How Foolish Atheists Convinced The Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco That Catholic Philosophy Was Rationally Superior To Atheism

On Friday I am finally going to put up an extensive post dissecting the philosophical arguments that atheist blogger Leah Libresco has either made or referred to in defending and explaining her decision to convert to Catholicism. But first this post will make some more important preliminary points about the inadequacy of the reasons for Leah’s conversion and the bad arguments atheists made that apparently had the effect of goading her into it. And tomorrow and Wednesday I will take you on an important detour tomorrow into my own intellectual biography which will explain where I am personally coming from with respect to atheism and Catholicism. That will all set the stage for me to adequately address the philosophical substance of her metaethical claims in my posts for Thursday and Friday. If you simply cannot wait for my constructive views on moral philosophy which counter Leah’s pessimism about atheistic moral objectivity, the bottom of this post has copious links and a pair of short videos you can dig into in the meantime.

A lot of Christians, and Catholics in particular, want to trumpet that Leah’s conversion was an example of a serious minded, rational, and committed atheist who had a reason-driven conversion to Catholicism. They love the narrative of someone thinking hard and carefully and weighing atheism seriously before deciding Christian philosophy was robuster and, ultimately, truer. I deeply disagree with that conclusion. And I think Christians who want to claim that Leah’s conversion vindicates the rational merits of their faith should treat seriously and with an open mind the counterarguments I am going to give over a series of posts I am simultaneously putting up today responding one by one to the arguments she has made publicly in her first week as a publicly confessing Catholic.

But first, let me highlight in a broad way why I think that the premise that Leah adequately weighed the merits of an atheist perspective before abandoning it is flawed on the grounds that she insufficiently considered any of the more philosophically qualified atheists who shared some of her correct foundational premises and, rather, had atheism represented to her primarily (and possibly exclusively) by atheists who diverge in opinions from the majority of atheist philosophers, and who erroneously (and disastrously) told her that some of her correct premises required her to be a Catholic.

Last week in my initial analysis of her conversion, I concluded the following:

she sounds from [her original] self-description [written while still ostensibly an atheist] like someone who was an emptier philosophical vessel to start with who then was exposed to robust Catholic tradition and philosophy and thin, blogworthy, atheistic philosophy and under those conditions she not-so-stunningly opted to believe the more rounded out philosophical option of the two. What does she really know about naturalistic philosophy as developed by academic philosophers who do not write for popular audiences? From her own account of major influences and conversation partners, probably not much.

Leah has since confirmed that when it came to robust atheistic metaphysics and metaethics she was not well-versed in the works of actual atheistic professional metaphysicians and moral philosophers and especially she was not encountering realist ones (not even ones who exist in the atheist blogosphere like me or my guest contributor Eric Steinhart) who would at least have shown her that there were atheists who thought her conclusions were possible. Metaphysically and morally she was working on her own, without so much as a philosophy major’s worth of training in non-Catholic philosophy to guide her.

Here are her own words confirming my inference about her:

I basically ended up contrasting my very patchy, in progress atheist metaphysics with the coherent, well-fleshed out, but not necessarily true propositions of Catholicism.

She talks more about this view of Catholicism as “coherent, well-fleshed out, but not necessarily true” on CNN:

One thing that kind of happened is I thought it was a lot more plausible but not necessarily true, in the same way that I’m a big Harry Potter nerd and I can see how the whole world works and think about the dynamics of that world without thinking it’s true. That’s kind of how I came to see Christianity, a really well thought out interesting system that a lot of smart people had worked on but I didn’t think it was actually a true system.

So she had this coherent system she was looking at in Catholic philosophy, which in some ways—when you ignore the baseless theology and only look at the philosophy—is fairly sophisticated in a way that ostrich atheists want to ignore and hand wave away instead of take seriously, on the one hand and only a “very patchy, in-progress” atheist metaphysics. But she wanted to be fair to the atheistic option and give it credit that (supposedly) it just had not had enough time to get worked out yet and to consider that maybe the comprehensive Catholic approach fit just too well to be believed. So, she goes on right after the bit about her own patchy atheistic metaphysics to say the following:

It’s hard to figure out which one better matches the world when one hasn’t had that many people working on it for that long and the other might only look good because of overfitting. [...]

So, she’s not being hasty here. At least not at the time. She gives another description of this situation of having a patchwork atheist metaphysics she put together herself and putting it up against a coherent Catholic philosophy and she says the following:

I was ready to admit that there were parts of Christianity and Catholicism that seemed like a pretty good match for the bits of my moral system that I was most sure of, while meanwhile my own philosophy was pretty kludged together and not particularly satisfactory.  But I couldn’t pick consistency over my construction project as long as I didn’t believe it was true.

But why not work some more on her atheism before giving up on achieving a workable atheistic metaphysics and metaethics? Why be so hasty?

She describes being in a situation of epistemic conflict between two pictures of the world and this was how she decided to resolve it:

While I kept working, I tried to keep my eyes open for ways I could test which world I was in, but a lot of the evidence for Christianity was only compelling to me if I at least presupposed Deism.

And then the test she gave to atheism which she thought it failed:

It’s pretty hard to come up with good tests to distinguish between local explanatory optima in high-level physics physics (funding is not the only barrier to checking if we live in a multiverse), and it’s at least as hard to create good Popperian tests of locally optimal metaphysical explanations.

I was trying to be epistemologically conservative, so I wasn’t going to be convinced by Catholicism just explaining something that different flavors of atheism hadn’t yet addressed.  Atheism hasn’t been working on these problems for as long, so the tools just might not be available to us yet.  I was looking for something that needed an explanation that atheism probably couldn’t address or denied needed an explanation at all.  And then I leapt from peak to peak.

So, even though she found the choice between these two pictures of the world comparably coherent, she concluded that there were certain things that needed explanations and which atheism either “couldn’t address or denied needed an explanation at all”. She had concluded that there was probably no point in trying to work out metaphysical and moral philosophy answers to rival Catholic philosophical ones from an atheistic perspective. This frustrates and baffles me as someone who knows naturalistic explanations on both scores are far more plausible and intellectually satisfying than Catholic ones.

But reading further, I totally get how she was convinced this was impossible. Her atheist friends and the atheist blogosphere went out of their  way to convince her that it was true that atheism made it impossible to explain anything about metaphysics or moral truth! Mind you, there is no indication in any of her public statements she rigorously read atheistic professional philosophers who are moral realists or moral metaphysicians. It was her conversations with philosophical lay atheists who seem to have convinced her of this. She describes the process:

I basically ended up contrasting my very patchy, in progress atheist metaphysics with the coherent, well-fleshed out, but not necessarily true propositions of Catholicism. It’s hard to figure out which one better matches the world when one hasn’t had that many people working on it for that long and the other might only look good because of overfitting. [...]

But more and more, my atheist friends and sparring partners thought I’d gone wrong one step back, and objected to my holding to the idea of morality as human-independent and objective (i.e. we uncover it like archeologists, we don’t build or design it like architects). To top it off, I’d switched to thinking of morality in a virtue ethics framework (your moral imperative is to reform your character and try build up a habitual attraction to right action). The trouble is, virtue eithics kind of presupposes teleology (these is some particular form you are called to embody) and my atheist friends thought that was pretty far out of bounds.

But I was as sure of the reality of moral law as I was of the reality of the physical world. Both of which can’t be proven since I can’t step outside them to examine them.

So, there you go, atheists insisted that it if she believed in objective morality, which she has a right intuition that she should, then atheism was going to be incoherent because it could not account for that intuition. Her Catholic metaphysics and moral philosophy had no such problem. In this way nominalist atheists congratulated Leah on her consistency in becoming a Catholic to match her belief in objective morality!

Some of my friends think I’m wrong now but I’m less wrong than I was. They thought my old position was less intellectually defensible, this is in some ways an improvement. And it’s exciting to be able to participate in the Mass and thinking that it’s actually the Eucharist… I had kind of had a mix of Christians and atheists both telling me that the things I thought made more sense in a Christian framework than in an atheist one. So I got double teamed on that…

See that! She got double teamed by Christians and atheists who agreed! She was working with premises, some of them good philosophically, that apparently none of the atheists around her shared. And those atheists she did talk to essentially told her that she had might as well be a Christian if she was going to believe in objective morality! That it would be more rationally consistent! Her belief in teleology and in objective morality would be more consistent within a Catholic framework! These were her strongest atheist influences! Gah! The philosophical incompetence of these atheists drives me crazy!

Meanwhile, she was impressed by reading Catholic philosophers and theologians who meditated a lot about interpersonal morality and instead of getting up into a lather about how morality was just a fiction or evolutionary convenience, actually taught her things about the ethical life she found useful. So she took this as a kind of confirmation of the truth of the general moral system they were working within:

It was kind of the same thing with any scientific theory almost–that it had more explanatory power to explain something I was really sure of. I’m really sure that morality is objective, human independent, something we uncover like archeologists, not something we build like architects. And I was having trouble explaining that in my own philosophy. And Christianity offered an explanation which I came to find compelling, especially because it had done other things that were good predictions or good moral teachings that surprised me but then I came around to.

So she has a “kludged” together, “patchy” atheistic metaphysics that cannot make sense of her surety of moral objectivity or of the teleological dimension that makes that possible in her mind. Her atheist friends tell her that if she is going to believe in objective morality and teleology then she’d might as well be internally consistent and be a Catholic.

But then! Similarly minded atheists—who are also self-congratulating masters of induction and protectors of reason itself—learn of her conversion and with all of the intellectual incuriosity of a Republican candidate for Congress accuse her of either suffering a stroke or wonder in bewilderment why someone would choose to be irrational. Genius inferences and questions! Such searching psychological, anthropological, and medical analysis! I’m so proud of you, atheistic community for really probing hard on this one!

So, gee, why would she choose to be irrational. What a deep question. I don’t know how to answer it. Why don’t all you know-it-all, scientistic, anti-realist, nominalist, subjectivist, relativistic, nihilist atheists out there tell me. Why do you “choose to be irrational”? Why do you insist on using moral terms like they are objective while thinking they are really just fictions. How is that any more rational than believing in fictions like God when there is no good reasons for doing so? Why do you mock and harangue people who try to work out coherent accounts of metaphysics that make your naturalism sensible on first order levels simply because they are not science when your science is formally inconsistent without its metaphysical implications fleshed out and clarified?

These. are. serious. fucking. questions. And you look willfully and emotionally irrational when you talk about what honest and serious critical thinkers you are and then give sloppy half-assed indifferent answers and dismissals to these incoherences rather than consider them with a rigorous intent to provide clarity and consistency to your viewpoints. Being an outspoken atheist means more than just picking the low hanging fruit of theological superstitions and religious atrocities. It means doing the hard fucking homework and hard work to develop coherent counter-philosophies to the religious ones. It means actually studying the intricate and clarifying distinctions that academic philosophers have worked out.

Do you actually care about truth or just science? Do you actually want to say and defend that your moral conclusions are true or just your feelings? And if they are just your feelings, then why are you in such a lather about religious people who live by their religions because of their irrational feelings based on fictions when by your own super-”knowing” and cynical understanding your own moral judgments are just irrational feelings based on fictions?

You get furious that Leah would side with an abominable institution like the Catholic Church but when pressed you say there really is not objectivity or rationality to a moral judgment like that. “That’s just your subjective feelings.” So how exactly are you good hard-nosed “rationalists” again when you self-conceive yourself as pressuring someone over what amount to only your feelings and not rationally binding and defensible reasons to think you’re right and she’s wrong?

On your interpretation ethics is you doing what you feel like works for you but you also think there is no objectivity to that judgment. But you do not entitle religious people to do what feels like will work for them because why? Their judgments are not objective? According to you, neither are yours! So, tell me and tell Leah, since you treat realists like us with such spitting contempt. Why do you choose to be so irrational?

(For more on these themes, see my post If You Don’t Believe In Objective Values, Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either and others listed at the end of this post which have nihilism or immoralism in their titles.)

For the record, I think objective morality and teleology are much more sensibly, coherently, defensibly, and truly understood naturalistically and atheistically. (See my posts Natural Functions, Goodness Is A Factual Matter, Goodness=Effectiveness, and Effectiveness is the Primary Goal Itself, Not Merely A Means, among many other posts listed at the end of this post which work out these themes from numerous angles for the curious.)

And I think the absurdities of Catholic theology rule it out the Catholic faith as true as a matter of principle. There is no positive reason to believe in divine revelation, a personal ground of all being (or “God”), or that the Catholic Church in anyway proves itself to be a specially guided to truth or goodness by an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient deity. Whatever goodness is in the Church is explicable in sheerly human terms and is indistinguishable from human goodness.

The Church evinces no special insights into morality or special gift for making people uniquely moral that require divine help. Obviously as a longstanding tradition with a lot of moral thought it some smart Catholic philosophers have come up with some moral wisdom and there are particular moral truths which are encapsulated or cultivated through the specific mythos and symbologies of Christianity. Yet these are not exhaustive of all that there is to morality. There are wealths of insights developed in both parallel and outright contrasting traditions of moral thought, both secular and religious which Leah has not immersed herself in before deciding that the Roman Church has a uniquely special and divinely granted insight into morality.

And the Church has been as wicked and corrupt down through the ages as any other institution. Its moral judgment has been consistently behind the times on issues like the evils of colonialism and slavery in the past and homosexuality today. The Bible is rife with condoned and commanded evils which prove that there was no Personal Morality guiding its writing. The haphazard ways that the Church has morally progressed are indistinguishable from a natural social and moral evolution in understanding, neither requiring nor evincing any special divine dispensation of moral wisdom.

Quite often the process of learning moral truth was just the same natural, human, socio-economically and politically determined one that it has been for every secular culture. And the process of moral discovery has been one that has been mutually informative between the religious and the secular spheres of inquiry for centuries. An actual look at the bottom up, real world driving forces that lead to moral discoveries and advances shows that it is an all too human process that requires no divine agency.

Assuming Leah still understands how natural selection works without an intelligent designer’s frequent interventions to tinker and create complexities so she should understand why it is unparsimonious and unwarranted in the extreme to posit special guidance to moral discovery from a Personal Moral Being.

She should also, as a scientifically inclined person, realize how much more parsimonious it is to reject mind/body dualism when we know full well that losing brain parts means correlated losses of mind functionalities. The mind is something the brain does. It is a well-established category error to think of it as a thing which can exist separably from a brain. It is also completely unjustified and irrational to posit that a basic metaphysical principle such as the ground of being or morality itself is personal.

Persons are complex emergent phenomena made of many parts. They are not observed as in any way being part of the basic constituents of life or of being. She should be far more suspicious of the mind’s overacting agency detection systems and its inclination to anthropomorphize what is clearly impersonal before accepting as a fundamental datum anything like the idea of a metaphysical ground of being morality principle that “loves her”.

Finally, if she was actually being as rationally rigorous as triumphalist Christians are wont to treat her, then she should have actually studied professional cutting edge contemporary philosophers. She may have learned that they  are statistically speaking predominantly atheistic, predominantly moral realists, and predominantly metaphysical realists too before in ignorance concluding that atheistic philosophies either “probably” could not or would not endorse her moral, mathematical, or metaphysical realisms. If she wants to go on CNN to talk about who has the more coherent philosophical positions maybe she should actually study the opinions of the majority of the experts in the field of philosophy. And maybe the average atheist would do well to do the same before they concede moral and metaphysical coherency to religious people too.

Having not done so, her philosophical conclusions and her attendant religious conversion are hasty and insufficiently careful from a rational perspective.

In a follow up post I address straight on her metaethical arguments that she has made in reply to comments challenging her decision to convert and hopefully. This post was meant to clear the way. In the meantime, below are posts where I have already worked out numerous of the points that I hope to draw on in directly rebutting Leah’s philosophy point by point (that is, to the extent that I can glean her positions at this time).

Your Thoughts?

For posts on my metaethics and my virtue ethics/perfectionist/indirect consequentialist moral philosophy see below. Or scroll down past these posts to find Eric Steinhart’s posts on realist, platonist, naturalist metaphysics which avoids the mistakes Leah commits:

Natural Functions

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Metaphysics:

6 Basic Kinds of Answer to the Question “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”

Atheism and Leibniz

Can Atheists do Math?

Physics is Grounded in Mathematics

Atheistic Design Arguments

On Evolutionary Atheism

The Logic of Creation

Why Atheists are Obligated to Hold Positive Speculative Beliefs

Creation Stories

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Atheism and Possibility

The Impossible God of Paul Tillich

Atheism and the Sacred: Being-Itself

Pure Objective Reason

On Participation in Being-Itself

On Evolution by Rational Selection

Two Arguments for Evolution by Rational Selection

The Soul is the Form of the Body

An Atheistic Evolutionary Metaphysics

Some Explanations for Our Universe

Loveliness is Rare

On Evolution

 

 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    It seems there are a good deal of atheists out there who want to draw a dichotomy or a spectrum between rationalism and religion. These are usually the same people who like to congratulate themselves on how rational they are. While religion is always irrational to some degree, they are completely ignoring there are lots of irrational atheists out there who not only believe in irrational things like libertarianism, choprawoo and conspiracy theories, but will happily throw out arguments against religion that don’t make a lot of sense. They excuse the fact that it dismisses all religion while only based on things that only conservative Christians believe, works on appeal to incredulity or depends on mind-reading believers because they like the conclusion. Also, there have been plenty of attempts to make coherent, rational versions of Christianity. They all fail at some point, but plenty of Christians do genuinely care about being philosophically defensible.

    I’d also point out that while the majority of the criticism I’ve seen of Leah Libresco is along the lines of what you point out, soem fo it has a serious undercurrent of misogyny. I’ve seen at least two people speculate as to her desire for Christian cock and how she wants to win her ex back, which isn’t even very plausible.

    • Steve

      I’m also scornful towards men who converted because of their wives. Which there are tons of examples of.

      But in her case, it was only what exposed her towards Catholicism. It’s not the reason she converted at the end.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But in her case, it was only what exposed her towards Catholicism. It’s not the reason she converted at the end.

      It’s probably some combination. People are complicated. But it is important to take each part of it seriously if we are serious about (a) truth and (b) keeping people from finding false religions more rational than the atheisms presented to them.

    • J. H.

      Irrational things like libertarianism… as opposed to what? Statism?

      Just because you reject a system of belief does not make said system of belief irrational. Religion is irrational because it presupposes something as factual without evidence to support it. It is not simply a philosophy, but a belief that something occurred despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the belief in supernatural powers despite an overwhelming lack of evidence. Libertarianism is a collection of different philosophies grounded on the basic premise that people should be free to live their own lives as they see fit. From this basic premise, many rational conclusions can be drawn.

      Just because there are idiots out there quoting Ayn Rand or Noam Chomsky (right-leaning and left-leaning libertarians, respectively), does not mean that this form of political philosophy is irrational.

  • John Morales

    How Foolish Atheists Convinced The Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco That Catholic Philosophy Was Rationally Superior To Atheism

    Frankly, anyone who is convinced by fools is themselves a fool.

    (Why should I care at the unsurprising news that a fool has converted to Catholicism?)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Frankly, anyone who is convinced by fools is themselves a fool.

      (Why should I care at the unsurprising news that a fool has converted to Catholicism?)

      Because foolish atheist philosophy made Catholicism seem so rational to her when she was explicitly looking for quality philosophical explanations from atheism that could contrast with Catholicism. Atheists should not be actively convincing people that it is hopeless even to try to ground objective morality in a naturalistic metaphysics. It’s not only false but it’s fatalistic. There is no way that an account of the world which makes no coherent sense of our moral reasoning and what is rational and defensible in it is ever going to win out over the long run.

    • John Morales

      Because foolish atheist philosophy made Catholicism seem so rational to her when she was explicitly looking for quality philosophical explanations from atheism that could contrast with Catholicism.

      You excuse her foolishness by virtue of her ignorance (and implied intellectual laziness), yet blame foolish atheists for their own.

      Atheists should not be actively convincing people that it is hopeless even to try to ground objective morality in a naturalistic metaphysics.

      I had imagined that (by your own philosophy) if they truly believe that is the case and that they can justify it, they should share.

      It’s not only false but it’s fatalistic. There is no way that an account of the world which makes no coherent sense of our moral reasoning and what is rational and defensible in it is ever going to win out over the long run.

      I put it to you that the entirety of history to date indicates that this is the status quo and ante.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      John, I blame both her and the atheists for their mistakes here. Her for ignoring actual professional contemporary atheist philosophers and stacking the deck unfairly in favor of Catholic apologists and atheists not for their intellectual errors so much as their hubris that leads them to be lazy about philosophy and sloppy in what they argue to others all while congratulating themselves on their superior rationality and blaming conversions to religion on strokes and stupidity.

    • F

      You excuse her foolishness by virtue of her ignorance (and implied intellectual laziness), yet blame foolish atheists for their own.

      “Excusing” Leah (or not), if that is what happened, is nearly irrelevant to pointing out problems with sloppy thinking on the part of atheists. Although Daniel quite clearly and repeatedly states that he found Leah’s thinking sloppy as well. There isn’t even a dichotomy there – she is one member of the sloppy thinking atheist population. Being the main subject of discussion, and deciding to convert to Catholicism doesn’t retroactively change that. Unless you mean to play a “No True Atheist” card.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Can’t we all admit that it had nothing to do with [ir]rational arguments and everything to do with wanting to eat flesh and drink blood?

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Oh, and funny hats. Atheists need more funny hats.

    • Emburii

      Oh, look, an Internet! It says it’s for you, thanks for the chuckle. :)

      *goes looking for a funny hat*

  • Bill Yeager

    But does she actually believe in the RC ‘God’? Does she actually believe in the ‘afterlife’ they are selling? ‘Souls’, ‘sins’ and ‘The Holy Spirit’?

    I can’t see how she possibly could, unless her, claimed, prior Atheism was solely borne out of philosophical reasoning and not rational scepticism, which might explain how she could dump ‘Brand A’ philosophy for ‘Brand RC’.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      She did not have much of a robust atheistic perspective starting out. She sounds to have been passively irreligious. Then when being exposed intensively to knowledgable, mathy, philosophically sophisticated Catholic people and books she turned to the general atheist community and for their metaphysical alternative and was basically told, “NO, you CAN’T have any kind of realism in metaphysics or morality and if you are going to insist on wanting that, why don’t you just convert to Catholicism.” So she did as they said. And then the atheists claimed she just chose to be irrational or to reduce the cognitive dissonance in her romantic life or that she had a stroke or a moral failing of epic proportions. Hardly any have bothered to do any introspection or philosophical analysis.

    • Bill Yeager

      But if she felt dissatisfied with Atheist philosophy why would she not look to establish whether aspects of RC philosophy that appealed to her, could be argued for as being worthy of consideration as stand-alone perspectives? Why buy into the whole nasty organisation?

      I get the impression that she needed to feel there was a philosophical position that could deliver ‘meaning’ to her Universe and, unfortunately, she would only ever have found that from a religious organisation who paint everything with subjective meaning and shill it as an absolute value.

      The fallout from this, of course, is that the theists get to crow about having convinced an Atheist, of all people, that their faith is ‘real’. All of it. Because nobody is gonna mention that she just philosophised herself between the two positions. Nobody is gonna mention that, if pushed about the whole ‘magic show’ of the wine and wafer, she’ll claim to know full well that it is just symbolism. They’ll be touting her around as if Dawkins had become a Creationist.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    I’m waiting for Leah herself to say more about the specific details, but as I said in the other thread my first reaction was that she maybe should have looked into Stoicism before moving to Catholicism. That might not have worked, since she was likely an Aristotlean Virtue Theorist and while the Stoic is similar, they aren’t quite the same, while the Catholic Church is really quite Aristotlean.

    It’s sad — but not surprising — that those who have the most influence and thus set much of the agenda aren’t exactly strong philosophically. There’s Dennett, but his strengths are in philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, not in moral philosophy. There’s also Grayling, I guess. But the New Atheist that is turned to the most for at least moral philosophy is Harris, and he’s proven himself to be not particularly good at it, and the others (Dawkins, Hitchens, Myers) are worse. As such, it’s even hard for me to figure out what this “humanism” is supposed to be so I can see if it even makes sense. At least here, I can read a solid argument and definition of a position, even if I don’t agree with it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/ Leah @ Unequally Yoked

      I did used to like stoicism a lot, Verbose Stoic. I still like it, but I don’t think it was good for me. When I thought stoically, I tended to dehumanize the people I was stoically withstanding. I wouldn’t contend that’s a necessary result of stoicism, but I couldn’t stay in that mode of people without treating people like hailstorms – irrelevant except insofar as I reacted to them.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Yeah, that is one of the risks of Stoicism, although I think that impression usually comes from having a mistaken view of the indifferents. One of the big differences between Aristotle and the Stoics is that Aristotle considers friendship a virtue and the Stoics don’t. The Stoics consider friendship an “indifferent”, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t desirable … but that it’s not morally desirable. As Seneca said, it’s okay to possess indifferents — referring to his own wealth — as long as you don’t acquire them viciously, and you’re willing to give them up if that’s what virtue requires. The Greek Stoics were less clear on this, but we have so little from them that it’s hard to wring a consistent picture of them out.

      There’s also a question in Seneca about what it means to extirpate emotion/passions. Seneca implies that feeling an emotion isn’t a problem, but relying on its judgement is. Thus, from your post, simply feeling bad isn’t a problem as long as you don’t let it decide what is rational or let it impact your actions, especially in regards to how you pursue virtue.

      It almost makes me wonder if you could consider emotions themselves — ie the specific feeling — to be indifferents, things that you can have and enjoy and even seek out as long as you can do so while preserving virtue and eschewing vice.

      Although I’m not surprised that you liked Stoicism because I’m finding that Catholicism is fairly similar to Stoicism in a lot of ways, although it does focus more on trusting feelings than Stoicism does.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    It is an interesting dilemma, I suppose. Most atheists don’t have a formal philosophical education upon which they base their atheism, and don’t really seem to need to. My own atheism was originally based on my mom telling me that stories with magic and monsters and talking animals are fairy tales, and since then the general lack of evidence for religious claims puts it in the same category as any other woo for me, but philosophically I’m sure my atheism isn’t particularly rigorous and I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that in the same sense that I’m OK with not being an evolutionary biologist or a cosmologist but I’m happy to accept science as being on the right track and more trustworthy than gut feelings and religious suppositions. Plus, I’m just sort of not interested in getting into the weeds of formal philosophy.

    On the other hand, there are people who DO need a more formal philosophical foundation in order to feel intellectually satisfied. For those people, when they ask an atheist, they should probably get a real answer from somewhere. Atheists usually have all sorts of links to science-based counter-apologetics, rather than just saying “screw the science” or making up some half-based nonsense. When it comes to philosophy, I guess we should do the same thing. It is OK to say “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you” and hunt down actual philosophers, instead of dropping the ball the way it seems atheists did in this case.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Exactly, Joe. And I do think it is okay for the average atheist to feel rationally justified in many ethical judgments even if they do not have a formal metaethics worked out, as long as they don’t get their Dunning-Kruegger on and start playing amateur philosopher when asked questions they don’t have any real training in answering.

      Here (from my interview with James Croft a week and a half ago http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/06/15/a-conversation-with-james-croft-about-philosophy-humanism-and-ethics/) is my rough sketch of an argument about how you can be rational in value choices even without a formal metaethics you can explain to others, in the context of a larger discussion about the challenge for atheists to work out a metaethics and a normative philosophy that can be a real matter of knowledge and not just an endorser of our prejudices:

      Daniel Fincke: Well, this is Nietzsche’s concern, right? The idea that historically moral philosophers have been the shield bearers of moralities rather than critical investigators. And he has talked about all the ways that moral judgments are a “sign language of the emotions”. And his goal was to ask dangerously open-ended questions about the foundations of value and about particular value judgments. And this was scary because if you open up morality and values to genuinely critical reasoning, and abandon faith, then you subject yourself to the possibility of upsetting discoveries that was is really good is not what you want to believe is really good.

      Now atheists were the hardheaded “honest” ones about this for a long time. Alongside moralist atheists who were also around in the 19th Century and earlier.

      It seems to me as though the more morally subjectivistic and nihilistic exisentialists were successful in defining the mythical atheist of contemporary intellectuals and religious laypeople alike.

      The New Atheists are wise to eschew that and claim moral high ground. But few New Atheists have a coherent justified rational ground for their ethics. So maybe, looked at that way, it is valid to say that personally they may be holding their ethics in a faith-based way. But then the question is whether it is rational to trust the values that one has received from a flourishing culture and which one has good reasons to believe are intrinsic to that flourishing. I don’t know if you need a thorough account of goodness to be rationally competent at spotting it, at figuring out what creates it and what destroys it.

      That sort of competence at identifying certain values may be a functionally rational position, not at all a leap of faith.

      But for philosophers, we add to that substantive claims about the meaning and justification of the concepts. And that’s where you have to ask whether the philosophical account you’re propounding is one that is rationally grounded or just an articulation of prejudices about grounding ethical realities, based on a hasty overread of what your competent judgments imply on more fundamental levels.

      I don’t know if that makes total sense. I am saying, in a nutshell, making express philosophical inferences makes what you’re doing more like faith if you don’t really rationally ground them but root them in your heart. Whereas, on a competence level, not making any further claims, I think you can be said to be rational if you are effective at actually picking out what is truly valuable, even if you cannot theorize it.

  • Johnny Vector

    Why do you insist on using moral terms like they are objective while thinking they are really just fictions.

    Well, I use the term “money” as if it were objective, even though I know it is a fiction that exists only because human society says it does. Why can’t I do the same with “morality”? (Sometimes I think I’m the only American who remembers that money is a fiction, but that’s another topic.)

    Anyway, I call bullshit on her “all my atheist friends and atheist bloggers told my I might as well be Catholic if I believe in absolute morality”. Who are these atheist bloggers? I’ve certainly never read anyone saying that. The concept that there is some kind of Platonic ideal “morality” out there just waiting to be discovered like another family of leptons strikes me as nonsensical, but I can’t imagine saying to someone that they would be better off Catholic if they believe there is. The absoluteness or emergentness of morality is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Catholicism in particular is a better moral system.

    The second half of your post covers exactly why. The pope claims to have had unchanging morality handed to him directly from its creator, and yet not only has that morality changed dramatically over the centuries, it has always followed changes coming from elsewhere. Just because you want morality to be absolute, and the RCC says they believe it is, despite acting as if it is not, hardly qualifies as a deep, thought-out reason to convert.

    Given what I’ve read about her disagreeing with many primary church positions, but going along with the ritual anyway, I’m going to have go with the “circle of friends” explanation. I predict she deconverts within two years.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Well, I use the term “money” as if it were objective, even though I know it is a fiction that exists only because human society says it does. Why can’t I do the same with “morality”? (Sometimes I think I’m the only American who remembers that money is a fiction, but that’s another topic.)

      There is a dimension to morality that is social construct, like money. But money is not just a fiction, it really has real consequences that make it real. It really is a credit. When I give you $20 it means real tangible, practical possibilities are available. Real food, real services, etc. are connected to it.

      Now with morality, I think it is similar. We say things are wrong because there are real, rational consequences to those things and they are severe and we should be concerned about them.

      But that should has to be a matter of reason and not just feelings and will, or else should just means, “I want” or “I feel” or “I force”. When we send Sandusky to rot in a cell the rest of his life we want to say more than that we have the power to force him there or that we just feel like putting him there or just want him there. We need to be able to say he deserves to be there. There are people we simply hate and want to see suffer and we might be able to force to suffer. But they might not deserve it. We need to explain the difference between those people and Sandusky in reality. What about reality and truth makes it so we have a moral right to hurt Sandusky by depriving him of his liberty but not others we just hate or dislike or want to see suffer?

      This has to go beyond just convenient fiction to a truth of some kind—otherwise we’re arbitrary in a matter we think it would be most wrong to be arbitrary in.

    • Johnny Vector

      Okay, well then we’re in violent agreement about morality, except for the part where there are these mysterious atheist bloggers who are all nihilists. I donno, maybe all y’all at FtB are special, but “morality is an emergent property driven by evolution” is certainly the take-away message I get from everyone around here. If that’s what you mean by naturalistic objective morality (and now that I read a couple of your other columns, I think it is), then she didn’t look very hard at all if she couldn’t find an atheist telling her that.

    • John Horstman

      Why do you insist on using moral terms like they are objective while thinking they are really just fictions.

      Dan, my response was the same as Johnny’s, and now that you’ve expanded a bit, I think I see the disconnect. I don’t think something needs to be “objective”, which I understand to mean something along the lines of “having the same meaning or truth value irrespective of the observer or even the presence of an observer”, to be universal to humanity. I think there are morals/ethics universal to humanity, and I think they are entirely subjective, as they are only given meaning – indeed, made real – by virtue of the fact that we are the observers and we are acting on the basis of those morals/ethics. Claiming that something is not objective or even that it’s human-constructed is not the same as claiming that it is a “fiction”. For example, I consider Yahweh to be very ‘real’ in the sense that the idea of Yahweh is extant on the human population and through the actions of humans motivated by a belief that Yahweh exists independent of the observer, that idea has material impacts. This is just like money or any non-Yahweh-based system of morality or ethics. I don’t consider Yahweh to be ‘real’ objectively, in the same sense as e.g. Earth, which exists irrespective of the presence of any observer. The same is true for any ethical or moral framework. Put another way, I think metaethics is necessarily grounded in applied ethics, as the entire project is the result of human beings seeking a framework in which to situate applied ethics. The question, “What is goodness?” has no meaning absent a presupposition of a concept of goodness (if I ask, “What is queeblorx?” it makes no sense, because we do not start with some notion of “queeblorx” – in order for an operational definition to be challenged or explored, we must first have some sort of operational definition), which is motivated by people seeking guidelines for how they should behave.

    • http://www.andcabbagesandkings.com Walton

      But that should has to be a matter of reason and not just feelings and will, or else should just means, “I want” or “I feel” or “I force”. When we send Sandusky to rot in a cell the rest of his life we want to say more than that we have the power to force him there or that we just feel like putting him there or just want him there. We need to be able to say he deserves to be there. There are people we simply hate and want to see suffer and we might be able to force to suffer. But they might not deserve it. We need to explain the difference between those people and Sandusky in reality. What about reality and truth makes it so we have a moral right to hurt Sandusky by depriving him of his liberty but not others we just hate or dislike or want to see suffer?

      This has to go beyond just convenient fiction to a truth of some kind—otherwise we’re arbitrary in a matter we think it would be most wrong to be arbitrary in.

      I don’t entirely understand this position. Firstly, you seem to be starting from the assumption that some people “deserve” to be punished, and working backwards from this assumption to construct a philosophical justification for moral desert. Why isn’t it equally possible that moral desert is simply meaningless, and that our society’s prevalent understanding of what “justice” means is irredeemably flawed?

      I don’t think the idea that some people “deserve” good and others ill, depending upon their past actions, can be coherently justified. To begin with, human beings do not have free will. This is not, I think, something that is in serious doubt; Galen Strawson is clearly correct on that point. And I’m an incompatibilist; I’m convinced that if there is no free will (and there isn’t), it makes little sense to talk of moral responsibility or moral desert. Our “choices” are shaped by our brain chemistry, our environment, our past experiences, the stimuli acting on our brains, and other factors outside our control; we do not “choose” our thoughts or our desires. If this is so, how can we be “morally responsible” for the way we act? If we accept that Person X, given all the factors affecting hir thought processes at a given moment, could not have acted otherwise than xe did, how does it make sense to blame Person X for acting as xe did?

      Secondly, I also think it’s unnecessary to assume that, in order to justify punishing Sandusky, one has to argue that Sandusky “deserves” to be punished. It is possible to justify punishment on purely consequentialist grounds: as a means of preventing the individual concerned from committing similar behaviour, and as a means of deterring others from committing similar behaviour. These arguments do not rely on the existence of moral desert. Rather, on this view, punishment is just a means of conditioning people’s behaviour through the threat of violence. A scientist might use “punishments” to train a lab rat to run a particular way through a maze; that doesn’t mean the lab rat “deserves” to be punished for running the wrong way. So it is easily possible to justify on consequentialist grounds the infliction of punishment on people, while acknowledging that they do not actually deserve to be punished.

  • echidna

    Leah doesn’t seem to care if her beliefs are true. If she doesn’t care for truth, but is looking for something else, then I have nothing to add.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Okay, ignore what she says about being sure something was true and then convinced atheism could not account for that truth. That is simpler, so you don’t have to think anymore. You can just promote rationality as an abstract ideal but not investigate how anyone could possibly have even partial reasons to come to a conclusion about the truth that varies from your own. (Even if they are ultimately quite wrong, as Leah pretty clearly is.)

    • Dalillama

      I see no problem ignoring that. She was convinced that it was true that Morality was a person with an independent existence. This is not a true belief. Therefor, the failure of atheist philosophy to account for it is not a problem. Leah does not appear to care what the actual truth value of the statement is, merely whether it appeals to her to believe it. That is to say, she does not appear to care about the objective truth values of her beliefs.

    • echidna

      My philosophical background (such as it is) is heavily biased towards symbolic logic and mathematics. As an ex-Catholic, my basic philosophical axiom is, to quote the pope: “Truth does not contradict truth”. If I see an internal contradiction in my world view, I know that I have accepted as true something that is not true (or conversely rejected as false something that is not false).

      It’s a fairly basic, rather than sophisticated, philosophy, but it satisfies me as it is very low on angst, and it seems to be quite robust. It’s also a bottom-up approach, which means that it works very well at the every-day conversation level. It allows for good conversations with religious people, where they get to talk about their beliefs, and I ask the odd question “You said X before. How do you reconcile that with the Y [that you just said]?

      It is important, to me, to ensure that my world view is internally consistent.

      Funnily enough, my Catholicism unravelled when I tried to evaluate Paul’s role in Christianity. It was impossible for me to believe that Jesus could have made such a botched job of picking and training his disciples that God would have needed to ignore them and start afresh with a new character, Paul, who promptly overturned the whole view of Jewish law. Combined with evidence that some of the things I had been taught were outright lies, (for example that Jesus had introduced notions that were written down in Maccabbees 150 years before) my faith crumbled, and there is simply no way it could return. When I recognised that prayer is a way of pretending to have external confirmation of one’s own thoughts, the whole idea of religion as a source of understanding the world became ludicrous. A source of comfort, perhaps, but with a very high cost.

      Daniel, I’m not a philosopher by any stretch, so it’s quite possible that I am blithely oblivious to something very important. Is my approach sound?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Daniel, I’m not a philosopher by any stretch, so it’s quite possible that I am blithely oblivious to something very important. Is my approach sound?

      It is very sound. Internal contradictions within the other’s beliefs are the strongest attacks I think anyone can make (especially since it puts the burden of proof and of logical consistency on them).

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I could (and probably should at this point) read all that you have written on this subject and enjoy it a great deal and understand most of it. However, having never had the opportunity to study philosophy at any particularly detailed level, a lot of your blog work can be a little… intimidating. Is there a (this sounds silly) more “popular” book to introduce this level of Philosophy, perhaps one that is specific to this dilemma? I’m thinking something similar to Dawkins’ “Greatest Show on Earth” explanation of evolution. Something that can help us atheist bloggers and commentators who are at the “hobbyist” level of philosophy.

    And lets be frank, that is where most of us are going to remain. If Leah’s conversion was indeed partly as a result of sloppy philosophy on the part of the horde as you argue, then we have work as a community to shore up those deficiencies. However, we don’t all have time to be accredited philosophers. The picture you might be painting is of an atheist blogosphere that will continue to make mistakes like this because of the amateur nature of the business.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Well, give the post a shot, I write for the lay person and not the specialist. If or when I go over your head, please chime in with requests for clarifications. There are a number of introductory philosophy books on the market. I am not sure which one to recommend at the moment.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Although it’s not specifically morality … “Philosophy for Dummies”. No, seriously, not an insult, not sarcasm. The version I read, at least, before starting my undergrad was a big help, and I loaned it to a co-worker who had taken some philosophical courses and he liked it, too.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      If you have an interest, the “Philosophy in Pop Culture” series’ aren’t bad either. If you’re into the pop culture they talk about, you’re probably already asking the same questions, and you at least have that to whet your interest.

      I’m running a series on my blog going through all the articles on them one-by-one to give a short summary and some other issues I want to talk about for them.

      Specifically on some of these issues, “Batman and Philosophy” goes into quite a bit of detail on virtue theory, and one of the essays clarified the difference between virtue theory, deontological and utilitarianism as moral theories … and the first one asks the age-old question “Why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker?”

    • Chris

      Donald Palmer’s ‘Does the Center Hold?’ is a look at philosophy both throughout history and across various subjects such as ethics, religion, etc. It’s done in a ‘hand lettered’ font style with lots of comics illustrating the points (i.e., it’s like a comic book only there are mostly words rather than pictures). It’s perfect for a layman (it’s expensive new, but used copies are cheap). He also has another along similar lines called ‘Looking at Philosophy,’ but I don’t know that work.

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

      Thanks for the suggestions. Nothing to be ashamed about in the Dummies books or Idiot’s Guide books. Asset to the Atheist blogosphere Dale McGowan is writing one for Atheism.
      http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=7406

      I guess I was not just looking for Intro to Plilosophy, but some popular writing on this particular issue… Yes, Daniel…I’m saying you should write the book I’m thinking of…;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/paulmmoloney sc_bedcc649a9583aecb153584302d12c2e

      Hi Verbosestoic, was interested in a basic summary of philosophy myself, but the “…Dummies” guide gets poor reviews, especially – and ironically – concentrating on the author’s own hobbyhorse, trying to prove the existence of God:

      http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-For-Dummies-ebook/product-reviews/B004S82PXU/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#R12FDLL8TDKCDH

      However, I’ve no idea if this relates to any kind of intra-philosophy turf war; maybe even for an atheist it’s still a good summary?

      P.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      I didn’t really notice that myself, but being a theist I might not have. I focused more on the earlier chapters where it’s mentioned less. It might take sides more than I’d like, but it seemed like a good introduction to the issues in general to me, and was generally accessible. Reading some of the reviews, they seem more bothered by it even taking on some of the religious arguments and call that bias, which says rather more about the reviewers than the book.

      I still recall it being good, and that it doesn’t settle the issues is actually good for an introductory book in philosophy, but I do think the warning is well-taken.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide is a heady, readable introduction to Scholasticism — unless you’re an untractable Gnu, in which case that other Feser book would be appropriate.

  • mcbender

    This is an excellent post, Daniel, and I think it’s an important angle to consider. I’ll admit I haven’t engaged with these ideas as much as I probably should myself, and I plan to rectify that.

    I am not sure, however, if this fully explains the Libresco situation; from what I’ve seen of her since the conversion, she has gone into full-on religious batshit mode if you read what she’s saying about prayer and the like. I don’t understand it at all, unless it’s just the novelty factor. (I do think you’re right that this philosophical disparity contributed, but it doesn’t seem to be the full story; it honestly does seem to me that religion appeals to her in other ways aside from philosophical arguments also. I’m not entirely sure we can take her at her word that philosophy was the primary influence behind her conversion).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, Catholicism definitely became emotionally and aesthetically deeply appealing to her beyond philosophical reasons. That seems clear from what she writes. But a decisive philosophical component was the lack of adequate support from her atheist community she got when looking for a contrary metaethics and metaphysics. The atheists she spoke with were blithely counter-productive and practically shoved her into the arms of the Church. It’s not the whole story by any means (and my previous post argued as much). But it’s an important part of the story nonetheless.

      She won’t be the only one with non-cognitive incentives that will win out if there is not good preemptive philosophical training involved.

    • mcbender

      That is a good point, and I think you’re right that we need to rectify the problem to prevent it from misleading anybody else. I will say that I’ve begun to think Libresco is a lost cause, but as this is only tangentially about her (rebutting her is only a part of this, really; the main goal should be to clearly elucidate atheistic and naturalistic philosophical solutions for their own sake), that does not really matter. I am looking forward to your posts on this subject.

    • Axxyaan

      The atheists she spoke with were blithely counter-productive and practically shoved her into the arms of the Church. It’s not the whole story by any means (and my previous post argued as much). But it’s an important part of the story nonetheless.

      This is bullshit. You might as well say that doctors who refuse to give patients false hope are practically shoving them into the arms or quacks. If what someone beliefs depends on what the consequences are from the idea instead of the support one can find for the idea, the responsibility for the belief is entirely with the person believing this idea and not with those who might have been misstaken about those consequences. You may see those atheïsts as counterproductive, I see those atheïsts as unwilling to indulge in a specific irrational idea.

  • Egbert

    I’m pretty sure it was Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue that probably lead Leah into her ‘choice’ in becoming a Catholic. I haven’t read the book yet, and there’s no chance of me converting to Catholicism, but I do go along with the likes of John Gray, there there are some serious problems with Enlightenment ethics.

  • Anteprepro

    Seriously? Morality, smart Catholic theobabble, and stupid atheists, therefore Catholic Jesus? That’s pretty much the whole story, as Leah presents it? How has she managed to fool herself into thinking that she is rational? Did she consider options aside from Catholicism and atheism, at all? Even if she thought that atheism was truly inconsistent with objective morals, I don’t understand how she could possibly fool herself into thinking that Catholicism was the only religion in which objective morals make sense.

    Conversion of atheists to a religion annoys me. But what annoys me even more is any conversion where it is blatantly obvious that not every option was seriously considered. It is galling to me that people regularly take this logical leap into a popular, local religion without giving other possible religions the slightest amount of consideration, let alone giving these religions anything roughly resembling equal time (equal opportunity to make their case). What kind of blinders are these people wearing? This is the Information Age. Reliable information about these religions are readily accessible. Right at our fingertips. But these converts are too fucking lazy to do balanced research on the matter, to compare and contrast other religions to the religion readily inundating them with dogma and apologetics due its omnipresence in the relevant geographic region. But, I suppose that since, as Dan points out, Leah couldn’t manage to do balanced research of atheism and Catholicism, despite being an atheist , maybe balanced research of every religion is just too much to ask. And that is fucking depressing.

    • DavidM

      The thing with Leah is she’s ACTUALLY rational – on a practical, ethical level – because she’s ACTUALLY genuinely open-minded and honest. She doesn’t indulge in the kind of stupid arrogant ad hominem garbage you do – which is pretty refreshing! Who knows if she’ll stick with the Catholicism thing, but in the meantime at least she’s a decent person.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Religion does not provide a morality that is discovered rather than built. What it provides instead is a morality that is built by some god. And even to reach it, believers must make their own moral assumption that somehow justifies why they should take that morality as their own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timhoustontx timdugan

    I can’t see that it is all that significant when one person converts to or from one belief system to another. It could be for any number of reasons.

    It also seems like wasted breath to try to argue aethiesm based on phylosophical ideas, or even scientific research. Most of what makes folks chose their beliefs is emotional not logical–THAT is a scientific fact.

    To help folks break free, they need some emotional soft landing…eg, if i had spent my whole life in a church and now i don’t really believe, how would i be able to extricate myself and still remain me?

    • echidna

      That part’s easy. In my case, my sense of self remained completely intact; I’d just changed my mind about something.

    • echidna

      Most of what makes folks chose their beliefs is emotional not logical–THAT is a scientific fact.

      As children, we accept on trust that the adults around us are telling us the truth. To let go of that trust to recognise that you were told things that were not true is very difficult emotionally, but can be driven by logic. If truth is an important value, the decision to leave religion can indeed be logical. It was in my case. It’s why I often bring out the pope’s words: “Truth does not speak against truth”. It gave me (emotional) permission to try to resolve internal contradictions in my faith, which led to a complete loss of faith.

  • rayndeonx

    Part of the problem is that “New Atheists” by and large disparage philosophy. It is seen as useless, on the same intellectual footing as theology. Now, even with my limited exposure to philosophy, I can be somewhat sympathetic to this. A not insignificant amount of philosophy probably is bullshit. Looking at some of the ideas that come out of modal metaphysics or philosophy of religion is enough to make you stop and think “Wait, does that really make any sense at all?” I think it’s important for philosophers to do that.

    But, at the same time, I feel that a lot of philosophy is extremely useful. I feel a lot of it is extremely important to think and discuss about.

    Part of the issue may be the erroneous conflation of modern analytic philosophy with modern continental philosophy. That isn’t to say that folks like Nietzsche or Schopenhauer or Meinong are dismissible (they’re not), but people like Derrida and what not are exactly the representative voice of most philosophers. Another issue is that philosophy by and large resolves not that much. About 3000 years later, and we’re still debating many of the same issues. I am sympathetic to Wittengenstein and others that perhaps philosophy is ultimately a semantic debate on how we use language.

    But, more pressingly, I think the reason philosophy is the way it is is because the questions are really hard. Asking how to justify scientific paradigms isn’t the same as actually doing science. The latter is also quite hard, but it isn’t the same kind of question and doesn’t have the same kind of answer.

    Asking for the basis of moral thought and what constitutes right or wrong – or if such questions are meaningful at all are not within the purview of science. To be sure, science can inform such views, but it is grossly scientistic to suppose that science is somehow going to resolve ethical debates, whether through evolutionary “just so” stories or the like. I see some of these viewpoints commonly expressed by many of the more visible atheists and I wince everytime I hear something like it. That isn’t to say that moral realism is outright true (I’m agnostic on that particular issue), but obviously, ordinary morality is a valuable enterprise, and we need more robust ways to discuss and account for ordinary morality beyond what visible atheists have done.

    The problem is that the disparagement of philosophy is fairly wide spread amongst visible atheists. For instance, Krauss among others have opined that philosophy of science is probably useless. They view even considering most of what we would consider philosophy to be by and large useless. This is a dangerous position. A large part of the intellectual discussion amongst atheists and theists is to be conversant in the relevant philosophical issues and if the former are going to disparage philosophy at large, the latter are simply going to pull ahead. For instance, Krauss debated WLC with clearly not the slightest idea or preparation for Craig’s views and got outargued in physics of all things.

    Powerful philosophic foundations are not things to disparage, and if atheists and naturalists do not do their homework to come up with nuanced and powerful philosophical positions, well, don’t be surprised if theistic viewpoints start looking more attractive.

    • http://promethics.wordpress.com Dalillama

      Asking for the basis of moral thought and what constitutes right or wrong – or if such questions are meaningful at all are not within the purview of science. To be sure, science can inform such views, but it is grossly scientistic to suppose that science is somehow going to resolve ethical debates, whether through evolutionary “just so” stories or the like

      Why do you feel that scientific inquiry cannot answer these questions? Neurology and biology are finding the roots of our moral intuitions. We can determine through scientific inquiry what behaviors cause harm, and what social ethics promote human health, happiness, and material comfort. Then we can encourage those that do and discourage those that don’t, using scientific processes to determine what the most effective ways to do so are.
      I use health, happiness, and material comfort because virtually everyone prefers those things to the alternatives, and if you personally want to be sick, unhappy, and uncomfortable, these can be achieved with no effort on anyone’s part. Just sit there and do nothing long enough, and you’ll be sick, unhappy and uncomfortable in pretty short order.

    • jeffengel

      Why do you feel that scientific inquiry cannot answer these questions? Neurology and biology are finding the roots of our moral intuitions. We can determine through scientific inquiry what behaviors cause harm, and what social ethics promote human health, happiness, and material comfort. Then we can encourage those that do and discourage those that don’t, using scientific processes to determine what the most effective ways to do so are.

      You get into the philosophy, still, after such questions. What makes those intuitions _moral_ intuitions? Of what are they intuitions? Is that even the right word for them? Is there anything beyond sheer neurological compulsion that makes health, happiness, or comfort valuable? If not, so what? Is that value a moral value? If not, again, so what?

      Are there ways to get answers to those that don’t amount to philosophy? Maybe. Me, I don’t know of them.

    • Dalillama

      They are moral intuitions because morality is defined as a determination of right and wrong. Therefor, intuitions regarding what is right and wrong are, by definition, moral intuitions. As far as health and happiness being good, since everyone seeks them we must construe them as good, because people aren’t going to stop wanting those things. Since we have no realistic alternative but to consider them to be good, seeking them is a moral choice, which is to say a determination of what is good and bad.

    • jeffengel

      Okay, putatively moral intuitions get to be considered moral intuitions because they are putatively about right and wrong, and a definition is thrown in. The good is implicitly defined as whatever is going to keep on going after, and without an alternative on hand for “good”, we’re just going to go with that.

      Two points. First, this isn’t a set of scientific conclusions. Second, as philosophy, it’s really thin. Maybe it’s just handwaving at something you’re trusting the philosophers to work out – what I know of computer design could barely put together an abacus, and I can live with that. But I don’t conclude that there’s nothing to computer design beyond putting together an abacus.

    • http://promethics.wordpres.com Dalillama

      The consequences of behavior are something that science can and does work out. The origins of behavior are something that science can and does work out. For that matter, we can to an extent scientifically determine what people want out of life, and health and happiness are pretty much universals on that score. I don’t see the slightest need for any further philosophizing on the matter beyond that, nor for the concept to be ‘fixed’ by philosophers. Claims to morality that are based on something other than human experience have no metaphysical grounding, and amount to pure faith claims.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Dallilama,

      To try to appeal to happiness etc as the foundations of morality because we all want it is dangerous for two reasons:

      1) If everyone wanted to hurt other people, kill all the animals, etc, etc, we’d still think that wrong. The question of “If everyone wanted to kill babies, would that make it right?” now works against you as much as it does against the theist.

      2) Our moral intuitions actually contradict the idea that the determining factor in moral reasoning and right and wrong is the most gain for the most people. See trolley cases for examples.

      Also add in the perfectly good moral theories like Kant and the Stoics that deny that happiness matters at all, and things are far more complicated than you think. You are STARTING from a controversial starting point, and then saying that if that is accepted then science can do it all and we don’t need philosophy. The problem is that we need philosophy to justify that starting point.

    • http://promethics.wordpres.com Dalillama

      Verbose Stoic:
      1)I see no point in addressing pointless contrafactuals. If the world were a completely different place, then our interactions with it would be on a different basis. What you describe is not, in fact, the case, and therefore there is no need to concern ourselves with it.

      2)I said that science can determine the origins of our moral intuitions, not that such intuitions are a universally accurate guide to positive outcomes. Intuition is virtually never a complete substitute for learning, although it’s sometimes good enough to get by day to day.

  • The Master

    Really, very little one can say when you hear of nonsense. What I can add is, she would have to come into a belief that a deity exists before even choosing a religion. The need for a god is an emotional one, not a rational one That’s my real question, what changed in her heart?

  • Matthais777

    Dear Daniel,
    Thank you for this post!I’ve been following the leah thing very closely in a lot of confusion, especially since i’m something of a baby Athiest (I just deconverted a few months ago, and proceeded to DEVOUR the friendly Athiests blog and a few others.) and her conversion was especially confusing for me as it was initially presented cause it seemed like she was converting for the exact same reasons I deconverted, and to RC as well (Whom i despised even as a christian)!
    So, i guess what i’m trying to say is thanks for helping clear the air a little and helping me to refocus on exactly what it is i want to figure out (The Truth), and for the not so subtle reminder that just cause i’m an athiest now doesn’t mean i have it figured out and i have a lot of work to do in my hunt for truth, and shouldn’t be thinking that just cause i’m an athiest now i’m inherently more rational or wiser than my thiest and polythiest friends, especially now that i’ve junked most of my theological and philisophical base that i learned growing up. Science and Rationality has done wonders for me in my life so far, even if it’s lead me down this path, So i just gotta keep searching for the Truth. I’ll try and make my way through some of the links and articles you provided and see what i can learn. I have a lot of time to make up for after all and a lot of learning to do, so thanks.
    Sincerely
    Matthais

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks Matthias! I hope you stick around and offer any questions or criticisms as you think through my posts!

  • michaelbrew

    Yeah, that’s the weird thing. Catholic morality isn’t objective morality at all. They claim that morality comes from God, which means it is subjective, even if God never changes his mind (which is obviously untrue if you look at the Bible’s description of God, and if it were true it would make it hard to consider God sentient). Atheism, being only the position of not believing there is a God, says nothing about what one should believe in, morally. Both subjective and objective moralistic systems are compatible with it as long as it doesn’t include a god. Of course, I came to the conclusion that many morals are objective in that societies must act “morally” in order to continue to exist, and further refining of morals allows us to improve our individual as well as collective existence. Some things that we call morals ARE subjective, of course. But, you know, that’s also compatible with being an atheist and requires no belief in a god, whatsoever.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      If God created the laws of physics, and also created the laws of morality, then the laws of morality would be precisely as objective — or subjective — as the laws of physics. For almost everyone who wants there to be an objective morality, being as objective as the laws of physics is more than sufficient.

    • Axxyaan

      If God created the laws of physics, and also created the laws of morality, then the laws of morality would be precisely as objective — or subjective — as the laws of physics. For almost everyone who wants there to be an objective morality, being as objective as the laws of physics is more than sufficient.

      They would be objective in an irrelevant sense. Namely in just the same way as human laws are objective. Once people vote a law, we have an objective criterium with which we can compare behaviour. But that is usually not what people mean when they talk about objective morality. People in general don’t seem to agree that torturing infants would be good just because god would say so.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Well, I don’t think that that is the case, but note that to hold that you’d have to accept that if God exists the laws of physics would be that way as well. Most people don’t accept that, so do you? And if so, why?

      As for people not generally thinking that if God said it was moral to kill babies, it would be if they really held that things are only moral because God says so, they should. Not saying that is one of the main gripes I have with William Lane Craig. That being said, we could still have moral laws be created for this universe by God in the same was as the laws of physics are and that would be more than objective enough for objective morality while still not allowing the “if God says X it’s suddenly moral” move.

    • Axxyaan

      … note that to hold that you’d have to accept that if God exists the laws of physics would be that way as well. Most people don’t accept that, so do you? And if so, why?

      That the laws of physcis would be similar in this regard is true but irrelavent. To use an analogy in such a situation the laws of physics would be like computer code, the laws of morality would be legal code. The fact that they have the same auther and that we can objectively make observations about the code (either directly or by how the program behave) as we can with the legal code, doesn’t make them similar. When Dan writes about objective morality he is not talking about what behaviour we can objectively compare with a specific moral/legal code. He is talking about determing how a moral code should look like. That the moral code is written by some god doesn’t necessarily make this code as it objectively should be in this sense. And since this is how Dan view objective morality and this his blog that means that in this context, god having written the moral code doesn’t imply an objective morality.

  • Azuma Hazuki

    This was baffling to read about since she basically did the exact opposite of what I did: i.e., taking a years-long, rational look at where I was, I went from Catholicism to mushy Deism to atheism.

    If it really was just slick-sounding, impressive-looking bloviations on moral philosophy that did it, well, unfortunately she’s another one distracted by the shiny. She was so taken by charming turns of phrase that she forgets the obvious problems with the religion. Such as:

    1) Her God had to sacrifice himself to himself to stop himself from throwing the humans he knew ahead of time would sin into the hell he didn’t create for ~4000 years after making them and never told them of beforehand.

    2) A few schmucks in iron chariots defeated him

    3) He can’t seem to figure out that a spine makes a pretty poor lumbar support for something that goes on two feet

    Etc etc etc. Sometimes I think she missed the giant, rotting forest for a few superficially-green trees.

  • roggg

    Maybe it’s just me, but the first thing that jumps out at me in all of this (and in many discussions about religion and morality) is a conflation of the concepts “objective morality”, “absolute morality”, and “moral law”. I think it may be fair to say that an absolute morality (as I understand the term) may be difficult to reconcile with naturalistic atheism, but that doesn’t mean that objective morality cant exist just fine within such a worldview. IANAP.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      My own view is that the qualifiers objective and absolute often are as poorly defined with regard to morality as free is with regard to will.

      Many religious believers misunderstand the strength of Hume’s analysis that ought can’t be inferred from is, in that they think it somehow depends on whether there is a god or not. But it’s an argument about the nature of language, not an argument about the nature of the larger world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasongriffin jasongriffin

    Atheists often use logic to promote their views that God does not exist. Ironically, it was logic that let Libresco to belief. More on my blog at http://www.jasongriffin.net/blog/2012/6/24/an-atheist-converts-to-christianity-logic-flows-both-ways.html

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      So, are you going to engage or not with the arguments presented here? In the pragmatic sense, I do think Leah is living according to the “tribunal of her experience”. That said, I think that Dan is rightly pointing out issues that Leah hasn’t dealt with (and his criticisms of many atheists here are just spot on) in regards to the truth of the foundations of the Catholic philosophy for which she is investigating (but tentatively accepting as true by faith, I assume). In any event, I hope she continues to struggle to find truth…truth never comes easily.

  • Midnight Rambler

    She talks more about this view of Catholicism as “coherent, well-fleshed out, but not necessarily true” on CNN:

    Wait, what? A mushy-atheist blogger that I’d never heard of before converts to the same religion as her boyfriend, and that’s worthy of a CNN interview? Is it just because of the man-bites-dog aspect or just another sign of the general decline of CNN?

    • baal

      In a (weak) defense of CNN, they have had at least 3 segments interviewing atheists last week or so. That’s more out atheists on TV than in the preceding really long time. At this point, I’m ok with a circus show of atheists (so long as it’s not faux news).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    There seems to be a taste of Pascal’s Wager about this.

    Either Catholic foundation of morality is correct, or an atheist foundation of morality is correct…..

    What, just two choices?

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Leah seems to be saying, though, that an atheist — ie without God — morality isn’t working for her, and the Catholic view seems right to her. Thus, it’s not a Wager at all, in any sense.

  • Jon H

    Thanks Dan, once again, great stuff! I especially appreciate your take-down of all the frankly embarrassing behavior that atheists have been showing since Leah’s conversion. It pains me to say but it seems like atheists have almost been going out of there way to prove that non-belief in God doesn’t necessarily bring with it the intellectual virtues that atheists give lip service to any more than belief in God brings about the moral virtues theists brag about.

    • baal

      I agree mostly but with a slightly different spin. If atheism is to continue growing, then the movement atheists will need to have the right perspectives and understanding to keep the Leahs of the world from missing the point.

      we have to remember that single individuals are rarely if ever totally unique. If there is one, (and it’s not mentally disordered like actual serious mental illness), then there are more.

      I don’t get the idea that the ‘nones’ are a growing category based on atheist activists (though they help and are needed the same way Daniels post(ing) is) it’s that the churches have been moving to the political right in a big way and the child-abuse scandals are extremely wide spread and poorly handled. In other words, the religionists have been doing our work for us.

      We can’t count on that happening forever. The US oligarchs will stop it. We’ve even seen Roger Ailes in early 2012 suggest that fox turn it down to 11.

  • Axxyaan

    Why do you insist on using moral terms like they are objective while thinking they are really just fictions.

    First of all, thinking that something is subjective instead of objective is not the same as thinking it is just fiction. Second I use objective terms for things that are subjective because that is as far as I understand standard word use. If people are praising or criticising a painting, a book, a dish, a film or wathever they generally use words that seem to imply they are talking about objective characteristics instead of their subjective appreciation. They talk about a delicious dish, a beautiful painting, a marvelous book, a gorgeous necklace … Nobody complains when subjective appreciations are worded in objectifying language. So what is the problem when people who considers values as subjective, do the same?

    • skepticalmath

      The problem arises when you believe morality is purely subjective, and yet criticize other people’s moralities based on your own. If morally is subjective, and you say “That is wrong”, no, using objective language isn’t a problem. But if someone else says “x is good” and you say “no, x is bad”….then you, as a moral subjectivist, are in serious trouble: because, objectively, they are just as right as you are, and you simply cannot contradict them without contradicting yourself.

    • Jon Hanson

      Nobody complains when subjective appreciations are worded in objectifying language? Tell that to any art critic or teacher.

      Also, it’s all well and good to live and let live when it comes to subjectivity in art and food and the like, but the trouble with ethics is that we inbevitably have to deal with things like laws, where we say that it isn’t just everyone for themselves and that we will force certain standards upon others. Is murder illegal because it is wrong or simply because enough people dislike it?

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      skepticalmath writes:

      But if someone else says “x is good” and you say “no, x is bad”….then you, as a moral subjectivist, are in serious trouble: because, objectively, they are just as right as you are, and you simply cannot contradict them without contradicting yourself.

      Moral absolutists are in just as much trouble. If the first has “discovered” that X is good, while the second has “discovered” that X is bad, they have little way to break that impasse. It’s much as if one person looks out and says, “there is a bear in that oak tree,” while the other looks out and says, “what oak tree?” Their only resort to moral conflict may be to fight, either politically or literally. Take the Albigensian crusade as an example.

      Those of us who believe morality is built rather than discovered have some opportunity to fall back to other kinds of dialogue. Why do you think X is good? What basic values are you incorporating into the judgment? Are some of those more important to you than others? What are their limits? Do you see any worth to competing values? And, of course, those questions are fairly asked of what we think good, also.

    • skepticalmath

      You’re confusing absolutism with objectivism. These are two distinct ideas. When I say that I believe in objective morality, that does not mean I believe in absolute morality.

      And when dealing with actual objectivist stances….to be honest, re-read your second paragraph, because all of those modes of discourse are available to objectivists.

      [Note: the laws of physics are also objective, and yet when physicists discover contradictory properties of some system, they don't have to resort to fighting as you claim, rather, they investigate the reasoning that led to those conclusions to determine which is more likely true. Same with morality.]

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      skepticalmath writes:

      You’re confusing absolutism with objectivism.

      Perhaps you could define what you mean by those, with regard to morality?

      The laws of physics are also objective, and yet when physicists discover contradictory properties of some system, they don’t have to resort to fighting as you claim, rather, they investigate the reasoning that led to those conclusions to determine which is more likely true.

      Physics benefits from the fact that there is some agreement on how to compare different physics models. Moral philosophy doesn’t have that. If someone walks into a physics lab and declares that they have a physics theory that they want taught, and that they don’t believe in subjecting it to empirical experiments, that would quickly bring an end to the usual way physicists discuss such issue.

      Re-read your second paragraph, because all of those modes of discourse are available to objectivists.

      Maybe to some extent. As an example, Catholics claim an “objective” morality based on the nature of their god and his interaction with man. Atheists think that their god is fantasy. (And I think their notion of “objective” is poorly defined.) Sure, they can work together pragmatically if and where their moral goals somewhat overlap. For example, I might work cheek by jowl with an atheist in registering people to vote. But where their goals conflict, say, on access to contraception, my experience is that moral dialogue pretty quickly breaks down. “God intends a union between the pleasurable and procreative purposes of sex.” What does any rational person say to that? How, exactly, does one explore those values any more deeply? If that’s what the creator of life intended, that’s what he intended. And given some unexplored but also unquestioned moral axiom that we should obey such creator’s commands, what next? It’s hard to reason from fantasy and faith.

    • skepticalmath

      Moral absolutism is the belief that there are moral absolutes: that is, that there are things which are always wrong and always good. So a moral absolutist might say “theft is bad” — meaning that in all cases and all contexts theft is bad. This is compared with a moral relativist (the term is usually misapplied to people who are, in fact, moral subjectivists) who believes that moral statements are context-dependent: that is, who don’t believe that “theft is bad” is a true statement, rather, theft is bad in some contexts and might be good in other contexts.

      Moral objectivism, on the other hand, is the belief that moral truths exist in the absence of individual human wants/emotions/whatever (better said: that moral truths exist independently of individual human minds.) Contrasted with moral subjectivism, which claims that there is not objective morality.

      Now, notice that moral objectivism does not require that morality have laws in the same way that physics does: moral objectivists like myself (and, I think, Dan) believe that morality *is*, at least in part, “built” by humankind; it comes into being through sociocultural interaction, much like any number of other human values. There are some that are more universal than others, to be sure, but there are also moralities that function very much on a local cultural level. This isn’t so germane to the discussion, I just wanted to point out that objectivism isn’t the hard-and-fast idea most people think.

      You are right that philosophy lacks that ability of physics to know-when-it-is-right, in the sense that physics has robust methods of determining the effectiveness of a model. But philosophy does have some ways of comparing. First, you can compare reasonableness, and simplicity, of assumptions. Assuming God is much less reasonable than assuming basic properties of logic. From there, philosophies of morals can be tested by how consistent they are, by how well they describe the world, etc. etc.

      But just because it is harder to compare these models in philosophy does not mean objectivism is wrong: only that it is very difficult to *do*. Which is why your original comparison of objectivism to my explanation of the logical trap of subjectivism way back is wrong: the problem with subjectivism is that most subjectivists contradict themselves (they criticize other people for being immoral while professing that there is no real, objective morality). By contrast, your “same problem” that objectivists run into is different: they merely have a very hard time determining what is moral, but they do not self-contradict merely by making moral statements.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      skepticalmath:

      “Moral objectivism, on the other hand, is the belief that moral truths exist in the absence of individual human wants/emotions/whatever.”

      So, what does it mean for a moral truth to exist? Mind, I’m not asking yet how one detects that existence. I’m just asking what it means.

    • Axxyaan

      The problem arises when you believe morality is purely subjective, and yet criticize other people’s moralities based on your own.

      What do you mean by purely subjective? I accept that people share a lot of values and so that there is a lot of intersubjectivity. Is that still purely subjective?

      You are correct that as someone who view morals as subjective I am not always consistent and sometimes react as if morals are objective. What can I say, I am human and don’t behave always that rational/consistent. But personally I find the tendency of those who think morality is objective to generaly assume that their idea about morality corresponds with this objective morality to be more problematic even if their behaviour is in this regard consistent with their idea of morality

    • Axxyaan

      Also, it’s all well and good to live and let live when it comes to subjectivity in art and food and the like, but the trouble with ethics is that we inbevitably have to deal with things like laws, where we say that it isn’t just everyone for themselves and that we will force certain standards upon others. Is murder illegal because it is wrong or simply because enough people dislike it?

      I would say primarily because enough people dislike it. For the simple reason that laws are voted on. We don’t somehow conclude something is objectively wrong after which it becomes law. If enough people value something, so that it gets enough support in parliament, it will get translated into law.

  • baal

    Hrm, Daniel, I’m being dragged kicking and screaming to liking your posts the more of them I read. This specific issue of Leah’s conversion has really pointed out a shortcoming in the atheistic noosphere.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      hahaha, that’s very kind of you to admit, baal. :)

  • DavidM

    I like your paragraph two, it’s an intelligent appeal to dialogue. However, to be clear, Leah’s conversion WAS reason driven, even if she was mistaken. Her reasoning may have been imperfect on many levels – certainly it was ‘finite,’ just like everyone else’s – but that does not mean it was not reasoning.

    Your analysis of the Catholic philosophical tradition is fine, except that you seem to be attacking a straw man. You seem to think that the Church believes that God whispers into the pope’s ear every now and then, and that’s how we get moral progress (and the charism of infallibility). That is not the doctrine. The pope has to do his own thinking and infallibility ensures only that – in very particular circumstances – he will be divinely protected from teaching error. In other words, the Church agrees with you that the pope relies upon the long-standing traditions of moral thought that he inherits, so your criticism here is a straw man.

    “Whatever goodness is in the Church is explicable in sheerly human terms and is indistinguishable from human goodness.” – Now that, son, is a mighty ambitious claim. I look forward to seeing you attempt to defend it.

    • Jon Hanson

      I’m really at a loss for why you’d think that’s “mighty ambitious claim,” to me it seems like common sense. To me the burden of proof clearly seems to be on the person who’s claiming that their goodness is so special that it can only be explained by divine guidance. I also think this is a case where Occam’s razor clearly comes into play, suggesting that the simpler explanation is probably the right one. I see no reason to invoke man working with God where man working alone sufficiently explains the evidence, which seems to be the case here. Unless I’m missing some extraordinary and positively superhuman goodness that the Catholic church has to offer, which I’m ready to admit that I might be.

    • DavidM

      Well Jon, how do you go about determining what is possible based on ‘sheerly human terms’ – without begging the question about what actually is possible based on ‘sheerly human terms’? Do you do this by saying “it just seems like common sense”? That’s a very weak defense of the claim, surely. You explain nothing. And your appeal to Ockham’s razor? Surely that’s just begging the question too. How is that supposed to amount to a substantive defense – again without begging the question? “This seems simpler to me, so by Ockhams’s razor, you are wrong” – yeah right, that’s a convincing argument! What Daniel the ambitious will need to show is how to objectively rationally assess the comparative adequacy of competing accounts of the goodness of a particular person, given the the most reasonable assessment of the possible special causal influence of grace on a given person’s life, which is based, further, on the most reasonable application of the most reasonable general account on offer of the actual workings of divine grace. Let’s just say, the question is pretty hermeneutically involved. Or, like you, he might just say “Ockham’s razor!” and pretend that it’s safe to ignore all of these issues and his epistemic limitations relative to them. I’m interested to see his next move.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      The straightforward defense that “whatever goodness is in the Church is explicable in sheerly human terms” is that similar acts are done by those who are not Catholic. And by those who are not Christian.

      For what it is worth, I think the same is true for the evil done by Catholicism. Its authoritarianism, brushing of institutional problems under the rug, hatred of independent thought, violent opposition to competing religions, willingness to kill millions to forward its power, faux claims to rationality, cynical use of superstition, aggrandizement of every good thing it touched, exculpation of every evil it caused, and attempt to institutionalize itself as the unique route to the supernatural are all present in various other religions. There is no obvious historical reason to think the Catholic Church uniquely originates in a loving god or man-hating demon, rather than from the vagaries of man.

      In short, the Church’s history is one that fits well within the bounds of other institutional religions. Given the gross similarities between Catholicism and other institutions, it seems to me the burden is on those who think its peculiarities are metaphysically significant to make that argument. From a secular viewpoint, it fits well within the field of historical religions that different peoples and cultures have invented.

    • DavidM

      …and yet the Catholic Church is in fact not like any other institution. In terms of the consistency and richness of its institutional and intellectual history it is unique and unparalleled. I’m guessing you’ll disagree, but based on what?? A litany of entirely uninformative generalizations, backed up by… nothing?

      Your ‘straightforward defense’ completely ignores the hermeneutical complications that I JUST POINTED OUT. Did you notice that? Think about it. You argue that similar acts are done by those who are not Catholic (or even Christian); therefore whatever goodness is in the Church is explicable in sheerly human terms. First of all, is this actually true? Second, how is that any kind of good argument? What account of divine grace and what account and metric of ‘goodness’ are you presupposing such that this is a good argument? You have explained nothing here. You have simply demonstrated your inability to recognize either the relevant issues or your own epistemic limitations in respect of these.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      DavidM:

      What account of divine grace and what account and metric of ‘goodness’ are you presupposing such that this is a good argument?

      I’m rejecting the argument that goes, “see, grace shows up in the heathen, too!” I recognize that that is a common rejoinder to people outside the Christian tradition doing the kinds of good whereof Christians like to boast. But that’s just an exercise of labeling what your religion approves, now with zero explanatory power.

      In terms of the consistency and richness of its institutional and intellectual history it [the Catholic Church] is unique and unparalleled.

      Every religion and institution is unique. The Mormon church uniquely provides the revelation of what Jesus did here in the New World. Islam is unique in capturing the uncorrupted Word of Allah from the mouth of his last prophet. The Catholic Church is shaped by its institutional history. The “richness” of its intellectual tradition doesn’t keep it from making some very stupid claims, such as the notion that its god’s existence can be naturally known, yet refusing to stake that claim on which argument precisely it thinks succeeds at that. Sort of a faith in the possibility of reasoned belief.

  • Kevin

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around what part of Catholic ethics/meta-ethics are not true but somehow better than a rational/atheist position that is true but … incomplete? Unsatisfying? What exactly?

    Sorry. I don’t get it.

    More information needed.

    I mean really, is Catholicism more compelling because Aquinas wrote 6 million words in the Summa? Of which, about 5.9 million are complete and utter tripe?

    (No kidding, large sections are mere biblical apologetics that “great thinkers” like Kent Hovind or Ken Ham would support. Like the section where he describes why god fashioned Adam first out of the dirt and Eve second out of Adam’s rib, so that it’s right and good that women are subservient to men… This is sophisticated?)

    Or John Haught…the guy who had his theological head handed to him in a debate by a mere biologist (Jerry Coyne)? And who was so butthurt that he tried to hide the results?

    Not getting it. Seriously. Not getting it.

    I think we’re hearing only someone’s rationalizations, not one’s reasons.

    • Enkidum

      Well, 100,000 clever words ain’t bad for most people’s lives.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Having seen that debate and commented on it, that was a prime example of people talking completely past each other … which reflects worse on Coyne since he claimed that he actually researched and aimed at taking on Haught’s views since he thought it was an actual debate, which Haught thought it wasn’t going to me, which is what he was most upset about.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Leah Libresco:

    But I was as sure of the reality of moral law as I was of the reality of the physical world. Both of which can’t be proven since I can’t step outside them to examine them.

    The first thing to ask about such an assertion is what would it mean for the physical world to be real? And what would it mean for moral law to be real? Unless Libresco can answer this, she’s committing a mistake in logic that language makes easy, applying a word where we sense some meaning that may or may not actually work out.

    There are some sensible definitions of “real” in that first use. The physical world is real, in one sense, if it isn’t a construct one’s own consciousness and survives one’s own demise.

    There also are some sensible definitions of “real” in that second use. Moral laws are real in one sense if moral agents commit themselves to such. And in yet another sense if there are social institutions that have them as their purpose. The separation of church and state is a real moral law. The separation of Mickie and Minnie Mouse is an imagined moral law. It’s worth pointing out that these are quite different senses than the previous use of “real” for the physical world. If someone wants to assert that moral law exists outside any moral agent, they need to explain what that would mean.

    Whether such definitions put any logic to Libresco’s conversion depends very much on which definitions she intends, whether those make sense, and how that fits into the argument for what she came to believe.

  • Patrick

    Strong words for someone who claims to believe in objective morality, actually doesn’t believe in objective morality in the same sense as theists, but who has openly claimed in the past on this very blog that the important thing is really reclaiming the language of objective morality for its emotional impact on people.

    Apparently we atheists should have told her better lies.

    Maybe that would have worked, tactically speaking. I don’t know. Leah often argued in the past that when you deal with people who are wrong about morality, you should always give them an out that doesn’t lead them to nihilism. Maybe she was talking about herself the whole time. But you know what? I’m willing to accept that tactically, speaking to her as an adult may be a mistake. But I’m not going to accept claims that there was philosophical incompetence involved. Certainly not from someone who’s theory of objective morality is premised on the hope that tautological statements can bootstrap us into a dialogue of “objective morality” that’s qualitatively different from what people think you’re talking about. Certainly not from someone who’s project is based around the classic young-philosopher swindle of using the incoherence of a dialogue that’s subject to error theory in order to justify replacing that dialogue with something else. Just, no.

    “Do you actually want to say and defend that your moral conclusions are true or just your feelings? And if they are just your feelings, then why are you in such a lather about religious people who live by their religions because of their irrational feelings based on fictions when by your own super-”knowing” and cynical understanding your own moral judgments are just irrational feelings based on fictions?”

    I mean, come on. You KNOW this is weak. You have to, or else you don’t deserve your philosophy degree. Just read it! “And if they are just your feelings, then why do you [feel them so strongly]?” Seriously? Do we really have to do this? How are we going to get anywhere if you’re just going to throw cheap shots that you KNOW are cheap. I can’t even imagine that you don’t.

    • JamesM

      I’m just wondering what exactly this “cutting edge” philosophy is? Philosophy hasn’t been more cutting edge than it was in the iron age, about the same time as the invention of the screw, which, by the way, has proven quite a bit more useful than any philosophy I’ve ever read.

    • DavidM

      So your point is, if I’m just upset, then don’t ask me to explain why I’m upset? Presumably you think this is like asking why green is green? That’s a dumb argument, if that’s what you’re on about. The fact is, we all think we can explain why we’re upset, we don’t think our moral reactions are purely passive, non-cognitive events; we all naturally tend to think that they are responses to – part of an awareness of – reality. And most people who think about these things seriously get that, they don’t just dismiss it. Did you get that part? It’s an important point which zealous beginners in moral philosophy tend to underappreciate.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Strong words for someone who claims to believe in objective morality, actually doesn’t believe in objective morality in the same sense as theists, but who has openly claimed in the past on this very blog that the important thing is really reclaiming the language of objective morality for its emotional impact on people.

      Apparently we atheists should have told her better lies.

      This is a gross mischaracterization of my views. I have said that there are objectively true things that the word “morality” picks out. Many (though definitely not all theists—some are rather philosophical and not absolutists or divine command theorists) misinterpret that reality and equate the word “morality” with their mistaken categories. I try to explicate the universally prevalent and rational existence of norms, a subset of which are traditionally called “moral”, in a way consistent with reality.

      Throughout history, we have taken our existing words that have traditionally referred to confused and inaccurate concepts of real things and reunderstood them as our knowledge has advanced and our misconceptions of those real things were supplanted. I am calling only for doing the same thing with morality.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    As someone who does not know any sense in which moralities or values exist independent of moral agents who advocate them, let me point out that does not make them “just fictions.” That Adam and Eve walked with dinosaurs is a fiction, in that it is a description of something that never was. More, it is a lie, when people tell it as if it were so.

    That most of us living in this society value institutions where unprovoked violence is condemned and punished is real. It is a reality that directs how social mores are practiced, how laws are made, how money and effort is expended. Holding that value and working for it does not require believing anything false or fictional. That doesn’t mean a) that such value exists (in some sense) independent of those who value it, or b) that there must be anything outside them that directs them to value it, or c) that there is some way of proving logically that some values are “better” or “more true” than competing values. Some of those might be the case. But they need not be. And even if none are, that doesn’t mean such value is fictional.

    • DavidM

      …so what exactly do you think ‘fictional’ means? If I really get into my role-playing and I forget that’s what I’m doing, does my role-playing cease to be ‘fictional’? At what point exactly would this happen? What are your criteria for assessing the ‘fictional’ as such?

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      DavidM writes:

      …so what exactly do you think ‘fictional’ means? If I really get into my role-playing and I forget that’s what I’m doing, does my role-playing cease to be ‘fictional’?

      Fictional is quite subtle as a modality. Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective. It is factual that Doyle wrote a set of Sherlock Holmes stories. Another author could write a story referencing a Doyle story that never was written. Which would make it a fictional Doyle story.

      But yes, if you really get into your role playing and forget that is what you’re doing, I would say you’re deluding yourself. That’s not the case if you have a moral commitment to fidelity with your spouse. Both that commitment and game rolls are constructs of the human mind. But the first doesn’t rely on any kind of counter-factual, as does the second.

    • DavidM

      Okay, I’m glad you recognize the subtleness of fiction as a modality. Now in terms of the deluded role playing: what if everyone forgets that you’re role playing and everyone comes to accept the role you have assumed as non-fictional, non-delusional? It seems in this case that the counter-factuality of role-playing is not really a cut and dry given, as you seem to suggest. It’s just one more construct of the human mind, isn’t it?

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    There’s an awful lot of confusion about just what “subjective” and “objective” morality are: some atheists use the term “subjective” to indicate that they aren’t moral Platonists, for example, but they do not necessarily mean that morality is just about individual preferences (see Stephen Maitzen and the Atheist Missionary, in the comments at http://www.atheistmissionary.com/2012/04/floris-van-den-bergs-universal.html). If I think that morality, like money, is a human convention but one that it isn’t down to an individual to determine (unlike, say, my taste in music), do I believe in an objective or subjective morality?

    I hope I’m not guilty of setting Libresco on the road to theism (see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/03/exploring-stephen-laws-evil-god-challenge.html#comment-12071) by saying that omniscience didn’t imply goodness: even if an omniscient being would know moral facts, I’m not sure why it would have to find them motivating, that is, I don’t see a logical contradiction in the idea of an omniscient sociopath (by the way, I think some of the discussion on Stephen Law’s blog goes over the same ground as your http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2010/07/09/on-god-as-the-source-of-being-but-not-of-evil/).

    I get the impression that, as John D says at http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/must-goodness-be-independent-of-god.html, what people want from morality is both objectivity and motivation. Some people seem to find the idea that morals come from God motivating, but it’s not clear that people who don’t, who say “Well, even if God did command that or that is what God is like, why should I agree?”, have made some sort of error.

  • Tim

    “And you look willfully and emotionally irrational when you talk about what honest and serious critical thinkers you are and then give sloppy half-assed indifferent answers and dismissals to these incoherences rather than consider them with a rigorous intent to provide clarity and consistency to your viewpoints.”

    Bravo! That’s very big of you, Daniel.

    I want to draw a distinction, though, between on the one hand – “They love the narrative of someone thinking hard and carefully and weighing atheism seriously before deciding Christian philosophy was robuster and, ultimately, truer. I deeply disagree with that conclusion.”- and on the other hand – “Leah has since confirmed that when it came to robust atheistic metaphysics and metaethics she was not well-versed in the works of actual atheistic professional metaphysicians and moral philosophers and especially she was not encountering realist ones…”

    Sure, there’s more work Leah could have done. For those of us who aren’t professional philosophers (not intended as a dig), though, there’s only so much reading one can do. The fact that she’s not as well-versed in atheist professional metaphysicians does not mean that she hasn’t weighed atheism seriously before deciding on Christian philosophy.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Regardless of how seriously she weighed, she did not weigh adequately. She need not be a professional philosopher, she’s not a professional theologian either, but if she is going to publicly present herself as someone working out an intellectual position, she should at least do the due diligence on both sides of the position and read the best representatives of both positions. She did not do that. She did an inadequate job, whatever her emotional feelings of earnest sincerity.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Tim writes:

    Sure, there’s more work Leah could have done. For those of us who aren’t professional philosophers (not intended as a dig), though, there’s only so much reading one can do. The fact that she’s not as well-versed in atheist professional metaphysicians does not mean that she hasn’t weighed atheism seriously before deciding on Christian philosophy.

    The question isn’t whether she “weighed atheism seriously,” but whether she can rationally demonstrate the positive claims which she now presumably holds. It is one thing to think that the Catholic tradition includes thinkers who have dug more into metaphysics and morality than the New Atheists. It takes more than that — qualitatively more, on issues removed from morality — to rationally justify Christian belief.

    And that is something atheists new and old have exactly right. It’s simply irrational to choose a tradition or religion such as Catholicism, and then to take its putatively factual claims because one has made that choice. Even if everything else Libresco says about Catholicism is correct, until she can point to the valid argument that concludes “and hence, there is a god,” she is simply making a leap of faith.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Well, whether you can have proof or not, there is some traction in arguing thusly, which is really what it seems to me like Leah is:

      X and Y being the case is obvious.
      It would be unreasonable — or at least less reasonable — to think that X and Y are the case if Z does not exist than if Z does exist.
      Thus, the more reasonable position on Z is that it does exist.

      For Leah, it seems to me that she thinks that certain things about mathematics and morality are obviously true, and that for those things to be true it makes more sense for there to be a God than for there not to be one. Therefore, it is more reasonable for her to think that God exists. The counter to that would be saying that X and Y are not the case — which is what most of the atheists she talked to said — or alternatively to find a way to make X and Y be the case even if there is no Z. Dan here seems to be aiming at saying that more people should have taken the latter tack and not the former.

    • skepticalmath

      Mathematics? When did mathematics come into this?

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Leah has stated a few times that her view of mathematics was Platonic, in the sense of forms, and thus immaterial. She also incorporates mathematics into her prayers.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      Verbose Stoic:

      For Leah, it seems to me that she thinks that certain things about mathematics and morality are obviously true…

      What I find interesting is that the kind of claims in these areas that some people find obviously true are the very ones that they also have the most difficulty defining. Before arguing about the truth or obviousness of the notion that “morality is objective,” I want those holding that just to think carefully on what they mean by “objective” in that context.

  • McNihil

    Holy cow, this is an awesome post. I’m not even done with it but I’m looking forward to dig into the last quarter tonight and then into the links over the next couple days. I anticipate they will answer a lot of questions I’ve had for quite some time, specifically about objective morality. I’ve always “felt” (sorry!) that morals aren’t just subjective but I’ve never made the effort to find out about systems that develop them as objective – until this post hit me in the brain. So, in short, a big fucking thanks to you, Dan!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks McNihil, let me know how things go!

  • josh

    Daniel, this seems like a way over the top, self-serving reaction. We get that you’re a moral realist and that you wish Leah had considered a wider range of philosophy since she might have ended up on something close to yours. But I don’t see much evidence that she got nothing but bad philosophy from atheists in any objective sense. Apparently people she was talking to weren’t moral realists (at least in the sense that she was). That’s a position you disagree with but not evidence that they lacked sophistication or that moar philosophy would have changed their stance.

    It’s hard to tell from her post-conversion account, but I seriously doubt anyone argued that Catholicism made more sense than atheism, only that her previously expressed beliefs (morality is a Person?) were inconsistent. I mean, even if you think morality needs to exist objectively, positing a God doesn’t get you any closer to that.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      I haven’t read them either, but I suspect that her non-materialist views got her a lot of responses akin to Myers’ “You’re half-way to crazy town!”. Thus, creating the impression that her non-materialist views — initially mainly on mathematics — couldn’t fit into an atheist viewpoint. Adding in morality not fitting either would make it more likely that she’d feel that an atheist viewpoint simply can’t capture what she thought was important.

      It is interesting to note that a significant number of comments aimed at her by atheists did say that since she wasn’t really a materialist it was easy to see why she might end up where she did …

  • julian

    As one of the atheists who tends to dismiss ethics and philosophy, thank you for this post. I’ll have to actually read and think about (ugh, work) all the links you provide.

    Anyone, know any books on ethics or general intros to philosophy I should look into to avoid being that Dunning Kruger atheist with no real answers?

    • McNihil

      I haven’t read them myself yet but I’ve read several accounts of people saying Richard Carrier’s books are the cream of the crop with regards to morals without gods. One of them in particular but I forgot the title and can’t check right now cuz lame cell phone internet. He has them listed in his corner here on ftb though.

    • Jon Hanson

      Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      I am utterly convinced that when you start reading on a topic you should never start with a book that takes any side, because they tend to give the other side a bit of a short shrift (Prinz might be an exception).

      julian, there were some suggestions up thread, like — seriously — Philosophy for Dummies, some of the “Philosophy in Pop Culture” books (pick the pop culture thing that you like since you’ll find the questions familiar), and from Chris Donald Palmer’s ‘Does the Center Hold? (I haven’t read that one). If you’re near a university, you could also look to see if you can find online their introductory texts for their introductory courses.

    • julian

      Thanks for all the suggestions! Very much appreciated.

  • Pace

    What’s weird about this is that she just happened to choose the religion of her boyfriend, not something more logical. She didn’t choose some version of Christianity which teaches tolerance or ethics, but instead Catholicism which, well, let’s be honest, drives people to molest little kids.

    She didn’t shop for morality or religion, she just chose what was right next to her because it was easy. Being an atheist isn’t easy.

    • DavidM

      Catholicism drives people to molest kids? I guess if it ain’t easy being stupid, then it’s probably not easy being an atheist. Honestly… grow up. Think about it: you live in a culture full of morons like yourself – why is it so much harder to choose to be part of your faction? That has been right next to Leah her whole life, from what I understand. So bravo for your stupid ad hominem which reinforces some of the well deserved criticisms of dumb atheists on the internet that have been addressed to you by Mr. Fincke. Thanks for totally missing his point.

    • josh

      DavidM,
      Catholicism probably doesn’t drive people to molest kids, unless the weird combination of nominal-celibacy plus power trip in the priesthood somehow leads to a high incidence. What Catholicism does do (hopefully more ‘did’ now) is provide a safe haven for molesters. It drives people to submit to predators in the case of the victims and, in the case of bystanders, to cover up the crimes and deny them. Fincke isn’t arguing against that view, it’s one he shares if you bothered to read the post. His beef is with the supposed lack of philosophical coherence of moral non-realists, so you are the one badly missing the point. (And protecting child predators is just the tip of the iceberg of problems with Catholic morality, in practice or in principle.)

      As for the cultures we live in, the predominant culture is still religious and, in Europe and the Americas, specifically Christian. Yes, the internet makes it more possible for scattered minorities to band together, for better and worse, but they are still surrounded by a pro-religion atmosphere. Depending on where you live, what your family and community is like, etc. it can be very hard for some people to live as atheists. It’s perfectly valid to ask why Leah ended up with Catholicism out of all the nonsense she might have picked, and it’s probably not a coincidence that those were the beliefs of her boyfriend.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      The universal sin of our age was also committed by members of the visible Church. Therefore it cannot be true.

      One of two things will now happen:
      1. Everyone will be convinced, or
      2. We’ll again open up the the Luke 17:1 file. (It is impossible that there should not be scandal, but woe to them through whom it comes.)

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Language was too strong at first:

      A ubiquitous sin of our age …

    • DavidM

      I didn’t notice Fincke saying anything so stupid in his article – if he did, then where? “Catholicism probably doesn’t drive people to molest kids, unless the weird combination of nominal-celibacy plus power trip in the priesthood somehow leads to a high incidence.” – It doesn’t. “What Catholicism does do (hopefully more ‘did’ now) is provide a safe haven for molesters.” – And you know what? That’s just what amateur sport does too (e.g., Graham James) and Hollywood (e.g., Corey Feldman) and fathers and mothers. Problem is, of course, that these are human problems, not problems with sport or Catholicism or having parents as such (although from what I understand, it may be a particularly prevalent problem in Hollywood). So again, as a generalization, your assessment seems ignorant and misleading – very much par for the course for internet atheism.

    • DavidM

      “Depending on where you live, what your family and community is like, etc. it can be very hard for some people to live as atheists.” – That’s nice, and I’m sure it’s true, but for Leah or someone like her? Did you not notice that the initial comment was not a general one about how things are for some atheists, but a personal attack (i.e., a stupid ad hominem) directed towards Leah Libresco? So yeah, it is you who, in your atheistic zeal, has missed the point.

    • josh

      DavidM,
      Keep trying, you may get it eventually.

      “I didn’t notice Fincke saying anything so stupid in his article…”

      Fincke: “And the Church has been as wicked and corrupt down through the ages as any other institution. Its moral judgment has been consistently behind the times on issues like the evils of colonialism and slavery in the past and homosexuality today. The Bible is rife with condoned and commanded evils which prove that there was no Personal Morality guiding its writing.”

      “It doesn’t.”
      Argument not found.

      “And you know what? That’s just what amateur sport does too (e.g., Graham James) and Hollywood (e.g., Corey Feldman) and fathers and mothers. Problem is, of course, that these are human problems, not problems with sport or Catholicism or having parents…”

      Well, yes and no. ‘Amateur sport’, ‘Hollywood’ and ‘fathers and mothers’ aren’t coherent entities comparable to the Catholic church. They don’t have a formal hierarchy, they don’t have central doctrines and so on, there is nothing to point to as a systematic problem. Specific athletic programs, particular studios, or individual families can have systematic problems. And when they do, you can’t excuse them by saying, ‘it happens somewhere else too’.

      The complaint is not that all Catholics are abusers, rather that the Catholic organization and it’s doctrines are conducive to abuse. Now a similar complaint can sometimes be lodged against sports figures and celebrities, namely, that we give them undeserved respect and look the other way out of tribal loyalties and preserving the good image of this or that institution. Those are real problems too but it doesn’t let Catholics off the hook. And no one holds up Hollywood or sports figures as moral authorities.

      “That’s nice, and I’m sure it’s true, but for Leah or someone like her?”
      Yes, it could well be. I don’t know everything about Leah’s life, but since she was dating a Catholic guy it is safe to say that she was under some social pressure to convert. Pace didn’t advance an ad hominem, s/he said that Leah went with what was close by and that it wasn’t a logical choice.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      True that the Church is often claimed as a moral witness. THEREIN lies the scandal.

      Christian sin is inherently worse, just as a crooked cop as compared to simple crooks.

    • DavidM

      josh:
      Your first point constitutes a rather silly ignoratio elenchi: your quotation of Fincke makes no mention of the relation between child abuse and Catholicism. In order to be relevant to my comment, it would necessarily do so.

      To your “argument not found”-argument: that’s right. You made a factual assertion and the rule is gratuitously asserted, gratuitously denied. I don’t need to provide an argument. If you’re interested in the truth, you’ll do your own actual research. (Philip Jenkins might be a useful name to get you started.)

      To your “it could well be”-argument: “P is possible, therefore P” is not a valid argument form.

    • josh

      DavidM,
      When you have to fall back on misunderstanding logical fallacies rather than addressing the substance of what I said, it’s time to concede the point.

      “Your first point constitutes a rather silly ignoratio elenchi: your quotation of Fincke makes no mention of the relation between child abuse and Catholicism. In order to be relevant to my comment, it would necessarily do so.”

      No, your comment was that Pace had somehow commited an ad hominem and that he had totally missed Fincke’s point and was somehow an object of Fincke’s criticism. I explained why there was no ad hominem, and that Pace was talking about the moral failings of the Catholic church and Leah’s choice of ‘what was close by’ rather than what was logical. Fincke’s main point was criticism of what he thinks are philosophically ignorant or untenable positions among atheists, which doesn’t apply to what Pace said. Moreover, I pointed out, Fincke agrees with the general point that the Catholic church is morally poor (and that Leah was likely influenced by social pressure). Child abuse is a specific instance of the general case of Catholic ethical failings. Unless you think Fincke meant to exempt child abuse from the sum of Catholic problems, you haven’t even got a technical leg to stand on.

      “To your “argument not found”-argument: that’s right. You made a factual assertion and the rule is gratuitously asserted, gratuitously denied. I don’t need to provide an argument. If you’re interested in the truth, you’ll do your own actual research. (Philip Jenkins might be a useful name to get you started.)”

      I didn’t, at least not the one you seem to think I did. I said I doubted that Catholicism explicitly drives people to molestation; which is true, I do doubt it. But I allowed that there may be some case that it does, which can’t be gratuitously denied. You were the one who made a gratuitous assertion. [Catholicism doesn't drive anyone to molestation.]

      “To your “it could well be”-argument: “P is possible, therefore P” is not a valid argument form.”

      Good thing I didn’t use it then. I was answering your question. “…but for Leah or someone like her?” The answer is, it’s possible, so you can’t discount it out of hand.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    While I agree with you here in many respects, I was disappointed when you talked about “athestic professional philosophers” without providing any names of who you were referring to. Are you talking about people like Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and A.C. Grayling? Or did you have other people in mind?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I just mean the 84% of professional philosophers who identify not as theists. Sam Harris is not a professional philosopher, so I didn’t have him in mind.

  • Kevin

    @Enkidum: Not as a percentage of the total output, of course. If only 1/60th of my writing made any sense at all, I’d quit and start digging ditches for a living.

    The problem is sorting the small amounts of wheat from all the chaff. And I was probably being generous.

    It’s not worth the effort. Better to find a better purveyor of grain.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    First: It’s good to know some atheists have affirmed teleology. Not being qualified to say whether that leads to God, I do know it is a mark of philosophical sanity. So, really: Thanks for being a sane atheist.

    Second: Your four paragraphs on the Church are standard atheist boilerplate. Nothing personal, but most of the third goes squarely in the “it is impossible that scandals should not come” file.

    Third: What humanistic driving forces are you talking about? Are these the forces which propelled Confucianism, so sure it was the right way to order things, outside the Middle Kingdom? Or nurtured systematic science in the midst of Islam? Or gave the Meso-American native cultures the recognition that each human life is worth defending?

    Natural selection is the survival of the fit enough to survive; it doesn’t explain the oddness of the West. (And appropriating that understanding of biological forces for your treatment of human social forces appears to admit of a “kludged-together” account of history or a patchwork denial of free will. I will of course accept correction.)

    None of this is written in hatred, of course. (It’s nice to meet another decent human being who is also an Internet atheist! Too many Gnus and not enough Tim O’Neill.)

    • John Morales

      First: It’s good to know some atheists have affirmed teleology.

      Belief in design absent designer, eh?

      (Very coherent, that)

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Teleology does not equal design. It is, generally, the inherent directedness in the natures of everything.

    • John Morales

      What is it that directs, and to what does it direct to?

    • http://promethics.wordpres.com Dalillama

      The concept of teleology inherently implies an external will/guidance by an entity capable of intent. It is an intrinsically theistic concept. Nature exhibits teleonomy, the appearance of purpose as an emergent phenomenon.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      I was unaware of the distinction. In the context of the original comment to which we’re nested, it is one unnecessary to praise the OP.

      Whether teleology or neologism, recognizing that even inanimate objects are inherently directed — that by their natures they head a direction — is rather stupidly denied by far too many atheists. (If it were smartly denied, then more sympathy would be in order.)

    • John Morales

      Whether teleology or neologism, recognizing that even inanimate objects are inherently directed — that by their natures they head a direction — is rather stupidly denied by far too many atheists.

      You mean teleonomy, not neologism; every word was once a neologism.

      Again: What is it that directs, and to what does it direct to?

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      … no, that was deliberate.

      What does what direct? If you’re asking for a definition of teleology, you’re better off asking someone expert on the subject.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

    Incidentally, since you’re really interested on giving Leah a fair hearing, you’ll have to begin by refuting this:

    I do it because the thing has not merely
    told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as
    a truth-telling thing.
    All other philosophies say the things
    that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again
    said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true.
    Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive;
    it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden.
    Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea
    like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results,
    they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste.
    For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend
    to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously
    unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results,
    they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity;
    for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and
    distrust the king. Men of science offer us health, an obvious benefit;
    it is only afterwards that we discover that by health, they mean
    bodily slavery and spiritual tedium. Orthodoxy makes us jump
    by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realise
    that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health.

    Sorry if this looks like spamming Chesterton on you, but this is the larger context of the origin of a phrase — from Orthodoxy — which probably gets at what is the nut of her conversion: Again and again she wrote about the importance of being a truth-telling thing.

    Sorry again if you’re a regular reader of her blog and already know this.

    • John Morales

      Incidentally, since you’re really interested on giving Leah a fair hearing, you’ll have to begin by refuting this: [blah]

      Nope; refuting contentions has nothing to do with assessing them fairly.

    • John Morales

      Sorry again if you’re a regular reader of her blog and already know this.

      Victims, they are.

    • John Morales

      Again and again she wrote about the importance of being a truth-telling thing.

      The importance of being a thing, gotcha.

      (Therefore, Catholicism!)

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      “I do it because the thing has not merely
      told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as
      a truth-telling thing.”

      The only rational way to know whether something — a math text, a scripture, a prophet — is a source of truth is to examine each and every claim made. The moment someone says, “well, the first 9, or 90, or 900 claims seemed alright, so I’ll just take the next 900 as received enlightenment,” they have moved from thinking as a rational being, and into the kind of obedience that shutters the mind. If that is the way someone believes or wants to believe, then yes, they are primed for faith.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Since the OP thought it necessary to respond to Leah, this was meant to provide some context. Take it or leave it if you want. If you’re interested in honestly addressing her concerns, though, you’ll have to start with this.

  • Michael R

    I have scant knowledge of Leah but let me guess her pathology:
    - Leah, like every human, has moral emotions which stem from (a) our desires for cultural constraints/norms and (b) personal desires. But she doesn’t like the unstable ground of morality built on nebulous emotions.
    - Rather than take on the difficult task of going down the rabbit hole of our emotions, deconstructing our desires, and then trying to rebuild a compelling philosophy up out from those desires – she takes the easy way out.
    - She takes those emotions and concludes they are knowledge of a supernatural being. Holy irrational leap, Batman!
    - Leah is smart but I’ve read enough “experts” to know that highly intelligent people are not immune from bone-headed behaviour when it comes to morality.
    - Stripped of all her verbiage and facade of rationality, she is a textbook case of motivated reasoning. Ooga booga!
    - From nebulous emotions she finds God. Go figure.
    - If that’s the case then stop arguing with her. Simply point out her irrational leap and leave her be. She is not even close to being swayed by reason. She is off the deep end of lunacy. Bonkers.

    • John Morales

      If that’s the case then stop arguing with her. Simply point out her irrational leap and leave her be. She is not even close to being swayed by reason. She is off the deep end of lunacy. Bonkers.

      So blithely you assert this!

      (bah)

    • Michael R

      Not “blithely”, but confidently. I’d bet my house on it.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Trying to build a coherent philosophy out of our desires? And you folks wonder why theists think all atheists are Nietzche!

      If the point is truth, how does this method make any sense?

    • Michael R

      Ubiquitous, Leah is looking for morality (a system of desires) not truth. She “found” it in the cult of Catholicism. Morality built from nebulous emotions is obviously as disturbing for you as it is for Leah, so you are just confirming her fears. But while nebulous emotions are certainly a challenge, it’s not as dramatic as Nietzche makes out. That’s the truth.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Curious definition of morality.

  • joey

    Why do you insist on using moral terms like they are objective while thinking they are really just fictions?

    Good question. I’d rather describe such things as illuisions. But from a strictly materialistic worldview, how can you not conclude the entire concept of morality, let alone any objective morality, isn’t anything but one big illusion? The only truly objective thing you can say about our existence is that we (all our actions, thoughts, and desires) are strictly governed by the natural laws of physics. We aren’t “in control” of our minds and thoughts any more than a computer is in control of its programming. So ideas such as “right”, “wrong”, “responsibility”, “justice”, etc. are simply illusions. So I don’t see how anyone can derive any objective morality that is grounded on the premise of physicalism/materialism. Physics is king, nothing else.

    • John Morales

      But from a strictly materialistic worldview, how can you not conclude the entire concept of morality, let alone any objective morality, isn’t anything but one big illusion?

      Dan did put in a shitload of links after the OP, you know.

    • joey

      John:
      Yup, I guess I’m simply being lazy. I’m hoping that maybe someone could provide a somewhat quick/direct answer, or at least provide a single link that cuts right into the heart of the objection. I really don’t have much time (though I certainly wouldn’t mind if I did have the time) to parse through four dozen or so separate links to seek the answer.

    • John Morales

      Yup, I guess I’m simply being lazy.

      Well, then.

  • grung0r

    I see covert’s syndrome has finally percolated to the top with you Daniel. Eric Steinhart’s moronic, masturbatory theology have so twisted your mind into tight little theological knots that it has blinded you from the the incredibly obvious flaw in your silly and fallacious argument: Would Leah now be a child rape enabler and connoisseur of 2000 year old Jewish zombie flesh crackers if she had been a nominalist as an atheist? No, of course not, nor would you have joined Eric’s Witches coven had you been one before your conversion. Believing that abstract concepts exist outside the mind is THE KEY to religious thinking. It simply cannot exist without this conception. It is but a short hop, skip and a jump from realism to Cthulhuism, Hinduism, Catholicism or Eric Steinhartism or any other idiotic belief one could name. In other words, It was not poor nominalist arguments that drove stupid, foolish Leah to embrace a nazi child rapist as the voice of an omnipotent sky dictator, but you(along with a nudge from wishful thinking)and your insistence that she believe that every dumb idea that pops into her stupid little head is concrete reality. How long would she, demonstrating a distinct and continuous predilection for philosophical wankery and wishful thinking be able to hold out without leaping off the precipice towards some stupid belief or other? I guess we have our answer.

    • John Morales

      Would Leah now be a child rape enabler and connoisseur of 2000 year old Jewish zombie flesh crackers if she had been a nominalist as an atheist?

      Purple prose aside, your appeal to the this incident as a consequence of what might happen were one not to be a nominalist as an atheist is inane.

      (Foolishness manifests in many forms)

    • grung0r

      Well John, you are demonstrating all your typical intellectual rigor. If my argument is inane, than it should be awfully easy to refute. Perhaps it could even be done within the same length you spent with your contentless ad hominem.

    • Jon Hanson

      Holy shit, what did I just read?

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Dude: It ain’t ad hominem unless he said you were wrong because you’re a Republican, or something like that. If he said your argument is inane, as he did, that is not ad hominem. From noticing it is inane, he basically called you foolish. If the preceding were true, it would follow.

    • John Morales

      If my argument is inane, than it should be awfully easy to refute.If my argument is inane, than it should be awfully easy to refute.

      Inanity requires no refutation.

    • grung0r

      John:

      Inanity requires no refutation? So asserting inanity is the negative and secular form of “god did it”: No explanation needed, no refutation possible. Just a simple way for the intellectually lazy to wave away any inconvenient fact to their simplistic worldview without risking any retort that might challenge it further. Does that about sum it up?

    • John Morales

      You do know the meaning of inanity, right?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      grung0r, there are 181 opinionated comments, many of which disagree with me or each other in a wide range of interesting and nuanced ways. And all of which manage to be critical without being abusive to anyone. Then there’s yours which is needlessly hateful and abusive. I should have put a stop to your bullying back when you were trying to sabotage Eric Steinhart’s ability to have the discussions he wanted. I should stop it now by just outright banning you. Instead, here’s your warning. One more insult to anyone and I am going to ban you.

  • Brian

    I hope I’m not about to restate what someone in the many comments above has said, but when you say objective morality, it’s not what’s understood by that term normally (at least by this amatuer). You basically say (and forgive me, I’ve only read a few of your articles to try and understand what you say, if I’m wrong), that good = effectiveness and so doing good is the aggregation of how effective a total system (i.e. person) is at it’s inherent function. It’s personness (or rockness for a rock). I don’t want to argue that for the moment because the nascent objections I have against it probably have been argued and refuted by you in posts I’ve not read yet.
    What objective morality means as far I have understood it, is some platonic-esque idea, the good, that exists (using the word in a non-empirical way) in a spaceless timeless manner. Plato’s Euthyphro dilema works because if good is this idea, this form, then it can’t come from the gods or God. It has independant existence that matches our intuition of moral universality. It even binds God. Otherwise we’d just be saying God = good, because might is right. Of course, we can reformulate morality to not be objective, in the platonic sense, and still have it function as we want as something that is independant of any one person (god and aliens included), but is dependant on the existence of persons (not necesarilly humans). I don’t yet understand how effectiveness comprehends good. But I’ll keep reading….

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      I think that what you’re describing here is a form of moral realism, and a particularly strong one at that. The Stoics claimed theirs followed from the Logos — roughly a universal instantiation of reason — and yet you can easily translate them into talking about reason without the metaphysical baggage. I also don’t think that Kant thought in terms of forms, but he has not only an objective but also an absolutist morality. Utilitarianism is objective in the sense most moral objectivists want but has nothing to do with those sorts of entities. And so on.

      Part of the problem is that a lot of philosophical terms get reused in different or even the same debates, and so it’s sometimes hard to put all of the usages together to make a point.

    • Brian

      I think that what you’re describing here is a form of moral realism, and a particularly strong one at that. Yes, objective morality means morality is something real, that exists without moral agents.

      I also don’t think that Kant thought in terms of forms, but he has not only an objective but also an absolutist morality.
      I thought Kant was to paraphrase ‘do that which you would have be law’ or something, which seems very much relativism. As we don’t all share the same moral intuition, and for a psychopathic cannibal like Hannibal Lector…lunchtime.

      Utilitarianism is objective in the sense most moral objectivists want but has nothing to do with those sorts of entities. And so on. How so? Preference utilitarianism isn’t objective. Maximizing happyness, or utility isn’t objective. It depends on what the moral agent values, and that is what a subject values and ergo subjective.

      We must be using the term in different ways. For me, objective is like 2+2=4, which given the definitions of numbers and the operators can’t be quibbled about. It’s not like, Bob likes this, but Fred doesn’t. Morality has a broad universality, but a lot of morality, e.g. Catholic morality seems nasty and wrong to me. It’s not objective, nor even universal.

    • Brian

      Just to avoid arguing past anybody. I don’t believe morality is objective, nor do I believe the results of science are objective. Science gives us inter-subjective results. Which means, we are not stuck in our own solipsistic universe. We work it out between ourselves. We see what makes sense logically, and we use what works. We test it, and see how it accords with our predictions. We can assume with some confidence that it tracks reality, whatever that is, but can never be sure. To claim that it is objectively true, just makes you a hostage to fortune when we advance scientific knowledge and is to take a ‘God’s eye’ view that we don’t hold. You just aren’t empirically justified. As with Platonism. You may think you’ve contemplated the lovely form in it’s trueness, but it just could be a nice trip you’ve been having, and you’d never be able to know…
      Similarly with morality, we as moral agents don’t go it alone. We’re not solipsists. There’s broad agreement, but there’s not a gold-standard. Morality changes over time. Having slaves was the activity of upstanding men, Jeebus (or whoever invented the particular tale) didn’t have an issue with owning slaves, just treating them nicely. It’s not objective, there for all time, something real as in some concrete icon for all to behold. Or some platonic entity like the number 2…Which is not to say it isn’t a cultural (even on a basic level, species shared) construct that evolution of the natural and cultural variety might have provisioned us with. There’s naturalistic explanations as to why we do better as a species with moral intuitions. But it doesn’t mean morality exists without persons, moral agents.

      But I’m waffling now. and unlike a philosopher who knows his waffle, probably very badly. :)

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Brian,

      While I think that the two are often linked, I don’t think that you have to be a moral realist to be a moral objectivist. Specifically, I think that I’M a moral objectivists who isn’t necessarily a moral realist in a strong sense. I don’t need there to be any sort of “real” objects of morality out there to claim that morality is objective, because it seems that I treat it as an epistemic morality, in that if you know what it means to be moral — which would be starting from the concept of morality — there are a set of objective standards that follow simply from the concept, and if you don’t conform to those standards then you aren’t being moral. This is an objectivist position, surely, but it doesn’t rely on there being anything real in a strong sense of real; all it requires is that these moral principles be based on something precisely as real as concepts. Do we need a Platonic Heaven to have concepts like mathematics and morality exist? I’m not convinced.

      As for Kant, his maxim is basically “Do not make a moral law if you could not will it to be a universal maxim”. Many people misinterpret him as saying that if you thought that a moral rule should be in place, but then when you ask yourself how things would look if everyone followed it you wouldn’t like the results, then it’s a bad moral rule. That’s not what Kant means. Kant means that if you try to make it a universal rule that everyone is obligated to follow and that everyone knows that everyone is obligated to follow, it becomes self-defeating. This is his major objection to lying, and why the “If a murderer asks you where their victim is, shouldn’t you lie?” objection doesn’t work. The purpose of lying is to make someone think you’re telling the truth when you aren’t, but if lying — even in a specific case — is the rule, then no one will think you’re telling the truth, so there’s no point in telling a lie if lying is the rule. Kant explicitly rejects the idea that what you want or that happiness determines what is moral; he calls out the STOICS on that, and they clearly don’t drive their morality by anything like the happiness that the Utilitarians use.

      As for Utilitarianism, it’s an objective morality because it states that you determine the moral value of an action by calculating utility, where utility is defined as the most pleasure and least pain for all people. That’s objective, but it happens to take people’s desires into account when doing the calculation, but all that means is that it’s circumstantialist (ie it depends on the circumstances), not that it’s relativistic. No one could reject basing their moral determinations on utility and still be a Utilitarian, and two different people doing the same utility calculation ought to come up with the same answer, or else one of them is wrong.

      Ultimately, to address the last line, that you disagree with some versions of morality doesn’t mean it isn’t objective. You, or they, could actually be wrong. For the most part, our moralities — and all of the ones listed here — state that we can indeed say that someone is wrong if they say that X is moral or Y is immoral. Relativism insists that you can’t, at least at the level where things are relativistic. Error theory says this is the wrong question. And so on.

      Think of it this way: that some people might think the world is round and some might think the world is flat doesn’t mean that there isn’t an objective fact about what shape the world is. This also addresses much of your other comment, as there is a difference between saying “There is an objective fact about this question” and “I know what that fact is”. You can believe that morality is objective but not yet know — or even be wrong about — what that fact is. You are confusing, I think, absolute and unchanging with objective.

  • http://loveofallwisdom.com Amod Lele

    Thank you for this. This is the first really intelligent and thoughtful atheist response I’ve seen to Libresco’s conversion.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Stands in contradiction to some of the comments here …

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulmmoloney sc_bedcc649a9583aecb153584302d12c2e

    I have to say this is piece I’ve read on LL’s original blog post that sums up my feelings best:

    http://thebaloneydetective.com/2012/06/25/librescus-baloney/

    P.

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    Daniel Fincke writes:

    But a decisive philosophical component was the lack of adequate support from her atheist community she got when looking for a contrary metaethics and metaphysics. The atheists she spoke with were blithely counter-productive and practically shoved her into the arms of the Church.

    In my view, religious belief is one of the natural endpoints from the kind of thinking that expects more from meta-ethics and metaphysics than rational thought can deliver. Or to put it another way, one of the things that rational thought does is draw some limits and raise some barriers to what those endeavors can bring. I say “rational thought” rather than philosophy, because the latter term historically is plenty broad to encompass quite a bit.

    Unlike the believer, I don’t view the endpoint of belief as what matters. If someone wants this sort of meta-substance so much that they will go beyond where rational thought carries them to get it, it matters not to me whether they end up believing a theistic or non-theistic variety of it. The fact that they will travel that path means they already are into a kind of belief that I eschew.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    So she had this coherent system she was looking at in Catholic philosophy, which in some ways—when you ignore the baseless theology and only look at the philosophy—is fairly sophisticated in a way that ostrich atheists want to ignore and hand wave away instead of take seriously, on the one hand and only a “very patchy, in-progress” atheist metaphysics.

    This is a very important point, because Catholicism makes claims well beyond just that there’s an objective source to morality and they shall call it “God.” The paradox that God is, on the one hand, universal and omnipresent, and on the other hand, God’s grace is metaphysically tied to the historical event of the crucifixion and resurrection, disqualifies it as a “local maximum” in my mind. The conclusion of the moral argument for god (assuming you accept it at all) is merely that morality is god. It doesn’t shed much light on what that morality or god might be. And it certainly does not validate claims to a unique prophetic tradition and relationship with that god.

    Unless, you adopt the additional and, thus far, unjustified assumption that “morality is a person.” If you adopt that kind of anthropomorphism, then a metaphysics that includes original sin makes sense. But there’s no reason to personify god to that degree.

  • jimmiraybob

    Daniel – thanks for giving this the due care that it deserves.

  • Brandon

    I really don’t see the need for great hand wringing and philosophical inquiry into Leah’s positions. While she seems an entirely likeable person, I see no arguments of hers that amount to anything other than appeals to wishful thinking. There’s a not even a shred of argument from her about the actual validity of Catholic theology; without the theology being correct, the philosophy is irrelevant, even if it’s internally consistent.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Of course one person’s conversion amounts to little in the grand scheme of things. I need to pay attention to it because people are interested in the topic and are googling it and it is important to have atheistic moral philosophers responding to stories people are talking about related to morality and related to religion and morality. This qualifies.

  • MurOllavan

    Look forward to Friday Dan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hellbound.alleee hellboundallee

    One problem is that we are constantly told that science must be “value-neutral.” I find this absurd. Atheists get the idea reinforced that in science, morality is best left to clergy. Hogwash. Values are able to be evaluated with fact. If they are not evaluated factually, they may not be rational.

    I think people get confused when I state that morality, rather than being the personification that Leah seems to think it is, comes from the human brain. After all, humans are fallible. Yes; so what? We do morality; we act morally when deciding the better course of action based on the facts available. It does not mean that morality exists as a metaphysical object. It is a human action.

    Seems to me that Leah does not see a contradiction when she says that Catholicism best matches with her “moral system.” If this “moral system” truly belongs to her, it comes before the morality of a god. If she is honest enough, she will recognize that she would ultimately be saying that a god went into her mind, messed with her “free will” (not a widely atheistic position these days) and implanted that very system. She never was clued into the idea that is prevalent among atheists that Christianity at its core is indeed a subjective moral system that is contingent on the whim of Jehovah. The subjectivity is surely apparent in the bible when God orders killing, etc.

    One wonders if she has actually read the bible yet.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    Extreme good post. I only became aware of Leah’s blog after her decision to convert, and this addressed many of the question I had on the philosophical underpinnings of her statements… plus a bonus guide to naturalistic moral objectivity. It seems the more well thought-out comments from atheists are following similar inquires, so I hope a discussion develops where Leah engages with all this.

    • John Morales

      Meh.

      (Patheos is for pathetic bloggers)

  • Sili

    Are there really still any mathematical realists around? Or am I misunderstanding the term?

  • Shivankit

    Hi. This was pretty interesting
    Here’s my work on atheism
    http://rationale-atheism.blogspot.in/

  • Jason Firestone

    Apart from her ignorance of Philosophy and Theology, she betrays also a total lack of knowledge of Biblical archaeology, Biblical Form criticism, and Biblical textual criticism, all well and extensively developed fields, in academia. She is simply an ignoramus. That may be elitist, but, nonetheless, is a fact. I cannot see how anyone who actually knows the long human convoluted, known, historical process of development of the Yahweh god, (the god of the armies), and how, when, and where that came from, exactly, can make any “ultimate” claims about one of the 70 sons of the Babylonian god, (El Elyon).

    The same deconstructionist argument holds for Yeshua ben Joseph, (Jesus, the Nazorene), and his followers, who were a sub-sect in Judaism, (the “Way), for hundreds of years. (Proof: St. John Chrysostom’s sermons in the late 4th Century..”you must stop going to the synagogue”..etc.)

    So after the scientific arguments are answered, (the creative action “beginning” before spacetime existed, and the Philosophical word games are done, they are still left with no god, as no one can possibly take the Yahweh dude seriously, when the historical development facts are known, and where they got him from Sumerian myths.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/ The Ubiquitous

      Respectfully, sir: That only proves development of understanding, not development of existence.


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