Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Responding to Pavielle

A new blog has been created called The God Debate where opening statements in a debate on the existence of a god have been published.

the opening statement of the pro-god position, its author Pavielle affirms "the absolute nature of truth" as "the solid base on which much of my argument rests." Pavielle rightly points out that certain positions on the nature of truth are self-defeating, such as those which affirm as a truth the view that truth cannot be known. Such views are often the outcome of frustrated mysticism.

Additionally, Pavielle asks readers to "check out some characteristics of truth," which are listed as follows:

- Truth is not invented, but discovered
- Truth is transcultural
- Truth is unchanging even though our beliefs about the truth may change
- Beliefs cannot change a fact
- Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it
- All truths are absolute truths

Pavielle then proceeded to present a case intended to prove, not the existence of the Christian god per se, but what is identified as "a generic theistic God," which I understand to refer generally to an invisible conscious entity whose consciousness has the power to bring matter into existence, assign objects their identity, essentially to create reality in one way or another.

the comments section of Paveille's opening statement, I interacted with a small portion of what was presented, focusing on the issue of "the origin of life." In that section, Pavielle accused "Darwinists" of taking their views on the origin of life "on faith," which I called into question. Additional commonplace criticisms against evolution and abiogenesis were also introduced in Pavielle's opening statement, and I responded to a few of them as well. Specifically I raised the concern that Pavielle's overall argument, as presented in the overview so far presented, is difficult to distinguish from an argument from incredulity. This is because much of his case in this section dwells on what are thought to be probabilities that are so unlikely as to be considered "astronomical." I found this ironic given Pavielle's own pointers regarding the nature of truth: if something is true, it's true regardless of our beliefs (for "beliefs cannot change a fact") and one's estimation that something is utterly unlikely to happen does not trump the actual state of affairs (for "truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it"). Since unlikely things do in fact happen, our estimation that some postulated occurrence is highly improbable is not sufficient to rule it out.

Pavielle then responded to my criticism, and that's where we begin. (From here on, I will address Pavielle in second person address.)

Pavielle wrote:
Origon of Life- That it sright. Darwinists take the origon of life theory on faith."
Yes, you did affirm this, but I'm wondering how you would support the highly generalized claim that "Darwinists take the origon of life theory on faith." Nothing you have presented indicates why one should suppose this is the case. It may be the case that some do this, but that would only speak for those who do, not those who do not or might not.

Pavielle wrote:
I was not condemning faith by any means. I was merely pointing out the hypocrisy of most atheists.
Now it seems you're mixing issues. You asserted (without argument) that "Darwinists take the origon of life theory on faith," and then seem to conflate this to atheists as such. But an atheist is simply someone who has no god-belief, and this requires no faith since it is not a commitment to any affirmation. Non-belief in square circles, for instance, is not a faith-based position. It's not even a "position" per se, since it does not posit anything. At any rate, I thought you were trying to present an argument for the existence of a god. Whether or not any particular atheist is guilty of hypocrisy is irrelevant.

Pavielle wrote:
They take certain things on faith, but then mock those who have faith in God.
I'd like to see an example of this, in the words of card-carrying "Darwinists" themselves. Specifically an example showing that they "take the origon of life theory on faith" and then ridiculing others for accepting views on the basis of faith.

Pavielle wrote:
Deduction must be used of course. As for explenations, I believe that is what I am trying to do right now. Both theists and atheists should be able to logically explain their stance.
Fair enough. Let's proceed.

Pavielle wrote:
the mathematical probablility of biogenesis is astronomically low.
Low probability is ultimately irrelevant. The mathematical probability of the bullet fragment hitting James Tague on his cheek in Dallas on November 22, 1963 was also "astonomically low," and yet it happened. Probability assessment is fine for estimating future outcomes. But if something happened, it happened regardless of the odds. Again, truth is absolute, right?

Pavielle wrote:
And there is little evidence that supports it. You say there is some, but did not actually mention any. Until you bring it in, there is no evidence to support biogeneis in this debte.
Just by saying that "there is little evidence that supports it" suggests that you are already aware that at least some evidence which supports it exists. But to clarify my position (since I am not here to argue in defense of abiogenesis per se; others are far more able than I am on this matter), let me just say this. I'm open to supposing that abiogenesis occurred, and I'm also open to supposing that life has always existed. If it's the case that abiogenesis occurred, and we learn this is the case, I'm open to accepting that as truth. If it is discovered that life has always existed, then if that's true, it's true. This is to say that it is a curiosity, but it is not an important issue in my worldview. Life exists. That's a fact, and that's something I need to deal with an act on. How it "got here" is rather moot to me. But I will also mention that I see no good reason to suppose that life is the creation of an invisible magic being which has the power to turn its wishes into reality at will. Where you say that you don't have enough faith to be an atheist (as if non-belief in invisible magic beings were a product of faith; it's not), I'm too honest to be a theist.

Pavielle wrote:
A single cell is considered the simplest lifeform by all scientists. Virus particularly. Simple life exists today and it cannot be made any simpler. Biochemists have proved this. It couldn't exist now, and it couldn't have existed a long time ago.
Can you explain how you know that, just because it's supposed that "it couldn't exist now" (based only on what we know now), it also "couldn't have existed a long time ago"? I'm sure you're aware that scientists are generally open to new discoveries (especially if they make these discoveries themselves). What conclusively rules out the supposed possibility that at some time in the distant past there existed some life form, which may now be extinct for all we know, and which was even simpler than the single-celled organisms we currently consider to be the simplest life forms? Again, I'm not claiming there was such a thing. But I see that you are claiming there could not have been such. Should scientists go into the field of paleo-biological research with the assumption that organisms less complex than the life forms currently considered to be the simplest in existence could not have existed? What would drive such an assumption? A confessional investment in a religious devotional program? Is that responsible science? Is that openness to absolute truth?

Pavielle wrote:
It woulnd't have functioned and therefore would not have evolved. Hard knocks for evolution.
And yet below, we'll find that the concern for simplicity vs. complexity in nature is really a moot issue after all. Again, if evolution took place, it took place, whether we find it incredible or not.

Pavielle wrote:
And you make a good point in my favor by saying that even non-organic molecules aren't simple. That decreases the chances that they would develop naturally.
I think you missed my point then. Recall what you had written:
Even the earliest organisms would have had the equivalent of 100,000 encyclopedias of information stored in them!
But if this is the case with non-organic molecules as well, then the concern for simplicity may in fact be nothing more than a chimera after all. If nature, in the form of both organic and non-organic compounds, is info-packed, then highlighting the (unargued) supposition that "the earliest organisms would have had the equivalent of 100,000 encyclopedias of information stored in them" loses its power to impress. Indeed, simply because some article of fact is by itself impressive does not constitute an argument securing desired conclusions.

Pavielle wrote:
Incredulity? You think my argument is based on that? Incedulity is an emotion. My argument is based on mathematical probabilities. And since the attittude of the person does not affect the truth (As you so aprtly reeaffirmed) then your attitude does not affect such probabilities.
From what I can tell, your argument seeks to employ mathematical probabilities to secure the view that things are so unlikely that they are beyond reasonable credibility. That's the overwhelming impression that I walked away with when I read it.

Pavielle wrote:
Okay: You want an exact definiton of the Principle of Uniformity. Here it is.
Yes, it would be beneficial for your argument to inform it with some indication of what you take to be its key principles. Recall what you had written:
The Principle of Uniformity suggests that such complexity of life could not have evolved without guidance.
So as I look through your (unattributed) definitions of the principle of uniformity, I'll be looking specifically to see how they might "suggest" that complex life forms "could not have evolved without guidance." By 'guidance' I am supposing you have in mind some consciously directed oversight administered by some (presumably *living*) entity which deliberately sought to bring about the current state of affairs on earth (a planet teeming with diverse life forms) as a desired outcome. If you meant something fundamentally different (i.e., some natural process which did not involve a form of consciousness directing outcomes), then you may want to clarify this in future statements.

Pavielle wrote:
The principle of uniformity or the 'The Principle of Uniformity of Nature' postulates that the laws of nature discovered on Earth apply throughout the universe.
It's not clear to me how this rendition of "the Principle of Uniformity of Nature… suggests that such complexity of life could not have evolved without guidance."

Pavielle wrote:
A stronger Uniformity principle is that the laws of event causation have remained constant throughout time (uniformitarianism) as well as applying everywhere in the 'modern' universe. For instance, the idea in Physics that there has been no change in the fine-structure constant since the Big Bang.
Again, it's not clear how this "suggests" some form of "guidance," as I understand this term to mean.

Pavielle wrote:
There is also another definition that the Principle of Uniformity states that nothing that is now impossible in principle was ever the case in the past.
It's still not clear how some form of "guidance" is suggested by any of this. In fact, quite the opposite is suggested (at least, by my understanding). These suggest to me that guidance would not be needed, since natural laws were in operation. Is "guidance" needed for the movement of tectonic plates? I don't think so; geological forces, operating according to natural law, make this happen. Is "guidance" required for intercellular activity? I don't think so; biochemical forces are at work here. From what you have presented, I'd say quite the opposite is suggested.

Pavielle wrote:
There it is. The Principle of Uniformity affirms that natural laws are uniform throughout the universe. In my argument, I am reffering to the laws of probability, which make it highly unlikely that the universe could have spontaneoulsy come into being.
But if the universe always existed (which is my view; see below), then there's no need even to entertain the notion "that the universe could have spontaneously come into being." Existence exists, and the things that exist act according to their natures (that's the law of causality). So again, some form of conscious direction choreographing it all is not even implied, let alone "suggested."

Pavielle wrote:
My watch example is not about comparing natural life to that which is artifical. You misenterpereted.
It may not have been your intention, but that is what your use of the watch in fact does: it compares (quite explicitly in fact) biology to artificial mechanisms, and I see this in itself as a means of stacking the deck. If your case has solid facts behind it, you wouldn't need to do this.

Pavielle wrote:
It was a simple demonstration in probability.
One that actually misses its own point. Suppose you take that watch, as you suggested we do, put it into a bag and smash it with a hammer, and then shake it, every time you dump the contents of the bag onto a table top, you're going to have a new arrangement. Each arrangement is going to be statistically unique, and given the number of pieces involved and the spread of their distribution upon pouring out of the bag, just as astronomically improbable as the next outpouring will be. The whole thought experiment invites us to impose anthropomorphic conceptions of order to natural causality, which is why the comparison of biological organisms to artificial devices begs the question. It does this by seeding our expectation of a specific outcome: that the destruction of an object will result in its reassembly. But why should we expect this? Appeals to probability do not address this question, nor do they actually serve what the case intends to establish, for every outcome can be assessed as improbable in one way or another.

Take for example a deck of cards. If I were to give the deck of cards a good shuffle, and then I asked you to draw four cards, and you drew four aces right off the top, you'd probably say "Wow! What are the odds of that happening?!" That's because we put a certain value on like cards that the universe as such does not apply (the universe does not "value" anything; it wouldn't need to). But suppose you drew a seven of clubs, a queen of hearts, a two of diamonds and a nine of hearts. I could just as easily exclam "Wow! What are the odds of that happening?!" Statistically both outcomes are equally improbable, equally unique. I could say in equal amazement to both outcomes, "I've never seen that before!" So appeals to probability really do not impress me in the final analysis. I'm more interested in why you think a conscious agent is involved in the appearance of life on earth. But your argument seems to skirt from directly engaging this specific issue, which is the big daddy issue of theism.

Moreover, it remains to be explained exactly to what in nature (or in the details of the theory of evolution) the smashing of the watch and shaking of its parts in a bag are supposed to be analogous. The theory of evolution does not teach that new species evolve from the smashing and shaking up of their ancestors. So this in itself constitutes a weakness in your analogy.

Pavielle wrote:
In fact, becuase the universe is more complex than any watch, the probability of the universe simpley coming into being without guidance is actually less.
Well, for one thing, I see no reason to suppose that at one time the universe did not exist, so it seems arbitrary as well as conceptually fallacious to look for an explanation for how it "came to be." If the universe has always existed (again, see below), then there's no need to fuss over "the probability of the universe simpley coming into being," with or without guidance. Again, the issue which needs your attention is this notion of "guidance" which you want to introduce. Splitting hairs about probability is beyond moot; we all know that highly improbable things take place all the time. But since your case for divine guidance rests on the assumption that the universe did not always exist, just by knocking out the latter I've already provided good reason to reject the former. Hence my atheism (that is, non-belief in theism) is on solid ground.

Pavielle wrote:
If you would like, I can use a different analogy, but the effect will be the same: All the parts of a cell are floating in infinity. What are the chances that they will come together perfectly? Astronomical. Even after millions and millions of years? Still astronomical.
And the lack of impressiveness remains the same. Not to mention that the notion of "floating in infinity" is meaningless to me, the supposition that it is highly or "astronomically" improbable that the contents of the first cell would somehow unite into a single entity, is not sufficiently conclusive to warrant our consideration of alternative explanations, especially if they are arbitrary and internally contradictory, such as is the case with theism. It remains to be proven that such is impossible. By saying that the occurrence in question is merely improbable, you are, whether you realize it or not, tacitly conceding that said occurrence is still possible, just unlikely. So if the occurrence is conceded to be possible, then the urgency to consider alternatives loses steam.

But now step back and get a wider picture: suppose you want me to think that it is patently impossible for this to happen, given the known laws of nature. But then you want me to accept as not mere possibility, but as a holy fact, that a form of consciousness wished the universe into existence. Think about that for a moment. What known laws of nature support this notion? You appealed to the known laws of nature in order to rule out the possibility of life somehow generating from non-living substances, but then when it comes to considering the alternative that theism promotes, the laws of nature are no longer to be consulted in the matter. Is there any evidence in nature of a consciousness which can make real and actual something it wishes in its imagination? I'd like to see this. Perhaps it could wish me a million dollars.

Pavielle wrote:
This is a kind exapmle, since I am even giving the cell (A natrual thing) time. Time wouldn't have existed prior to the Universe becuase time, space, and matter must coexist. Also, the cell (Analogous to the Universe) already has all its parts. The Universe would have come from nothing. FInally, the universe is more complex than a cell.
None of this is meaningful to me since I do not begin with non-existence. Since I begin with existence (i.e., the universe), I have no need to hypothesize about what could or could not have existed "prior to the Universe." In fact, the expression "prior to the Universe" is utterly referenceless (unless of course one sacrifices his rational faculty on the altar of his imagination and proceeds to invent fantasies). If we begin with existence, then there's no problem. But if we begin with non-existence, then you've got an insurmountable problem: questions of how existence came to exist where there was no existence before necessarily presuppose the law of causality (for you cannot answer the "how" part of the question without at least implicitly assuming the law of causality), and yet the law of causality itself presupposes the fact of existence (since causality is the relationship between an entity and its own actions). So, unless you're willing to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept, you need to begin with existence.

Theism, however, seeks a compromise between these two: it wants thinkers to take seriously the notion that existence needs an explanation in something beyond it (e.g., "The universe had a cause!"), but it also tries to pass itself off on the legitimacy of beginning with something already existing. The stipulation of theism, however, is that this pre-existing something cannot be the universe as such (even though the universe is the sum total of existence, and we know this exists); rather, it wants to begin with a form of consciousness, which simply dooms theism to metaphysical subjectivism: it asserts that a subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over all objects distinct from itself. There's nothing more subjective than such a view, and nothing more antagonistic to the concept of truth as such.

Pavielle wrote:
As for life being natural of unnatural, that cannot be assumed or determined directly. It must be deduced through evidence. I was not assuming anything. Just demonstrating the low probability of the universe coming into being spontaneously.
I hope you see the point of the objection I raised. If life is natural, then there's no reason to suppose that natural processes are insufficient to make life a reality. We see this all day long. But the argument you want to make needs to trade on the notion that life is somehow analogous to designed artifice (like a watch). I've given some indication as to why this is a very weak analogy. Doug Krueger gives more points to show why the design argument rests on a weak argument in his book What Is Atheism?

Pavielle wrote:
I would enjoy it if you would attempt to tear apart the rest of my arguemnt. Particularly about the Big Bang Theory.
Regarding the 'big bang' theory, see below. As to other parts of your piece, they will have to wait until another time. For now, I hope it is clear why the portions of your opening statement that I have reviewed are conclusively dismissable.

Pavielle wrote:
By trying to tear apart my arguments against evolution and biogensis, you merely rebuttled my intimations at the nature of God.
That's all I sought to do. In fact, I was hoping to find stronger indicators of the existence of a conscious entity behind it all (to account for the "guidance" that you have asserted), but your statement provided no justification for this that I could find.

Pavielle wrote:
The Big Bang Theory is the clicker.
If that's the case, then I don't think you have a case.

Pavielle wrote:
It is ulimately what decides if there is a God or not.
If that's the case, why doesn't the bible ever discuss the 'big bang' theory? Why the need for all the prophecies, an incarnation in first century Palestine, and other "signs" to demonstrate its existence?

Pavielle wrote:
Scientifically at least.
Ah, I see. You mean, as opposed to religious faith. Got it. Well, we can put the matter to rest then.

Pavielle wrote:
All you have proved in your arguemnts is that you disagree with me that God created life.
If that's what you think, I suggest you go back and review what I have presented. What I did is show how your reasons for supposing that a conscious entity was involved in the development of life on earth are dismissable. You've not shown that they can withstand my points of criticism. This is more than simply disagreeing with you. In fact, I could still agree that a god created life (for instance, I could wish that this were the case in spite of evidences to the contrary), so my agreement or disagreement are not a factor here.

Pavielle wrote:
You did not disprove His existence or His involvement in the Big Bang.
There is no need to prove that the non-existent does not exist. If X does not exist, why would anyone need to prove it doesn't exist? The onus is on you to prove that it does exist, if you want others to take your claim that it exists seriously.

Pavielle wrote:
In fact, unless you can come up with some specific evidence in favor of biogenesis and evolution (I plan to add more against it as the debate goes on), you have failed to disprove any of my points.
Wrong again. Your points, even if we accept them as you have presented them, would only show that abiogenesis is "astronomically improbable," based on what we know now. This would not prove that it is impossible, which is what you would need to prove in order to rule out naturalistic explanations. But then there's the quandary that I pointed out above: you want me to suppose that explanation X is so improbable as to dismiss it as virtually impossible, and yet embrace explanation Y as not only merely possible but absolute holy fact, and yet I would have to be utterly dishonest to do this.

Pavielle wrote:
Most of them you merely conveniently misinterperted to suggest that I was operating on and emotional level and therefore my argument was flawed.
I don't think I misineterpreted what you had presented. The portion of your argument that I reviewed reads quite strongly as one reducing ultimately to an argument from incredulity, disguised of course to look like something else, but an argument from incredulity in the end. Earlier in your opening statement, you affirmed absolute truth, in fact you affirmed views which reduce to the primacy of existence principle (since you affirmed that one's attitudes and beliefs do not alter the facts which inform our truths). But then you went on to say how improbable all these proposed solutions are, which is intended to mean we should think them too beyond the pale to be believeable. Hence, we ultimately have an argument from incredulity: if naturalistic explanations are deemed "astronomically improbable," then it would be ridiculous to believe them. Consequently, the explanation resides in something "beyond nature," and the believeability of this alternative explanation is not questioned or scrutinized. It might fly if I were confessionally committed to such an argument's intended conclusion and wanted to settled nagging doubts which are difficult if not impossible to fully quench. But is that an intellectually honest course to take?

Pavielle wrote:
As I have clarified, I am operating on natural and mathematical laws to determine probability.
Your argument's appeal to mathematics and probability is really just a cover, in order to give your faith claim an air of respectability. But look at how the views of absolute truth you presented in your opening statement presuppose the primacy of existence principle (which is the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness), and yet what you want to conclude in your argument reduces to the primacy of consciousness view of metaphysics (which asserts that reality, existence, the universe, etc. depend on a form of consciousness - cf. your "guidance"). This is to say, you need to identify your starting point, show it to be conceptually irreducible, identify the means by which you are aware of it, and then explain how it is compatible with the position you are defending. Then, if you continue to insist that your god is real, you will need to explain how other thinkers can distinguish your god from something you're simply imagining. Until you can do all of this, your case will remain vulnerable to my criticism, for these issues are where the rubber hits the road.

Pavielle wrote:
Oh yeah... You can't say that life always existed unless the Universe was infinite. But since you did not dispute the Big Bang Theory, we must assume that the Universe is finite. Thus, since life was developed after the Universe, the existence of life must also be finete. In other words, life can not have always existed and evolved.
You're confusing the term 'infinite' with 'eternal', which I have found to be quite a common habit among theistic apologists. The two are not the same. My position holds that the universe is finite but also eternal. This is not a contradiction for the terms are not incompatible. Finitude in this respect has nothing to do with time, but with identity. To exist is to be something specific, i.e., to be finite. The concept 'infinity' can only refer to a potential (such as the potential to continue extending a series beyond any specific measurement), not to an actual. The actual is always finite. The concept 'eternal', on the other hand, indicates that temporal measures do not apply. This is the case with the universe. By 'universe' I mean the sum totality of all that exists. To posit that any thing exists, is to include it, by virtue of its actual or supposed existence, in the totality of what exists, which is the universe. Since time is a form of measuring motion, it requires a standard, such as the earth's orbit around the sun: one orbit equals one year. Thus temporal measurement is possible within the universe (i.e., within the totality of all that exists), since relative motion between bodies takes place within the universe. But when it gets to the universe as such, since there is by definition no such thing as something that exists outside the universe (the universe by definition includes everything that exists), temporal concepts do not apply for there is no relative motion between the universe and "something else" to provide those concepts with the fixed standard they require. Hence, the universe is literally eternal.

I did not comment on the 'big bang' theory, first because it does not counter my position that the universe is eternal (it serves more to explain the current inflationary distribution of what exists in the universe as opposed to offering an explanation for existence as such), and also because I tend to take such theories with a heaping grain of salt: I am not an advocate of the 'big bang' theory, but I'm open to accepting it as truth if the evidence for it is conclusive. Then again, it's like the issue of the origin of life: I don't think it's a very important issue, certainly not in philosophy. (I know, this tends to disturb many theists since they want people to take the question of origins so seriously; it's an area of inquiry where speculation and fantasy are quite difficult to distinguish from cogent assessments, thus providing ample opportunity for mystics to insert the hand of their invisible magic being.)

Pavielle wrote:
Gees, one last thing. If we are not to determine the origon of life by basing are deductions are life that currently exists, then we would be floating in the dark and using only blind faith. In that case, someone who said that all life arose from a pot of noodle soup would be just as locigally valid as the scientist or creationist. If we can't deduce the origon or development of life by looking at living things today, then evolutionists are way off base becuase that is exactly what they do.
I agree that we need to take the knowledge that we have already validated of the present as a point of departure. This would include our knowledge of the primacy of existence principle as well, especially given its fundamentality to cognition. But I also think that scientists should guard against arbitrarily ruling out what may actually be genuine possibilities, especially if new discoveries give them at least some objective footing. That's all I'm saying. Deeming something as astronomically improbable may be impressive to some, but if something that is thought to be astronomically improbable actually happened, then it happened, simple as that. (Again, truth is absolute, right?)

Pavielle wrote:
And, of course if bio-genisis is true then it will always be true, regardless of what I think. But it is a double edged sword. If God exists, He will always exist, regardless of what you may or may not believe Dawson.
Again, you appeal to the primacy of existence principle to undergird your view of truth, which is rational. But I suggest you examine this issue deeper so that you can see just why it is the case that the notion of a god contradicts this very necessary basis of truth as such.

Pavielle wrote:
Sorry, I keep noticing little inconsistencies in the rebuttal and have to keep going back to adress them.
Do you think there was an inconsistency in what I wrote? If so, can you pinpoint it for me?

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Incinerating Presuppositionalism: Year One

Today marks the one year anniversary of Incinerating Presuppositionalism, the blog dedicated to scorching the scarecrows and strawmen of Vantillian apologetics.

For those who may be new to my blog, or who simply want to have a listing of all my entries for the first year in one handy source, I am listing them all below, beginning with the earliest post.

1. Presuppositionalism vs. Causality - 3/26/05
2. John Frame vs. the Human Thinker - 3/27/05
3. Bahnsen's Poof - 3/28/05
4. Christianity vs. Objective Morality - 3/29/05
5. The Cartoon Universe of Theism - 3/30/05
6. Thus Saith the Lord and His Spokesmen: Shut Down Thy Mind! - 4/1/05
7. Paul's Empty Sling - 4/1/05
8. The "God's Good Pleasure" Principle and the Cartoon Universe of Theism - 4/2/05
9. Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe - 4/4/05
10. Do I Borrow My Morality from the Christian Worldview? - 4/14/05
11. Putting Paul's TAG to the Geusha Test - 4/15/05
12. From the Horse's Mouth: Apologists - 4/20/05
13. Paul's Argument from Desperation - 4/21/05
14. Difficulty Keeping the Party Line Straight - 5/2/05
15. The Real Genesis Account - 5/6/05
16. Five Hundred Anonymous Witnesses - 5/8/05
17. I Don't Believe It - 5/9/05
18. Arbitrary Presupposition vs. Reasoned Conclusion - 5/20/05
19. Cooking with Gene's Abritrary Presuppositions - 5/22/05
20. Is Man "Created in the Image of God"? - 5/31/05
21. No "Might Be" About It: I AM an Atheist - 6/2/05
22. Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God? - 6/6/05
23. Can Reformed Christians Count? - 6/7/05
24. Is the Assumption of the Christian God Axiomatic? - 6/26/05
25. Only Two Worldviews? - 7/24/05
26. Christianity as the Worship of Self-Contradiction - 8/4/05
27. Christ Jesus: Still a Jumble of Contradictions - 8/18/05
28. Is the Contrary to Christianity Truly Impossible? 9/18/05
29. Reckless Apologetic Presumptuousness - 9/24/05
30. Probing Mr. Manata's Poor Understanding of the Axioms - 10/4/05
31. Tape-Loop Apologetics - 11/1/05
32. What Happened to Paul? 11/14/05
33. Bahnsen's Three Charges of Prejudice - 11/23/05
34. Bahnsen's Poof Revisited - 11/28/05
35. With Minds of Children - 12/28/05
36. Dear Sal - 1/10/06
37. Presuppositionalism and the Argument from Ignorance - 2/3/06
38. In the Beginning... - 2/23/06
39. Will the Real TAG Please Stand Up? - 3/1/06
40. Rational Morality vs. Presuppositional Apologetics - 3/9/06
41. CalvinDude's Defense of Christianity's Moral Bankruptcy - 3/16/06
42. Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist - 3/23/06

My searing indictment against Christianity in general, and presuppositionalism in particular, will proceed. So get ready for another year of blazing fun!

by Dawson Bethrick

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist


We've all heard the expression "wishing doesn't make it so" and its many variations. Christians have told me things like "Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean he doesn't exist!" and "Saying there's no god doesn't mean that God is not real!" Statements of this nature are, whether their speakers realize it or not, expressions of the primacy of existence principle, which is the philosophical recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of consciousness. Wishing, believing, affirming, denying, ignoring, evading, etc., are all acts of consciousness, and the primacy of existence principle holds that these conscious actions will not alter the facts which obtain. For instance, if I choose to ignore the oncoming traffic on a busy street, this will not reduce my risk of getting clobbered by a speeding vehicle if I try to cross it. My act of ignoring the state of affairs will not alter the state of affairs. Nor will my wishing, and this is because the primacy of existence principle is true.

It is this principle which is the basis of the concept of objectivity - the active commitment to the principle that existence exists independent of consciousness - that the task of consciousness is to perceive and identify objects, not create and revise them according to will. We call this 'objectivity' because it is the recognition that the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness, that the subject does not create its objects, bring them into existence, or assign them their natures.

The opposite notion, which we call subjectivism, constitutes a reversal of the primacy of existence principle, affirming either implicitly or explicitly that the subject of awareness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects, that the objects find their source in the knowing subject, that the subject creates the objects which exist and assigns them their identity. The reversal of the orientation between subject and object which is the defining essence of subjectivism, is the root error behind the belief that wishing does make it so, which most adult thinkers implicitly recognize to be false. When someone tells you that "wishing doesn't make it so," he's essentially saying that subjectivism is not true. This is correct, and this recognition has the backing of the primacy of existence.

It is my conviction that Christianity is lethal to human life because of its commitment to subjectivism at the most fundamental worldview level. And even though expressions of subjectivism can be found throughout Christianity's metaphysical, epistemological and moral doctrines, its defenders stubbornly resist acknowledging this fact in so many words. But soon as they start telling us about what they believe, it's like an 800 lb. gorilla in a dining room: you just can't hide it. Thus when someone treats wishing as if it were the final arbiter of truth, he may very well be borrowing from the Christian worldview.


By now my readers know that I have no qualms considering apologetic defenses of Christianity in the words of those who seek to vindicate its teachings. A bountiful source of specifically presuppositionalist discourse, arguments and musings can be found in the Van Til Discussion Lists, which unfortunately are no longer active. I enjoy paging through these archives because not only is there no end to the many ways apologists attempt to hold their god-belief together with their elaborate rationalizations, there are also some very telling confessions to be found as well.

Take for example
this February 26, 2004 posting by apologist Mike Warren in which we find the following ripe statement regarding the fundamental differences between the orientation between man's consciousness and the objects of his awareness, and that allegedly belonging to the Christian god. Warren writes:

In knowing a flower, for example, God knows everything about the flower. Humans can have that flower as an object of their knowledge as well, so there is a similarity in the knowledge; but a difference is that humans cannot know the flower exhaustively. Not only is there a quantitative difference between divine and human knowledge of the flower, but there are qualitative differences. God knows the flower originally. Everything about the flower originates from His own consciousness. Indeed, God's thinking about the flower makes it so. In contrast, humans know the flower as something originating external to them. Their thinking about the flower does not make it so. Human knowledge claims about the flower can be incorrect, unlike God's perfect knowledge. These are similarities and differences that characterize a biblical view of human knowledge as analogical of God's knowledge.

When I first read this statement two years ago, I was impressed with its open admission of crucial points which many apologists have been reluctant to acknowledge. I was impressed because I found myself, in a sense, agreeing with just about everything Warren was saying here. In light of the clarification I made above regarding the concept of objectivity and the error rooting subjectivism, let's examine Warren's statement bit by bit to see once and for all just how deeply Christianity is committed to subjectivism. As we go through the various points of Warren's confession, observe the contradictory metaphysical orientations between subject and object which the believer accepts and will seek to rationalize in his defensive ploys.

Warren writes:

In knowing a flower, for example, God knows everything about the flower. Humans can have that flower as an object of their knowledge as well, so there is a similarity in the knowledge; but a difference is that humans cannot know the flower exhaustively.

Actually, given the dogmatic stipulations of Christian god-belief, the two positions that "God knows everything about the flower" and "humans cannot know the flower exhaustively" are outcomes of difference that is even more fundamental than Warren acknowledges which erases any impression of "similarity" the believer wants to claim between his own knowledge and the "knowledge" he attributes to his god. It is an outcome of a two-fold, internal antithesis within the Christian worldview:

1) The Christian god's relation to the flower in terms of the subject-object relationship vs. man's relation to the flower in terms of the subject-object relationship: In the case of man, the object holds primacy over the subject of consciousness (this is the primacy of existence, i.e., objectivism); and in the case of the Christian god this orientation is reversed: the subject holds primacy over any objects of which it is allegedly conscious (this is the primacy of consciousness, i.e., subjectivism). For the Christian god, the identity of the objects of its awareness conforms to consciousness; for man, however, consciousness conforms to identity of the objects which he perceives.

2) Man's need for a means of knowledge acquisition and validation (reason) vs. the Christian god's lack of such a need (the Christian god "just knows" and does not need to acquire and validate knowledge): For man, knowledge is only possible by discovering facts of reality and integrating them by means of concepts, which he forms, initially on the basis of perceptual inputs, and subsequently on the basis of concepts so formed. That is, man needs a process for acquiring and validating his knowledge, for his knowledge is not automatic. This is in keeping with the primacy of existence principle as noted above: the task of consciousness is to perceive and identify objects, not create and revise them according to will. The opposite is the case for the Christian god, as Warren points out: it has no need to discover and validate its "knowledge," for it "knows" automatically, that is, without any process of acquisition and validation. The task of its consciousness is to create its objects and assign them their identity, revising them when it suits its pleasure, all at will. It could not be stated clearer: for man, the primacy of the objects of consciousness (cf. the concept of objectivity) characterizes the fundamental orientation which roots his knowledge, and for the Christian god the primacyof the subject of consciousness (cf. subjectivism) characterizes its orientation to knowledge. While for man wishing does not make it so, for the Christian god wishing does make it so.

So when Warren claims, as he does in the opening statement of
his message, that "Van Til's philosophy is wholly based on the problem of the one and the many," he is actually camouflaging the real problem that lies at the heart of the religious worldview, which is its contradictory metaphysical orientations. Man knows, and can only know, that which he discovers and validates by reason (that is, somehow), and the Christian god "knows" apart from reason (that is, no how). The only correlativity between man's knowledge and the Christian god's alleged "knowledge," is that, in the case of the believer as it is supposed to be in the case of his god, the subject holds primacy over the objects of consciousness: the Christian god wishes its objects into existence, and the believer wishes his god-belief into "the Truth."

Warren continues:

Not only is there a quantitative difference between divine and human knowledge of the flower, but there are qualitative differences.

Right, according to reasonable inferences from the mythology, the Christian god will always be said to have more "knowledge" than man ever will; specifically, the Christian god will always be said to "know" everything that is possible to be known about the flower, while man will know no more than a mere portion of that alleged sum of "knowledge," that portion being whatever he can discover and validate by means of reason. The purpose of claiming such "knowledge" on the part of the Christian god is not to explain some legitimate philosophical quandary, for, unlike man who needs some (but by no means all) knowledge, the Christian god, which is characterized as an eternally indestructible entity, would have no need for knowledge whatsoever. The real purpose is to equip the priestly class with a ready means of usurping unearned authority over others: if an individual buys the faith-based premise that there's an invisible magic being who "knows and sees all," he will likely make an effort to please it in word and deed, and this ambition typically takes practical expression in accepting the authority of the priestly class, even though its members have already abandoned reason in preference for mysticism.

And yes, there are fundamental qualitative differences between man's knowledge and the Christian god's so-called "knowledge," as I have indicated above. It's not simply a matter of degrees of knowledge (one possessing more than the other), but the relative subject-object orientations of the two kinds of consciousness involved in Warren's working model: the Christian god's consciousness (the subject holds primacy over the object) vs. man's consciousness (the objects hold primacy over the subject). Two wholly contradictory standards are thus endorsed at the heart of Christian theism.

Warren continues:
God knows the flower originally.
Of course, and this is because the flower's identity came from and conforms to the Christian god's will, i.e., a form consciousness.

Warren makes it explicit:

Everything about the flower originates from His own consciousness.

Bingo. That's called subjectivism.

Warren makes it even more explicit:
Indeed, God's thinking about the flower makes it so.
Here we have it stated explicitly: the object conforms to the subject in the same sense that "wishing makes it so!" That's subjectivism to a T.

Warren then states:
In contrast, humans know the flower as something originating external to them.
Right. That's the primacy of existence, which affirms the opposite of the primacy of consciousness.

Warren states:
Their thinking about the flower does not make it so.
Right. We must look outward (sense perception) in order to discover (not "create") and validate (not stipulate) the identify of the objects which exist. By contrast, the Christian god need not look outward (for before it creates anything "out there," nothing existed "out there"); rather, it looks inward, into its subjective states where its wishing and imagination provide all the standards.

Warren points out:
Human knowledge claims about the flower can be incorrect,
Right, because human beings start out tabula rasa, and must discover and validate their knowledge by means of a process which they must learn before they can master it. (Of course, many theists like to exempt themselves from having to do this.)

Warren states:
unlike God's perfect knowledge.
Exactly: Reason has nothing to do with the Christian god's alleged "knowledge," and could only be characterized as knowledge from nowhere. This is the "perfect" ideal for the believer: the claim to knowledge which is to be accepted unquestioningly without validation.

Warren concludes:

These are similarities and differences that characterize a biblical view of human knowledge as analogical of God's knowledge.

Differences? Yes! Off the map, in fact. Similarities? Not at all. Indeed, Warren points to nothing similar between man's knowledge of the objects he perceives and identifies, and the so-called "knowledge" Christians attribute to their god. And he cannot because their basic orientation is, respectively, wholly antithetical to one another. It will not do for the Christian to say that man's knowledge is "analogous" to the Christian god's supposed "knowledge" by pointing to similarities that simply aren't there. Nor will it do to say that "man's knowledge of the facts is then a reinterpretation of God's interpretation" (Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 203f), for the process of discovery and validation is not equivalent to reinterpretation of another mind's wishing. Men do not read minds, nor is wishing - as we have seen - a means of validation.


As can be seen, however, there is no basis to the claim that man’s knowledge is in any way like the knowledge Christianity claims for its god. Man discovers and validates his knowledge, and the Christian god whips its “knowledge” out of nowhere, declaring its self-authored content “truth” by fiat. The fundamental distinctions outlined here can only mean that Christians should probably use a completely different term to refer to whatever it is they think their god has in its consciousness, for it surely could not be knowledge as man has it. Because the content that allegedly resides in the Christian god’s “mind” is not put through any validation process, referring to that alleged content as “knowledge” constitutes a stolen concept (hence my use of quotations when using the term in this manner).

In Christianity, we have a worldview which is terminally conflicted with itself given this deep internal antithesis between subject and object. The implication for apologetics is clear: any argument for the existence of god is an argument for the validity subjectivism, essentially the view that wishing makes it so constitutes the final criterion for all knowledge and truth. Because of his worldview’s fundamental commitment to subjectivism, the Christian has no uncompromised basis on which to tell non-believers that “wishing doesn’t make it so”; he has no choice but to borrow from Objectivism to make such statements. In the final analysis, this is the ultimate reality for the believer: not only does his worldview teach that wishing in fact makes it so, it essentially teaches that only wishing makes it so.

by Dawson Bethrick

Thursday, March 16, 2006

CalvinDude's Defense of Christianity's Moral Bankruptcy

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).

Then, in his blog devoted to responding to me, CalvinDude began his reply:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:

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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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?

CalvinDude wrote:

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.

CalvinDude wrote:

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).

CalvinDude wrote:
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.
CalvinDude quipped:
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.

CalvinDude continued:
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).

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude responded:

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).

CalvinDude wrote:

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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:

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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude responded:

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.
CalvinDude responded:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:

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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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).
CalvinDude responded:
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.
CalvinDude responded:
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?
I answered:

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.

CalvinDude responded:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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:

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.
And presuppositionalists say we "borrow" from Christian morality when we recognize that some action is evil? Nope, couldn't fool us!

CalvinDude wrote:
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.

CalvinDude wrote:
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.”

CalvinDude wrote:
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?

CalvinDude wrote:
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