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There Can Be No Consistent Atheist System Of Morality Or Ethics

The article “Jaws and the Meaning of Life” has resulted in much commentary and email. Also a lot of confusion.

In that article I said “If life can be reduced to biology, to nothing but chemical and physical interactions — as many atheists claim — then the explanation that all life, including our own, is meaningless futile repetition must be true.”

This is exactly right. All attempts to escape this sad truth, like Sam Harris’s “do no unnecessary harm” principle and Stefan Molyneux’s Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics, are doomed to failure. (Molyneux opens his book declaring ought can’t be derived from is, and then proceeds to do just that; i.e. preferable behavior derived from biology.)

Let’s be very clear what is being proved in my meaning-of-life article and what is not. What is proved is that if atheism is true, then nothing matters. No moral truth is a real truth, and all morals are opinion and prejudice. What is not proved, or even claimed, is that atheists cannot discover true moral laws. Of course they can.

Suppose a group of skeptics claim gravity does not exist. They are insistent. “The earth does not suck!” they argue. They form clubs denying gravity. They wear stingy-brimmed fedoras to identify themselves at their meetings at the Burger King. They petition school boards to exclude all gravity education, claiming only the religious believe in gravity. “Separate church and gravity-free state!” They say things like, “Actually, it’s covalent bonding that keeps people from flying into space.” (They say “actually” a lot.) You say “Yet people fall”, and they say, “Actually, that’s not an argument.”

So gravity doesn’t exist. Now suppose the Gravity Skeptics work very hard and produce the document How To Walk Around Rooftops. In this page-turner, a leading gravity denier says, “Whatever you do, stay away from the edge of roofs. The covalent bonds aren’t sticky there. You can’t fall, because falling requires gravity, which is impossible, but injuries have been reported.”

Our skeptics have hit upon swell advice. Even medieval gravity believers would be well to heed it. To avoid injury, stay away from the edge of roofs!

Now it does not matter that the reason gravity skeptics give about avoiding rooftop strolls is wrong. The advice itself is correct. It is correct even though they deny gravity.

The conclusion is that gravity skeptics can discover true safety tips, just like skeptics of God can discover true moral laws. An atheist might say (outside a socialist paradise) “Murder is wrong”, as Stefan Molyneux does (p. 73). The atheist would be right to say murder is wrong, just as the gravity denier was right to shun high places. But whatever ultimate explanation the atheist gives for a moral truth will itself be wrong. It will inconsistent, somewhere, with his professed atheism. Because, if atheism is true, then nothing matters.

Consistent atheism requires believing nothing is of any consequence. The reason is simple. You can’t trust “reason” if atheism is true. Why, after all, should reason be trusted to lead anybody to any correct belief? “Reason” is nothing more—and this is strict—than certain brain chemicals taking this or that configuration. You may claim evolution has led these chemicals to, more or less, align themselves with what is true, but that claim is itself nothing but certain configurations of brain chemicals, so how do you know the claim about the claim is true? You don’t. There is no way you can step outside these configurations and make judgments—not if atheism is true. Every judgment is nothing but chemicals in certain positions.

This point was better made by CS Lewis in Miracles (p. 23).

All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really “must” be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them—if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work—then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.

Finally (p. 24; ellipsis original):

[A] strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Possible Worlds, p. 209.)

If atheism is true, then the world is nothing but material and energy acted on forces. It would be a mistake to say these forces are “blind” or “indifferent”, because that metaphor implies an over-arching intelligence somewhere. None exists if atheism is true.

If atheism is true, life doesn’t matter, death doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if any human lives or dies or suffers or experiences pleasure. You may say these things are good or bad, with reference to this or that person, but this is only the result of those brain chemicals configuring themselves in such a way as to make you “care”. You can’t even properly “care” for yourself, because you are nothing but a bag of chemicals operating on by forces. Whatever you think or feel is nothing but the result of the chemicals being pushed this way or that. There isn’t really any you behind the meaningless chemical-induced feelings.

That sounds absurd, because it is. Of course we exist, and we have experiences greater than mere chemical interactions. Avoiding unnecessary harm and murder are good things, because people really do matter. And they matter because atheism is false.

(It will now be a treat to wait for the first atheist to respond, “Well, I do exist and I matter” as if I would disagree. But if this atheist were consistent he’d say “I don’t exist and nothing matters.” )

37 thoughts on “There Can Be No Consistent Atheist System Of Morality Or Ethics Leave a comment

  1. Atheism usually comes wrapped in humanism… to give it the veneer of temporal meaning, at least while the chemical reactions are at play.

  2. “If life can be reduced to biology, to nothing but chemical and physical interactions — as many atheists claim — then the explanation that all life, including our own, is meaningless futile repetition must be true.”

    The “ought” here is that we should regard life as futile. The “is” here is the life can be reduced to physical interactions. So, you are really just pretending to derive an ought from an is, while I might add, straw-manning.

    By “life”, I’m sure what you really mean is human life, conscious, sentient life, not life as expressed by a virus. Your claim therefore, that human life may be reduced to physics is your straw-man. I don’t think you can claim any more than your typical “atheist” might assert that conscious life is compatible with the laws of physics, and I’m not sure you will find many theists who disagree with that.

    Anyway, over the last few days I have come across several articles outlining the behaviours of certain religiously motivated individuals. One particular article concerned the deep religious desire of a 15 year old boy to blow himself up while killing innocent people. He wished to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, and had the full consent of his family. Whatever you might think of his morality, it is at least consistent.

  3. BRIGGS: “What is proved is that if atheism is true, then nothing matters. No moral truth is a real truth, and all morals are opinion and prejudice.”

    FACT: “Morals,” including written doctrine, established by religious authority are opinion and prejudice … and/or … their implementation reveals them to be opinion and prejudice. This is discussed more below

    BRIGGS: “…we have experiences greater than mere chemical interactions. Avoiding unnecessary harm and murder are good things, because people really do matter. AND THEY MATTER BECAUSE ATHEISM IS FALSE. [emphasis added]
    “(It will now be a treat to wait for the first atheist to respond, “Well, I do exist and I matter” as if I would disagree. But if this atheist were consistent he’d say “I don’t exist and nothing matters.” )”

    FACT: The portion put in all CAPITALS for emphasis illustrates that something illogical/irrational is underway in Briggs [and other like-minded] minds – The reason those things matter is derived from intrinsic values based on God-given morals [one need not debate whether God, or, God-given morals even exist to see the logical error]. IF one holds a belief in God and God as the source of morals, the existence, or not, of atheism has zero linkage with or relevance to anything purported to matter. There is no linkage, no cause-effect relationship, not even any correlation. The statement breaks down to absurdity at “because” … because atheism has nothing whatsoever to do with what non-atheists hold as mattering. This is illustrated by Believers, especially young believers, that hold that such things matter, and these youth include those lacking any inkling that there are people, atheists, that do not believe in a deity, much less the particular version they believe. Such believers hold a belief, and that certain things matter, for reasons, but by being totally ignorant of the existence of atheists we observe that their belief cannot possibly be in any way attributable to the purported falseness of atheism.

    Let’s now consider the first fallacy, that if atheism were true, then, no moral truth is real truth, and all morals are opinion and prejudice.

    In just the case of Catholic doctrine things have gotten very complex.

    For example, murder is wrong, but killing (e.g. self-defense, war, etc.) is often permissible – and the breadth of permissible wartime killing is extremely broad. Self-mutilation, when harmful, is wrong but amputating a diseased appendage is not only permissible it might be considered morally mandatory (e.g., if not doing so can qualify as passive aggressive suicide). The rules are murky when examined in specific context and detail (i.e., their subjectivity breaks down when philosophical generalizations give way to real-world specifics).

    The Church has, or had, Directive 47 … oops, not the Church (i.e. the Vatican), but rather the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s guidelines for Catholic healthcare services. That statement reads:

    “Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

    So, what can be interpreted as an “abortion” is, or was, permissible under very narrow dire circumstances. If one reads the Vatican’s guidance, the criteria is more precise – an indirect abortion is ok (when a fetus aborts as an effect of a life-saving medical procedure).

    Turns out, those criteria have proven very subjective. Where does an “indirect abortion” become a “direct” abortion? Who decides?

    The somewhat infamous case of St. Joseph’s hospital in Arizona, that performed what its medical staff believes to have been an indirect abortion was determined by the local Bishop to be otherwise. Even though the Catholic church fiercely defends a fetus’s right to life, the ethics committee believed that this teaching permitted their ‘direct purpose’ to save the woman’s life, “even if [it] will result in the death of the unborn child.” As they saw it, the medical staff acted to directly save the life of the pregnant woman. They did not see the abortion, they say, as an act to intentionally kill the child, but rather “to save the life we can save,” the hospital has since said, an act of self-defense.

    Reading the Bishop’s letter (available on-line) one is impressed by his insistence on applying his interpretation. The bishop never appeals to or references Vatican criteria, or, the obvious vagueness of the written criteria that might warrant clarification – and then inform the hospital that from now on they must abide by the more precise criteria. The bishop insists he is the deciding authority on the point. He also decided, based on hindsight and who knows what else, he is also the deciding authority on what the medical procedure was and wasn’t (direct vs indirect).

    Who was right, or wrong? We may never really know; though the Bishop insisting he was the authority on both the interpretation of a cryptic doctrine many involved in interpreting reach different conclusions, AND, he is the authority to interpret the medical procedure above & beyond the medical experts brings to mind the older Church’s insistence on geocentrism/astronomy and faith. The St Joseph hospital case illustrates the concoction of criteria, needed today, that would be incomprehensible to the primitives that started the religion 2000+ years ago where such procedures and distinctions were impossible, much less even then imaginable. Thus, how isn’t such modern doctrinal development NOT the result of opinion and prejudice?

    Or, let’s go back to the war analogy. A commander can order soldiers to perform acts sure to kill them, but for the greater good (e.g. to take an action that will kill them to save many more); similarly, a soldier that commits suicide by jumping on a grenade when he could’ve jumped to safety is a hero when he saves many others that otherwise would have died/crippled.

    A policeman, confronted by a very young, ignorant, child aiming a live handgun at people is justified in shooting the child to avoid being shot or to prevent the shooting of others. Greater good, held up by legal precedents.

    A soldier or cop, could be a woman now, confronted by an enemy that will almost certainly kill, or will certainly, kill her, or, will be a material factor in her death my act in self-defense and kill that enemy. And if she is unable fellow soldiers or police may do so. The Church endorses this.

    But when that enemy is a fetus inside her, the Church holds she and her support must let the fetus kill or contribute to killing them both.

    The inviolability of human life, especially of the helpless, is a great philosophy, but that seems to have been taken just a bit too far.

    And if one reads the actual Church doctrine & rationale, ALL of it, every bit without exception, is derived from the interpretation of earlier precepts and doctrine. Much of it rather involved – certainly with ample room for interpretation, bias, misunderstanding, etc. to creep in.

    Just like the belief the Earth was the center of the universe.

    Just like some Believers insist the Earth is 6000 or 10,000 years old and the result of direct invention while others are fine with a multi-billion year universe with evolution explaining most.

    The young-Earther’s have a fragile belief needing literal interpretation and proof, and they concoct ridiculous lines of thinking to force reality to fit a preconceived notion – how isn’t that bias and prejudice, and lies, in the name of religion to support a particular religious belief?

    There’s a whopping bunch of irreconcilably incompatible/mutually-exclusive doctrines of faith held just by “Christians” – some, most [if not all] MUST be wrong. The wrong ones MUST be the result of opinion and prejudice concocting morals.

    And this hi-lites a key difference between atheists and believers:

    Most believers are wrong – their truth is false and as such per their own beliefs they are to some extent hypocrites. Lukewarm, in other words.

    Atheists may be wrong, but never hypocrites on the point of religion. Cold, in other words.

    Per Jesus, if you believe in him, you know who’s more evil.

  4. I well remember the terrible uselessness and meaninglessness I felt at 16 when I realized that nothing mattered. If I, at that age (and obviously I am not the only one given that suicide is the second-leading cause of death of teenagers in the US), could arrive at the logical conclusion of evolution, materialism and atheism one can only wonder at the reasoning abilities of adult atheists. It would be 25 years of attempting to find meaning through the senses amid terrible times of depression and suicidal thoughts before I was brought to my knees, kicking and screaming, and assented to His Will. In my own experience as well as through the Teachings of the Church I have come to see that sin literally darkens men’s minds until they lose, without any awareness of it, the capacity to reason. God have mercy on their souls. We could all so easily have been one of them had it not been, by the Grace of God, for our love of truth.

  5. the ‘just chemicals’ fallacy. if it doesn’t exist, somebody should invent it.

    who cares about the substrate intelligence runs on. the whole point of intelligence is the quality. if a human executes some computation the aswer will be the same as when the computer does it.

  6. Well, Ken seems to be saying that if there is even one adherent to a faith who makes a single non-reasonable decision, it nullifies that faith. And he then makes his continual mistake of claiming that The Church, which has always opposed abortion, allows ‘abortions’ to save the life of the mother in extreme cases (which politicians then hi-jack, of course). The fact is, the Church allows you to perform a procedure that will certainly save one individual, and will almost certainly result in the death of the other (the child), IF there is made every attempt to save the child. It’s called the law of double effect. And it isn’t a D&C procedure. It’s an attempt to rescue the child whole.

    Now today, these attempts can and do save children that would have died fifty years ago under these same circumstances. Why? Because the knowledge gained in trying to save these children, under these and other circumstances (think premature births) results in the future ability to save greater numbers, under more dire circumstances. And so, Ken, please quit using the word ‘abortion’ to describe these attempts to save both mother and child. It’s not reasonable.

  7. As I started to read, I thought: We’re all inconsistent, simply by being imperfect. Atheism is just one of those instances of being inconsistent stridently.
    As I finished reading, I noted you discuss systems of morality or ethics, so my initial thought is pretty much ‘missing the point.’
    I’m ‘agnostic’ about the value of always focusing on systems of thought, given the frequent predominance of our hearts.

  8. @Ken

    “The young-Earther’s have a fragile belief needing literal interpretation and proof, and they concoct ridiculous lines of thinking to force reality to fit a preconceived notion – how isn’t that bias and prejudice, and lies, in the name of religion to support a particular religious belief? ”

    It might interest you to know that, as a matter of historical record, there was a great deal of resistance to the theory of the big-bang, first discovered by a Catholic priest, and this resistance came from atheists. Atheist physicists did not like the idea one bit, because it meant there was a moment of creation, and they desperately promoted a steady-state theory of the universe on ideological (i.e. religious) grounds.

  9. A lot of “mote in my neighbor’s eye” going on in the comments. Sparse or non-existent attempts to engage Matt’s contentions in themselves, lots of changing the subject to some attack thought more congenial to one’s own position.

    Hence my invitation.

    One meta-contention underlying Matt’s piece is that it is impossible, or inconceivable at least, to have a metaphysics minus “God”. Matt practically says out loud here that “atheism” equals ‘strong’ materialism — no metaphysical realm allowed.

    But is that true? That’s what I would like to ask anyone interested. Is it possible to defeat Matt, simply by showing that it’s not necessary to be a strict materialist, in order to be a strict atheist? Seems to me, if you could do that, Matt would have little or no defense.

    Philosopher Daniel Dennett has claimed to be a sort of pantheist once or twice. Is that “God” with materialism?

    Aquinas’s argument is that (a) the existence of the metaphysical realm is provably true — reflection reveals with certainty that stuff beyond the physical exists; and (b) there has to be a Ground, an ultimate foundation, for all this physical and meta-physical being (and His name is God).

    But what about Buddhists? Couldn’t a Buddhist agree with this completely, without being anywhere near the concept of “God” that a Catholic saint was thinking of?

    And what about pagans? What about Aristotle, really? He wrote a book called ‘Metaphysics’. Yet Jesus Christ is antithetical to, or at very least, totally inconceivable within, Aristotle’s entire project.

    Come on, guys — help a fellow out here. Taking potshots is OK, I guess. But how about some deep undermining of Matt’s entire argument? I’d love to see that — honest.

    See, as a Catholic, I never liked St. Thomas’s sequence at all. It seems to me that the Gospel is: God revealing Himself to Man. The first word in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is: God.

    Nor (I contend) can we truly derive the actual Christian profession by just reversing St. Thomas — make Aquinas’s (b) — God — come before his (a). Because what is preached and professed is God (sort of literally) surprising the Hell out of us. It’s almost as if (sorry, St. Thomas), that there is an economy to salvation. God acts first, and then we encounter Him. But over and over, Thomism operates as if this isn’t true. There is no economy to salvation. God first revealing Himself wasn’t fundamentally necessary. Our Reason is virtually autonomous.

    Grace, obviously, has absolutely zero role in Aristotelianism. This is one reason that the theology of grace often seems like an appendage within Thomism. One fundamental weakness of Matt’s argument is that Reason itself doesn’t work the way Matt claims. Reason only becomes Wisdom, after God touches it.

    So I think there’s plenty of room to eviscerate Matt’s argument, and on his own terms.

    Have at it!

  10. @JohnK

    “One meta-contention underlying Matt’s piece is that it is impossible, or inconceivable at least, to have a metaphysics minus “God”. Matt practically says out loud here that “atheism” equals ‘strong’ materialism — no metaphysical realm allowed.”

    Well, that’s just 100% flat out false. It is so false, it is not even interesting.

    “But is that true? That’s what I would like to ask anyone interested. Is it possible to defeat Matt, simply by showing that it’s not necessary to be a strict materialist, in order to be a strict atheist? Seems to me, if you could do that, Matt would have little or no defense.”

    I guess if you have never studied physics, you might have missed the distinction between materialism and physicalism right at the foundations of the subject. See thermodynamics laws 1 and 2.

    As we move to biology, you will discover that it is fundamentally a study of abstractions: namely replicators subject to variability and selection.

    My contention, is that it is not possible to be a strict materialist, whatever your preferred ideology. However, life, computation, thought, and qualia must be compatible with the laws of physics.

  11. Als long as one can order different moralities, i.e one can say that this behaviour is better than that behaviour, atheists who want to behave morally can do so reasonably. They can do that because they can choose between different moralities, and choose the best of the ones available.

    Only when somebody believes that are moralities are completely identical it doesn’t matter which morality one chooses. But people like that do not exist. Tell ‘m you like to torture them, which is according to them moral behaviour as good as any God-given morality, and see how many will accept that.

    Regarding one morality , the God-given one, being the best, atheists can reasonably chhose to practice that morality as long as they think that morality is better. They will probably believe a better morality might be available in the future, while a Christian will know there is no bettrer morality, but that doesn’t prevent anybody from practicing it here and now.

  12. John Watkin’s note is a great example of missing the details. His assertion, “of claiming that The Church, which has always opposed abortion, allows ‘abortions’ to save the life of the mother in extreme cases”, is the exact opposite of truth.

    Another way of seeing the fallacy of Briggs’ argument,

    “If atheism is true, life doesn’t matter, death doesn’t matter” …

    If life/death doesn’t matter because atheism is true its not atheism being true that’s significant, its that there really is no God. The cause for the effect is the reality, not a philosophy that asserts a reality.

    Briggs’ piece, to make sense, needs to be amended along the lines:

    “The Christian doctrine of a spiritual reality is wrong, so life doesn’t matter, death doesn’t matter.” (or something similar)

    This hi-lights that Briggs is meaning that things “matter” in relation to something else — God. If it were the philosophy, then any philosophy that cites a supreme deity would do. And we know that’s not the case either.

    This begs an obvious question, WHICH GOD?

    The atheist rejects them all. Any given believer has it narrowed down to just one. Out of the myriad of deities believed & worshipped thru history, modern atheists and believers are practically in agreement.

    How does one ferret out the right doctrine (assuming there is a right doctrine), or at least rule out heresy? The latter used to be in fashion, not so anymore.

    If atheism is correct, then nothing matters (and so what?). It comes down to one’s personal values and feelings.

    Most of those feeling and values happen to look exactly like what one observes from believers, most of whom MUST be heretics (all those various competing doctrines cannot all be correct).

    If the believers are right, that things matter because there’s a God demanding obedience, aren’t the believers who are holding heretical beliefs at risk at ‘not mattering’ [and doomed to Hell]? (as the St Joseph Hospital abortion case shows, some were excommunicated by the Catholic Church for misinterpreting a finer point of its then poorly worded criteria; if the Church does that over one slip-up what must God do over one’s acceptance of a heretical doctrine more broadly false!)?

    The ice cold atheists have a chance. The luke-warm heretics don’t (recall, Jesus’ vomit [his quote]).

    If Briggs, like so many of the ilk, want to bemoan atheists an obvious question is, “why?”
    Aside from no particular belief they tend to be every bit as good a citizen as the next person (many are every bit as socially conservative as any Evangelical … though there’s a presumption, very wrong, by many they must invariably be Left Wing ideologues), and, again, they’ve got a chance to getting to Heaven.

    Shouldn’t the focus be on the heretics (and so so many choose a heretical doctrine for the most selfish of reasons) — since they already have the basic idea right, wouldn’t it be better to help them make some minor course adjustments and get back on track? To debate the doctrinal differences and sort things out? That’s the way it used to be, for centuries (Inquisition, wars, etc., Christian-on-Christian warring over wrongness of belief); now, any ole belief under the banner is accepted as equivalent. Why???

    Why the focus on atheists/atheism?
    Is the discussion of the rejection of all faith really more threatening than the “divide and conquer” approach facilitated by a false belief/doctrine that induces believers into false belief? For those who believe in Satan’s influence, what would Satan do — go for an all-or-nothing rejection of faith, or, merely induce a suitably slight diversion leading the desired direction? (maybe one that induces “believers” to lump together everything under the banner “Christianity” as if they’re all one big happy family when they aren’t?)

  13. Aside from no particular belief they [atheists] tend to be every bit as good a citizen as the next person

    Just as Briggs predicted! It didn’t take very long at all for a respondent to confuse “moral behavior cannot be derived from an atheist premise” with “people holding an atheist premise may irrationally behave morally.”

    But that’s only if we gloss “as good a citizen” with “acting morally.” There have been civil states in which “good citizen” meant endorsing horrific behaviors.

    I’m sure what you really mean is human life, conscious, sentient life, not life as expressed by a virus.

    Viruses are simply the pencil shavings of evolution. They are not alive as a prokaryote or a eukaryote are. Any being that is sentient (i.e., possesses senses) is conscious (i.e. aware of the distinction between itself and the objects sensed).

    FACT: “Morals,” including written doctrine, established by religious authority are opinion and prejudice

    INIGO MONTOYA: You keep using this word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

    amputating a diseased appendage is not only permissible it might be considered morally mandatory… The rules are murky when examined in specific context and detail

    No more murky than civil law. Circumstances alter cases. Fundamentally simple rules encounter complex and ambiguous circumstances and must be interpreted. Yet folks long for simple yes-or-no directives. Even in physics, fundamentally simple rules can encounter the complexity of reality and produce convoluted calculations. Newton never did solve the orbit of the Moon.

    what can be interpreted as an “abortion” is, or was, permissible under very narrow dire circumstances. If one reads the Vatican’s guidance, the criteria is more precise – an indirect abortion is ok (when a fetus aborts as an effect of a life-saving medical procedure).

    That’s because morality does not lie entirely in the material aspects of the act. It matters what one’s intentions are. (Although many folks do not believe in “intentions,” precisely because the are immaterial.)

    Where does an “indirect abortion” become a “direct” abortion?

    When one directly wills the death of the baby. This distinction is opaque to those for whom the “will” or “intention” are illusions.

    A policeman, confronted by a very young, ignorant, child aiming a live handgun at people is justified in shooting the child to avoid being shot or to prevent the shooting of others.

    Like all “trolley problems,” the unrealistic assumption is that there is no other way of dealing with the situation. Talking the kid down. Shouting at him so that he aims the gun elsewhere. Distracting him so another can tackle him from behind. Shooting to wound rather than kill. Etc.

    And what about pagans? What about Aristotle, really? He wrote a book called ‘Metaphysics’. Yet Jesus Christ is antithetical to, or at very least, totally inconceivable within, Aristotle’s entire project.

    Don’t tell Aquinas.

    I guess if you have never studied physics, you might have missed the distinction between materialism and physicalism right at the foundations of the subject.

    Physicallism is a god-of-the-gaps problem for atheists. It’s a way for materialists to back down off the ledge by making some immaterial things honorary matter.

    If life/death doesn’t matter because atheism is true its not atheism being true that’s significant, its that there really is no God.

    No, it’s because there is no way to get from A to B.

    This begs an obvious question, WHICH GOD?

    Aaarrgh. Pet peeve alert: This is NOT what is meant by “begging the question.”

    For a secular relativist’s take on things:
    https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/

  14. “If life can be reduced to biology to nothing but chemical and physical interactions…then the explanation that all life…is meaningless futile repetition must be true”

    Well given those metaphysical terms, that would certainly follow since if you’re talking about a rigid materialism or physicalism that says that only physical entities exist then of course moral duties wouldn’t exist either. Given that monistic approach to existence where everything has to be a physical being then that would automatically exclude moral properties – the moral qualities in actions and the moral value of living beings – which clearly are not physical entities. But obviously we don’t live in a world where only physical entities exist – our conscious states are not physical entities that have weight, extension, divisibility etc. and this holds true even assuming that consciousness is produced by the brain.
    Mr. Briggs, you might consider writing about other alternative theories of morality that may not assume materialism like the theory that morality is based on platonic forms or something like that. That might complete your argument that God is only foundation of morality.

  15. There can only be one moral authority. That happens to be the Catholic Church. That does not mean that Catholics will follow this morality, as we all have seen.

  16. Suppose a group of non-skeptics claim electrochemical resonance does not exist. They are insistent. “The brain does not communicate, internally and externally, with representatives of resonance!” they argue. They form clubs denying resonance. They wear broad-brimmed stetsons to identify themselves at their meetings at the Taco Bell. They petition school boards to exclude all resonance education, claiming only the skeptics believe in resonance. etc etc.

    Briggs, do you have the hidden aim that, because of etc etc, the inventor of morality must be invented. That would be affirming the consequent, n’est-ce pas.

  17. 1. If God exists, how does that automatically create a specific meaning or set of values? God existing is an “is”, not an “ought”.

    2. It’s just as well we don’t derive our moral standards from God, otherwise conquest rape, genocide and slavery would be accepted.

    3. IMHO, we get our moral standards from our common evolutionary heritage. Simplistically, it’s why we can justify killing in a war (because if benefits our group) but not murder (because it happens within our group), and why we have mixed feelings about something like assisted suicide.

  18. Mr. Briggs, you might consider writing about other alternative theories of morality

    Either that, or his respondents might consider presenting one.

    +++

    If God exists, how does that automatically create a specific meaning or set of values? God existing is an “is”, not an “ought”.

    Well, it was Hume who made that assertion, and while it serves well enough — as when Darwinians in the early 1900s drew the enthymeme “Darwinian evolution is true”–therefore–“we ought to support eugenics legislation.” However, we also have “gravity is true”–therefore–“we ouight not walk off cliffs.”

    But be that as it is, the relationship between God and morality is not of the same order. Because of the convertibility of the transcendentals, God does not present or impose the Good. God isgood. (Just as he is Existence, Truth and so on.) That is, morality is not something that is separate from God. I’m pretty sure Briggs covered that early on in his series on Contra gentiles.

    2. It’s just as well we don’t derive our moral standards from God, otherwise conquest rape, genocide and slavery would be accepted.

    It’s just as well we don’t derive our moral standards from biological evolution, otherwise conquest rape, genocide and slavery would be accepted. Notice that all those activities tend to propagate the genes of the offender or suppress the genes of others.

    Apparently, you hold a fundamentalist view of sola scriptura and suppose that a) morality comes from a Book, not from God; and b) every thing portrayed in the Bible is a universal commandment. You may as well suppose that if God had spoken to Israel Putnam at Breed’s Hill saying, “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes. Then aim low,” it would somehow be construed as a command for genocide rather than prudent advice in a life-or-death struggle.

    IMHO, we get our moral standards from our common evolutionary heritage.

    Hence, the Athenian Warning to the Melians: “The strong take what they can, while the weak suffer what they must.” (“Common evolutionary heritage” implies that the resultant morality would be common to all.)

    It would seem, in fact, that the notion of ‘morality’ has been most often to combat certian tendencies inherent in the merely biological.

    it’s why we can justify killing in a war (because if benefits our group) …

    Benefit: late 14c., benefet, “good or noble deed; helpful or friendly action,” also “a beneficial thing; advantage, profit,” from Anglo-French benfet (Old French bienfait), from Latin benefactum “good deed,” from bene facere, from bene “well” + facere “to do.” It was used as a verb since late 15c, meaning “to do good, to be of service.”

    Hence, to say that “X is good because it benefits our group” is to say that “X is good because it does good to our group,” which is begs the question.

    Does it do good to your group to eliminate all the untermenschen from it?

    How do you define your “group”? Evolutionary thinking once denied the possibility of altruism. Then they came up with the epicycle of “beneficial to the group.” But then they could not explain behavior that was beneficial to a biologically-unrelated group; so they extended “group” to include others. But of course, benefiting the unrelated does not necessarily assist the propagation of your genes. How does biological evolution recognize distinctions of what “our group” is? Is it the same mechanism by which we recognize different ages for “children”?

  19. “Well, it was Hume who made that assertion”

    I’m pretty sure it was me, earlier this afternoon! Anyway, “morality is not something that is separate from God” doesn’t mean anything to me.

    “Apparently, you hold a fundamentalist view […]”

    Well, if God commands people to kill, take slaves and rape women, it seems reasonable to assume he’s okay with it.

    “It would seem, in fact, that the notion of ‘morality’ has been most often to combat certian tendencies inherent in the merely biological.”

    Certain tendancies, but not all, or even most. The ‘merely biological’ includes love, compassion and friendliness, for instance. The notion of morality is just an abstraction from our biological nature. It’s religion that has promoted the lie that our behaviour is naturally evil.

    “Hence, to say that “X is good because it benefits our group” is to say that “X is good because it does good to our group,””

    This is an argument?

    Try living alone in the wilderness for a while. I don’t think you’d question the beneficial nature of group membership for long. It’s our main thing.

  20. What is the point of the gravity example? Gravity (God) can be demonstrated but cannot be proven on an absolute basis? If people don’t believe in your God, they shall die falling off Burj Khalifa and hence render their life meaningless?

    But whatever ultimate explanation the atheist gives for a moral truth will itself be wrong. It will inconsistent, somewhere, with his professed atheism. Because, if atheism is true, then nothing matters.

    If believing in your God is a qualifier for deriving or deserving such meaning, yes, BY DEFINITION (no proof required), atheism is not true. This just begs the question.

    How about an example of consistent and inconstant (Atheist) ultimate explanations for a moral truth? “God says so” is not an explanation. No straw man please.  (I know it is fun to imagine that your perceived enemies are dumb.)  

    Again, the above quoted  claim make no sense to me. What does it mean by “something matters” or “meaningful”? What is the meaningful meaning? Matters to whom?  A solid example would help.

    When we die, what is it that makes your life meaningful but not mine?  That you believe in God?!   That you know the morality truth because your God somehow tells you so?!

    Setting aside the difference between morality and ethics, is a consistent system of morality good or bad in ALL cases?  What are the criteria of being good or bad? Again, who is the arbitrator? How does the arbitrator make and communicate his judgment?

    I am sure some people probably cannot understand why I don’t get it.   I just don’t get it.

  21. Well, if God commands people to kill, take slaves and rape women, it seems reasonable to assume he’s okay with it.

    Not necessarily. Israel Putnam was not okay with shooting people in the abdomen any time and anywhere. Fundies constantly read things incorrectly.

    You certainly take a dim view of Jews, given that all the things you personally believe were commanded are taken from the Old Testament. But then you have the problem that historically the Jews did not act as if these things were commanded by God.

    That’s why evolutionary traits, like rape, must be countered.

    “It would seem, in fact, that the notion of ‘morality’ has been most often to combat certian tendencies inherent in the merely biological.”

    Certain tendancies, but not all, or even most.

    Of course. No one ever said “all” or even “most.” Rape, for example, would seem be be favored by evolution, since it propagates one’s genes more widely, and natural selection does not recognize such non-physical things as “permission” or “dignity.” (Granted, the concept is very plastic and one may always concoct an “adaptation story” to favor whatever consequence once favors.)

    The ‘merely biological’ includes love, compassion and friendliness, for instance.

    People who say that love is merely biological usually have meant pleasure instead. “Love” is an act of will and many of the Usual Suspects deny that the Will exists. (Love is to desire the good for another as other. E.g., “love your enemies.”) “Pleasure” otoh is a simple sensory appetite as befits an animal nature. We often associate the two and this winds up with us confusing the two. In particular, we can observe animal behavior and, like Disney, confuse it with a human behavior that it may superficially resemble. Like people who think animals can have language.

    The notion of morality is just an abstraction from our biological nature.

    That is why earlier cultures have celebrated things like the Rape of the Sabine Women, bloody conquests, the gladiatorial games, torture, chattel slavery, et al. They were just doing what came naturally. Hence, the Athenian Warning or Tamerlane’s mountain of skulls.

    With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man itself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    — Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd ed., 1882) pp. 133-134.

    It’s religion that has promoted the lie that our behaviour is naturally evil.

    It was probably that history thingie that pointed in that weakness. (Recall that ‘evil’ is a deficiency in a good.) Evolutionarily speaking, one’s genes benefit more widely from massacring one’s enemies than from loving them. And the group benefits more from letting the weak and sick die (or even abetting this) than from heroic efforts to succor them. That was why there were no hospitals or homeless shelters until the Byzantine Christians started building them in Late Imperial times.

    “Hence, to say that “X is good because it benefits our group” is to say that “X is good because it does good to our group,””

    This is an argument?

    That was my reaction when you made it. The argument that something was good because it did good for the group is somewhat circular. It’s good because it does good begs the question on the nature of the good.

    Try living alone in the wilderness for a while. I don’t think you’d question the beneficial nature of group membership for long.

    I did not question it. I only asked “what group?” — Clan? nation? humanity? — and how exactly does natural selection act when there is no biological relationship? And how does biological evolution lead the ephors of Sparta to the pit called Apothete but leads us to the neonatal ward?

  22. What is the point of the gravity example?

    That it is possible to derive an OUGHT (“You ought not go near the edge of the cliff!”) from an IS (“Gravity exists.”) No further complexities need be entertained. The example was paired with another in which the OUGHT (“Society ought to practice eugenics”) does NOT follow from the IS (“Darwinian evolution is true.”) The operative distinction between the two is obvious. In the cliff/gravity case, the ought really does follow from the natural operation of gravity; but in the eugenics/Darwin case, the ought is an attempt to make the selection happen — as if a natural law would need help from society in order to work.

  23. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “Fundies constantly read things incorrectly.”

    The Bible lists God as killing 2,821,364 people (where numbers are given). I suppose all these numbers have been misinterpreted?

    “Rape, for example, would seem be be favored by evolution,”

    It would also seem to be favoured by God, but that would be a misinterpretation, according to you. Maybe your reading of evolution is a fundamentalist misinterpretation also? (Hint: It is.)

    “People who say that love is merely biological […]”

    Whether you want to define love as sex, pair-bonding or altruism, it’s still got an evolutionary basis.

    “Like people who think animals can have language.”

    You mean, scientists who’ve studied animal communications?

    “The argument that something was good because it did good for the group is somewhat circular.”

    You replaced the word “benefit” with “good” to make it look circular, but it isn’t a circular argument. In this context, “benefit” isn’t defined as “good”, it’s referring to specific reasons, like being able to defend the group against predators at night by having some members staying awake.

    “Evolutionarily speaking, one’s genes benefit more widely from massacring one’s enemies than from loving them.” […] “how exactly does natural selection act when there is no biological relationship?”

    I’m not any sort of expert on evolution but I can see that your interpretation of it is simplistic, outdated and just plain wrong. Maybe read some different books?

  24. The Bible lists God as killing 2,821,364 people (where numbers are given). I suppose all these numbers have been misinterpreted?

    OMG. That almost as many as science has killed!

    [Rape] would also seem to be favoured by God

    Is that why the history of the Jews is so full of rape? Or could it be that ancient Hebrew terms didn’t mean the same thing as modern English terms.

    Maybe your reading of evolution is a fundamentalist misinterpretation also? (Hint: It is.)

    If variations which are useful to their possessors in the struggle for life “do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive), that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed.”
    — Darwin, The Origin of Species, pp. 80-81.

    This is why Dawkins wrote in The Selfish Gene “it is, after all, to [a mother’s] advantage that her child should be adopted” by another woman.” That frees the mother to produce more offspring while relegating the adoptive mother to caring for a rival’s genes at the expense of producing her own.

    I am certain, as I said, that a just-so story can be spun to show how the practice of rape used by Greeks, Romans, and other conquerors as a way of spreading their genes was somehow not favored by natural selection. The theory is nothing if not infinitely malleable.

    Whether you want to define love as sex, pair-bonding or altruism, it’s still got an evolutionary basis.

    I can remember reading evolutionary texts that claimed altruism did not exist. Has the pravda changed? Oh, my. None of the three terms you propose constitute a definition of “love.” Sex is not love. Sex is sex.

    Of course, love has an evolutionary basis. Everything has an evolutionary basis. It is a wonderful, all-explaining, non-falsifiable metaphysic. Undoubtedly, indifference (the opposite of love) also has an evolutionary basis. So what? I said only that it was not only biological.

    “Like people who think animals can have language.”
    You mean, scientists who’ve studied animal communications?

    Heck, a disease can be “communicated.” We’re talking about language, not mere communication. Clever Hans could not actually do arithmetic. Koko learned by repetition that pressing keys would obtain treats for her.
    I take it you are using “scientist” is an extended sense:

    People who make their livings in “soft” sciences and the arts are not entirely at ease in the company of chemists and physicists and other “hard” scientists. In such company, the psychologists and sociologists and the professors of English feel like touch-football enthusiasts who have wandered by mistake into the locker room of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    — The Underground Grammarian

    Communication

    When a zebra out on the edge of the herd sniffs a lion in the tall grass, he does not say to himself in any fashion, “I had better tell the others.” (Nor would you, for that matter.) He simply does what is appropriate for a successful zebra to do under those circumstances. His startled neighbors, startled by what he does whether they sniff lion or not, do likewise. That’s part of how they got to be grown-up zebras in the first place. The zebras who are slow to startle have a way of dropping out of the herd early in life. In a moment, the whole herd is in flight, but it cannot be properly said that a zebra has sent a message. It would be more accurate to say that the zebras have caught something from one another.
    (Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say, ch. 2 “The Two Tribes”)

    The zebra has communicated, but not with awareness or understanding. He just did what Darwin shaped him to do.
    Language requires the use of symbols, not merely signs.

    But what is a symbol? A symbol does not direct our attention to something else, as a sign does. It does not direct at all. It “means” something else. It somehow comes to contain within itself the thing it means. The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, “What about it?” The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball.
    (Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle, p.153)

    Words like “if” and “so” are more important than words like “lion” or “ball”.

    For a critique of ape-language studies mostly from other scientists, see here:
    http://drbonnette.com/articles/11/evolution-micro-macro-articles-home-language-studies-part/

    You replaced the word “benefit” with “good” to make it look circular

    Check that word “benefit” again.

    In this context, “benefit” isn’t defined as “good”, it’s referring to specific reasons, like being able to defend the group against predators at night by having some members staying awake.

    But why are these things “benefits”? Why not the ability to whistle “Dixie”? You are palming the Ace.

    “Evolutionarily speaking, one’s genes benefit more widely from massacring one’s enemies than from loving them.”

    I’m not any sort of expert on evolution but I can see that your interpretation of it is simplistic, outdated and just plain wrong. Maybe read some different books?

    If natural selection is not about genes being passed to the next generations, then what exactly is it? It’s easier to say that something is “simplistic. outdated, and just plain wrong” that so show in what way it is wrong.

  25. [The Bible lists God as killing 2,821,364 people (where numbers are given). I suppose all these numbers have been misinterpreted?]

    “OMG. That almost as many as science has killed!”

    Doesn’t answer my point, and isn’t true. Science hasn’t killed anyone, it’s just a method for finding out how the world works.

    “Language requires the use of symbols, not merely signs.”

    No True Scotsman. Again.

    Regarding your views on evolution, I don’t have the time to refute your lies and misinformation over and over. Please go and read some books.

  26. All,

    Feser echoing Lewis:

    Now, there are at least two fatal paradoxes here, which Dennett does not even address, much less resolve. The first is that the human self or “user” is, in his view, itself part of the illusion. Hence there is no one there for the “illusion” to be an illusion for. Dennett’s account thus destroys the foundations of its own intelligibility. Second, natural science, in the name of which Dennett puts forward his various theories, ultimately rests on the empirical evidence provided by conscious experience. Hence if conscious experience really were a “user-illusion,” it would follow that the foundations of empirical science are illusory.

  27. Science hasn’t killed anyone, it’s just a method for finding out how the world works.

    Ah, the No True Science fallacy. Why do people never say it is ‘just a method’ when bragging on the fruits of Science, like the internet or medicines?

    You can only come up with your number “killed by God” if you take an unbending literal approach to Scripture, the central feature of Protestant and Muslim fundamentalism.

    [Hans: Biblical morality is not consistent. Taking a census is immoral and so is wearing of mixed fabrics.

    You have a very jaundiced view of Jews. Are you European?]

    “Language requires the use of symbols, not merely signs.”

    No True Scotsman. Again.

    Ah, the No True Scotsman Fallacy fallacy. Why is it that folks who do not understand what a fallacy is always throw fallacies about like confetti.
    a) Only arguments can be fallacious, not descriptions, definitions, discussions, opinions, et al.
    b) Material fallacies are not formal fallacies.
    c) An argument containing even a formal fallacy may still be true, even if the argument is invalid.

    If Flew’s “No True Scotsman Fallacy” really is correct, then it must follow, by logical calculations, that everyone and everything must be a Scotsman. But consider the argument:

    Angus: “All fish breathe through gills rather than lungs.”
    Hamish: “But whales are fish, and they breathe through their lungs.”
    Angus: “Whales may look and seem like fish, but they aren’t truly fish because they breathe through their lungs.”
    Hamish: “Ah, the No True Fish fallacy.

    This is identical in form to Flew’s fallacy. But I suspect you would not call Angus out on it like Hamish did.
    +++

    Regarding your views on evolution, I don’t have the time to refute your lies and misinformation over and over.

    It’s okay if you cannot answer my question. Since you have not addressed (let alone ‘refuted’) any of them, you could hardly refute them “over and over.” A simple counter-example would be sufficient.

    Please go and read some books.

    I don’t know why you feel the need to hurl uninformed personal comments unsupported by empirical data; but the following are books that I have read and are found for the most part in my office this evening.

    They range from technical/scientific (Mayr, Pielou, Cavalli-Sforza) to survey (Savage/Long) to neighboring disciplines like ecology (NOT environmentalism) to popularizations (Gould, Eiseley) to metaphysics (Dawkins). The Midgley is not about evolution but about how some evolution fanboys use it, and is dedicated to “Charles Darwin, who never said such things.” The Stove points out logical problems in the theory. The Morgan proposes a heterodox story of early humans involving a shoreline environment rather than a savanna.

    Charles Darwin (The Origin of Species)
    Ernst Mayr (Populations, Species, and Evolution)
    E.C. Pielou (An Introduction to Mathematical Ecology)
    D’Arcy Thompson (On Growth and Form)
    Savage and Long (Mammal Evolution)
    John McLoughlin (Archosauria)
    J. David Archibald (Dinosaur Extinction and the End of an Era)
    Melvin Koaner (Why the Reckless Survive)
    Paul Colinvaux (Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare)
    Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (The Great Human Diasporas)
    Bryan Sykes (The Seven Daughters of Eve)
    Elaine Morgan (The Scars of Evolution)
    Nigel Calder (Timescale)
    Loren Eiseley (The Immense Journey, The Unexpected Universe, The Night Country, The Invisible Pyramid)
    Stephen Jay Gould (The Panda’s Thumb, Wonderful Life, The Mismeasure of Man, Bully for Brontosaurus)
    Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene)
    David Stove (Darwinian Fairytales)
    Mary Midgely (Evolution as a Religion)

  28. Re: “…natural science […] ultimately rests on the empirical evidence provided by conscious experience. Hence if conscious experience really were a “user-illusion,” it would follow that the foundations of empirical science are illusory.”

    With a strictly logical approach, empirical evidence does not appear as consequence and illusions do not appear as premise.
    That authors invent their own logic is not something that could distract us.

  29. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “Why do people never say it is ‘just a method’ when bragging on the fruits of Science, like the internet or medicines?”

    Doesn’t refute the fact that science is just a method.

    “You can only come up with your number “killed by God” if you take an unbending literal approach to Scripture”

    You want to take the good bits (Jesus healing people) literally, but the bad bits (millions killed) as allegories. Understandable, but intellectually dishonest.

    [Language requires the use of symbols, not merely signs.]

    “Ah, the No True Scotsman Fallacy fallacy. Why is it that folks who do not understand what a fallacy is always throw fallacies about like confetti.”

    It’s not my fault that ‘Signs aren’t true language’ is a No True Scotsman fallacy.

    “It’s okay if you cannot answer my question. Since you have not addressed (let alone ‘refuted’) any of them, you could hardly refute them “over and over.” A simple counter-example would be sufficient.”

    I’ve refuted your false claims about evolution over and over in previous comment threads.

    “I don’t know why you feel the need to hurl uninformed personal comments unsupported by empirical data” (Followed by a list of books you’ve read.)

    The empirical data I have is that most of the claims you’ve made about evolution, both in this thread and previously, are false. Example: Peppered Moths. Okay, so lack of reading material isn’t the problem. Maybe you’ve read too much?

  30. Doesn’t refute the fact that science is just a method.

    But, what method? Cf. Feyerabend, Against Method.
    It wasn’t meant as a refutation, only an indictment of cherry-picking and special pleading.

    You want to take the good bits (Jesus healing people) literally, but the bad bits (millions killed) as allegories. Understandable, but intellectually dishonest.

    No, that’s your fundamentalist Protestantism speaking. The Faith did not come from the Scriptures; the Scriptures came from the Faith. E.g., the Church existed before the Bible was finalized. Since no text has meaning outside its con-text, it would be well to consider what the Church taught rather than what a Late Modern browsing through a translation thinks it means on a superficial literal reading. Consult the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic Churches. A basic intro can be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm

    I don’t remember the part where Jesus killed millions; though I do remember the part where the Christian rejected most of the juridicial and ceremonial Mosaic laws while focusing on the moral ones.

    It’s not my fault that ‘Signs aren’t true language’ is a No True Scotsman fallacy.

    But it is your fault if you claim so incorrectly. It is well-known that signs alone don’t make a language. Grammar is required; and words like “if” and “so” and other words that are not signs of anything.

    People who have merely come up with a word for “wet” can do nothing more than stand around in the rain announcing to each other a sorry fact that needs no announcing. It won’t help them, either, to come up with a word for “dry.” What they need is a way to think about “dry” even while they are getting wet, a way to relate the two even when only one is present in the world of experience. They need “wet could be dry.” That’s grammar.
    — Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say

    https://sourcetext.com/grammarian-ltwcs-02-htm/

    I notice you skipped over the other example of the No True Scotsman; viz., the No True Fish. It is an argument of the same form, but few people would call it a fallacy. Why?

    I’ve refuted your false claims about evolution over and over in previous comment threads.

    Technically, you have refuted claims made by Charles Darwin and other professionals in the field. But when I repeat them and mention their implications, suddenly the Magical Theory sprouts a new True Scotsman epicycle.

  31. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “It wasn’t meant as a refutation, only an indictment of cherry-picking and special pleading.”

    My original point – ‘Science has not killed anyone, it’s just a method of finding out about the world.’ – is not cherry-picking or special pleading.

    [You want to take the good bits (Jesus healing people) literally, but the bad bits (millions killed) as allegories.]

    “The Faith did not come from the Scriptures; the Scriptures came from the Faith. E.g., the Church existed before the Bible was finalized.”

    So what? The Bible claims that God has killed millions of people. True or false?

    “It is well-known that signs alone don’t make a language. Grammar is required; and words like “if” and “so” and other words that are not signs of anything.”

    A 2 minute visit to Wikipedia shows the whole issue is still being debated and researched. You should acknowledge that rather than trying to claim certainty where none exists.

    “Technically, you have refuted claims made by Charles Darwin and other professionals in the field.”

    Says someone who has resorted to attacking Charles Darwin’s character and personnal behaviour, and who has even dredged up creationist claims about gaps in the fossil record.

  32. My original point – ‘Science has not killed anyone, it’s just a method of finding out about the world.’ – is not cherry-picking or special pleading.

    You literalists must have everything spelled out. It was your cherry-picking from scriptures that was being parodied.

    “The Faith did not come from the Scriptures; the Scriptures came from the Faith. E.g., the Church existed before the Bible was finalized.”

    So what? The Bible claims that God has killed millions of people. True or false?

    It depends on where you find that.

    “It is well-known that signs alone don’t make a language. Grammar is required; and words like “if” and “so” and other words that are not signs of anything.”

    A 2 minute visit to Wikipedia shows the whole issue is still being debated and researched.

    So is the issue of apes using “language.”

    Says someone who has resorted to attacking Charles Darwin’s character and personnal behaviour, and who has even dredged up creationist claims about gaps in the fossil record.

    Remind me what of his character. It’s true that he did not always acknowledge his sources, but it’s not entirely fair to hold him to professional standards. He was a country squire, not an academic, and a lot of what we take for granted in research and publication was not then in place. His works, for example, were not ‘peer-reviewed.’

    There are gaps in the fossil record. That’s what motivated Eldredge and Gould to devise their theory of punctuated equilibrium, a/k/a “common senses” or “logistic curve.” Of course, they were also denounced as heretics by the keepers of orthodoxy at the time. The error of the ‘creationists’ is that they then believe heretically that these gaps can only be filled by God, whereas orthodoxy holds that it is the common course of nature that evidences God and the “gaps” exist primarily in our knowledge, not in the world.

  33. Ken,

    “Just like some Believers insist the Earth is 6000 or 10,000 years old and the result of direct invention while others are fine with a multi-billion year universe with evolution explaining most.”

    Why does it matter? Is the point.
    The answer is that in a naturalist universe nothing does matter at all. You just think it does. It is important for the duration of your natural life to think things matter or nothing would ever be done and civilisation would collapse. No matter that some think the universe is old or young, which is irrelevant and immaterial to the real question of God or no God.

    As to the point about Catholic doctrine which is famous for it’s contortions as any legal system is, I would agree that the law is an ass. It is a system for the settlement of arguments. In case of the catholic Church they can defend their own silliness as they usually do by hook and by crook, literally.

    That there are grey areas in human law is a feature of our universe and not proof of the meaninglessness of life but of it’s complexity, as if people need reminding; Something excepted in wave mechanics or organic chemistry but not in matters of fundamental reality where the tool used to discover and describe complex systems is the same one declaring right and wrong of a fact or truth of a thing.

    Atheists do have a fundamental problem justifying why they care about anything and it’s not very kind to point this out. This is because it is asking someone to question what underpins the way the feel and what they think as a result. It isn’t kind to do this to theists either, unless there is some better way to think. Catholics don’t have the upper ground. Their law just teaches them that they do. Neither to Atheists but their world view teaches them that they do.

    I didn’t read the other comments so consider it accepted if this point repeats some which follow.

  34. @ Ye Olde Statistician,

    “It was your cherry-picking from scriptures that was being parodied.”

    Cherry picking millions of deaths described in dozens of passages? Also, science has still not killed anyone, and is still just a method of finding out about the world.

    [A 2 minute visit to Wikipedia shows the whole issue is still being debated and researched.]

    “So is the issue of apes using “language.””

    That’s my point.

    Evolution: Whatever.

  35. The article “Jaws and the Meaning of Life” has resulted in much commentary and email. Also a lot of confusion.
    In that article I said “If life can be reduced to biology, to nothing but chemical and physical interactions — as many atheists claim — then the explanation that all life, including our own, is meaningless futile repetition must be true.”

    ***ME***
    “Meaning” is the subject of philosophy not Science.
    ***YOU***

    This is exactly right.

    ***ME***
    Wow, you agree with yourself, I’m so impressed.
    ***YOU***

    All attempts to escape this sad truth, like Sam Harris’s “do no unnecessary harm” principle and Stefan Molyneux’s Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics, are doomed to failure

    ***ME***
    What’s “meaning” got to do with ethics?
    ***YOU***

    . (Molyneux opens his book declaring ought can’t be derived from is,

    ***ME***
    I have never understood that.
    ***YOU***

    and then proceeds to do just that; i.e. preferable behavior derived from biology.)

    Let’s be very clear what is being proved in my meaning-of-life article and what is not.

    ***ME***
    You are not even close to being smart enough to figure out what the Meaning of Life is.
    ***YOU***

    What is proved is that if atheism is true,

    ***ME***
    Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Atheism can’t “be true”. For Atheism to “be true” it would have to make a specific claim. It doesn’t.
    ***YOU***

    then nothing matters.

    ***ME***
    To who? Nothing matters according to who’s opinion?
    ***YOU***

    No moral truth is a real truth, and all morals are opinion and prejudice.

    ***ME***
    Morals are NOT prejudice! Prejudice is bad.
    ***YOU***

    What is not proved, or even claimed, is that atheists cannot discover true moral laws. Of course they can.

    ***ME***
    *sigh*
    Here we go. Another Theist trying to void being called a sociopath because he can’t think of a reason not to rape or murder without hell, but still insists on badmouthing Atheist morality for no reason.
    ***YOU***

    Suppose a group of skeptics claim gravity does not exist.

    ***ME***
    You already lost me. Why would skeptics think that?
    ***YOU***

    They are insistent. “The earth does not suck!” they argue. They form clubs denying gravity. They wear stingy-brimmed fedoras to identify themselves at their meetings at the Burger King.

    ***ME***
    That’s what you think Aheism is, don’t you? You think the stuff we’ve been doing since 9/11 is the main thing rather than something we feel like we should start doing since both sides of the war are using religion as an excuse.
    ***YOU***

    They petition school boards to exclude all gravity education,

    ***ME***
    Wait, never mind, that’s Creationists.
    ***YOU***

    claiming only the religious believe in gravity. “Separate church and gravity-free state!” They say things like, “Actually, it’s covalent bonding that keeps people from flying into space.” (They say “actually” a lot.) You say “Yet people fall”, and they say, “Actually, that’s not an argument.”

    ***ME***
    Huh.

    You appear to have a problem with being corrected.

    And THAT, right there, is why we have little-to-no respect for religion. you’re not interested in learning or improving.
    ***YOU***

    So gravity doesn’t exist. Now suppose the Gravity Skeptics work very hard and produce the document How To Walk Around Rooftops. In this page-turner, a leading gravity denier says, “Whatever you do, stay away from the edge of roofs. The covalent bonds aren’t sticky there. You can’t fall, because falling requires gravity, which is impossible, but injuries have been reported.”

    Our skeptics have hit upon swell advice. Even medieval gravity believers would be well to heed it. To avoid injury, stay away from the edge of roofs!

    Now it does not matter that the reason gravity skeptics give about avoiding rooftop strolls is wrong. The advice itself is correct. It is correct even though they deny gravity.

    ***ME***
    ok, what’s this an analogy for?
    ***YOU***

    The conclusion is that gravity skeptics can discover true safety tips, just like skeptics of God can discover true moral laws.

    ***ME***
    THAT’S where you were going with that??!!

    That is a REALLY tortured analogy.
    ***YOU***

    An atheist might say (outside a socialist paradise) “Murder is wrong”, as Stefan Molyneux does (p. 73). The atheist would be right to say murder is wrong, just as the gravity denier was right to shun high places. But whatever ultimate explanation the atheist gives for a moral truth will itself be wrong.

    ***ME***
    Nope. Ours is based on actually having a concience. Yours is based on fear of punishment.
    ***YOU***

    It will inconsistent,

    ***ME***
    It will inconsistent? How can something inconsistant? “inconsistant” is a describing word not a doing word.
    ***YOU***

    somewhere, with his professed atheism.

    ***ME***
    Atheism has nothing to do with ethics one way or the other you idiot. It’s a lack of belief in a god or gods. That’s ONE subject.
    ***YOU***

    Because, if atheism is true,

    ***ME***
    doesn’t make sense
    ***YOU***

    then nothing matters.

    ***ME***
    to who?

    You’re never going to say who to, are you?
    ***YOU***

    Consistent atheism requires believing nothing is of any consequence.

    ***ME***
    correction; consistancy with YOUR STRAWMAN requires that.
    ***YOU***

    The reason is simple. You can’t trust “reason”

    ***ME***
    Oh my satan
    ***YOU***

    if atheism is true.

    ***ME***
    *FACEPALM*
    ***YOU***

    Why, after all, should reason be trusted to lead anybody to any correct belief?

    ***ME***
    YES YOU F*CKING MORON!
    ***YOU***

    “Reason” is nothing more—

    ***ME***
    *tilts head in disbelief*
    ***YOU***

    and this is strict—than certain brain chemicals taking this or that configuration.

    ***ME***
    Oh for Satan’s sake. You are now arguing against both logic and even the very act of thinking because you are dismissing Neurology. THIS is why Theists have a reputation for being insane and stupid. YOU KNOW DAMN WELL how obsessed with logic, science and intelligence we are.
    ***YOU***

    You may claim evolution has led these chemicals to, more or less, align themselves with what is true, but that claim is itself nothing but certain configurations of brain chemicals, so how do you know the claim about the claim is true?

    ***ME***
    Right now you are basically saying “why are you digesting what you’re eating? Stomach acid is nothing but chemicals in your stomach, so why are you absorbing food that you ate?”

    And THAT is how you use an analogy. You simultaneously criticize and mock them. You have to maintain your oponent’s logic but apply it to a slightly different subject, preferably a subject we both agree on so they’ll see the point. For example; gay marriage = interracial marriage, evolution = gravity, using a computer to mock people for believing in Science = using a palenteer to mock people for believing in magic, etc.
    ***YOU***

    You don’t. There is no way you can step outside these configurations and make judgments—not if atheism is true.

    ***ME***
    Doesn’t make sense.
    ***YOU***

    Every judgment is nothing but chemicals in certain positions.

    ***ME***
    Are you under the impression that you can undermine the science of Neurology by saying “nothing but”? Do you honestly think you’re smarter than brain surgeons?
    ***YOU***

    This point was better made by CS Lewis in Miracles (p. 23).

    ***ME***
    Here we go.
    ***YOU***

    All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and thereforeand since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really “must” be, well and good.

    ***ME***
    Lewis wasn’t even up to speed on the latest Science THEN. What makes you think anyone but creationists and maybe literary scholars (though LotR is better) respect him now?
    ***YOU***

    But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them—if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work—then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.

    ***ME***
    I suppose, hypothetically, if Science claimed to be infallible and unchanging, that would mean something. But we live in THIS universe and that means nothing.
    ***YOU***

    Finally (p. 24; ellipsis original):

    [A] strict materialism

    ***ME***
    Theist strawman
    ***YOU***

    refutes itself

    ***ME***
    Of course it does, it’s a theist strawman.
    ***YOU***

    for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…

    ***ME***
    That is nonsense.
    ***YOU***

    and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Possible Worlds, p. 209.)

    ***ME***
    That doesn’t ake any sense whatsoever. What do you THINK brains are made of? Tiny elves?
    ***YOU***

    If atheism is true,

    ***ME***
    lack belief
    ***YOU***

    then the world is nothing but material and energy acted on forces. It would be a mistake to say these forces are “blind” or “indifferent”, because that metaphor implies an over-arching intelligence somewhere.

    ***ME***
    wait… aren’t you guys the ones who keep calling gravity “blind”?
    ***YOU***

    None exists if atheism is true.

    If atheism is true,

    ***ME***
    no sense
    ***YOU***

    life doesn’t matter,

    ***ME***
    You keep stating subjective judgements asif they were objective facts, but you never say to who. Life doesn’t matter to who? Who doesn’t care about life?

    To the Universe? Why should we care what spinning rocks and gas balls think? They don’t think!
    ***YOU***

    death doesn’t matter.

    ***ME***
    It does to them, their family and everyone around them, even the killer.
    ***YOU***

    It doesn’t matter if any human lives or dies or suffers or experiences pleasure.

    ***ME***
    To who?

    This of course is an area where Humanists and Nihilists disagree. We agree on facts but we disagree which facts are relevent and which aren’t. Nihilists agree with you, whereas humanists wonder who’s opinion you’re actually expressing exactly.
    ***YOU***

    You may say these things are good or bad, with reference to this or that person, but this is only the result of those brain chemicals configuring themselves in such a way as to makeyou “care”.

    ***ME***
    In other words, we’re human and we have feelings.

    What does that sugest about you?
    ***YOU***

    You can’t even properly “care” for yourself,

    ***ME***
    Yes we can.
    ***YOU***

    because you are nothing but a bag of chemicals operating on by forces.

    ***ME***
    You say “nothing but” a lot without explaining what you’re comparing everything to. What exactly is the bases of comparison for your snobbyness?
    ***YOU***

    Whatever you think or feel is nothing but the result of the chemicals being pushed this way or that.

    ***ME***
    And those chemicals make life possible.
    ***YOU***

    There isn’t really any you

    ***ME***
    Ok; this has to be the weirdest type of typical Theist argument.

    Untill someone comes up with a better word for it, I’m gonna call it “anti-solipsism”. I’m not a solipsist myself, and I certainly do not agree with them, but Solipists only accept as true the one thing we all know for an absolute fact; I exist.From my point of view, I definitely exist, To you, you exist Maybe I’m a bot or an illusion or something, you don’t know. To you, I might not exist. But to me, I exist. Maybe this is a dream, maybe we’re in the matrix, whatever. But DEFINITELY, I know what I am experiencing right now. It is the one thing I absolutely definitely know for a fact without a shadow of doubt.

    And you just argued against the one thing I know for a fact.
    ***YOU***

    behind the meaningless chemical-induced feelings.

    That sounds absurd, because it is.

    ***ME***
    You typed it.
    ***YOU***

    Of course we exist,

    ***ME***
    Then why did you say that?
    ***YOU***

    and we have experiences greater than mere chemical interactions. Avoiding unnecessary harm and murder are good things,

    ***ME***
    Then what was this entire article about?
    ***YOU***

    because people really do matter.

    ***ME***
    You kept saying they don’t.
    ***YOU***

    And they matter because atheism is false.

    ***ME***
    No, they matter because we matter to each other. You don’t need a god to tell you to care about people unless you’re a sociopath.
    ***YOU***

    (It will now be a treat to wait for the first atheist to respond, “Well, I do exist and I matter” as if I would disagree.

    ***ME***
    You already disagreed. Then you contradicted yourself.
    ***YOU***

    But if this atheist were consistent he’d say “I don’t exist and nothing matters.” )

    ***ME***
    You theists are always making up stuff about us that actually contraficts stuff you KNOW about us and then accusing us of being “inconsistant” for contradicting what you made up.
    ***YOU***

  36. Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    This bit of sophistical redefinition was introduced by Antony Flew in “The Presumption of Atheism” (1972). It flies in the face of etymology as well as established philosophical usage.

    ‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.”
    — Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Naturally, some take the Humpty-Dumpty approach and claim that a word means only what they want it to. But this is tendentious.

    For some who consider themselves atheists in the traditional sense, Flew’s efforts seemed to be an attempt to water down a perfectly good concept. For others, who consider themselves agnostics in the traditional sense, Flew’s efforts seemed to be an attempt to re-label them “atheists”—a term they rejected.

    You also have to admit that “Based on a false etymology of a word, one grammatically plausible but as it happens, etymologically incorrect in the word’s history, I argue that we should give an established term a totally new definition, because doing so would have the advantage of making the position that I happen to hold (in 1972—I’ll change my mind later) a distinct rhetorical (but not substantive) advantage in arguments and debate about the subject.” If this is not special pleading, there is no such thing as special pleading.]
    — Eve Keirenen

    The new redefinition of atheism as “lack of belief in God,” says Keirenen, “was a bit of philosophical slight of hand (or more precisely slight of language, or even more precisely sophistry, perpetrated by Antony Flew and a few of his atheistic fellow travelers starting in the early 1970s. Flew was probably the most consistent atheist apologist in philosophy through most of the 20th century—and it is worthwhile to note that late in his life, when retired and finally with enough leisure to read Aristotle carefully for the first time, Flew was rationally forced to reverse his lifelong position and embrace rational theism.
    https://lastedenblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/the-etymology-of-atheism/

    And again, she writes:

    The Philosopher’s Groan was a philosophical blog that seems no longer to exist. This is shame, as it had a number of interesting posts. One in particular stands out to my mind, because it is an atheist philosopher’s trenchant critique of the tendentious “lack of belief” redefinition of atheism.”
    https://lastedenblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/an-atheist-philosophers-critique-of-the-lack-of-belief-definition-of-atheism/

    ***

    Atheism can’t “be true”.

    Beliefs must be true or not. “Truth” is the Old English equivalent to the Latin “Faith.”
    Old English triewð (West Saxon), treowð (Mercian) “faith, faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty; veracity, quality of being true; pledge, covenant,” from Germanic abstract noun *treuwitho, from Proto-Germanic treuwaz “having or characterized by good faith,” from PIE *drew-o-, a suffixed form of the root *deru- “be firm, solid, steadfast.” With Germanic abstract noun suffix *-itho.

    A belief must be true to something. In science and history, it must be “true to the facts.” In literature, it must be “true to life.” In mathematics, it must be “true to the axiom-system.” The first two are called “truth of correspondence” and the last “true of consistency.”

    Hence, the claim that “…suppose that my beliefs are true…” is “nonsense” is itself nonsense.
    ***
    ***

    “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

    That doesn’t [m]ake any sense whatsoever. What do you THINK brains are made of? Tiny elves?

    The original claim was not a claim regarding the material cause of brains, but one regarding “mental processes.” A process is non-material.

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