Christians who seek to debate with atheists on the topic of morality typically seem most concerned for their opponents’ basis for pronouncing condemnations, as if condemnation as such were a moral end in itself or at least a chief priority. That's the typical focus that most apologists seem to have. But there is also a breed of faith-defender who seems to have no particular focus but to scurry into shadows, shifting from one sub-issue to another, looking for any way to evade the penetrating light of unflinching reason. This latter is the type of apologist who has chosen to respond to a statement I made in the comments section of an article on the Debunking Christianity blog, titled A Question For Calvinists. The response
, by one CalvinDude on his own blog, comes right on the heels of my 9 March entry, Rational Morality vs. Presuppositional Apologetics, in which I lay out key fundamental differences between the moral system of rational philosophy and the primitive morality of Christian theism while noting common failings non-believers should watch for in apologetic treatments which focus on moral issues. I take it from his languid comments that CalvinDude has not yet read my blog.
The central issue here is, given that the Christian god does not face the fundamental alternative that man faces, it lacks an objective standard by which to guide its chosen actions. Consequently this can only imply that any actions it might choose to undertake in spite of having no such standard would be arbitrary in nature. This is indeed problematic for the Christian, for if it turns out to be the case that the actions attributed to the Christian god by its worshippers are arbitrary, then the claim that the Christian god is the source of objective moral standards for man is fatally compromised. (It should be noted that there are other ways to establish this conclusion, but CalvinDude manages to hang himself on this one all by himself.) So it should come as no surprise that, when faced with this case, whose outcome has such uncomfortable implications for Christianity in general, and presuppositional apologetics in particular, CalvinDude inadvertently unplugs other holes in his worldview in order to stop the immediate leak, but to no avail.
Let's waste no further time now, and turn to CalvinDude's 'devastating' apologetic.
CalvinDude initiated his comment to me by acknowledging some familiarity with my atheology:
And in case Dawson reads this–yes, I know you claim to come to an objective morality.
I responded with some brief points to clarify this:
Yes, a morality based on facts which obtain independent of anyone’s wishing (i.e., objective), which are discovered and integrated by means of reason (as opposed to faith in invisible magic beings), in the interest of identifying and securing those values which an individual needs in order to live (as opposed to appeasing the imaginary dieties).
I wonder, though, how you can separate the idea of "indepentent of anyone’s wishing" and "needs in order to live."
It’s not very clear what CalvinDude wants to ask here, for my view holds that man's moral needs are what they are regardless of what one might wish. CalvinDude seems to disagree with this fundamental recognition, for he continues, saying:
These very needs are themselves a product of what the one wishes to have: food, water, shelter, etc.
Apparently CalvinDude is so out of touch with reality that he does not realize the fact that food, water, shelter, etc., do not materialize as the result of wishing, nor does man's need for them. In fact, man was born with these needs, and if he does not satisfy these needs, he will die. And yet, here CalvinDude suggests that they are the product of someone's wishing. On the contrary, man's needs are a result of his biology, and the values that he acquires are a product of his labor, that is, goal-oriented effort. One can wish all he wants, but this will not put food on the table or fill someone's stomach. Nor will wishing cause water to exist in an arid desert, nor will it make a house appear where one was not before. What has happened here is a complete reversal of the subject-object relationship at the most fundamental level of cognition, such that the objects of awareness are mistaken to conform to the wishing subject. This is the essence of metaphysical subjectivism. We will find that CalvinDude’s commitment to subjectivism, inspired by his hope that Christianity is true, is a recurring theme throughout his response to my points.
That they are essential to our survival does not mean they are not something we wish for.
This statement is irrelevant for I nowhere deny this. One is free to wish whatever he wants, even that his consciousness survives the death of his body and finds itself in a magic kingdom beyond the grave. But this much is certain: wishing does not make it so.
However, this is a minor thing.
And yet already it is a major stumblingblock for him: if one is not able to recognize that objective values are based on facts which obtain independent of an individual’s wishing, I’d say this is quite a problem for him. The failure to recognize the nature of objective values could only be explained in adults on account of the irrational worldview which they hold. A worldview which teaches that man lives in a cartoon universe, where all the objects that exist in that universe (including man himself) and all the actions that take place in that universe are the result of the wishing of some ruling consciousness, would certainly make it difficult for one to make simple recognitions such as this, especially if he took that worldview seriously.
Of more interest is the notion that morality is simply to secure "those values which an individaul needs in order to live."
A needed correction here: I was clear in mentioning that morality’s interest is in “identifying and securing those values which an individual needs in order to live.” One will have a very hard time securing adequate values if he does not know what they are or how to identify them. A rational morality satisfies this need. A religious morality does not.
By "live" I suppose you mean more than just survive, but to live happily too.
Though I agree that “the maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues” (Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”), I would also point out a self-evident certainty: happiness is not possible to man unless he is alive to enjoy it. So a man’s basic life needs must be met in order to for him to be able to pursue his choice of happiness. As I point out in my blog Rational Morality vs. Presuppositional Apologetics, morality is a code of values which guides one’s choices and actions. The concept ‘code’ in this case implies a hierarchical relationship amongst one’s values, where some values are ranked as more important and more serious than others. Those values which satisfy the basic preconditions of man’s life would logically hold moral priority over those which are not immediately necessary for satisfying those preconditions.
Whether a given individual is able to live happily of course depends on the particulars of his situation. It may be the case that the individual in question does not have the luxury of pursuing his choice of happiness at a given time in his life, simply because all his effort is focused on pursuing his most basic life values. After traveling in so-called “third world” countries, I do appreciate this. But I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t want to be happy. Perhaps there have been some that I’ve occasioned, but I’d imagine there aren't very many of them. It must also be mentioned that happiness is a profoundly selfish value. After all, when one is happy, who’s the one who is happy if not himself? And when one pursues his choice of happiness, whose happiness does he expect to achieve if not his own?
After all, mere survival does not require much morality at all–animals do that just fine without any sense of morality whatsoever.
This is the kind of statement that I’d expect to see from someone who does not understand the relationship between man’s need for values, his ability to use reason as a means of identifying those values and the actions he needs to take in order to achieve and or keep them, and the distinction he enjoys as a human being as opposed to a lower organism which has not achieved capacity for conceptual thought. Indeed, a man alone in the jungle needs morality more than one living in a bustling city, for in the bustling city there are so many sources of ready-made values already available to him, many of which are achieveable with a minimum of effort (that's why so many people choose to live in or near urban areas). But in a jungle, a man would have to prioritize his actions at virtually every moment, especially if the jungle is known to have aggressive predators. Since man does not operate on instinct, but instead must rely on reason, he would not know that he needs values in order to live if he did not have morality. Consequently he would have no rational basis for his choices and actions, and he would soon become a carcass.
But if we are instead talking about quality of living, we are left with the problem of establishing what objective values can there be for quality of living?
I agree that this is a major problem for Christians, for pursuit of high quality living for oneself is by definition selfish in nature, and yet the Christian worldview commands the believer to "deny himself" (cf. Mt. 16:24). Which means: He cannot enjoy a quality life without internal conflicts between his chosen goals and his expressed worldview, which of course results in guilt (this is why many Christians glory in their shame so much).
Who determines that? Is it simply something I want? If so, how is that not subjective?
Well, in CalvinDude's case, he has already admitted that it is subjective, for above he affirmed the view that needs are a product of someone’s wishing, just as Christianity teaches that the universe is a product of wishing.
According to an objective morality, however, an individual is able to identify what makes his life both possible as well as worth living, since objective morality provides him with a code of values which guides his choices and actions. Since these values are based on facts which obtain independent of his wishing (specifically his biological needs, which will not change no matter what he wishes for), the rational man's morality is not subjective, for it is not suspended on the lie that he can fake reality, cheat nature, or have his cake and eat it, too.
CalvinDude had asked:
But I simply ask: why can’t God be selfish in how He creates His morality?
And I responded:
The concept ‘selfish’ - if properly formed - necessarily implies that it would have something to gain and a need to gain it.
I’m not so certain about that.
But of course, certainty is not possible on the basis of a theistic worldview. Also, there is the nagging problem, endemic to any form of Christianity, that the biblical worldview lacks an understanding of concepts and the process by which they are formed. As I pointed out, my position is based on the proper formation of the concept 'selfish'. However, if we attempt to rest our conclusions on faulty concepts, then virtually anything can be argued, but nothing would be proven, since our conclusions are no better than the premises which support them, and our premises are no better than the concepts we use to inform them.
Rather than a ‘need’ to gain something, I would argue that it is merely a want to gain something.
Which comes back to CalvinDude's commitment to metaphysical subjectivism, a worldview in which wanting is its own standard, as opposed to desires which are regulated according to a hierarchy of values based on relevant facts (again, the individual’s biological needs) and a social theory established on the premise of individual rights (another element of rational philosophy which Christianity rejects; see the statements that I quote in this comment).
Thus, acting selfishly is based off desires, not needs (although the two are not always contrary, they often can be).
Again, CalvinDude offers us wanting as its own standard. Keep this point in mind as we go through the rest of CalvinDude’s post.
I had written:
But it would be incoherent to apply this concept [selfishness] to the Christian god given the characteristics believers attribute to it. Since the Christian god is said to be immortal, eternal, unchanging and indestructible, it would not face the fundamental alternative that man faces (namely life vs. death) and thus would have no need to act in order to exist (as man does). Applying concepts of morality to a being so described simply results in a jumble of stolen concepts, for their genetic basis is denied in the properties attributed to the being.
My question wasn’t based on the Christian God (but instead on the charicature of the ‘God’ John claimed was the God of Calvinism–one who is arbitrarily ‘evil’, etc.).
I must interject at this point that it is not clear to me what a Christian might mean by the term ‘evil’, unless of course it simply indicates the opposite of what the Christian god wishes. This of course is just another expression of religion's deep subjectivism. However, on an objective conception of morality, "that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.” (Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”) And indeed, according to Christianity, its god is destroying men’s lives on a daily basis, both in the church and out on the streets. So on an objective conception of morality, the Christian god, were it real, would be rightly condemned as evil if it behaved the way Christians say it does (especially since its actions are said to be chosen).
That said, I still don’t see the linkage between acting "selfishly" (or to use a less-loaded term, in ‘self-interest’) and morality such you can claim "Applying concepts of morality to a being so describe simply results in a jumble of stolen concepts."
The “linkage” is the concept ‘value’, which is by nature necessarily selfish (since value is something one acts to achieve and or keep for himself, for his benefit, or for the benefit of those whom he values for selfish reasons, etc.) and its objective basis: man’s biological needs. (Theists are not likely to see these points without difficulty, for religious morality, which theists want to take seriously, conceives of morality in terms of duties rather than values.) Man acts selfishly because his existence depends on it. If man were to act consistently unselfishly – i.e., renouncing, abandoning or even taking his values for granted when they are in fact not possible without his rationally directed effort – he would not be able to live. He would quickly become a vegetable and rot, unless of course someone else chose to intervene, at which point he would become a parasite. Thus to apply the term ‘selfishness’ to a being which has no objective needs commits the fallacy of the stolen concept for selfish action, as I pointed out, necessarily implies the need as well as the choice to act selfishly. The concept has a biological basis, and yet CalvinDude wants to apply it to a non-biological being. Since this need could not be present in a being which has the attributes ascribed by Christians to their god, what would determine whether its actions are selfish or not? Blank out.
Now, to the extent that the Christian might say his god’s actions are motivated by self-interest, it could only be irrational self-interest, for, as we have seen, wanting supplies its own standard for the Christian god, and as such wanting governs its choices supremely, without the temper of objective constraints (after all, what could possibly constrain an omnipotent god?), without the concern for meeting objective needs (for it needs nothing), and without concern for deleterious effects that might arise as a consequence of its actions (for nothing can harm it). In this sense the Christian god is the apotheosis of a bull in a China shop when it comes to morality, for it could not care less about human values.
In other words, it is not at all clear that you have established how acting in self-interest is equivalent to morality, so until you can demonstrate the two are equivalent there is no jumble of stolen concepts.
True, this probably was not clear in the short space of my comment, but then again it was not one of the points that I intended to elaborate on in that comment. Allow me this occasion to tie up the loose ends.
One reason why CalvinDude is unclear on this point is because he does not have the same conception of morality as I do. Indeed, I’ve not seen this term in the bible, and I typically do not find Christians offering a clear and informed definition of the term ‘morality’. Indeed, where does CalvinDude present a definition of this term in his posting? I did not see one. Hopefully he can do better than something like "knowing right from wrong," for on such definitions even dictators who "know right from wrong" could be considered 'moral' in spite of their choice to do evil things to those whom he rules.
I will again repeat the definition of ‘morality’ that I have in mind: Morality is a code of values which guides one’s choices and actions. Notice how this concept is focused on the individual and the determinative role it grants to his values in regulating his choices and actions. Perhaps CalvinDude does not govern his own choices and actions according to a code of values, but I do, and I do so because I need to in order to live. Values are selfish in nature, and so is goal-oriented action, since the goal one pursues is of his own choosing and for his own benefit.
Furthermore, it is not at all demonstrated that self-interest is only that which applies to life or death issues. This, again, would result in a morality that is nothing more or less than what lions do in the jungle.
While it is true that jungle animals do act on behalf of their lives (this fact only confirms that basis of moral and teleological concepts is biological rather than "supernatural" in nature), jungle animals do so on the basis of instinct rather than rationality (i.e., a chosen and informed commitment to reason). In distinction to jungle animals, man is capable of long-term goal-oriented planning, self-assessment, observance of other individuals’ rights, a conscious pursuit of his own life as an end itself, mutually consentual trading of values with others, etc. What makes this possible to man is his rational faculty: his ability to identify what he perceives by means of concepts and to integrate those concepts by means of general principles which he can apply in specific contexts. Reason is man’s primary means of living, for without his reason he would be at the mercy of the elements and natural predators. Since man’s life is not guaranteed to him, he has no choice about his need to act, if he chooses to live. How is action taken on behalf of preserving one’s own life not done in self-interest? When a bushman hunts for food when he is hungry, or a businessman goes to work everyday to generate a paycheck so that he can put food on the table to feed his hungry belly and keep a roof over his fragile body, who is the primary beneficiary of his actions, if not himself? In this way rational morality is universal to all men, for all men are biological and must live according to their nature's constraints.
What if, instead of self-interest being related to life or death, God was interested in His own glory?
At this point, it’s clear that the Christian is essentially just trying to play games, having offered nothing of value in terms of moral principles so far and seeking chiefly to deny what has been presented by his non-believing opponent simply for the sake of not losing face to the atheist whom he loathes so much. Take for instance the proposal that CalvinDude offers here: instead of basing its choices and actions on the need to act in the face of a fundamental alternative, he wants us to entertain the notion that his “God was interested in His own glory.” "What if" is the only vehicle of insight that CalvinDude seems to possess. Of course, his suggestion misses the point: the very concept ‘interest’ ultimately presupposes a fundamental alternative of a serious and dire nature. Interest in what as opposed to what, and why? If one did not face such an alternative, what would generate and sustain his interest? Since the Christian god is said to be immortal, eternal and indestructible, it would make no difference to its existence whether it chose to pursue glory, renounce it, or remain utterly indifferent to it. Given its alleged immutable perpetuity, its so-called 'glory' (whatever that is supposed to mean) would be irrelevant.
But CalvinDude's proposal assumes, apparently at this point for the sake of not appearing to concede a point to an atheist on an issue pertaining to morality, that a fundamental alternative of the sort that man faces is not necessary for a being to be interested in anything particular. CalvinDude does not explain how this could be the case, and nothing he says indicates that he has a good grasp of the concepts involved here. In fact, it appears that he throws this proposal out only because it’s been shown that an objective standard does not and cannot apply to his god, given the attributes Christianity supplies it with. In other words, it’s bluff time for the Christian. In fact, what alternative does he have at this point? His own religious conception of morality does not premise its prescriptions on the concept of values; Jesus, for instance, nowhere presented a theory of values in any of the sermons attributed to him in the gospels, and the ‘moral’ teachings in other New Testament books nowhere link morality to man’s need for values. Indeed, one could read through the entire bible and never learn that a morality fit for man consists of a code of values. At best, values are taken completely for granted by religious morality (while rational morality is concerned primarily with the achievement and preservation of values, religious morality is primarily concerned with their surrender), which only indicates that it is at best a morally bankrupt worldview that offers man nothing that he can use in the task of living his life.
Assuming that his god can have its superlative attributes and act on behalf of pursuing some vague, indefinite interest for no specified reason (cf. having your cake and eating it, too), CalvinDude exhibits his anxiety to satisfy a standard without having one:
Thus, He acted in such a way as to increase His glory for His own purposes. This would still most certainly qualify as a “selfish” motive, for it is for Himself that He acts the way He does. Certainly, there is no issue of “life or death” involved–but that is just an arbitrary meaning that you’ve placed on the concept of selfishness relating to morality. It is not itself objectively known.
For one thing, this assumes that the Christian god’s glory could be increased in the first place, otherwise we’d have the Christian affirming futile effort on the part of his god. But to suppose that its glory could be increased would constitute an acknowledgement that its glory has not always been maximal, and also that its glory quotient is subject to change. What tutored Christian would go along with this? Also, it remains to be explained why the Christian god would act in order to increase its glory (assuming this is even coherent to begin with, which is granting much!). After all, since nothing can harm this god, there’d be no resulting difficulty if it failed to pursue the end of increasing its own glory. Again, for it to act selfishly it would have to act in a way which brings itself added benefit or preserves itself in the face of potential or certain harm. But the very notions of added benefit and potential or certain harm in such a context are incoherent given the attributes ascribed to the Christian god. It would not need to eat (like man does), it would not need to have a source of clean water (like man does), it would not need to shield itself from the hot sun of summer or the icy frosts of winter (like man does), it would not need to put forth effort to exist (like man does), it would not need to avoid walking through fire (like man does), it would not need to avoid poisonous substances (like man does), it would not need to avoid diseased animals (like man does), it would not need to avoid falling from high places (as man does), it would not need an oxygen tank in space (like man does), etc. The differences are virtually endless, thus bringing a lethal dose of doubt to the notion that the one was "created in the image" of the other. And notice all of man’s selfish pursuits are in keeping with his needs as a biological organism: he pursues food, water and shelter, because his life requires them. He avoids hungry lions, crocodiles and packs of wolves because his life requires him to. It is his nature – his biological nature – which serves as the ultimate standard for his choices and actions, a nature which is constant so long as he is alive, a nature whose needs do not causelessly change, so that he needs food one year but gypsum dust the next.
CalvinDude, however, sees otherwise. He thinks this “issue of ‘life or death’ involved” throughout my morality’s principles is “just an arbitrary meaning that [I have] placed on the concept of selfishness relating to morality.” Given his commitment to a devotional program, he has a lot of personal investment in his religious affirmations to protect, a state of affairs which ironically confirms in his mind that choices and actions need have nothing to do with the requirements of life (after all, these are a product of someone's wishing, according to what he told us above). And yet, if CalvinDude were to examine his own daily chosen actions, and be willing to acknowledge those actions which he chooses to take on behalf of his life’s needs and weigh them against those which meet no life needs, which do you suppose hold a practical priority in his schedule of tasks? Since for CalvinDude this concern for life or death is so arbitrary (and Christians say I'm wrong for pointing out that their worldview is opposed to man?), and moral action has nothing to do with biological needs, why not simply stop eating, drinking, bathing, going to the bathroom, huddling under a blanket on a cold night, wearing boots into the snow, brushing his teeth, taking vitamin pills, earning a paycheck, driving a car, buying groceries, paying for internet service, turning on a light, getting out of bed? Why does CalvinDude not simply spend his day in idle devotion to his god, acting on the premise that he is willing to give up this life ("deny himself") for a “better life” in the magic kingdom beyond the grave? Of course, this kind of behavior is what would be consistent with the anti-reality, anti-reason and anti-man philosophy of the bible. But there will be some reason (one which he will say he does not choose for himself) to go on like the rest of us biological organisms, acting in a manner that is virtually indistinguishable in the general nature of his choices and actions from the rest of us.
I had written:
In fact, since the Christian god has no needs (need implies deficiency, and the Christian god is said to be “self-sufficient” and thus could not be said to have any needs), it would have no use for a set of principles which enables it to discover and identify any values (since it wouldn’t need them in order to exist), which means: it wouldn’t have any use for morality as such to begin with.
To an extent you are correct. God’s morality is not based on what He “needs” to do. It is, properly speaking, simply God’s nature. God does as God is. The way He acts is because of the way He is. Thus, He doesn’t have a “use” for morality–He simply is and the way that He is is what determines His morality.
CalvinDude’s statement here, while conceding that I am at least correct “to an extent,” more importantly shows that his position is unequipped to deal with the is-ought distinction, an issue which presuppositionalists love to introduce into their debates with non-believers. (As the almighty Paul Manata himself puts it, "just because humans do exist does not mean that they ought to exist. This is the is/ought fallacy (i.e., is does not imply ought).") CalvinDude can learn more about the so-called 'is-ought' problem here. Suffice it to say, the statement which CalvinDude makes here, if it were made by an atheist in a debate with a Christian apologist, would be hoisted on high and held up as the final self-refutation of the individual making it.
Naturally, what God does is not the same as what we do. Our morality is not based on our nature, but instead based on what God decrees for us to do.
It is an understatement to say that “what God does is not the same as what we do,” for man is constrained by objective facts which do not conform to his wishing, while according to Christianity, facts are a creation of the Christian god’s wishing and can be revised at its arbitrary discretion. In terms of rational philosophy, where man must operate on primacy of existence (since the objects of his awareness do not conform to his consciousness), the Christian god is an expression of the primacy of consciousness (i.e., it allegedly possesses a consciousness which both creates and controls the objects which exist). Where man must act in the interest of his needs which are not satisfied automatically nor guaranteed by invisible magic beings, the Christian god has no needs and can do whatever it wants, assuming that it could even want in the first place (which the Christian has not established).
But it does not follow from this or any other point which CalvinDude has attempted to raise, that man’s “morality is not based on our nature, but [is] instead based on what God decrees for us to do.” This is simply a confession of faith, not a recognition of objective fact. On the contrary, man has no choice about acting within the constraints of his nature and on the basis of his biological needs, a point that we’ve seen substantiated repeatedly just in this exchange. Essentially, “what God decrees for us to do” is utterly irrelevant to man, for regardless of what it “decrees” man to do, man still must live by his own moral judgments (faith in ancient legends will not replace this), regardless of who disapproves.
Regarding the Christian god, given what believers have attributed to it, I pointed out:
It would have no need to act whatsoever, so whatever action it is said to take would be utterly arbitrary, i.e., for no rational purpose whatsoever.
That does not follow. If God does something because He wants to do it, it is not arbitrary. He has His purpose. Whether we understand His purpose or not is completely irrelevant to the point. If He has a purpose, whether He discloses it to us or not, then His actions are not arbitrary.
This is another example of how theists ignore the genetic basis of the concepts they try to employ in their religious defenses. Chosen action that is purposive is by definition goal-oriented. Objective goals are identified on the basis of facts (i.e., states of affairs which obtain independent of one’s awareness, intentions, preferences, etc.) relevant to one’s needs (e.g., man’s biological needs). If an entity had no needs, then what could possibly ground its choices and actions? CalvinDude has not proposed a credible alternative.
Consider a rock: what needs can one say it has? To consider the question, ask: What would happen if the rock does nothing? Will it “die”? No, it will not die because it is not alive in the first place. So we can be pretty sure that it has no biological needs, since it is not biological. Does it have mineral needs? How would one argue that it does have mineral needs? What are those mineral needs, and how are they satisfied? Does the rock act in order to satisfy these alleged needs? No, rocks do not have a means of acting on their own, nor do they need to. So rocks apparently have neither needs nor the ability to act on their own. Would CalvinDude ignore this context and say that rocks still act because they have a purpose? Given what he says about his god, there seems to be nothing to prevent him from saying this about rocks since he apparently thinks it is perfectly legitimate to say that something acts with purpose even if he cannot identify what that purpose is. But it won’t do simply to assert that a rock has a purpose of its own, especially if a context vital to the concept ‘purpose’ is absent. Similarly, it will not do merely to assert that the Christian god has a purpose given that its purported nature is missing the fundamentals which give the concept ‘purpose’ its meaning and validity. Indeed, to say that something acts in the interest of achieving a chosen goal can only mean that the acting something is conscious and that there’s a reason why it would choose to act. But even if we suppose that a non-biological being could be conscious, what reason would an immortal, indestructible and perfect conscious being have to pursue a goal? Since pursuit of a goal logically implies a lack or deficiency of some sort (such as a man’s pursuit of food indicates the need to fill his stomach; he would not need to do this if his stomach were always automatically full), the claim that the Christian god is capable of pursuing a goal essentially denies the attributes ascribed to the Christian god by Christian theology. Thus we have a stolen concept. Consequently, to say that its choices and actions are not arbitrary because they are purposive, is to beg the question of Christian theology.
Furthermore, even you would not go so far as to say that any action that is done without “need” is arbitrary. Do you need to watch TV at night? No, but you want to. Is that arbitrary? No, because you gain some pleasure from it. Certainly you could play video games instead. But you decide not to do that. Your choice is not arbitrary as to which one you pick because it’s based on what you want to do.
It is true that I do seek various pleasures in life (though watching TV is typically not one of them). But contrary to where CalvinDude wants to go with this fact, my choice to pursue pleasures is completely consistent with the morality I have presented, since pleasure is a supreme value to my life (and it has already been established that I need values). Pleasure is a value because it gives me an incentive to continue living and improving my life. In fact, the ability to enjoy pleasure without contradiction (note Rand’s definition of ‘happiness’ as “a state of non - contradictory joy - a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction,” Atlas Shrugged) is the end goal of rational morality. My choice of pleasure and happiness is not arbitrary because it is in keeping with the hierarchy of my values, which are based on objective facts and chosen rationally. If I did not have a hierarchy of values to guide my choices, or if I were incapable of valuing anything to begin with (as would be the case with an immortal, indestructible, non-biological being), then I would have no moral basis for my choices and actions. Thus, they would be arbitrary by definition. And that is the believer’s burden to bear when he worships his god: it cannot value, and thus it cannot govern its choices by reference to a code of values.
Wants do not equal needs, and it is the want that determines whether something is arbitrary or not.
It is true that “wants do not equal needs,” nor do choices always equal what we want. For instance, it may be the case that I want to be CEO of my own company. In pursuing that goal, however, there will be a lot of things that I will have to choose to do that I would probably not want to do, such as putting my house down as collateral for a large bank loan, taking courses on management (which are very boring to me), spending less time with my wife, analyzing budget reports, meeting with dry, uninteresting business executives, etc., none of which I really want to do, but which I would have to do if I am going to achieve my goal.
Since we act on our choices as opposed to many of our wants (I wanted to sleep in this morning, but I chose to come to work in spite of wanting otherwise), and since our choices are generally determined by our values (I value my job over the extra hour or two of sleep I'd get if I chose to sleep in instead of going to work), objective moral evaluation focuses primarily on one’s actual choices and actions as an expression of or insight into one’s overall code of values, rather than on merely what one might have wanted to do at the time as an expression of ideals he might hold (for not only do people frequently choose to act in spite of what they want, many of our wants are unrealistic and thus unachievable to begin with given our natural constraints, constraints that the Christian deity is said not to have). This is not to say that comparing and contrasting one’s choices and actions with what he might have preferred to do is futile, but it is not the primary topic of evaluation. If a being cannot value, however, then it could have no code of values by which to govern its choices and actions. If it is asserted that this being still wants to act, then we must ask what standard will serve in place of a code of values to guide its choices and actions? CalvinDude does not explain this in relation to his god, which would have no basis for valuing anything if it existed, but insists that his god’s choices and actions are not arbitrary. So we just have a denial, which tells us about CalvinDude, not about rational morality.
I had written:
It would have no need to pursue any goals, so its actions could not be seriously goal-oriented, just a source of self-entertainment as it tries to allay the boredom of an eternal misery (an angry god that does not change is eternally angry).
Are you saying self-entertainment is morally wrong?
No, I’m not saying this, so long as the choice of activity does not contradict one's own code of values or violate someone else’s right to exist, a right belonging to human individuals that I am happy to observe and honor. But there is a key point to keep in mind, a point which I made above, which is: pleasure is a value because it provides man with an incentive to continue living and improving his life. This is neither possible nor necessary to a being which cannot value and which has no choice about its existence, such as the Christian god. Unlike the Christian god, man faces a fundamental alternative between life and death, and thus he does have a choice about his existence: he has the choice to take those actions necessary for his life, or to ignore his biological needs and rot away. This is something man has that the Christian god doesn’t have, given its stated attributes. Since the Christian god has no choice in the matter of its existence (its alleged immortality and eternality are inherent in its nature, not a product of its choices and actions), any pursuit of self-entertainment for the purpose of allaying inevitable boredom throughout eternity, an eternity of goal-less existence, would be futile. Being omniscient, it would know that its efforts to allay its boredom would be futile, thus simply compounding its misery. It is no wonder why believers would want to say that their god seeks to quench its miserableness in self-glorification, but even this would be futile. For what glory is there in inescapable misery?
I had written:
To occupy itself, it created a cartoon universe whose inhabitants are its puppets, and eventually it will tire of this and destroy it in one of its fits of irrational, needless anger.
You present that as if it would be wrong for God to do that. How so?
On Christianity’s notions of morality, one would have to say that there’s nothing wrong with whatever its god chooses to do, for its wanting is its own standard of good, as CalvinDude himself made clear above when he stated that "God does as God is," meaning what his god allegedly does is the defining standard of what it should do (and people like Saddam Hussein are simply following the commandment in Mt. 5:49 which says "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect").
But here's a question which Christians should consider: According to Christianity, what would be an example of its god doing something wrong? Since on the Christian view ‘is’ = ‘ought’ as we saw above, whatever the Christian god purportedly does (description) is taken as indication of what it should do (prescription), such that there is no distinction between what it allegedly does do and what it ought to do. Consequently any example presented by a believer of his god doing something "wrong" can easily be shown to be an example of it doing "right," since "right" is synonymous with whatever it is said to do, regardless of motivations or outcomes with respect to man's values (for they would only be irrelevant to the God of Indifference). And since Christian morality is not premised on objective values, but on supernatural whims (the agency by which the universe was created in the first place), it explicitly teaches that everything its god does is by stipulation “good” and “right,” even though if men did those same things they would be rightly condemned as vicious. In other words, the "standard" which the Christian wants to reserve for his god (and call "moral") is simply discarded when it comes to evaluating man’s choices and actions. In the case of man, the things that he actually does, do not serve as the standard for determining what he should do. (Apologist Evan May attempts to make this point against atheism, even though CalvinDude has shown that this is a problem for Christianity.) Rather, on the Christian view this standard is set by the wishes of the ruling consciousness, that is: by the will of the supreme subject, which means: a subjective standard (which rational individuals recognize as no standard at all).
Based on your idea of morality?
Based on my morality, however, a morality informed by objective values and which applies reason to the human task of living life, I have an objective standard of moral judgment by which I can evaluate actions chosen by anyone, real or imagined. Those actions which are proper to the life of a rational being are the good, and those which work against his life are the evil. The chips fall where they may, and this really bothers Christian apologists, even though they cannot escape the same standard when their own values are at stake.
Suppose Saddam Hussein were still loose and enjoying the power he had as the dictator of Iraq, and he got a hold of CalvinDude’s mother for purposes of his (Saddam’s) self-entertainment at CalvinDude’s mother’s expense. CalvinDude finds in his mail delivery one day a video of his mother being tortured in one of Saddam’s torture chambers. How does CalvinDude react when he watches this? Does he suppose that Saddam’s wanting is its own standard, as he thinks it is in the case of his god, and thus say it’s 'right' and 'good' that Saddam tortures his mother? Perhaps, but I highly doubt it. If CalvinDude rejects Jesus’ condition for discipleship given in passages like Luke 14:26, and instead of hating his mother he actually (perhaps secretly) values her, he will condemn Saddam’s actions, and probably want to identify some course of action to intervene on behalf of his values.
Now the Christian might say that it is right and legitimate to condemn such actions when they are performed by other human agents, but when they are performed by the Christian god those same actions are above reproach. (Christians are good at elaborating on their stolen concepts as they invent ways to rationalize their pernicious doctrines and special pleading, such as "finite human beings cannot enjoy the freedoms of an infinite sovereign God"). In other words, the choices and actions per se and their relationship to human life do not matter, it’s a question of who is doing the choosing and acting that counts. Thus Christian morality is not about the what of moral action at all (so rational principles do not apply), but about the who of moral agency, which of course results a long chain of special pleading, some of which we have already seen explicitly endorsed (such as the Christian god's wanting is its own standard). But when someone values another human being, does it really matter who is doing the torturing? Does the who in such a case outweigh concern for the what of the action that is taking place? Does it really matter to CalvinDude if his mother is being tormented in Saddam's prison rather than in the Christian god's hell? Perhaps the Christian needs to do some moral soul-searching here, and determine what he values more: his god’s unrestrainable whims, or his mother’s welfare and safety? The Christian will have to face such questions for himself. Whether he is honest to the facts is up to him.
As for me, God certainly has no “need” for goals–but that does not mean He doesn’t want certain things.
Wanting something necessarily implies a lack or deficiency of that something. One does not want what he already has, just as “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24). The Christian might say that he has things that he wants in order to assert a counter-example to what I am saying. But this would verge on ignoring the difference between wanting to acquire something and wanting to keep something that is already acquired; it would also ignore the role that choices make in this context. In the case of the Christian god, what could it possibly want to acquire that it does not already have? And in the case of the things that it already has, whether by acquisition or inherency, what could possibly take it away from the Christian god? Since its attributes belong to it by its very nature, it has no choice in the matter to begin with. And since according to Christian doctrine no state of affairs obtains without the Christian god’s authority, any “wants” it might be said to have would have to be arbitrary, for it could only already have what it wants, and nothing apart from the Christian god could change this.
And again, it is the issue of want that determines whether something is arbitrary or not. Flipping a coin and deciding off that is arbitrary. Doing something because you want to isn’t.
It is interesting to find a Christian apologist admit that "whether something is arbitrary or not" is determined by wants rather than logic. Regardless, it is true merely having the desire to do something is not sufficient to determine whether or not one’s choices and actions are arbitrary. Desires do not arise in a vacuum; they arise in the context of antecedent conditions which entail an absence of what is desired. Moreover, our choices and actions are context-bound; that is, we make our choices and actions according to the context of our values. Our desires do not come out of nowhere and have no relation to our values. For instance, since I value my life and its welfare, I have no desire to fry like the fish my wife cooked for dinner last Sunday evening. This is because frying like a fish in a frying pan would first cause excruciating pain and then death, given my biological nature. But it would make no difference for the Christian god, whether it fries or not, or whether I fry or not. Utter and inescapable indifference is the only attitude possible to such a being, and arbitrary action is its only option.
An action that is arbitrary would be one which bears no relation to one’s hierarchy of values. For instance, sprinkling sand in your child’s breakfast cereal, walking into the middle of a busy freeway, wandering into an active volcano without protective gear, stepping out of a submarine at 1400 feet below sea level without scuba equipment, entering the lion exhibit at the local zoo before feeding time, wrestling a pilot for the controls of an airliner while in flight without knowing how to fly, driving a motorcycle into a crowded supermarket, trimming your toenails with a blow torch, etc. Since it is allegedly indestructible, the Christian god could do any of these things without being harmed, since nothing can harm it. Since it cannot value, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t do these things, just as there is no reason why it should do them. Thus its actions, since it has no hierarchy of values to serve as their guide, would be arbitrary to the uttermost. Whatever "standard" it has for governing its actions, it is not a standard that man can use.
CalvinDude had asked:
Suppose that God did create us with the sole intention of torturing us all forever and ever. God has that power–so how is that morally wrong?
On the Christian’s premises, there’s nothing wrong with this, since according to Christianity we are the property of its god (just as a dictator thinks of the people he rules), and it can do with its property what it wills (even if it uses human agents to carry out its will).
CalvinDude now responds:
Except, of course, that God’s nature is not such that He would do something with the sole purpose of torturing us.
Not only does this statement make the illicit assumption that the Christian god can do something with any purpose whatsoever (an assumption which was pronounced DOA above), it sidesteps the fact that one can make any claim he wants about imaginary beings, since imagination and fantasy rather than reason and facts are the final arbiter.
In fact, God’s sole purpose for anything is His glorification.
As we saw above, this would be an utterly futile purpose, given the Christian god’s stated attributes. As an allegedly perfect being, its glory quotient would already be at maximum, and thus it would be incoherent to say that its glory can increase as the result of its actions. The Christian god in this sense is the eternal would-be narcissist eternally drowning in its own miserableness (since an angry deity which cannot change will be eternally angry, and a narcissistic being without a body to enjoy its desire for narcissistic pleasures will be eternally frustrated).
CalvinDude continued with this dead-end dodge:
He is glorified both in our salvation and in proper judgement of those who are not saved.
Which simply means that its choice of glorification is arbitrary as well, for it is the Christian god’s own whims, rather than its application of objective moral standards, which determines who is “saved” and who is not. If salvation were possible to man on the basis of objective moral standards, then there would be a standard whose identity could be discovered and known to man (for knowledge of objective moral standards is possible to man), and thus he would know what he needed to do in order to meet those standards and qualify for its rewards. But Christian salvation is something one cannot earn (remember that Christianity is all about pursuing the unearned), just as condemnation is also not something one earns (for Christianity typically teaches that even infants can be condemned, and this could not be due to some infraction on their part which "earns" them their condemnation). At any rate, the bible makes it pretty clear that it is not up to man, but up to the Christian god, who gets to go to heaven and who gets to go to hell. To make this issue a source of the Christian god’s glorification is to heinously enshrine an arbitrary circularity; again, want is its own standard. We know that this would have to be arbitrary because the determination of who is saved and who is condemned bears no relation to a hierarchy of values (for the Christian god, as has been shown, could have no such thing as a hierarchy of values), and whether any particular individual is saved or condemned would make no difference to the Christian god, since it cannot know either loss or gain.
Thus, my hypothetical question is ultimately not about the Christian God at all.
Perhaps now CalvinDude will realize that his question was in fact about the Christian god all along.
Instead, it is about how you can determine whether such a God as that would be good or evil. I maintain that you cannot answer that question since “good” and “evil” are meaningless in your worldview.
CalvinDude’s assumption that I cannot answer his question (“how [can you] determine whether such a God as that would be good or evil”?), is based on his assumption that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ “are meaningless in [my] worldview.” Has he established this latter assumption by informed argument? Not at all. And in fact, he could only assume this in ignorance of my worldview’s teachings on the matter, and what’s ironic is that it is his own Christian worldview which suffers this very fatal deficiency (for the bible nowhere presents definitions for these terms), and as we have seen there is no objective standard by which the Christian is willing to morally judge his god’s attributed choices and actions. As for how my worldview conceives of good and evil, I already spoke to this above, so I shall not repeat it again here.
I pointed out the following:
In this sense, it would actually be inconsistent for Christian believers themselves to be opposed to murder, for any murder that takes place would be “ordained” by their god, which could only mean that any action taken to prevent that murder from taking place would be an action opposed to the Christian god’s will.
This is absurd, though.
Gloriosky, I think he’s beginning to see the light!
That we recognize something happens according to the will of God does not in any manner mitigate against the responsibility of those involved in the action.
And when something is said to happen “according to the will of God,” who or what is the responsible party? Certainly not the victims of this god’s destructive actions, and certainly not those who are manipulated like puppets in carrying out that will, for they have no choice in the matter. CalvinDude's "standard" of justice here is analogous to a cartoonist condemning one of his cartoon's characters for killing another cartoon character. For the Christian god to blame human agents who carry out its will (in any contest of wills between man and the Christian god, whose will prevails?), simply indicates that this god is not man enough to take responsibility for its own choices and actions.
And on the face of it, it is most certainly not illogical to hold to this:
1. Those who murder are guilty and ought to be punished.”
2. God ordains that John murder Bill.
3. John is guilty of murder and ought to be punished.
Of course, this scenario (which I deal with below), does not address the issue that I raised above, which is that “it would actually be inconsistent for Christian believers themselves to be opposed to murder,” for if man’s actions (whether for life or against life) are “ordained” (that is, chosen) by the Christian god, then taking a stand against murder would be indistinguishable from taking a stand against the Christian god’s ordained “plan.” The only logical orientation open for the Calvinist, given his doctrinal formulations, is one of complete concordance with whatever ends up happening, for whatever ends up happening is all part of "God's plan" and, as we saw above, ‘is’ = ‘ought’ which can only mean: seeking to change any given state of affairs is equivalent to supposing one’s own ideals are somehow superior to the Christian god’s, and seeking to prevent some anticipated action is equivalent to opposing “God’s plan.” It is no surprise that Christian morality contains the commandment “resist not evil” (Mt. 5:39), for any act of resisting evil would be an act of opposing the Christian god’s will.
But given what Calvinism teaches, namely that man’s own actions are chosen, not by man himself, but ahead of time by the Christian god, the following scenario is more in line with its teachings:
1. Those whom the Christian god chooses to commit murder are guilty by proxy and ought to be punished as scapegoats.
2. The Christian god chooses that John murder Bill.
3. John is guilty by proxy and ought to be punished as a scapegoat.
Of course, this does not get the Calvinist out of the bind. For if his god has “ordained” that John murder Bill, and John in fact fulfills the Calvinist’s god’s will that he do this, then why would it want John punished? Here John is being punished for obedience to the Christian god’s will rather than disobedience. As I have pointed out before, man is always the loser when it comes to primitive worldviews. I’m glad that our courts do not follow this primitive model which simply makes a mockery of justice.
Besides, the Christian's pre-occupation with moral responsibility turns out to be nothing but an elaborate red herring after all, for I John 1:9 promises the believer that he can get away with murder: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So on the one hand Christianity wants to say that its god calls all the shots, pre-ordaining men's choices for them; then when it compels men to murder each other, it holds them responsible (as if they murdered on their own volition); then they are forgiven just for the asking, so it's all moot in the end.
So to recap the elements which make up this monstrosity of incoherence and double-talk, we have:
And presuppositionalists say we "borrow" from Christian morality when we recognize that some action is evil? Nope, couldn't fool us!
1. Obeying the Christian god's will is the believer's moral ideal
2. The bible nowhere says that murder is "wrong"
3. By virtue of its omnipotence and sovereignty, whatever the Christian god fore-ordains as an expression of its divine will must come to pass; no human being has any say in the matter so any choices he is said to have are irrelevant and ineffectual
4. If the Christian god wills that John kill Bill, then John is obeying the Christian god's will when he actually kills Bill, thus achieving the believer's moral ideal
5. Acting to prevent John from killing Bill is acting in defiance of the Christian god's will (for by virtue of its fore-ordaining John to kill Bill, the Christian god wants John to kill Bill, and for the Christian god wanting is its own standard)
6. Talk of John's moral responsibility is a sham since John has no choice in the matter
7. Talk regarding right vs. wrong is moot anyway since in the end the believer can be forgiven of any responsibility he is said to have in such matters just for the asking, which means he can get away with murder.
God’s ordination of these events does not alter the responsibility of the actors involved.If the actions which the actors are performing are not actions which they chose to take on their own uncoerced volition, but were in effect compelled by the irresistible force of an invisible magic being whose wishes prevail over reality (cf. metaphysical subjectivism), then saying that those actors are responsible for the actions in question would only be possible if we drop the context. In this way, we have yet another stolen concept when Calvinism says that men are responsible for the evil actions its god ordains them to perform, for the concept 'responsibility' is being asserted while denying its genetic roots (namely action freely chosen on one's own uncoerced volition). Again, we have in the Calvinist god a deity which is not man enough to take responsibility for its own choices and actions.
Whether you agree or disagree with this is, at this point, irrelevant. It is only a matter of simple logic here.It is never logical to assert concepts apart from the contexts which inform their meaning, just as it is not logical to insist that a conclusion borne on fallacy is soundly established. But it is curious that CalvinDude thinks that whether or not I agree is so important that he thought to indicate that it is irrelevant. In fact, to say that a person's agreement or disagreement in a given matter is irrelevant is evidence of borrowing from my worldview, for such a statement could only have merit on the basis of the primacy of existence principle, which is the recognition that states of affairs obtain independent of conscious activity (such as agreeing or disagreeing). Thus CalvinDude finds that he needs to abandon his own worldview's metaphysics in order to defend it, which instances an insuperable tension between his worldview and his apologetic strategies.
After all, God ordained that Christ should die for our sins, yet He still held those who did it responsible.And this we are told is “logical.” Only in the interminable labyrinth of mystical delusions could one even have the hope that such a farce is “logical.”
Again, unless you can show some transcendent morality that that violates you have no reason to complain about it occuring.To whom am I expected to “show” this? To someone who is steeped in the delusions of his religious commitments? To someone who has presupposed that whatever his imaginary being does is ‘good’ on the basis of wanting as its own standard? Indeed, what “transcendent morality” has the Christian offered? While the primitive notion of supernaturalism is likely built into the idea 'transcendental' already, it’s not at all clear how the Christian would define the term 'morality' let alone explain why man needs it.
I had written:
(Good thing most Christians aren’t so consistent with the implications of their worldview!) Recall that Jesus said “resist not evil.” An irrational worldview which seeks to enable evildoers would need injunctions of this sort. Besides, the bible nowhere says that killling is “wrong.” It simply gives the context-deficient prohibition “thou shalt not kill,” which is not at all the same thing. If this worldview suits you, well, that’s not my problem.CalvinDude responded:
Well, first I would point out that “thou shalt not kill” is a poorly translated KJV text. It ought to read “thou shalt not murder” as murder is different from killing (and, by the way, the term in Hebrew also implies causing the death of another person through carelessness, not just active plotting to kill someone). In any case, the Bible did not stop with only the Ten Commandments. There are several other places which clarify what constitutes murder and what does not. But aside from that, the rest of your statements are unproven assertions.Whether or not the KJV text is a poor translation matters little to me, and it certainly is not my problem (since I do not guide my choices and actions by its contents). But I do wonder how those who are invested in one translation as opposed to another would be able to sanitize their preferences of the modern sensitivities that they take for granted when deciding what is a poor and what is an accurate translation (alleged implications included). What’s noteworthy here is that nothing CalvinDude states serves to controvert my point that the bible nowhere says that killing is “wrong.” Indeed, I don’t think Christian believers themselves think that killing (or murdering, if CalvinDude prefers) is wrong. As the example of CalvinDude’s mother being tortured by Saddam Hussein above indicates, it all depends on who is doing the killing or murdering, not the action itself. But nowhere does the bible say that murder is wrong. It just prohibits it, but this is not sufficient to tell us whether it is right or wrong. It could very well be the case that, if a particular Christian happens to think that murdering another human being is wrong, he is borrowing from my values-based moral worldview rather than actually holding consistently to his values-rejecting worldview.
CalvinDude had written:
As it is, any time any of you argue that God is immoral for doing something you are arguing for an objective standard of morality that transcends not only all of mankind but the divine too.To which I responded:
That is not problematic for my position since moral evaluation applies to all actions which are *chosen* by a sentient being. If the actions attributed to your god in the story book are actions which it is said to have chosen to take, then they are open to moral scrutiny.CalvinDude replied, saying:
And yes, they are the actions that God has chosen to do. And they are open to moral scrutiny insofar as morality is properly defined.According to my worldview, morality is properly defined as a code of values which guides man’s choices and actions. I don’t know what the Christian thinks is a proper definition of morality, or where he would find it (I do not find this term in any of my bibles). Does the Christian view of morality take into account the human need for values? If so, why don’t the speeches attributed by the gospels to Jesus ever make this clear? And why is the surrender of values to a being that could have no use for them so important throughout the bible? Indeed, we must ask: Do Christians really have a good grasp of what morality actually is?
However, there are still many questions regarding your position of rational self-interest that remain to be answered in regards to how they relate to God.If CalvinDude has questions, rest assured, I will have answers. But what he should notice is how obvious it is that he senses the tight, logical cohesion of the objective morality that I have defined, and it is because he recognizes that it is indeed the only rational form of morality conceivable to man that he wants to reconcile it to his god-belief. But the two will never meet, and an attempt to bring them together can only compel him to compromise one or both, which is what we have seen.
by Dawson Bethrick