Thoughts On UNCG Debate

Last evening, this blogger attended a discussion/debate at UNCG co-sponsored by the UNCG Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics and the Ratio Christi Christian group on campus. The subject was "Can you be good without god?"

 This blogger has a few thoughts about this event:

Since the theists acknowledged at the beginning of the evening that the non-theists were good and moral , why did the discussion continue? Wasn't the question answered in the affirmative right there?

The non-theists presented the problem found in the Euthyphro dilemma, which essentially is: "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" The theists countered with a third option: God IS morality, as part of His nature. A question asked the theists to provide evidence for this assertion. The answer was an obfuscation, thus, the dilemma was not refuted.

The non-theists presented several examples of societies that had the most diverse opinions on morality were actually the most moral and flourishing. Conversely, those societies that were the most dogmatic and "certain" of morality were the least moral and flourishing. The theist were unable to refute these facts.

The theists repetitively stated that, without god, there can be no objective morality. This assertion without evidence was essentially a "red herring." In this blogger's experience, most atheists do believe in objective morality. The problem is that, even though there is an objectively moral answer to all moral questions, many situations contain many factors that make determining that right answer difficult and unclear. Francois Trembley presents a case for objective morality from a non-theist perspective here:
The unit of ethics is values. Values are things that one must work to gain or keep (a simple example of that is nutrition). These values are short-handed ways of expressing moral principles (ex. “we need to eat because otherwise we die”), and moral principles are short-handed way of expressing scientific or social facts (such as the facts about metabolism).
The basis of ethics is causality: everything has consequences, and so do actions. Actions have consequences, and our role is to find those consequences and act accordingly.
By evaluating what values are being effected by a given action in its context, we can express a sound moral judgment on that action (this was a good thing to do, this was a bad thing to do). This is true regardless of your actual moral system – we all have values, implicitly or explicitly. The real argument is about those scientific and social facts and what values they entail. There cannot be any argument on whether there are objective moral principles: it’s a discussion about as ridiculous as asking whether the Earth exists. We all need to act to survive.
In closing, it is this blogger's opinion that this discussion was "putting the cart in front of the horse." The existence of a god needs to be established before discussion of whether god is necessary for morality proceeds. The theists failed to establish that there is a god.

34 comments:

  1. I have this debate quite frequently with my theist friends and it always end the same way. If you can't prove there is a god how can you prove god is necessary for morality.

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  2. Even if a 'god' exists, there is no logical necessity that it has our best interests at heart. There is much empirical evidence that the Universe is either indifferent to us or, at least sometimes, outright hostile.
    The only principle clearly derivable from the Bible is 'might makes right'. Whatever god does is 'good' and disobedience to and disrespect of proper authority is an ultimate 'sin'. No wonder Hitler appealed to God. We should have forgiven all his deputies when they could demonstrate 'they were just following orders'

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  3. Hi,

    Here's a critical review of this debate from an evangelical perspective: http://graceinthetriad.blogspot.com/2011/01/can-there-be-good-without-god-friendly.html

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  4. Dusman,

    Thanks for your response.

    Your critical review seems to rely on Scripture. Why do Christians assume the authority of Scripture? There is no evidence that Scriptures are other than the writings of ancient people attempting to explain the unexplainable.

    You erroneously assume that a non-theist understanding of morality is not objective. There is ample evidence that most atheists do believe in objective morality (see some of my recent posts on ethics/morality). Just how does the concept of god add to the understanding of objective morality? The pronouncements and actions of the Christian God as found in Scripture are morally inconsistent at best.

    Since you seem to be a YEC, I encourage you to read my latest post on The Fall to better understand why a science-oriented person has such a hard time with theism, especially Christianity.

    On a personal note, I recommend you read the "Introduction" on the right side of this blog page to understand my faith journey, which is not atypical for us non-theists.

    Peace.

    Tom

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  5. Tom,

    You asked,

    "Your critical review seems to rely on Scripture. Why do Christians assume the authority of Scripture?"

    For similar reasons that you presuppose atheistic reason in order to argue for atheistic reason.

    Christians should begin all of their thinking with Scripture as the foundational axiom because (1) it is commanded and doing otherwise is sinful - 2 Cor. 10:5, (2) God is the highest locus of authority for all men, whether they believe it or not – Heb. 6:13, (3) rejecting Scripture to defend Scripture undermines the preconditions for knowledge, which we’ll see by using your Blogger profile as an example below.

    ”There is no evidence that Scriptures are other than the writings of ancient people attempting to explain the unexplainable.

    This is a bare-naked assertion with no evidence to support it. This contradicts your statement in your blogger profile, “A belief needs to be supported by evidence.” You offered an article about your reasons for rejecting the creation account of Genesis, but again, it contains more assertions.

    ”You erroneously assume that a non-theist understanding of morality is not objective.”

    No, I said that many philosophically astute atheists reject moral realism.

    ”There is ample evidence that most atheists do believe in objective morality.”

    This is irrelevant to answering the *grounding* problem.

    ”Just how does the concept of god add to the understanding of objective morality?”

    It doesn’t if you begin with bare theism or deism.

    ”The pronouncements and actions of the Christian God as found in Scripture are morally inconsistent at best.”

    Another assertion without evidence.

    ”Since you seem to be a YEC, I encourage you to read my latest post on The Fall to better understand why a science-oriented person has such a hard time with theism, especially Christianity.”

    You offered no scientific arguments or evidence, you only asserted that Darwinian theory is true and so the Bible can’t be. Again, no evidence, only assertions.

    ”On a personal note, I recommend you read the "Introduction" on the right side of this blog page to understand my faith journey, which is not atypical for us non-theists.”

    I used to be an atheist and bought the proverbial T-shirt. I’ve read many “deconversion testimonies” and often find them as irrational as the supposed faiths that these folks left.

    Now for your Blogger profile:

    ”I take a skeptical, provisional approach to all claims.”

    Are you skeptical about that claim?

    ”A belief needs to be supported by evidence.”

    Can you give me some evidence for that belief? Can you hand me that belief in a bag so that I can see how many pounds it weighs? Can you tell me if it is 13.5 or 15.0 centimeters? Where’s the empirical evidence for that proposition?

    ”Reason, critical thinking and the scientific method are my tools to best understand reality.”

    Can you hand me a bucket of reason, critical thinking, and the scientific method?

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  6. Dusman,

    Again, thanks for responding.

    Yes, I do presuppose the value of reason, critical thinking and science as they work and have been shown to be the best way of determining reality. What is the alternative? Faith? It's not my choice anymore, as it has been shown to me as being without merit for understanding reality.

    Why should thinking begin with Scripture? I begin all of my thinking from the standpoint of "where is the evidence?", because, again, it works. Where is the support that you should begin thinking with Scripture, outside of what Scripture says (circular reasoning)?

    Regarding my "assertions" without evidence --- The evidence for all I have said is there, if you look without prior assumptions.

    You may not like my deconversion story but how is it irrational? It is fully consistent with a skeptical worldview. To be skeptical in all but religion WAS irrational. Skepticism has been called alot of things, but I do not see how you can call it irrational.

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree, Dusman. We obviously have different assumptions and tools for determining reality.

    Respectfully,

    Tom

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  7. Tom,

    Thanks for your cordial response.

    You said,

    "Yes, I do presuppose the value of reason, critical thinking and science as they work and have been shown to be the best way of determining reality."

    Adopting a pragmatic epistemology skirts the issue of how you ground all of the aforementioned things given naturalistic materialism. What works doesn’t tell me what is necessarily rational, moral, or what my goals should be. Plenty of people do irrational and immoral things every day and it works quite well for them; we call them criminals. Again, what works doesn’t provide answers to the problems with your materialistic epistemology, it just skirts them.

    "What is the alternative? Faith? It's not my choice anymore, as it has been shown to me as being without merit for understanding reality."

    As you’ve already admitted, you still have “faith”; faith that atheistic materialists can continue to critique Christian theism even though they can’t account for the very immaterial reasoning tools needed to critique Christianity in the first place. So, keep the faith Tom!

    Given what you’ve said in your Blogger profile, what empirical evidence do you have for the existence of the same immaterial, abstract laws of logic that you use to criticize the Christian faith?

    I’m still waiting for you ship me a bucket of rationality, give me a water bottle full of the law of non-contradiction, or tell me how many centimeters long the scientific method is.

    ”Why should thinking begin with Scripture? Where is the support that you should begin thinking with Scripture, outside of what Scripture says (circular reasoning)?”

    Why should thinking begin with atheistic reasoning? Where is the support that you should begin your thinking using atheistic reasoning outside of what atheistic reasoning says (circular reasoning)? I reversed your statement to show your utter hypocrisy in failing to consider your own presuppositional “faith” commitments in light of your chiding Christians for having theirs. As to your question, I’ve already answered it in my first comment.

    ”Regarding my "assertions" without evidence --- The evidence for all I have said is there, if you look without prior assumptions.”

    Where is the empirical or rational proof for the proposition that “the evidence for all I have said is there, if you look without prior assumptions”?

    ”You may not like my deconversion story but how is it irrational? It is fully consistent with a skeptical worldview. … Skepticism has been called alot of things, but I do not see how you can call it irrational.”

    Are you skeptical of your skepticism?

    ”I guess we will just have to agree to disagree, Dusman. We obviously have different assumptions and tools for determining reality.”

    We have the same reasoning tools, but your worldview cannot account for them. You have rejected the only actual worldview that can sufficiently ground moral realism, and immaterial, abstract, universals such as the laws of logic, the moral obligation to be rational, and other important, associated features of analytic reasoning.

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  8. Dusman,

    Again, thanks.

    We use language to describe material matter/energy, concepts, mental processes,, worldviews, etc. Are you saying reason, logic, science, skepticism, etc. are not real because I cannot give you a bucket of each? It sounds like it.

    You continue to posit Christianity to account for the gaps in our knowledge and I continue to simply ask for the evidence that it does so. How does Christianity, or any other religion, give us "grounding" if it or they haven't been shown to be true? I consider myself "grounded" in the reality best determined by the tools I have mentioned. Nothing more or less.

    The world has been made a better place through reason, science and skepticism. This can be empirically verified. Thus, these tools work. I will continue to use these tools to best find reality. To do otherwise opens up the quest for truth to the bias and faults of our imperfect minds that tend to see patterns and causes that are not really present, and to wish-fulfillment. These tools free humans to look at the world through objective collective eyes. Is it perfect? No. Is it the best we have? Yes. If you want to call it "faith", then we have different definitions of the word.

    Peace.

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  9. Tom,

    You said,

    "We use language to describe material matter/energy, concepts, mental processes,, worldviews, etc. Are you saying reason, logic, science, skepticism, etc. are not real because I cannot give you a bucket of each? It sounds like it."

    No, I’m saying that your materialism cannot account for them. Only Christian theism can account for immaterial, abstract, universal entities such as the laws of logic, conceptual schemes, etc. and our obligation to be rational and implement critical thinking.

    As pointed out in my last response, you have committed the classic "faith vs. reason" fallacy. We do not reason to have faith; we have faith first in order to correctly reason. As already noted, everybody does this (see more on this below). It appears that you are assuming that the only way people can know things are through "measurable, verifiable evidence". When you arbitrarily assume that people can only know things through the five senses in order to conclude that this is the basis for all knowledge, then you are committing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Your argument goes something like this:

    P1 - If we can only know things through empirical means, then Christians are wrong.

    P2 - We can only know things through empirical means.

    C - Therefore, Christians are wrong.

    The problem with you argument is that it is not only subtly circular, but premise two is patently false. As hinted at earlier, everyone begins with a set of beliefs about the world that cannot be empirically "proved" or shown to be true through scientific investigation (i.e., laws of logic, concepts, etc.). Thus everyone, including the atheist, begins with some type of "faith" claim if "faith" is defined by you as an idea that is not based on "measurable, verifiable evidence" gained through the procedural methods of science.

    cont. ...

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  10. cont. ...

    For example, do you know that the proposition "empiricism is the only way we can have knowledge" itself be known through empirical investigation? Can you "measure" and "verify" the existence of the concept of empiricism in a test tube or a petri dish? How about the laws of logic? Can you measure the law of non-contradiction or burn the logical inference known as Modus Tollens? Have you ever served up the Law of Identity to your friends in a wine glass? You cannot do any of these things because things like the laws of logic and concepts are abstract, immaterial entities that are not subject to investigation through the five senses. Christians agree that some knowledge can be gained through empirical investigation, but not all knowledge. They agree with God, the immaterial, invisible Creator of all things, that all that exists is not made up of matter; there are material and immaterial things that exist. But if you are an ardent naturalistic materialist, then you have no category for immaterial things like logic or concepts. Here's an example of how the worldview of naturalistic materialism refutes itself by using the very things it denies that exists:

    Syllogism One:

    1. Concepts are immaterial.
    2. But some versions of materialism (like yours) hold that anything that exists is material.
    3. Our concepts are not material things.
    4. Therefore, concepts do not exist.
    5. Our concepts of "logic" are immaterial.
    6. Therefore, in some versions of materialism (like yours), "logic" does not exist.

    Syllogism Two:

    1. Material things are extended in space.
    2. Our concepts of "logic" are not extended in space.
    3. Therefore, our concepts of "logic" are non-material.
    4. Some versions of materialism (like yours) posit that no non-material entities exist.
    5. Therefore, assuming some versions of materialism (like yours), concepts of "logic" do not exist.

    Tom, if you are a naturalistic materialist, you have no basis for using logical laws since your worldview doesn't provide the category needed to have immaterial things like logic, concepts, etc. When you assume the constancy and utility of logic to argue against the Bible your own worldview undermines the very logic you use to attack the Bible. The very laws of logic you are using to argue against Christians are themselves only explainable within the Christian worldview!

    cont. ...

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  11. cont. ...

    This is why it takes great faith to believe the religion of naturalism. You are like the early Greek philosopher Thales who said, “All is water.” When other philosophers came along and showed that it was obvious that everything wasn’t made out of water, Thales insisted that such was the case and ignored any evidence to the contrary. You do the same thing, only you don’t say “all is water”, you say “all is matter”. You are making the same mistake Thales did in your rebellion against God, thus “opposing yourself” as 2 Timothy 2:25 says. In other words, you are doing exactly what the Bible says you will do; run away from God and refute yourself in the process. In rejecting God and opting for naturalistic materialism, not only do you cut yourself off from God, but you also lose the world in the process. However, if you start with God, not only will you have peace with him through faith in Christ Jesus, but He’ll throw in logic, reason, and the scientific method for free.

    "You continue to posit Christianity to account for the gaps in our knowledge and I continue to simply ask for the evidence that it does so. How does Christianity, or any other religion, give us "grounding" if it or they haven't been shown to be true? I consider myself "grounded" in the reality best determined by the tools I have mentioned. Nothing more or less."

    First, I didn’t mention anything about a God-of-the-gaps. On the contrary, I showed you that you can’t even account for the knowledge that you do have; knowledge that you use (i.e., logic, reason) to dismiss the Bible.

    Second, in typical pragmatic fashion, all of this still skirts the issue of how you metaphysically ground the laws of logic to begin with. What basis do you have to chide Christians for their lack of evidence and say “well mine is true because it works” when you can’t provide evidence for your own claims. Also, if what "works" is a litmus test for truth then Biblical Christianity certainly “works” for believers, thus is must be true. Why demand empirical evidence of us yet declare yourself exempt? Such intellectual hypocrisy betrays a real desire to be epistemologically self-aware. As long as you hold to the pipe dream of naturalistic materialism, you deceive yourself into thinking that it will all cash out in the end; but it won’t (Revelation 21:8).

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  12. cont. ...

    You go on to say,

    "The world has been made a better place through reason, science and skepticism. This can be empirically verified."

    You mean “science” as read through the lens of Darwinism. Well then, tell that to the thousands who were permanently sterilized by government agencies through social Darwinist propaganda that led to the practice of eugenics right here in the good ole’ U.S. of A back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Tell that to the 12 million people who lost their lives in the social Darwinist experiment called the Third Reich in Nazi Germany in the 1930s-40s. Tell that to the 100 million + people who died at the hands of communist dictators whose entire Marxist philosophy was firmly founded on the back of your sweet little darling known as naturalistic materialism. I’m not at all saying you’re a baby eating communist monster, quite the contrary. But, given your darling philosophy’s sweet declaration that “all is matter”, what objective, transcendent basis can you give me for loving my neighbor instead of eating him alive if it suits my personal interest and promotes my survival value? After all, over 100 million people were killed in the 20th century alone on a political philosophy that was firmly grounded in naturalistic materialism; a “faith” that has no obligatory moral norms, for it cannot, since moral norms aren’t material.

    "Thus, these tools work. I will continue to use these tools to best find reality."

    Again, you are using immaterial, abstract, conceptual tools without being able to account for their existence within the “faith system” of naturalistic materialism which teaches that “all is matter” when those selfsame tools used to defend your "faith system" are themselves not made of matter.

    "To do otherwise opens up the quest for truth to the bias and faults of our imperfect minds that tend to see patterns and causes that are not really present, and to wish-fulfillment."

    You mean like wishing that “all is matter” when its really not, including the fact that the concept “all is matter” isn’t itself made of matter?

    cont. ...

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  13. "These tools free humans to look at the world through objective collective eyes . . ."

    Quite the contrary, these tools are taken for granted by worldviews that cannot account for them. I have demonstrated that your naturalistic materialism is anything but objective. The truth is, no one is unbiased. The real question is this: “Which bias is the best bias to be biased with” or “Which worldview provides the necessary preconditions for knowledge.” Naturalistic materialism sure doesn’t do it as shown in my previous comments.

    The Christian faith is not based upon wishful thinking or "believing what you know ain't true", but instead is based on the historical testimony of God working in history as recorded in the Bible. Contrary to your assertions, Christians do not have "faith in faith", but faith in God's self-attesting, infallible testimony as contained in the 66 books of the Bible. What we see in history, archaeology, science, and other related fields only confirms what God has already told us and beginning with said worldview actually allows us to make sense out of the very things you take for granted when critiquing the very worldview that can account for the tools you need to be rational.

    If the Bible was not true, you could not prove anything whatsoever. Thus, the truth of the Bible provides the necessary preconditions for proving anything. This is why intellectually self-conscious Christians accept the Bible as their ultimate presuppositional starting point. Without God's truth, you are left in a spiritual and intellectual quagmire of self-contradictory folly and unbelief. It's no wonder the Apostle Paul said,

    "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (Ephesians 4:17-18)

    Christians know that the universe was created because God has testified of His creative power through His creation (Romans 1:19-25), and His written word, the Bible. Since His written word is the highest authority to which mankind can turn to in order to determine man's origin, purpose, and meaning in life and for the meaning to the universe, any rejection of God's word will lead to spiritual and intellectual futility, confusion, and the undermining of science itself because the truth of God's being and God's word provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of reality.

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  14. Dusman,

    Specifically tell me what knowledge you can get from other than the 5 senses that can be verified by others. There may be a reality other that the material world but how would you know it? If a supernatural being really did communicate with us, it would be within the natural world, thus, would be able to be observed and falsified.

    Science can explain much of what theists may call such things as "personal relationship/experience with god" and "knowledge outside of the senses" through neuroscience and psychology.

    I can account for the existence of logic, reason, and other mental activities through evolution of the human brain. Are there gaps in our knowledge of such? Of course. But we are learning more as time passes. In fact, science has all but ruled out the existence of a "soul." I know you don't believe this, but the evidence is there for all who wish to look at it with an open mind.

    Can you account for these "immaterial" activities by positing Christianity? If so, tell me specifically how.

    Our premises and tools REALLY are poles apart, Dusman. Please give me clear and precise answers to all of the above questions and requests, plus a clear and precise response to the following: Give me your best argument for the reality of Christianity, and support it with evidence outside of Scripture. Should I find your response amenable to further dialogue, I will be glad to continue.

    Peace.

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  15. Tom,

    You asked,

    "Specifically tell me what knowledge you can get from other than the 5 senses that can be verified by others."

    Immaterial, abstract, universal entities like the laws of logic, concepts, etc. all prove naturalistic materialism to be the farce that it is. Can you serve a 12 oz. glass of naturalistic materialism lite to your friends at parties? No, because the concept itself isn't material. The fact that the concept of materialism itself isn't subject to empirical investigation and examination ought to cause you to ditch it if you are intellectually honest. But to give up materialism means that you have to admit that immaterial things exist and if that's true, then that gives too much ground to the Christian. But you don't want to do that for a whole host of reasons, so you're stuck between a rock and hard place known as the rational/irrational dialectical tension. You oppose or defeat yourself, just as 2 Tim. 2:25 says you will do and you run back and forth between the two by attempting to be consistent with your worldview (rationalism) and in your attempt to be consistent you end up being inconsistent with your worldview (irrational) when you use immaterial entities to defend the idea that there are no immaterial entities!

    As I've already shown in syllogistic form, immaterial entities have reality but aren't made of matter, thus refuting your materialism. To deny them is to affirm them and refute yourself in the process. Take for example the concept of materialism itself piggybacking off my first two syllogisms:

    Syllogism One:

    1. Concepts are immaterial.
    2. Materialism is a concept.
    3. But some versions of materialism (like your's) hold that anything that exists is material.
    4. Our concepts are not material things.
    5. Therefore, concepts do not exist.
    6. Our concepts of "materialism" are immaterial.
    7. Therefore, assuming your form of materialism, "materialism" does not exist.

    Thus, you've refuted yourself. You are living on borrowed capital. You're defending a worldview that doesn't have the philosophical cash value to plug up the leaky holes in your own philosophical boat, so you borrow from a God-created reality to defend your worldview with the very thing that your own worldview says can't exist!

    Syllogism Two:

    1. Material things are extended in space.
    2. Our concept of "materialism" is not extended in space.
    3. Therefore, our concept of "materialism" is non-material.
    4. Some versions of materialism (like yours) posit that no non-material entities exist.
    5. Therefore, assuming some versions of materialism (like yours), the concept of "materialism" does not exist.

    Or how about your thoughts on materialism?

    1. No physical thing is about some other thing.
    2. Thoughts are about things.
    3. Therefore, thoughts aren't physical.

    In other words, if I assume the validity of materialism for the sake of argument (Pro. 26:5), then on your own lights the concept of materialism doesn't exist and neither do your thoughts about it. But your thoughts exist and the concept of materialism does too, therefore, materialism is false.

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  16. cont. ...

    This is why you must begin with the God of the Bible as the necessary starting point for all of your thinking (Pro. 26:5). Christian theism makes sense out of why immaterial entities exist and supervene on the material realm in a uniform, law-like way and why we are morally obligated to be rational. God's being itself is immaterial and invisible yet exists, just like the immaterial and invisible laws of logic (cf. John 4:24; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16). God is also an inherently rational being and both His creation and His image bearers reflect that rational structure (Gen. 1:28; Isa. 1:18). We are guaranteed a general uniformity of nature by God Himself as built into the Noachian covenant (Gen. 8:22) and alluded to in reference to the Davidic covenant (Jer. 31:35-36; 33:25). Not only does God ground the uniformity of nature, immaterial laws of logic, and the continuity of natural laws, but moral laws too (Matthew 22:37-40). This is why I said earlier, though you may have missed it: the proof that God exists is that without Him, you can't prove anything. This is called transcendental proof; i.e., what has to already exist and be in place in order to ground the things like immaterial, abstract, universals such as logical and scientific laws; laws that we are all subject to and are obligated to follow, but take for granted. The only actual God revealed to us that can account for absolute, personal obligation to be moral and rational is the God of the Bible.

    This is part of what Paul means when he says that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3). As shown with refuting your naturalistic materialism, the philosophies of the world all amount to nothing more than self-refuting folly and empty deception (Col. 2:8), so come to Christ like a humble child or stick with your futile thinking and you'll not only be rendered irrational, but you'll lose your soul in the end.

    If ditch Christ, then not only will you lose the world, but you'll lose your soul as well. But if you start with Christ, then not only will you gain your soul, but He'll throw in the world for free!

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  17. cont. ...

    "There may be a reality other that the material world but how would you know it?"

    Through Biblical revelation and transcendental reasoning as briefly described above.

    "If a supernatural being really did communicate with us, it would be within the natural world, thus, would be able to be observed and falsified."

    Correct; and that's exactly what God did in giving you a resurrected Christ in history and by preserving those historical events in His word, the Bible.

    "Science can explain much of what theists may call such things as "personal relationship/experience with god" and "knowledge outside of the senses" through neuroscience and psychology."

    First, "science" doesn't explain anything (fallacy of reification), but scientists do. Also, since God exists I expect my brain to be designed to work in such a way that it can interact with God: http://creation.com/god-spot However, if materialism is true, then "thoughts" and "knowledge" cannot exist since they are immaterial and materialism says that non-material things do not exist. Thus, as noted above even the concept of materialism can't exist on materialistic lights.

    Worse, if naturalistic materialism is true, then since your brain evolved a god spot which produces false beliefs for survival value, perhaps it also produces false beliefs now for survival value (i.e., naturalistic materialism). Thus, given the assumed conjunction of evolution and naturalism, you have no way determining whether your cognitive faculties are actually reliable or whether your current beliefs are just like the supposed false beliefs produced by the evolved "god-spot". Perhaps on evolutionary assumptions your beliefs about "all is matter" are also false beliefs just like my god-beliefs. Thus, as shown many times already, you have adopted a worldview that undermines the preconditions for intelligibility, one of which is the reliability of your own cognitive faculties. Oh, and don't try to cop out and say "Yeah, but it works" since (1) that doesn't answer the problem, and (2) how do you know whether it really works (which would mean it comports to reality in some way) since what "works" isn't designed to produce true beliefs but only ones that produce survival value? (3) How do you know that your senses are reliable to indicate that materialism is really working for you since by assuming the conjunction of evolution and naturalism you can't know whether your cognitive faculties are producing true beliefs or not? (4) Also, have you empirically observed sensation? Do you have empirical evidence that your eyeball experience actually comports with reality?

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  18. cont. ...

    "I can account for the existence of logic, reason, and other mental activities through evolution of the human brain."

    Then here's your scenario in a syllogism:

    1. Logic is contingent upon the existence of human brains.
    2. Assuming a uniformitarian timescale, the earth existed @ 3.5 billion years before humans did.
    3. Before humans existed, logic didn't exist since logic is contingent upon the existence of human brains.
    4. Therefore, before human brains existed, the earth could have existed and not existed at the same time and in the same way.

    Assuming your beliefs about logic for the sake of argument, I just created a scenario where no logic existed before human brains existed since according to you logic and rationality are contingent upon the existence of human brains. However, if you begin with the Christian God, you don't have this absurd problem. This is because God has always existed, and since God is inherently rational and both His image bearers (people) and the creation reflect this rational component of His nature, Christian philosophical theologians expect the laws of logic to be uniform, transcendent, immaterial, and universal.

    "Are there gaps in our knowledge of such? Of course."

    Again, I didn't bring up the issue of a "god of the gaps", you did. I have shown that you can't account for the very things that you do know and use in order to critique the Bible.

    "But we are learning more as time passes."

    You are depending upon your faith once again, even more so than the Christians that you chide. You are essentially saying "Naturalism will always prevail because we have faith that it will!" Again, you are hypocritically demanding that Christians avoid saying "God did it" when we can't provide an empirical explanation that suits the skeptic yet you don't give us empirical evidence for your "faith" but instead admit that you posit a "materialism of the gaps" when you can't explain everything via scientific investigation. This is why philosophically astute Christians don't take you and other New Atheists seriously.

    "In fact, science has all but ruled out the existence of a "soul." I know you don't believe this, but the evidence is there for all who wish to look at it with an open mind."

    I realize that secular scientists that adhere to physicalism have done so, but they can't answer my arguments from above. For instance, the argument I used earlier refutes the idea that thoughts are merely the products of neurochemical reactions in the brain:

    1. No physical thing is about some other thing.
    2. Thoughts are about things.
    3. Therefore, thoughts aren't physical.

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  19. "Can you account for these "immaterial" activities by positing Christianity? If so, tell me specifically how."

    I have already done so above, albeit briefly. If you want more detailed information, please read Dr. James Anderson's paper titled "The Theistic Preconditions for Knowledge" here: http://www.proginosko.com/docs/knowledge_and_theism.html

    To sum up the hyper-linked paper and what I've been arguing in my comments in syllogistic form:

    1. If knowledge, then God.
    2. Knowledge.
    3. Therefore, God.

    In closing, please have the last word. I have appreciated the cordial interaction. If you would like to continue doing so in the future, you have my e-mail. I would be more than happy to interact with you and consider any challenges you have to present in the context of what I've already said. May God open your eyes to the truth of the glorious gospel before its too late.

    "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." (Psalm 14:1)

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  20. Dusman,

    Thanks for your usual courteous and detailed response.

    To clarify something at the outset, I consider myself a "Naturalist", which includes "Materialism" but certainly also includes all the real "immaterial" concepts we have agreed exist. I believe these "immaterial" realities emanated or emerged from our material existence, whereas, you attribute them to a supernatural entity.

    As I said in my last post, we bring to this discussion polar opposite assumptions, as we have formed are worldviews from different influences:

    You place the authority of Scripture as an assumption (from your comments, I assume you are a Presuppositional apologist) and weigh all matters against what the Scriptures say.

    I work from the assumption that my best understanding of truth comes from evidence found through observation and experiment. Authority and personal testimony play no role.

    You are metaphysically certain of your authority and beliefs.

    I am uncertain in my beliefs and all of them are metaphysically provisional. My beliefs are based on probabilities from known facts.

    I am going out on a limb and state that we probably agree that science and religion are really not compatible. By that I mean that you probably have some respect for science but many of the findings of science are directly opposed to theism in general and Christianity in particular, thus, are not accepting of them. This statement also ties into my opinion that Christians of your view are the most logical of all Christians. From your assumptions, you are very logical and reasoned. Christians who take a more figurative understanding of Scripture in the face of refuting scientific or historical evidence are really trying to "have their cake and eat it too", in my opinion.

    I respect you, even though we profoundly disagree in this matter. I have no problem with you practicing your faith and hope you flourish. My only reservation would be if your beliefs cause actions that violate the US Constitution and/or encourage non-scientific views into the science curriculum in schools.

    I hope that you have perceived me as an honest, thoughtful and respectful fellow human being. Most fellow atheists are of that character, as are most theists. I hope we at least can agree on that.

    This is my final communication.

    Peace.

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  21. Tom, thanks for your review. I was actually one the theists in the debate. I don't have the time or energy to rehash the debate in response to your blog post, but I would like to point out that your entire review starts off on the wrong foot. The panel discussion was "Can there be good without God" not "Can you be good without God." These are two entirely different questions. Hence, this may significantly affect your perspective regarding your review of the discussion. Thanks!

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  22. Adam,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Yes, I can see a grammatical difference there --- the subject within the sentences IS different. I guess I misread the title. However, I don't see how it would change my comments. There IS good in the world and people of all faith orientations (and none) can and do exhibit it. It is a matter of faith if you posit it comes from a god. If you don't accept this assertion, that does not change the fact that it is real in our natural world.

    If you disagree with my statements above, then lets just agree to disagree. I really do not have anything else to say on this matter.

    Peace.

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  23. Thanks Tom. Actually, I do agree with you that there is good in the world, and all people know the basics of right and wrong. I said as much in the debate. The whole question of the debate is where does that good come from? It comes from each individual then it is completely relative, even if many "opinions" happen to agree. As I explained in my opening statement, "objective" means true for everyone, everywhere, at all times whether anyone believes it or not. What you've expressed here is not objective at all because you haven't grounded it anything but the individual's opinion. Even in the quote you give, which says, "By evaluating what values are being effected by a given action in its context, we can express a sound moral judgment on that action (this was a good thing to do, this was a bad thing to do)" begs the question. Who's values and who's evaluation, Hitler's or Mother Teresa's? Moreover, the quote here is speaking epistemologically. The real question is the ontological one. Where did these values come from, what is a "sound moral judgment"? These are the questions that haven't been answered in the atheistic worldview.

    If you don't mind, simply because it's a topic I'm interested in, could you tell more about why you don't think the Euthyphro dilemma wasn't answered sufficiently? Thanks Tom, and I love your background BTW!

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  24. Sorry, my 5th sentence should say, "IF it comes from each individual..."

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  26. Adam,

    "The whole question of the debate is where does that good come from? If it comes from each individual then it is completely relative ---"

    I think this is the main point of disagreement. You seem to assume that if morality is not "grounded" in a transcendent being, then secular morality is determined by each individual. What I, and most secular folks, are saying is that COLLECTIVELY humanity can and does come to an understanding of what IS good and bad IN MOST OF THE USUAL CIRCUMSTANCES. Yes, there are psychopaths/sociopaths who are outside of this norm. In addition, yes, there are some issues that have a great amount of disagreement.

    What most secular people who are studying the concept of morality are essentially saying is, since humanity began living in groups, there have been actions that have supported the survival of the group and have allowed individuals and societies to flourish. There also have been actions that have interfered with these outcomes. Deep within ALL non-pathological people are cooperative and empathetic intuitions that trace back to the beginning of group living. This is UNIVERSAL and not related to religion.

    So, yes, there IS an "objective" right and wrong applicable to all but it is hard to find sometimes and unclear how to achieve it. Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape covers this well. Click on "Ethics/Morality" under my blog Index or "SamHarris" to see what I am talking about.

    If "objective" morality is only found in a transcendent being, why is it that this being is having such a difficult time communicating that "objective" morality to His creation? There are over 38,000 brands of Christianity. Which one contains the "objective" morality and how do we determine the truth of the claim that "they" are right and all others are wrong? In other words, there seems to be just as much disagreement (ironically, maybe more) within the Christian community over what is right or wrong.

    Even though you and Bill tried to reconcile the Bible to morality, from an unbiased reading of BOTH the OT and NT, the number of inconsistencies and intuitively immoral commands and actions by this all-loving diety presents major problems for acceptance of the Christian god as the "grounding" of morality.

    Regarding the Euthyphro dilemma, my point was that Bill mentioned a "third" choice of "God IS morality as part of His nature." This was an assertion that was unsupported during the discussion, thus, did not refute the dilemma. From my reading of both Christian and secular sources on the Euthyphro dilemma, I have been unable to find any good evidence to support Bill's third option. If you have some, please let me know.

    Peace and thanks for the comments about by background.

    Tom

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  27. Thanks for your follow up Tom. I appreciate it. I still think you're positing a completely relative morality. You said, "What I, and most secular folks, are saying is that COLLECTIVELY humanity can and does come to an understanding of what IS good and bad IN MOST OF THE USUAL CIRCUMSTANCES."

    There are more than a few problems with this I think. First, this is still an epistemological assumption. But we're asking an ontological question. You're assuming "good and bad" from the get go. But's that's the very thing in question. Secondly, are you saying that "good" or "moral" is determined by majority vote? Is it possible for the majority to be wrong? For example, would the Nazi's have been wrong if they would've won the war and convinced everyone to kill Jews and enhance the "perfect race"? Were the slave owners wrong when the majority held the view that slavery was OK?

    Moreover, such a view precludes moral progress through moral reformers. They would be going against the majority and hence be "immoral" on this view. You also said sociopaths are outside this "norm." So would you agree then that they don't do anything actually/objectively wrong? They simply go against the grain of society?

    You also said, "since humanity began living in groups, there have been actions that have supported the survival of the group and have allowed individuals and societies to flourish. There also have been actions that have interfered with these outcomes."

    But you're smuggling in objective morality in the back door here. Why is it a "good" that societies flourish? Blind evolutionary processes do not have goals in mind. They simply are. If this life is all there is, what's "wrong" with me getting mine other than the fact that I may be going against the grain?

    You went on to say, "Deep within ALL non-pathological people are cooperative and empathetic intuitions that trace back to the beginning of group living. This is UNIVERSAL and not related to religion."

    Are you saying that morality is genetically transferred via Darwinian evolution? I want to make sure I'm understanding you here.

    One more coming...

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  28. In regards to your questions about God making morality difficult to grasp, the differences among professing Christians, and God's actions in the Bible, those are completely separate topics to this current discussion. Those are the "red herrings," not what you labeled as such in your initial review. In deed they are questions deserving of answers, and there are answers. But those are separate topics currently.

    Finally, with regards to Euthyphro, I think this was thoroughly addressed in the debate, but allow me to reiterate. First, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The sword cuts both ways here. Is your "objective" morality good because society/evolution/individual/whoever say so or is it good compared to some other standard? If the first, it's completely arbitrary and relative. If the latter, well, welcome to my side :-) Secondly, there must be some metaphysical stopping point for the question. Otherwise, we go on ad infinitum and never arrive at any answer even though we all know the basics of good and evil. So this is unacceptable and irrational as well. Third, I'm guessing you assume human beings have value and rights. But such things are foreign in a valueless, mindless, purposeless universe. Theism offers a very plausible explanation for such values and rights. If man is made in the image of a personal God, and moral duties are only owed to other persons (I don't have a moral obligation to gravity), then it's reasonable to conclude there is a personal God who is the transcendent standard of morality.

    To quote Paul Copan, "This view, I believe, brings together the two horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. It states that, on the one hand, goodness is not independent of God but rather is part of God’s nature and depends upon him for its existence. On the other hand, God’s will operates according to a moral standard. That standard is God’s very nature . The essential perfection view maintains that God is necessarily good ; he could never will evil, as this is a logical impossibility. This view avoids the arbitrariness charge, and it avoids the autonomy charge in that God does not consult a certain moral standard external to himself before acting. Moral justification ends with God, the absolute starting point for morality. So God’s goodness does not derive from his adhering to a certain moral standard."

    Sorry for the lengthy response, but I appreciate the conversation!

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  29. Adam,

    As I said, I really do not want to persist in this discussion.

    There are realities in this world, described with language. The fact that we can talk about morality, well-being, health, etc. tells me they are describing underlying values, which are "objective" but sometimes hard to determine. The human mind can conceptualize the "good" and "bad" in these areas with a fair amount of agreement. Because of imperfect minds, we struggle as a species to find the truths of these values. I postulate that this situation JUST IS from our cosmological and evolutionary background. You postulate that these and other values are from a supernatural being. Oil and water, fire and ice, etc.

    You and Dustin present cogent arguments from the assumption of a supreme being that speaks inerrantly through the Bible. In discussion with an atheist who does not accept this assumption, you must first establish the truth of this assumption to have a meaningful discussion. In the debate, in dialog with Dustin and with dialog with you, there has been no convincing evidence presented that would lead me to accept your assumption.

    Frankly, as you can tell from my background and story of how I became an atheist, I have looked long and hard to find the evidence for a personal diety of any sort, and the Christian god in particular. Every comment and argument you and Dustin have presented to me I have previously heard. All have been refuted to my satisfaction. I do not claim there is no god, only that evidence does not support the concept, and, in fact, strongly supports the opinion that there is no god. You cannot argue with an atheist with your assumptions and expect agreement.

    No amount of evidence will ever convince people like you and Dustin. You have an everlasting trump card of certainty that will not allow any alternative view to persuade.

    I wish you well. Consider this my final comment on this subject. You may have the last word.

    Peace.

    Tom

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  30. I'm sorry you don't want to continue the conversation Tom. I really don't want this to be "the last word." As someone who values reason, I was hoping we could have a reasonable dialog. I would like you to note, however, that I have not mentioned the Bible at all in my argumentation. You were the one who brought that up actually, much like what happened in our panel discussion at UNCG. I'm simply acknowledging that there are objective moral values and then reasoning to the most logical conclusion for their source. We both agree these values exist. You say they "just [are]" and I say that's not a logical explanation. We don't have moral obligations to impersonal brute facts and valueless, impersonal processes don't give rise to valuable, personal beings. My argument remains the same as it was in the debate:
    1) If God does not exist (the theistic God), then objective moral values do not exist
    2) Objective moral values do exist
    3) Therefore God exists

    This is a valid syllogism, and as you know, to show it is unsound one must show the falsity of at least one premise. It seems we agree on premise two. I've given counter examples and carried your logic to its logical ends regarding the possibility of such objective moral values just existing, and I don't think you've shown that premise one is false yet. I really do wish we could continue the conversation, but thanks for the time you've allowed.

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  31. 1) If God does not exist (the theistic God), then objective moral values do not exist

    This is a false, unproven premise, thus, 2) and 3) are invalid

    2) Objective moral values do exist
    3) Therefore God exists

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  32. Thanks Tom. But the majority of my time in the debate and during this blog conversation has been to show how objective moral values cannot be accounted for apart from an intelligent/personal source. If they exist, then they are not illusory. If they exist, then they are not accounted for as mere brute facts of the universe or as the product of Darwinian evolution (from valuelessness valuelessness comes). The only other option is they find their source from intelligence. As C.S. Lewis noted, a moral law implies a moral-law giver. So premise one is not an "unproven premise." The logic is sound here. Nothing has been said here or elsewhere that shows how objective moral values can be accounted for any other way, and most other attempts (much like our panel discussion) confuse the epistemological question with the ontological question (which is what we're dealing with).

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  33. Adam,

    Indeed, you had the last word.

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  34. Your choice my friend. I wish you'd reconsider and tell me where my reasoning is wrong.

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