says who or what defines those moral truths. So one way or another, there must be an option (c) that validly explains where genuine moral truth originates and avoids the traps into which options (a) and (b) fall.
Well, what could option (c) possibly be? For one thing, we know that moral truths are defined and understood by rational freethinking beings. To claim otherwise would be logically equivalent to saying that rocks, fecal matter, and asteroids could be possible viable bases for objective moral truth. For another thing, we know that genuine moral truths only apply to rational freethinking beings. To claim otherwise would put us an absurd trap where we claim that avalanches are immoral for rolling down hills and crushing people - we'd have to put metallic knives themselves on trial in stabbing cases and try to explain to the knives why what they did was wrong.
The point is simple - inanimate objects and a prior morals spewed by a nameless impersonal non-sentient oblivion are simply not going to cut it when it comes to answering Socrates. But technically, those are the only two options available to the atheist ... which is why atheists push for option (b) and intentionally try to cut the debate short and never actually answer Socrates. Polytheism falls into the trap of trying to force multiple gods to agree ... but even then their commands are arbitrary, and a collective polytheistic "divine nature" theory would imply that there's a higher force above the polytheistic gods (it would actually start to point towards a higher pantheism or monotheism). A pantheistic "divine nature" theory is in trouble because the pantheistic Deity is one with everything (which would technically include evil), implying that the divine nature is corrupt (which is not a valid answer to what goodness is).
This brings us full circle to Dr. Craig's answer - divine nature - specifically monotheistic divine nature - is goodness. Goodness can only be defined by a singular personal being that is 100% holy. In fact, this is the only possible valid answer to Socrates' original question. There's nothing vague or arbitrary about it, and it is distinct from divine command theory.
Why are humans morally obligated to follow divine commands? Because those divine commands are backed by the very definition of goodness. Since genuine moral truths exist, everyone is morally obligated to follow them. When God issues moral commands, He is expressing the divinely good nature. The commands themselves do not define goodness. God is goodness. The divine nature comes first - the commands follow after.
While many atheists believe they can dismiss the necessity of genuine moral truth being based on God, they are mistaken. (They usually just breathe venom at organized religion and then say, "See, we don't need God for morals, 'cause the God of the Old Testament is a sadistic control-freak, etc.") Even if you throw these atheists the world's biggest bone and allow that they debunked every "organized religion" on the planet and proved that human religions are hypocritical, that would still not debunk the need for genuine moral truth to come from God. It would just prove that all human religions inaccurately represented God. (Technically, these atheists just use the Straw Man and Ad Hominem fallacies over and over again.)
The real question comes down to Socrates' famous question, "What is holiness?"
Atheists just naively assume that moral truth exists and casually dance around the question, "Who or what defines it?" They may posit evolution, but what gives evolution moral value? Within the atheistic scenario, there is no possible answer to that question! The fact is that in the atheistic universe, life itself cannot have genuine value. If planet earth explodes and all the biological life on it is destroyed, so what? It's nothing more than molecular rearrangement (whoopty do).
When Socrates allegedly asked a pagan priest what holiness is, the question further broke down to, "Is something holy because the gods love it [meaning that goodness is defined by the gods' opinions] or do the gods love it because its holy [holiness is something defined as higher than the gods' opinions]?
(a) If goodness is defined by the gods' opinions, then, even if they could all agree (and Socrates' conversation went along this line), then what would happen if the gods' opinions changed? That would hardly be absolute moral truth! If the gods changed collective opinion, murder could be wrong one day and right the next. Further, in the case of polytheism, you have the problem of why multiple gods' collective opinions would be right. Monotheism (such as Christianity) does not face this problem, but still, what if the Christian God changes His mind about something [if holiness is just His opinion ... what He happens to love]?
(b) On the other hand, if God or the gods love something because it's holy, then there must be something higher than God or the gods that defines holiness. (But isn't God the highest being?) <-- Atheists usually try to drive the conversation to this point. Since (a) doesn't work, it must be that there are some a priori moral truths that are higher than God Himself, some sort of magically self-existent moral truths that are somehow independent of the universe and God Himself, and even God ought to obey them. But of course, if these a priori moral truths do exist, then no God is needed to define them, hence God's existence is not necessary for moral truth.
Atheists rely on (b) to make there case. However, it is totally fallacious. They suddenly dodge Socrates' question: "What is holiness/goodness/moral truth?" The lame, indefensible and pathetic atheistic answer is: "Well, golly, moral truths just exist in and of themselves, by golly, and they are established, defined and enforced by ... well ... nothing." A priori morals cannot possibly be independent of the universe ... after all, they're part of the universe. So who or what defines them?!
The truth is that to successfully answer Socrates' question (which is the fundamental question of moral truth), we must satisfy both halves of Socrates' equation (I hope this is making sense). Absolute moral truth must be unchanging (not subject to opinionated whims, even divine ones) but at the same time must be defined, established and enforced by something intelligent (a rock or a piece of inanimate matter and energy cannot define moral truth.) Further, whatever defines absolute moral truth cannot be hypocritical - it must be flawless (else moral truth would not be unchangeable and firm.)
So let's look at the possibilities:
Atheism: a miserable failure, to put it nicely. At best, atheists can posit arbitrary moral truths ("evolution" - because for some absurd reason, it's really important for randomly evolved biological life to exist) or spit venom at religion. If you'll notice, Dawkins and Hitchens assume the existence of moral truth and say that religion promotes homophobia, child abuse, etc. They assume human life has value! However, they can provide absolutely no answer as to where those moral laws come from, hence they cannot even begin to posit their moral arguments against religion. Hitchens tries "the collective solidarity of randomly evolved humanity", which is nothing more than atheistic polytheism - instead of trying to equate moral truth to the points of agreement among Zeus, Hera, Athena and Hades (like the above-mentioned pagan priest), Hitchens calls upon the collective opinion of Oog, Ugg and Blarg the cavemen. (Socrates would have ripped Hitchens to shreds.)
Pantheism: pantheism presents a God who is one in being with everything. While this God could have the authority to establish absolute moral truth, the problem is that since the pantheistic God is one with everything, that God is one with good and evil. Such a Deity is flawed and is therefore not a valid basis for genuine moral truth.
Polytheism: As noted above, polytheism won't cut the mustard. The gods' collective opinions won't fly, and the "above the universe" a priori moral truths to which the gods submit won't fly either.
Monotheism: the only contender left standing, but we should analyze it. A monotheistic "divine command" theory won't pass Socrates' test, but absolute morals based on God's nature itself will. In other words, a God who is wholly good can satisfy both halves of Socrates' question. Something is holy because God loves it and God loves it because it's holy at the same time. What is holiness/goodness/moral truth? God! God is holiness. This should come as no surprise to the Christian, because that's exactly what it says in 1 John 1:6 - God is light, and there is no darkness in him. When Jesus told Pilate, "I am truth," this was actually another one of Jesus' claims to Deity. God is truth. God is goodness. (Jesus claimed to be God.)
Now here's where it gets sticky. If God is moral, does God have free will? As you noted, Brad, for choices to be moral, there has to be some free will involved. Rocks that roll down hills and crush houses don't murder people - they have no moral choice and cannot be charged with murder. But if God has free will, how can God be wholly good - can't He have the capacity to do evil? Either God's choices aren't moral at all (if God is wholly perfect), or God must have the capacity to do evil (which contradicts 1 John 1:6). How do we solve this problem?
Simple: the "demon is in the details", like usual. God is wholly good and cannot do evil. However, God can still be defined as moral because He's in a different boat. Why? Because He is the very definition of goodness. To try to say a wholly good God isn't moral (because He can't do evil) is like saying that wholly good goodness isn't good. In other words, because God is the very definition of holiness, He can be holy without necessarily having the capacity to contradict His own nature.
However, Brad, I am not contradicting you. God saw that his creation was "good" (not perfect) in Genesis 1. In other words, He did not force the divine nature upon us. He gave us the free will to choose to contradict His nature (and that's all that evil is).
Some would say "there is not good without evil". That is flat-out not true. Everything
good has definition in and of itself. Life is just fine without murder - murder can't exist without life to destroy. Ownership is just fine without theft - theft can only exist by attacking ownership. Truth is just fine without deception - lies only exist by contradicting truth. Rape is just a perversion of sex. Betrayal is just an attack on trust. In every case, the good thing is self-existent and does not need evil, whereas the evil thing is inferior, unnecessary and ... well ... evil.
So essentially, I think God gave humanity the choice of whether or not to embrace the divine nature. When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will have chosen to reject human self-righteousness and embrace God's righteousness. Perhaps we will have freely given up part of our free will (the capacity to do evil), but we could still easily have enough free will to be creative, choose what to do, etc., and otherwise have a meaningful existence in Heaven. And God has enough free will to choose to create, etc., and have a meaninful existence, even though He can't do evil.
People may get mad at God for giving us the possibility to do evil (not forcing the divine nature on us), but while I hate suffering too, the fact is that free will is not the problem: the abuse of free will is the problem. We have no moral right to be angry at God for giving us freedom (in spite of the anger of some "atheists").
I've met tons of atheists who are mad because bad things happened to them. But I've never met an atheist who's made because he/she did something bad to someone else. We're mad at God when He lets bad things happen to us, but we don't miss a beat when we use our free will to harm others. (I'm an ex-atheist - I know.) As soon as free will bites us [speaking about atheists] in the backside, all of the sudden we're ready to deny God's existence. But the fact that we ourselves have free wills doesn't make us doubt God.
That was a bit of a tangent. The point is this:
Moral truths exist and can only be reconciled with monotheism (specifically the divine nature). That doesn't necessarily narrow it down to Christianity (though that can be done through further arguments). The existence of moral truth precludes atheism, pantheism and polytheism.
Apart from moral truth, one cannot even justify having a debate.
A person who denies moral truth's existence has just denied the moral meaning behind his/her own arguments (and you can instantly defeat that person - "if moral truth doesn't exist, your arguments are worthless, and I have no reason to listen to you").
A person who admits moral truth's existence will eventually run into the undeniability of God's existence. (An atheist like Dawkins or Hitchens who invoked moral truth has actually just assumed monotheism.)
They used to have a strong monopoly on science departments at universities, and thanks to the ID movement, many outspoken theist scientists are challenging this stronghold. The more high-IQ folks there are who believe in God, the less grounds atheists will have to say, "Smart people are atheists, and only dumb people who don't understand science believe in religion."
Plus the fact is that while the bulk of the general American public may not truly be comprised of genuine Christians, most people in America at least believe in God to some degree or another. Oh sure, they may not believe they need a Savior, but they aren't atheists either. I think many atheists are frustrated that they haven't been able to brainwash the populace into their non-theistic mythology. Regardless of what anyone thinks of President Bush, the fact is that after the last presidential election, many anti-Christian folks in this country showed their true colors for a brief two weeks or so, bemoaning all those "unteachable" Christians out there who allegedly put him in office. It was an act of sheer frustration and venting.
The good news is that the more atheists stir up public debate, the more chances Christians will have to answer them and show the public that Christians can in fact be highly educated, articulate, etc., which will further undermine atheism's ability to march under the erroneous "we're smart and you're not" banner. So really they're shooting themselves in the foot.
Hmmm, I'm going to have to think about all of this. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like Dr. Craig is attempting to debunk the idea that the universe could essentially be self-existent (it effectively caused itself and requires no explanation other than itself) ... thus totally undermining atheism. Incorporating some of the details you have all pointed out and if I understand things correctly, Dr. Craig would say that a set of sufficient conditions cannot be the eternal preexistent cause to the universe along the following lines:
(1) We know the current universe is not timeless, and even atheists acknowledge it had a beginning. This leads us to ask the question, "What predated the universe?"
(2) A timeless set of conditions would have produced a timeless universe, and since we don't have a timeless universe, a timeless set of conditions doesn't make sense as a causal explanation.
[This is where the objection of "a set of conditions causing the universe
(3) Since we know that ultimately something must be eternal and self-existent, it only makes sense to assume that a timeless personal force could have created the time-trapped universe we see. A timeless impersonal force or set of conditions could not have chosen to perpetuate anything other than itself.
Regarding the initial objection, I'm still thinking about it, but I think Dr. Craig would say that the set of conditions acting timelessly would still require an explanation. The set of conditions (even a set acting timelessly throughout eternity) is not separate from the universe (as jbejon pointed out), hence it would ultimately be trapped in time like the rest of the universe, and the objection you raised would effectively bring everything full-circle to the idea that the time-trapped universe caused itself, which Dr. Craig feels is objectionable. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts ...
On my end, I think the best argument for a personal cause is based on the existence of rational thought. To argue against the existence of freethinking/rational thought is pointless, self-contradictory and self-defeating, and atheists certainly believe that they are rational freethinkers. (When people deny the existence of free thought, they have effectively said that they are not rational beings, that their very arguments against freethinking are therefore not actually rationally thought out, and that they are not even really choosing to make their arguments ... but of course they still want you to choose to agree with them ... which is absurd.)
So rational thought exists. However, atheists have failed to demonstrate how rational thought could have possibly randomly evolved from a purely deterministic set of circumstances. By definition, the existence of rational thought is ultimately incompatible with the atheistic world-view. Even an infinite string of non-rational action/reaction cannot suddenly result in "presto!"—a freethinking mind. To try to get around this, atheists have only two possible routes ...
(1) Some sort of "magic matter and energy" in which freethinking is possible—a magical freewill substance that, because it couldn't have evolved randomly, is therefore an eternal, self-existent part of the atheistic universe ... a "set of conditions" that includes the free will to choose what we think about and could have resulted in freethinking human beings a few billion years down the line. But of course, this is not really atheism at all: it's a debased form of pantheism.
(2) Some sort of freethinking intelligence or group of intelligences that is not part of the deterministic universe that bestowed the ability to think rationally upon human beings. But of course, this is also not atheism—it's either monotheism or polytheism.
Either way, the existence of freethinking precludes atheism and points to some sort of preexistent, eternal intelligence—a personal cause.
The topic certainly is a tough one. I came out of a charismatic church where the leaders would sometimes pray for healing at the front of the service. At times, some strict "miracles don't happen anymore" Christians (who happened to be visiting) would get up and walk out. I eventually left the church, not because the members believe in miracles and gifts of healing, but because there were many cultic elements in the church's teaching (but that's a side issue and another story).
Craig, I can certainly see the point that many American Christians have lost faith in the God of miracles. I've listened to the theological arguments of many "God doesn't do miracles anymore" theologians and simply do not find them logical or defensible. Believing in an all-powerful being who can't or won't do miracles anymore sounds absurd. (And I've also always heard that miracles happen all the time in 3rd-world countries but have never gone there to verify whether it's true, 'cause 3rd-world folks haven't lost faith, or whether it's totally bogus.)
In the case of Benny Hinn, I listened to the big national-news special (can't remember if it was 60 Minutes or not) in which he's outright accused of being a fraud, using all the classic emotional tricks, etc. However, I could not help but notice that when one angry, bitter former follower of Hinn's (who is still a Christian) was asked by the reporter whether he believed Hinn healed people, he replied, "No ... I believe God healed people." He did not deny that some healings seem to have taken place but he was also not about to attribute them to Hinn blowing into a microphone, waving his hands the correct way, or saying "in the mighty name of Jesus" with the emphasis on the correct syllables.
I think we'd all agree that we do not want to see a charlatan promoting false miracle healings, especially when it points to himself as the source of the healing instead of God. In light of the fact that such charlatans exist, it's tempting to get upset and just call everything a sham when a Christian prays for a miracle healing.
However, on the other hand (as much as I have a serious beef with my old church), it's upsetting to know how anti-miracle some modern American Christians are. They'd rather see someone suffer and die of AIDS than admit God is still in the miracle healing business. (And if they got a life-threatening disease, they would most certainly pray for healing ... or at least I hope they would rather than just rolling over to die with an, "Oh well, God lost His omnipotence or just chooses not to heal anymore 'cause we have full copies of the Bible nowadays, hence healings are an unnecessary evangelistic tool.")
While I have never been subject to a fully confirmed miracle healing, I have a non-believing uncle who just was. He was a borderline atheist whose cancer had spread through his body (he was on his way out). His wife is a Christian, and she showed up in the hospital with many members of her church. He was scared out of his wits, had no idea what they were doing, and certainly had no placebo-faith in it. They anointed him with oil (yes, poured it on his head), prayed for him, and a week later, the doctor's pronounced him cancer-free. (Yes, he became a Christian.) Not many weeks after that, the doctors did another full scan and found spots of malignant cancer on his lungs and were hoping to do spot radiation to knock them out. Most recently, he went back in, and the spots are now gone. While I can't say what will happen next (and he will eventually die of something), I can't deny that a miracle just took place in my family ...
I think that this is a good way to deal with certain variations of these groups, but, I think that the sophisticated members of these groups can get around these criticisms.
Then let me think through this a bit harder ...
Certain forms of atheism are willing to countenance immaterial abstract entities like propositions, properties, and numbers. W.V. Quine was an atheist, but was also a staunch Platonist about numbers and sets. Also, you seem to make the assumption that the atheist is committed to Newtonian conceptions of nature, which doesn't seem to be the case. Quantum mechanics holds open the possibility that there might be some room for indeterminacy. Along with that, some atheists are willing to countenance property emergence about the mental (as are some theists), which allows us to say that there is a possibility that at a certain point, some kind of freedom will evolve. If an atheist accepts these points, it strikes me as possible for them to give the kind of account of morality that you want to give. So, atheism isn't quite ruled out yet.
I'm aware that some atheists attempt to slip in non-randomness thrugh quantum mechanics. If this proved possible, I would say this contradicts some fundamental assumptions about atheism. C.S. Lewis probably put it best with, "Rational thought cannot come from non-rational matter and energy." If we were to discover that something rational and free can be found in the physical universe, we would have to assume there is something fundamentally at the basis of the universe that is non-random and rational, which is a direct contradiction to atheism and would immediately philosophicaly point towards an intelligent designer of some sort.
Further, while I agree that freedom is necessary for morals, even if an atheist proved this non-deterministic "stuff" could exist in the atheistic universe, that still does not lead us to absolute morals. It would simply provide part of the basis. Atheism would still have to provide a singular absolute basis for these morals, and it won't be able to do it. Genuine morals cannot come from non-conscious matter and energy. Even if rationally conscious beings evolved over time, there opinions would still be relative. So I do believe I can completely knock down atheism.
I more or less agree with how you characterize theism (though there are a few minor points where I disagree in that I don't accept divine command theory). However, I don't think that you've provided the knock down arguments against these positions that you wanted to. It's not to say that you haven't given theism an edge over these other groups, but, it still needs a little more nuance.
Hope this isn't too much of a digression, but the moral argument for God's existence was briefly brought up earlier, so I thought I'd expound ...
I group world-views into four broad categories: atheism, pantheism, polytheism and monotheism:
Atheism: There is no God or gods or spirits or whatever. The universe is purely material and is just a brute fact. I'm referring to materialistic atheism, meaning that Buddhism will not fall into this category.
Pantheism: God exists and is part of everything. Our computers are God, the stars are God, our entrails are God, etc. Though Buddhism does not acknowledge a Deity (or deities), it still preaches a greater pervasive spirituality and will fall into this category. Note that some pantheistic religions (namely Hinduism) acknowledge a lot of lesser gods under the grand God umbrella.
Polythiesm: Multiple gods exist, and while there may be a chieftain or ruler of those gods, there is no ultimate, grand, true Deity. These gods are not one in being with the universe.
Monotheism: A single grand, ultimate Deity exists. That Deity can be omnipresent (anywhere and everywhere at once) but is not one in being with the Universe. In the case of Christianity, the Holy Spirit can be anywhere (including in a believer), but the Holy Spirit is not one in being with the believer or the mountains or the fish, etc.
Now we come to the question of absolute, objective morals. I'll be happy to explain why these morals necessarily exist to any skeptics, but since most or all of us currently on this site believe in them, suffice to say that if absolute, objective morals exist, then we must accept a world-view that provides a viable basis for them. If a world-view category cannot provide a viable basis, then we must eliminate it. Any specific religions/philosophies that fall under that category would also be eliminated.
Atheism: A complete failure when it comes to morality. The universe is a random blob of self-existent matter energy. There is no viable ultimate basis to distinguish between right and wrong. In reality, there is not even the possibility of moral choice or free will. All our actions are purely deterministic. An atheist might conceive of a "magical" form of matter and energy that is not purely deterministic in nature, but then that wouldn't be materialistic atheism born from a purely random universe with no grand consciousness behind it (it would be something more akin to Buddhism). So we must bid atheism and all subcategories, "Farewell."
Pantheism: If God (or the gods or the greater spirituality) is part of everything, then God is part of both evil and goodness. In that case God is an eternal contradiction in and of Him/Her/Itself, and any distinguishing between good and evil would really just be favoring one side of God's personality over another ... an arbitrary decision. The nature of God is both good and evil, which is not a viable basis for morality, so pantheism fails (with it goes Hinduism, much of the New Age, Buddhism, etc.).
Polytheism: Multiple gods with no grand Deity breaks down into moral relativity. Whose opinion is correct? Thor's? Zeus's? Baal's? Further, Soctrates' famous "what is holiness question" will quickly demonstrate that mere divine opinions cannot the basis of true moral laws. Since polytheism fails, we should eliminate Wicca, Mormonism, etc.
Monotheism: Yes, this is the last category standing, but we must apply skepticism to be fair. Since God is not part of the universe, God's nature could be separate from evil. Certainly the Bible argues this case. Goodness is 100% equivalent to God's nature (and God can pass Socrates' "what is holiness" test), and evil is only an inferior, unnecessary attack on goodness. Note that rape is merely a perverted form of sex. Sex can exist just fine without rape, but rape can never exist without sex. The old axiom of, "there is no good without evil," is 100% bogus. There is good without evil, but there is no evil without good. God is goodness. Goodness is not just a command from God; it is God's nature. Only monotheism passes the absolute morality test. That leaves Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Jehovah's Witness, Deism, possibly Baha'i and some forms of Wicca, and a lot of just general non-specific theism. To narrow things down to Christianity would require further analysis.
I appreciate your candid response. Let me see if I can clarify my position . Additionally, I do not agree everything said in the attachment, and hopefully I can articulate things well.
I never said that God was necessary for free will, though I might move that direction someday. If intelligence exists, it seems most plausible to think that this intelligence (free rational thought) was spawned by a singular consciousness. That (the single intelligence theory) would only leave us with pantheism or monotheism. But in fact (at this point), I've said on many occasions that polytheism, pantheism and monotheism are all viable candidates for free will. As you noted in recounting statements by various philosophers, a conversation without free will is essentially pointless.
I know many atheists who believe in free will. You noted the gent who commented on randomness at the quantum level not being a good reason to think that free will could not possibly exist at a higher level (such as in a human being). I disagree entirely and will happily challenge that assertion. That was why in my last post I pointed out that I have never seen an atheist coherently justify atheism + free will. If the bottom-line basis of the universe is sheer randomness, then how does free will magically enter the equation somewhere down the line?
Again, I would love to see a good explanation for this, but I think it's impossible. When I read atheistic literature, all of the sudden free will and moral values just pop into existence by magic -- presto! No logical justification offered whatsoever ... just, "I'm an atheist and I believe free will is possible in the deterministic universe and of course I have the will to decide." That's neat, but it does not come close to an actual justification for this train of logic. In other words, I have never seen a single shred of atheistic evidence that the atheistic universe could possibly escape hard determinism.
However, you brought up Buddhism. As for Buddhism, I realize that Buddhists could be construed as atheists who believe in free will. I think one of the problems in our discussion is that I would define an atheist as someone who does not believe in any religion or spirituality, whereas you are quite justifiably including Buddhists as atheists (unless I've misread your words). I would prefer to classify Buddhism as a sort of non-theistic pantheism -- it combines elements from atheism and pantheism. And in that case, yes, I would certainly acknowledge the possiblity of Buddhism + free will (though I still favor a single intelligence giving rise to other intelligences). But then again Buddhism does (depending on which breed of it) offer a physical + spiritual dualism.
There is an underlying flaw in attempts to debunk the spiritual realm as necessary for free will, and the attachment illustrated it brilliantly. It comes in the paragraph where the author assumes that angels are bound by essentially equivalent laws to the physical laws that govern our universe, therefore the angelic spiritual realm would essentially fall into hard determinism unless we can construe some abstract indeterministic physical realm. I disagree with the assumption. While you might be able to logically justify angels existing in "time" and affecting each other within a particular framework, it is incorrect to just blanketly assume that because there are some correlations between the spiritual realm and the physical realm that everything must correlate. It is illogical to try to trap the spiritual realm into the laws of the physical realm, else you may as well just define the spiritual as physical in the first place (and not bother with dualism). That's the entire point of the spiritual realm -- it's the "X factor" that escapes physical determinism. What many philosophers are really trying to do is physically conceptualize spirituality and break it down into nuts and bolts ... which is really just making the spiritual into physicality -- a false trap.
Again, I believe the purely physical universe cannot escape hard determinism -- I define that universe as the atheistic non-spiritual universe (i.e. I am not including Buddhism under this particular atheistic umbrella). Again, I have never seen any evidence that comes even close to a justification that materialism + free will is possible. The opening paragraphs of the attachment illustrate the kind of "presto!" magic that atheists often employ. All of the sudden humans are assumed to have a will, and we talk about whether a will is restricted to choosing one future or has the choice of many possible futures. But whence cometh the "will" in the first place?! The materialistic universe can provide no justification for a belief in a genuine will, and in spite of the articulate gent's quote about quantum mechanics, no justification has been offered. Materialism + free will = an unjustifiable fantasy. And the author of the attachment does agree that determinism + free will does not fly.
Whether you want to call it spirituality or not, there has to be something that escapes the hard determinism of the physical universe. Hence philosophies that acknowledge a "spiritual" component on top of the physical can provide a basis for free will. Polytheism, Pantheism (including Buddhism as a sort of atheistic spiritual pantheistic-ish faith) and Monotheism are the remaining contenders.
I did say that free choice is a component of objective moral values, but I never said free choice = moral values. To justify objective moral values, we need a firm basis.
You suggest a priori moral values as things that just govern the universe, and I really appreciate your explanation. However, I still have to insist that you have provided no basis to make such an a priori assumption. It's just "presto!" -- objective moral values exist, just like physical laws. But moral laws are very different than physical laws. You need to provide me an absolute basis to distinguish right from wrong. Otherwise we are left with relativity -- Mother Theresa thought what she did was right, and Adolf Hitler thought what he did was right. Where is the valid distinction by which we might condemn Hitler? You appeal to a priori, but I honestly believe that to be baseless.
I have not really seen any answer to my argument that if the universe is one big rock (a lump of randomly interacting matter and energy), then the a priori objective morals do not work. You did agree that a rock is not a valid basis for objective morals. If I'm not mistaken, by asserting the a priori objective morals, you are attempting to bypass any need to make any firm statements about the nature of the universe (atheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic or monotheistic). But by acknowledging that objective morals do not come from rocks, you have unwittingly demonstrated the point I have been arguing for since the beginning. You cannot separate objective morals from the true nature of the universe.
If the universe is one big rock and nothing more, then you would have to admit that objective morals do not exist (or retract your statement and attempt to justify objective morals based upon rocks). Well, if materialistic atheism is true, the universe is nothing but one big rock. So we reject materialistic atheism as a viable basis for objective morals, even a priori ones.
To deal with Buddhism, you can justify free will, but then again upon what basis do objective morals arrive? Once again, you would have to arrive at "presto!" a priori morals that have no firm foundation other than general observation. But the truth is (if you look deep down) you have no objective basis. What makes your opinion (observations that are allegedly a priori) about morals better than Hitler's? I have a feeling your a priori objective morals are also essentially trying to subtly appeal to majority human opinion (I realize you have not stated this yet) -- namely that it is somehow observable that murder is wrong ... because most people think it
is (you'll have to fall back on human observation sooner or later) ... ergo this is a generally observable obvious a priori truth. But as Ravi Zacharias is fond of pointing out, "In some cultures they love their neighbors, and in some cultures they eat their neighbors." Human opinions and observations won't cut it, even general a priori ones. Many humans have very different a priori views of moral truths. You'll essentially end up backed into a corner where (a) you think the "objective morals" that you personally observe should be enforced on the entire universe (you think you're God), or (b) you admit that your "objective morals" are really an attempt to enforce majority human opinion/observation on the universe -- which is essentially polytheism and will not pass Socrates' test, or (c) admit that the "objective morals" are 100% relative (and therefore invalid) without a singular absolutely definitive and authoritative basis. This will lead you to either the Pantheistic or Monotheistic Deity ...
As noted, Pantheism fails since such a Deity is part of both good and evil. Choosing moral sides would merely be arbitrarily be choosing between equally valid components of God's nature.
On to monotheism ...
The attachment noted the arguments against God's omniscience + free will. These are false traps. They basically first apply God's prediction (God has omnisiciently predicts I will do action Y) and then apply free will (I allegedly have free will and should be able to choose X or Y) -- ergo an omniscient God does not allow for free will. This is the basic logic behind Newcomb's Paradox. However, it's bogus. All you have to do is switch the order -- stemming from the spiritual realm, I have free will and since God is outside of time, God is able to observe what I will freely choose to do 20 years from now. The existence of a divine observer in no way precludes free will.
Now I'm not Thomas Aquinas. I've seen articles in Philosophy Now say that God can't exist because talking about something that's outside of time is impractical. In the attachment, the attempt to trap spiritual angels in physical determism came on the same premise, that it's tough to conceptualize things being outside of time. I certainly agree it's hard to wrap one's mind around, but the fact is all of modern physics is now predicated on the idea that time is only one dimension in the universe and that there are many higher dimensions. If we assume that God cannot exist above, outside of, or beyond time, then we also must assume that modern physicists are full of it for talking about things beyond the dimension of time.
Also, I agree that the question of whether God is free or not is a tough one, but the attachment failed to acknowledge degrees of free will. It simply said that if God is not free to do evil, then it must be (if God does exist) that God's choice to create the universe was also not free. Wrong -- just because God might not be free to do evil does not mean God is not free to do other things. You did revisit the question of whether God's actions are praiseworthy, and while in my previous post I did acknowledge this as a tough question, I did offer the fact that God is goodness. And is there really anything ridiculous about praising goodness itself? We might praise a free moral agent for choosing something good, but there is also nothing stupid about praising and enjoying the actual substance of goodness. So yes, God is praiseworthy even if God cannot do evil. But as you said, perhaps we should drop this question since we're both inclined to agree with the base intuition that free will is necessary for moral choice.
Actually, now that I think about it, we don't have to abandon the question. Moral free will is necessary for moral choice -- I think you'd agree at this point. However, the substance of goodness is also just as praiseworthy as choosing goodness. Hence God is praiseworthy, though God (as previously acknowledged) may be more "limited" in a sense since He cannot violate His own nature. But God is still the only viable basis for objective morals.
Now, to answer your very first question (sorry to do this backwards), why do I believe in objective moral values? As I've demonstrated on multiple occasions, apart from them we cannot even justify this conversation. Apart from genuine objective moral meaning, our very arguments lose any moral value and therefore become worthless. And yes, I still hold to my statement that since we cannot live apart from objective morals and know they exist, we're going to come back to God sooner or later.
But since objective morals are not based upon relative human observations or a priori assumptions, we must trust God to reveal those moral truths ... to reveal His own nature.
BUT AN ATHEIST NEED NOT ACCEPT SUCH AN AUSTERE FORM OF PHYSICAL ISM. IN FACT, I THINK THAT MANY DO NOT. ONE MAY BELIEVE IN PROPOSITIONS, STATES OF AFFAIRS, POSSIBLE WORLDS, CONCEPTS,SETS, NUMBERS, PROPERTIES, LAWS (logical, PHYSICAL, MATHEMATICAL, LEGAL), OR ANY NUMBER OF ABSTRACT OBJECTS AND STILL BE AN ATHEIST. SO I DON'T SEE THE POINT HERE. ALSO I DON'T UNDERSTAND THE STUFF ABOUT SENTIENCE. DON'T CONFUSE EPISTEMOLOGY WITH METAPHYSICS. WHAT WE CAN UNDERSTAND HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT EXISTS. THERE IS A FACT ABOUT WHETHER OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES EXIST, AND THIS FACT EXISTS WHETHER OR NOT WE LIKE IT.
SO ALTHOUGH IT IS TRUE THAT A ROCK NEITHER UNDERSTANDS MORAL LAW NOR CAN PROVIDE A BASIS FOR IT, I DON'T SEE HOW THAT IS RELEVANT. SURELY NOTHING I HAVE SAID DEPENDS ON THIS BEING THE CASE.
ALL I HAVE SAID IS THAT JUST AS THERE ARE LOGICAL LAWS, THERE MAY BE LAWS OF MORALITY THAT EXIST IN THE UNIVERSE. SO COULD YOU EXPLAIN TO ME AGAIN WHY I NEED ROCKS TO BE SENTIENT OR TO SERVE AS THE BASIS OF THOSE LAWS?
Actually, yes atheists must accept such an austere form of atheism. Now I am well aware that many do not! That is because most atheists do not walk out their logic. They attempt to magically insert things like free will and objective moral truths into the atheistic framework.
But true atheism insists that the entire universe is composed of randomly interacting matter and energy. Namely that there is absolutely no Intelligent Designer behind the universe. As a logical consequence, everything is reduced to action-reaction causality. Free will cannot possibly enter that equation.
Your articulate criticism drives at the heart of the point I am making. What I am saying is that if we do not have rational freethinking minds, then we cannot truly understand anything. In fact, if we are not freethinkers, then neither of us can choose what he is writing right now. And in that scenario, debating becomes moronic at best (the "debate" is really just the meaningless random interaction of matter and energy).
Believe me, I am not attempting to confuse the issue when I talk about sentience. The point I am making is that to try to insert objective morals into the atheistic framework, you'd have to base these morals on objects that have absolutely no freethinking mind whatsoever. So as I said, this is logically equivalent to trying to say that a rock, stick, bottle of water or other non-freethinking object is a viable basis for objective moral laws that govern the entire universe. Now of course you're removing it one step further by saying moral values are just kind of out there. But based upon what? You agree that moral values cannot be based upon a rock. Great! But if atheism is true, that's all the universe is: one big "rock".
In a previous post, you also said that the "just because" argument is simpler than the "morals are defined by God's nature" argument. I disagree entirely. The statement "God is goodness" is about as simple as it can get. In my opinion, it is usually anti-theistic philosophers who obscure the issue with a fog of big words to try to debunk God, and then theists are forced to hack through all of the big words to boil things back down to the pure, simple truth that the Deity is holiness.
It comes down to this -- is it more plausible to believe that objective moral values are defined by a wholly good genuinely sentient ultimate Being (a.k.a. God) or that they are defined "just because" ... this "just because" comes within a universe that is entirely comprised of randomly interacting matter and energy?
I DO SHARE YOUR INTUITION THAT MORAL ACTION REQUIRES SOME SORT OF FREEDOM, I THINK. I'M NOT SURE THOUGH, NEITHER SHOULD YOU BE. FOR GOD CANNOT SIN, AND YET I THINK YOU WOULD WANT TO SAY THAT HIS ACTIONS ARE MORALLY PRAISEWORTHY IN SOME SENSE.
BUT THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT YOUR CLAIMS ABOUT ATHEISM ARE COMPLETELY FALSE HERE.AND I THINK JUST ABOUT EVERYONE WHO HAS THOUGHT MUCH ABOUT FREE WILL KNOWS IT.
THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU THINK THAT SOME SORT OF DUALISM IS NECESSARY FOR FREEDOM, AND THAT ONE CANNOT BE BOTH A DUALIST AND AN ATHEIST. AND YOU ARE WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS.
ONE COULD BE A DUALIST AND AN ATHEIST (OR A THEIST AND A NATURALIST IN REGARDS TO PERSONS), LIKE A BUDDHIST, FOR EXAMPLE. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, DUALISM DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF FREEDOM. ITS A PURELY ABSTRACT PROBLEM INVOLVING THE PRINCIPLE OF SUFFICIENT REASON.
(1) OUR ACTIONS ARE EITHER CAUSED OR UNCAUSED.
(2) IF THEY ARE UNCAUSED THEY ARE RANDOM, AND THUS NOT FREE.
(3) IF THEY ARE CAUSED THEY ARE NOT FREE.
PURE RANDOMNESS IS NOT FREE WILL, NEITHER CAN OUR ACTIONS BE FREE, IT SEEMS IF THEY ARE CAUSED.
Wonderful, William! I'm glad you went here. The question of whether God has moral free will is one of the toughest objections that could be raised to my line of reasoning. Brilliantly done!
However, it is entirely conceivable that there are degrees of free will. God, being the very definition of goodness, is restricted to His own nature. But it is still quite conceivable that such a Deity could have enough free will to choose whether or not to create the universe, etc. It is also conceivable that such a Deity could choose to create freewill beings who are capable of choosing to step outside of God's nature (thus creating evil). Why would God do such a thing (knowing the horrible consequences of evil)? Yeah, that's tough, but perhaps God did not want to force the divine nature upon us. Otherwise He would just be making more God. Besides, philosophers who try to debunk God because a wholly good God allowed us to commit evil are essentially saying that freedom is wrong -- that God-given freedom is the problem with the universe (because it allows for the possibility of evil). However, the truth is that God-given freedom is not the problem. The problem is the abuse of that freedom (and that is not God's or freedom's fault).
Would God's actions still be praiseworthy since He cannot violate His own nature? If I claim that free will is a requisite for objective morals, but God is not free to commit evil, does God really make moral choices? Tough questions. In terms of Christianity, the praise given to God is not based upon the fact that God chooses to be good -- it is based upon the fact that God is goodness. And I'd still insist that God can still be moral without having the free will to violate His own nature. Because God is the very definition of goodness, God is in a different boat entirely. God is truth, and He cannot contradict Himself (hence Jesus' claim of "I am the way, the truth and the life" -- this is one of His claims to Deity).
Regarding dualism, my actual contention is that true atheism preaches a universe that has no Intelligent Designer at its core. The deity of atheism is Almighty Random Chance. Once you start slipping spirituality (or anything that escapes the action-reaction nature of the entire atheistic universe) into the equation, you have just rejected atheism and created atheism + spiritualism (or whatever you want to call this "thing" that is not restrained by causality). As you brilliantly noted, the question of free will depends on whether our actions and thoughts express individual choice or whether they are caused. In the atheistic universe, the only viable conclusion is that they are 100% caused.
As you pointed out, many atheists believe in free will and objective morals. But the assertions behind their beliefs in free will and objective morals are ultimately based upon nothing. Typically, they confuse the issue with fancy language and then just casually assume that human beings have moral value (it's just wrong to murder over-evolved germs) and never once bother to answer the ultimate question, "Upon what is this alleged absolute moral value based?" When you boil everything down, the inescapable answer
is always nothing. At best the atheist assigns moral value to humans based upon arbitrary (and therefore invalid) bases, such is "it's really important for evolution to progress". But (in this example), this overlooks the fact that the atheistic universe does not give a hoot about evolution. So who cares?
William, I 100% agree that our actions cannot be free in a purely random universe -- they also cannot be free if they are caused. But to solve your problem, you now have to show that atheism could provide something other than a universe of 100% randomness. And I believe that's impossible, though I'll certainly consider what you have to say!
THIS IS ALL WRONG. PERHAPS HAVING A DEBATE ASSUMES SOMETHING NORMATIVE, LIKE THAT ONE OUGHT TO BELIEVE THE TRUTH, BUT THIS NEED NOT BE AN ETHICAL NORM. BUT WE NEED NOT EVEN GO THAT FAR, WE NEED ONLY THAT BOTH PARTIES TO THE DEBATE HAVE A CONCERN FOR THE TRUTH. SO THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION AS TO WHY YOU OUGHT TO CONVERT TO MY VIEWPOINT MIGHT BE ANSWERED EVEN IF I WERE A MORAL NIHILIST. THE ANSWER IS THAT MY VIEWPOINT IS TRUE, AND IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HAVING TRUE BELIEFS (AS YOUR DEBATING WITH ME BETRAYS) THEN YOU OUGHT TO CHANGE YOUR PHILOSOPHIC WAYS. PERHAPS THERE IS SOMETHING NORMATIVE HERE, BUT NOTHING NECESSARILY MORAL.
The key is in the fact that if there is no objective moral value, there is no objective moral reason to give a hoot about truth. You're trying to slip in the need to believe in truth apart from objective moral value. It's not going to work.
I am actually not all wrong here. All I need to ask you is to give me one justifiable reason why I should care about truth? Apart from compelling objective moral truth, there is absolutely no reason to care about truth at all. In other words, you jump to the step of "assuming you have a concern for truth". You cannot justifiably get to that step apart from legitimate, objective moral values.
Again, in every atheistic attempt to reconcile objective moral values with atheism, you will notice that the atheistic philosopher skips steps and ignores the fundamental assumptions atheism makes about the universe. You start with a 100% random universe, and halfway through the book the atheist has just casually jumped ahead and assumed that humans have free will and that human life has moral value ... ignoring the fact that if atheism is true, humans are only different than raw sewage and toxic waste in that our molecular structure is different. That's the bottom line.
(Again, note that even if one does find a clever way to slip free will into the atheistic framework, this still does not produce objective morals. It would merely show that beings with free will could conceivably make moral choices, but the question of "upon what basis do objective morals come" would still be entirely unanswered.)
BUT THIS IS JUST MERE ASSERTION. IT IS TO BEG THE QUESTION. YOU HAVE PROVIDED NO REASON TO THINK THAT THE ATHEIST CANNOT HAVE FREE WILL OR OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES.
Thank you for going to "begging the question". I once debated an atheistic university prof in Colorado who did the same thing. Intrinsic within that accusation is the belief that I am under some (dare I say "moral") obligation to not commit philosophical fallacies (such as "begging the question"). But of course, if I do not have free will and objective morals do not exist, then I am under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to obey the rules of logic.
This is not begging the question. This is merely pointing out that to justify having a rational debate, we must first make certain assumptions. For example, you assume that I exist -- that's not begging the question. It's a rational assumption. (And some philosophers do sit around and say, "Maybe this universe is all an illusion in my head ...")
I have pointed out that if we do not assume free will, then I cannot help what I'm writing right now, and you have no reason whatsoever to try to change my mind.
Further, if we do not assume objective moral values, then you cannot provide me any viable "ought" as to why I should change my way of thinking -- I would have no reason to give a rip about truth. Apart from objective moral values, truth itself becomes irrelevant.
So everything comes full circle. I believe I can very coherently argue that we must assume free will and objective moral values -- while free will can be reconciled with pantheism and polytheism and monotheism (but not with atheism), objective moral values can only be reconciled with monotheism. Therefore it is not at all a stretch to say that to even justify this very debate, we must first assume God.
But since you disagree with this (and please know that I do respect what you have to say), please show me where I am in error. Your last post said my claims about atheism are "all wrong". You also said I have given you no reason to conclude that free will and objective morals cannot be reconciled with atheism. I believe I have given you compelling and inescapable reasons on both counts.
But again, I am well aware that you are obviously a very educated and intelligent individual. Instead of just saying that I am wrong, please show me why I am wrong. Show me why the atheistic universe is not just one big "rock". Show me why my assumption that atheism cannot provide an objective "should" is inaccurate.
Personally, I believe that the only reason atheism still exists is because atheists are so good at making theists defend themselves. In other words, many atheists are very good are making sure that they always play offense and the theist always plays defense. But let's turn the tables and apply skepticism to atheism! (In reality, I think both sides should have to prove their case rather than just assuming one world-view is true "by default".)
William, I officially claim that it is impossible to reconcile free will and objective morals with atheism. Please show me how I am wrong!
To justify free will + atheism, you will have to logically justify the less-austere forms of atheism you believe exist (otherwise atheism will be trapped by hard determinism/physicalism).
To further justify objective morals + atheism, you will have to provide me an objective basis for morals that nicely fits within the atheistic universe (i.e. there is some basis for moral values other than physical "non-sentient" objects).
All right, I suppose I've talked enough. Have a great night!
When I constructed an argument for God's existence based upon the necessity of objective moral truths, I pointed out that moral truths can only be defined and understood by truly sentient beings. A rock neither understands moral truths, nor is it a viable basis for moral truths. But if atheism is true, that's all the universe is: one big rock -- namely a non-sentient randomly composed pile of matter and energy. It is conceivable that laws of physics might exist as brute facts in such a universe, but to say that moral truths exist in such a universe (even as brute facts) is logically equivalent to basing moral truths upon a non-sentient stone, a piece of dog poop, or any other blob of randomly organized matter and energy. Within the atheistic framework, there is no valid basis to distinguish between a valid or invalid ... or moral vs. immoral state of matter and energy -- all there are are equally valid arrangements of matter and energy across the universe.
Now feel free to challenge me on this, but I believe free will is a prerequisite for the existence of moral truth. After all, if you cannot choose your actions, then you cannot justifiably be held morally accountable for them. (No one would ever put rocks on trial for rolling down a hill and crushing a house and killing a family inside -- it's called a landslide.) But once again, if atheism is true, we are all just rocks. It's always odd to hear atheists make distinctions between "man-made" and "natural" disasters. When they do so, they unwittingly assert that there is something unnatural or perhaps supernatural about mankind -- such an assertion cannot be reconciled with atheism -- in the Godless universe, everything is 100% natural. Why did the tree fall over and kill 3 three people? 'Cause the universe made the wind blow it over. Why did the psycho-killer "murder" 3 people? 'Cause the Big Bang programmed his DNA and made him do it. Within the atheistic frame work, Almighty Random Chance (the Deity of atheism) is every bit as responsible for the atomic weapons that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it is for the earthquake that laid S.F. waste in 1906.
Ultimately, within the atheistic framework, there is no basis for free moral choice, and with that fact in place, there is no possibility for any objective moral standard that could label one action as "moral" and another as "immoral".
In contrast, polytheism, pantheism and monotheism can all pass the "free will test". (If anyone wants to try Newcomb's Paradox or similar "God sees the future so you can't have free will if God is omniscient" logic, I can also show why Newcomb's Paradox is false.) For now, at this level of scrutiny, polytheism, pantheism and monotheism all have a viable chance of providing a basis for objective morality.
However, polytheism fails to answer Socrates' famous "what is piety/holiness?" question. Ultimately, the polytheist is trying to base objective morals on the varying opinions of multiple gods (or aliens or humans in the case of alien-worshippers or atheists who appeal to "majority human opinion"). Further, even if all the gods agreed, the source of goodness would still be higher than all of them combined.
The pantheistic Deity fails because under pantheistic religions, God is part of everything, hence God is part of both evil and goodness. As I noted earlier, choosing between good and evil would just be arbitrary sides of God's personality.
Sorry to have repeated myself so much, but once again we are left with monotheism. But of course, to be fair to skeptics, we must apply scrutiny to monotheism too (not just assume it by default). The only way to pass Socrates' test is to assume that God's nature is the very definition of goodness. As previously noted, doing so satisfies both sides of Socrates' question -- in fact, it's the only way to pass Socrates' test. Please note that this is not divine command theory -- while I certainly believe that God has made goodly divine commands, the actual definition of goodness is not the commands themselves. God is goodness; the commands stem from God's nature.
Any other theory is going to have systemic problems from which it cannot recover, including the "moral truths are just brute facts" theory (again, this tries to establish moral truths apart from the existence of sentience). However, William, please believe me that I 100% agree that people should obey moral truths regardless of whether there is some perceived punishment. People should do good for goodness's sake.
To even justify having a debate, we must first assume the existence of free will (otherwise we cannot even choose what we say or think). Atheism cannot pass the free will test (again, rational thought cannot come from non-rational matter and energy), so we must already reject it on this count (or else not waste time having a debate). It's always strange to listen to people argue against the existence of free will. They formulate arguments (subtly assuming that they are capable of free rational thought) and then say something to the tune of, "I can't help what I'm saying right now, and neither can you, but I still want you to think about my arguments (even though you can't really think) and see why I am right and we don't have free will." Yes, I have had people look me in the eye and try that logic.
However, to further justify having a debate (as noted in my last post), we must assume the existence of objective moral truths. To assume otherwise is to invite one's opponent to, albeit rudely, say, "Good, you don't believe in objective moral truths. Then your philosophies (which you're about to try to preach to me) are clearly devoid of objective moral value and are therefore ultimately worthless. Ergo, I shall not waste my time listening to pointless drivel, and you cannot provide me a valid reason why I should or ought to convert to your viewpoint." <-- Again, I am not attempting to be rude here; I am just logically showing the point in its most blunt form.
But once again, if we assume free will and objective morals, we must also assume God. As Bertrand Russell the famous atheist himself once admitted, "Unless you assume God, the question of life's purpose is meaningless."
This does not necessarily prove Christian monotheism, but it does narrow down the possible true world-views to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Jehovah's Witness, Deism and possibly a couple others. One might include the Baha'i Faith or an adapted form of Wicca in the discussion (a rare case for the latter) ... or an undiscovered form of Theism.
That said, I do happen to be a Christian, but narrowing things down to one specific monotheistic faith is a much longer debate and goes well beyond the "free will" and "objective morality" tests.
Have a great night, folks. I'd love to hear all your thoughts!
For example, atheists often argue against theism as if there is something morally wrong with it (religion is poisoning the planet, etc., etc.). But since atheism can provide no basis for objective morality, there is no basis for such a claim (it is hypocritical and self-defeating). In any given debate, the theist need merely ask the atheist, "Why should I become an atheist ... or even bother listening to you for that matter?" Since the atheist has no objective basis upon which to define any sort of moral should or ought, the atheist would then have to concede that he/she has nothing morally worthwhile to say, at which point the theist can respond, "Precisely. Which is why there is no valuable reason for me to waste my time listening to atheistic beliefs. Thank you for defeating yourself and declaring your own world-view's inherent worthlessness!" (I realize one should be more polite than that, but you get the point.)
Apart from an objective basis for morality, there is not even a justification to having a simple debate. The absence of genuine, absolute moral meaning strips debate of purpose and meaning. So technically, the instant two human beings engage in debate, they have already assumed that objective moral meaning exists (else they will fall into the trap outlined in the above paragraph). But the reality is that a wholly good monotheistic Deity is the only possible basis for objective moral meaning. Let's analyze four broad world-view categories ...
Atheism: Even in an infinite and eternal atheistic universe, there is still no basis for objective morality. Morality can only be defined and understood by sentient beings. Objective morality must transcend all barriers: it is not merely a "law of physics" in a universe of randomly interacting matter and energy. (To argue that the non-theistic universe gives a hoot about moral values is absurd, as some other folks have pointed out in the postings above.) Besides, if atheism is true, there is no such thing as a sentient being. As I believe C.S. Lewis put it, "Rational thought cannot come from non-rational matter and energy." (Note that this is another death-blow to atheism. Atheists frequently claim to be "rational freethinkers who have seen through the foolishness of religion". But if atheism is true, all of their "thoughts" are merely the delusional results of randomly interacting matter and energy and are not truly thoughts at all. In fact, in the atheistic universe, there is no such thing as "rational thought" ... or even "intelligence" for that matter.) Atheistic moral systems are either based upon arbitrary and meaningless foundations (such as an infinite mindless universe) or upon the opinions of humans (even if humans could be sentient in the atheistic universe, such moral systems would fail because they essentially amount to polytheism, and Socrates' famous "what is holiness?" question will annihilate any polytheistic attempts to define objective morals based upon multiple gods, ultra-powerful aliens, humans, or whatever). Since we must assume the existence of objective morals to even justify a simple debate, we must reject atheism.
Pantheism: While pantheism can escape the hard determinism of the atheistic universe and provide a viable basis for belief in free thought (stemming from a spirit and/or soul that transcends the action-reaction nature of matter and energy), it still cannot provide a basis for objective morality. Why? Simple. If God is part of everything, then God is part of both good and evil. And if God is part of both good and evil, then God is an eternal contradiction in and of Himself. Good and evil would merely be two sides of the same coin, and choosing between them would be arbitrarily choosing between two equally valid sides of God's nature. So once again, we must reject pantheism to even justify having a debate.
Polytheism: As noted, Socrates will defeat polytheism (in terms of objective morals). The collective opinions of gods, aliens, humans or other sentient beings are no basis for genuine moral value. Even if every sentient being agreed on what is right and wrong, the source of moral definition would still transcend those beings and have to come from a higher source. Once again, polytheism just doesn't cut it.
Monotheism: Genuine morality is not merely a divine command. Put simply, God is goodness. Only a single wholly good Deity can pass Socrates' "what is holiness" question. Is something holy because God loves it (a), or does God love it because it's holy (b)? If (a), then what if God changes His mind about what is holy (chooses to love something else)? If (b), then the definition of holiness must be higher than God. But if God Himself is the very definition of goodness, then God simultaneously satisfies both sides of Socrates' question.
But isn't evil necessary for good's existence? Actually, no. Notice that everything evil is really just a twisted mockery of that which is good. Rape is merely a perverted form of sex. Sex can exist just fine without rape, but rape only gains it definition by twisting sex. Life (a good thing) can exist just fine without murder (an evil counterpart), but murder can only exist by attacking and destroying life. In every instance, that which is good is self-defined and substantive all on its own. In contrast, that which is evil is always parasitic, inferior and ultimately unnecessary. Hence the idea of a wholly good and ultimate God is not illogical at all! In fact, it has to be that way to justify any belief in objective morality (note the failure of pantheism).
Also note that such a wholly good Deity would still allow creations to have enough free will to choose whether to adhere to goodness (God's nature) or step outside of that perfectly moral character and thus create evil ... hence the current state of this world.