The Childish Faith of John Lennox

Not a great defense of Christianity (apologetics)Childish? Childlike? You tell me.

I’ll admit to being a bit awed by an Oxford mathematics professor weighing in on Christianity. John Lennox makes a good impression. He’s a clean-shaven Irish Santa Claus with three doctorates. A nice guy with a formidable intellect and much practice as a public speaker—that’s an impressive package.

I heard him speak in Seattle a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed then … but perhaps I missed something. I recently listened to an hour-long interview, mostly on the Problem of Evil, which only solidified my unfavorable opinion.

I summarize his argument in bold below. Let me encourage both Christian and atheist readers to pause with each salvo to see what they think. Is the Christian point a strong one? What is the best atheist response? Is there something missing from either side here?

Atheists whine about the Crusades and the Inquisition, but why don’t they take seriously the violence and harm caused by atheist regimes like those of Stalin and Mao?

Because the atheism was a consequence of the actual problem, that these regimes were dictatorships. Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator. He wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist!

Atheism was central to the Soviet Union’s policy. After all, Marx said that religion was the opium of the people.  

Sure, atheism was central. Churches had to be shut down because they competed for power. Atheism was simply a consequence of the dictatorship; Stalin didn’t do damage in the name of atheism.

As for “religion is the opium of the people,” that was a compliment! Opium is medicine, remember? Here is Marx in context:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Marx wasn’t saying that religion dulled the senses of people; rather, he was saying that in a society with terrible conditions, it provides solace. His complaint was simply that religion could do no more than address a symptom, leaving the underlying problem untouched.

Atheists complain about the evil that God allows, but by what standard do they judge something as evil? If there is no god, good and evil are just a matter of opinion. There’s no rational justification for moral concepts if you abolish God.

I don’t reject the idea of morality and evil; I reject the idea of absolute morality or evil. Look in the dictionary—the definitions don’t assume absolute or objective grounding. Imagine that morality is absolute if you want, but don’t pretend that the dictionary backs you up.

We all believe in absolute values; we all acknowledge a standard outside ourselves. Atheists prove this when they argue for right and wrong. For example, we all agree that baby torture is wrong.

We don’t have absolute values; we have shared values. That’s not surprising since we’re all the same species. We agree that baby torture is wrong because we have the same moral instinct.

Atheists can be moral, but they can’t justify morality.

The natural explanation explains what we see without relying on anything supernatural. Morality has an instinctive part (from evolution) and a social part (from society).

The instinctive part explains the certainty we have about fundamental moral rights and wrongs and explains why these are shared across societies. We even see elements of morality in other primates.

The social part changes with time and place. For example, slavery is obviously wrong in the West now, but it wasn’t a problem in centuries past. Some aspects of morality vary greatly by society—honor, for example.

Atheists can’t explain where absolute morals come from.

Agreed. Neither can you. I keep hearing this confusion of shared morals with absolute morals. And I keep seeing no evidence for the remarkable claim that morality is grounded outside humans.

By rejecting God, in what sense has the atheist solved the Problem of Evil?

Do you not know what the Problem of Evil is? It asks: How can an all-good God allow evil? Drop the idea of a god, and the problem vanishes. Completely.

But evil and pain haven’t gone away.

Yes, that’s true. You’ve got a fundamental contradiction with the Problem of Evil that attacks the very foundation of your religion, but from an atheist standpoint, there is no problem.

Note that you’ve also gotten rid of all hope.

How childish are you? You care about solace but not truth? I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for the truth. The pleasantness of a doctrine doesn’t change how I evaluate its truth. “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps” (Proverbs 14:15). Don’t we want to be prudent?

Sure, God could’ve made us so we wouldn’t do bad things, but we’d be robots without free will.

So you think God is a champion of free will? When victims of murder or rape have their free will violated, God doesn’t step in to do anything about it. Why then imagine that he’s deliberately not acting so that the free will of the criminal is allowed?

Is there free will in heaven? There must be if free will is so important. Then why isn’t heaven full of evil just like the earth is? Perhaps the beings in heaven are enlightened, and they know how to use free will properly. They would simply not be tempted to do bad things.

If this enlightenment is the instruction manual to make free will work, why didn’t God give it to us?

(Read part 2 here.)

The universe we observe has
precisely the properties we should expect
if there is, at bottom,
no design, no purpose, no evil and no good,
nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
— Richard Dawkins

Photo credit: JohnLennox.org

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Mick

    At the start of any discussion with a Christian, I always ask them to describe god (otherwise we won’t know what we are talking about). I ask more questions about the attributes they assign to god and it’s not long before they are explaining that god is beyond the understanding of mere mortals (so they don’t know what they are talking about).

    Only trouble with this routine is that you rarely get to discuss the problem of evil, because the Christian has already performed a very pretty flounce.

  • http://composer99.blogspot.ca Composer 99

    From the OP:

    Atheists whine about the Crusades and the Inquisition, but why don’t they take seriously the violence and harm caused by atheist regimes like those of Stalin and Mao? [Emphasis original]

    Because the atheism was a consequence of the actual problem, that these regimes were dictatorships. Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator. He wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist!

    As far as I can see, unlike the violence of the Crusades, or the Inquisition, which were obviously religiously-inspired, it does not appear to be the case that the official atheism of the USSR or People’s Republic of China had anything to do with inspiring their violence, save for violence against the religious for being religious (as compared to, say, being any number of other suspect categories of person).

  • Highlander

    “Note that you’ve also gotten rid of all hope.”
    Nonsense, hope is the desire for a situation in the present to have an advantageous outcome in the future. The future relentlessly marches its way to the past, and people, regardless of whether there is a god, will continue to desire certain outcomes over others. The only difference is without a god people might actually go out and try to make the outcome for themselves rather than just talking to their imaginary friend about it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

  • RichardSRussell

    Man, this guy should stick to the field in which he has some expertise. This is just pathetic.

    BTW, re “We agree that baby torture is wrong because we have the same moral instinct.” Baby torturers don’t agree it’s wrong. That’s because they don’t share that common moral value — further evidence that morality isn’t absolute but rather 100% a matter of opinion.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      Richard: Agreed on the torture. I phrased it definitely because he did. I suspect that he would agree that there are outliers, but that wasn’t central to either his or my argument.

    • Castilliano

      Pathetic to people who read atheist blogs rich with healthy debate.
      Highly functional arguments to people in the real world who haven’t heard them before or don’t question them.

      Thank you, Bob, this serves as a primer for basic atheism defense.
      I’ve seen a lot of these arguments served up in comment threads and even in university debates or TV interviews. Your smooth handling of them serves as a great example to us. I’ll probably reread this just to smooth out my own replies.

      Oh, and I wouldn’t call the guy childish, and definitely not child-like. The comments are smart attempts, just poorly thought out, likely due to never having faced challenge.
      I’d call them ignorant, simple, and/or undeveloped.

      Cheers, JMK

      • MNb

        “just poorly thought out”

        Still this is odd for a well-trained mathematician. Philosophical logic is not that different from mathematical logic. In fact math is also a language.

        • Castilliano

          True.

          He’s not even trying. He’s just accepting the ‘theorems’, exploring neither the origins nor the implications.
          He’s a brainwashed disciple speaking phrases in a language he’s not fluent in. Or he’s just lazy and sloppy because that’s worked so far. Likely, he gets acclaim for this rhetoric from his peers.
          It’d be interesting if he responded…after thinking that is.

        • adamaphar

          Cue ad hominem.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

        Thank you, Bob, this serves as a primer for basic atheism defense.

        :-) 

  • RichardSRussell

    Lennox argues “Sure, God could’ve made us so we wouldn’t do bad things, but we’d be robots without free will.”

    That’s like arguing “It can’t be raining outside, because then I’d get wet.”

    Just because you don’t happen to like a particular consequence doesn’t mean that the cause of that consequence magically disappears.

    Besides, maybe we are robots without free will. How would you know?

  • Kodie

    Sure, God could’ve made us so we wouldn’t do bad things, but we’d be robots without free will.

    Why always robots?

    • David Simon

      I wanna be a robot. Robots are awesome.

    • smrnda

      Technically, the word comes from Czech and just means ‘worker’ so, unless you are a trust fund kid, you are probably already a robot.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

        smrnda:

        Good point. Maybe it’s actually Rossum who is the Creator.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    Atheists whine about the Crusades and the Inquisition, but why don’t they take seriously the violence and harm caused by atheist regimes like those of Stalin and Mao?

    Because the atheism was a consequence of the actual problem, that these regimes were dictatorships. Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator. He wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist!

    I think atheists have to do better on the “godless communists” issue. Stalin was an atheist before he became dictator of the USSR-he wasn’t an atheist because he was a dictator, he was an atheist because he was a Marxist. Prior to that, he was a seminary student. Atheism was one part of Marxist ideology. And yes, he wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist-he was a dictator because he had the unique personality traits for it, happened to be part of a movement which offered that opportunity, etc. Your response does not make sense to me I’m afraid. I believe that you mean to say the violence was because the regimes were dictatorships. Some, at least, was a consequence of atheist views held by the regimes, though many people were murdered for difference pretexts. Yes, damage was done in the name of atheism-shutting down churches, which you mention, along with persecution of believers and official denigration of belief. This was because, as you touch upon, Marxists believed that religion was not only false, but dangerous, and kept the oppressed proletariat mollified-they were promised “pie in the sky” when they died. Marx expected that once socialism was in place, religion would fade away. However, this did not happen quickly enough for the Marxist regimes, so they demolished churches and persecuted believers in an effort to hasten it. This did not work, of course. Marxist socialism failed to give the comfort Marx felt necessary to rid them of religious beliefs. On the other hand, in Scandinavia, where democratic socialism has been in place for many decades, religious belief is very low. Japan also has this. It’s inaccurate and unfair to simply pick up atheism from communist regimes and blame everything on that, when this was just one part of a larger ideology. This is not any more accurate or fair that portraying the Inquisition to represent all Christians, even ones they persecuted (since the communist regimes persecuted atheist dissidents also, by way of analogy). However, if we make such arguments to consequences, or comparisons, it leaves the rebuttal open. Crimes have been done in the name of atheism, though far less than religion, which has dominated all of history until recently. Totalitarianism is not a necessary consequence of atheism, though, and we should focus on showing that majority atheist societies (where the population voluntarily disbelieves, as opposed to ones such as the Soviet Union in which the ruling elite were atheists, while the rest had that view imposed upon them) are no worse and in many ways better than religious ones. However, denying that atheists have committed atrocities, in the name of atheism (though it still represents a small part of history only) is erroneous.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      Michael:

      Crimes have been done in the name of atheism

      Expand on this.

      There’s no holy book or deity in whose name to do violence. I don’t see any violence as a consequence of atheism. “I have no god belief,” therefore … what?

      If you’re dropping any sort of logical connection, then, sure, I can imagine anything being done in the name of anything. “I like yellow socks, therefore you must die!” for example. But as a logical consequence, I see lack of god belief implying nothing.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        True, there’s no holy book. However, people can still do violence in the name of an idea, especially an ideology. In this case as I said it was as part of Marxism. Lack of God does not by itself imply any particular stance, true. In this case, though, a strong anti-theism was one consequence. The Spanish Revolution, for instance, saw many churches demolished or converted to other uses, along with religious icons stripped from villages, along with thousands of clergy deliberately targeted and killed. It was done by groups that, unlike people today, could be fairly named “militant” atheists (i.e. they were in fact armed and militarily aggressive).

        • Richard Hollis

          “True, there’s no holy book. However, people can still do violence in the name of an idea, especially an ideology.”

          Does atheism even count as an ideology? It is simply a lack of belief in something specific – gods. Is a lack of belief in Santa an ideology? Is a lack of belief in the Easter Bunny an ideology? Is the lack of belief in dragons an ideology?

          Just like a lack of belief in Santa, a lack of belief in gods does not compel any particular behaviour. Atheism does not compel atheists to do anything. This is in direct contrast with religious faith, which DOES compel behaviour, from prayer and regular church attendance, to blasphemy laws and burning heretics.

          It can be argued that religion compels loving, compassionate deeds from its followers. But it is a fact of history that it has compelled many atrocities as well. And because it has actively compelled such behaviour, religion is accountable for those atrocities in a way that atheism simply is not.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          By itself atheism doesn’t count as an ideology, but Marxism does. Atheist was part of it. I agree, lack of belief does not compel any particular behavior. In this case, when part of a larger ideology, it did lead to certain behavior. Theism, by itself, doesn’t necessarily compel any behavior either. In organized religion, though, it does. Like secular ideologies, the behavior can be violent, or not, depending on its nature.

        • Richard Hollis

          Atheism is not accountable for Marxism. Or for Communism. Or for any other political or philosophical movements.

          It is a very common theist tactic to insist atheism is responsible for the regimes of Stalin and Mao, obviously hoping to taint by association. Just as John Lennox is trying to do here. But it doesn’t wash. You can no more attribute deeds to ‘a lack of belief in gods’ than you can to ‘a lack of belief in Santa’, or dragons, or fairies.

          “Theism, by itself, doesn’t necessarily compel any behavior either.”

          Well, maybe not deism. But I cannot think of a single other (theistic) religion that fails to not only claim that gods exist, but also instructs us on who those gods are and what they want from us and how we should behave to please them.

          “In organized religion, though, it does.”

          Which is precisely why we can expect certain organised religions to be accountable for certain atrocities in history, such as the crusades, the inquisition, and terrorist bombings. We cannot hold atheism to a similar account.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          I don’t hold atheism as a whole accountable for any political movements, but on the other hand, to say that it was not involved, for some cases at least, is to me fallacious. It’s true theism in most cases goes along with other beliefs. In many cases though other beliefs go along with or follow from the non-belief of atheism. This may be simply opposition to religious intrusion into the public sphere, or privileges granted to religions. I hold both these views myself. In the most rare, extreme historical cases, it was the active desire that religion itself be abolished, by force if necessary. Most religions are very diverse in teaching, even within themselves. I do not think we can hold Quakers, for instance, to account for the Inquisition. Likewise, modern humanist atheists bear no responsibility in the attacks on religious people by Marxist regimes. Both cases are fallacious guilty by association.

    • RichardSRussell

      There’s no doubt that a great many of Josef Stalin’s victims were killed intentionally, for a variety of reasons. Most of the dead, tho, perished not as a result of intent but thru simple incompetence. (That is, it was more neglect than abuse.) Millions starved to death due to the insane (and totally unscientific) policies of Stalin’s ag minister, Trofim D. Lysenko. More died during forced relocations and general industrial incompetence that led to lack of protection from the brutal Russian winters. And, since the Soviet Union was officially an atheistic, Communistic country, a good many of those who died were atheists and Communists.

      In general, if you’re killing people because of some religious or political or racial or tribal animus, you try to avoid killing those who share your own. Stalin just didn’t give a shit.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        You’re very right on all of the above. Some of those killed intentionally, though, were done so due to them being religious. Many of the dead, as I noted, were atheists and communists.

        • Greg G.

          Some of those killed intentionally, though, were done so due to them being religious. 

          Some of those killed may have opposed Stalin for religious reasons but I expect they were killed because they opposed him, not because they opposed him for religious reasons. I doubt he considered the legitimacy of a person’s reason for opposition when considering whether to eliminate them.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Yes, but I’m referring to cases in which people were targeted even if they didn’t openly oppose him.

        • Greg G.

          Collateral damage?

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Rooting out people deemed likely dissidents, whether or not they had actually done anything to resist.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          No doubt.

        • Kodie

          One question to clarify this recurring misapprehension – many theists are made to believe that atheism is borne out of a desire to be #1 instead of humbling oneself at #2, just one below god: how do you distinguish a person who is an atheist who apparently had that desire and achieved dictatorship from the rest of us? My answer is that we’re all some kind of animal. There is no best animal, we just all have a niche, and we all like to (generally) live and not go extinct. Our niche is intelligence and we use tools and rationality to innovate our environment to serve ourselves, with some general consciousness of other people and other animals (unless perverted by belief in god).

          Another question to clarify this recurring misapprehension – why is it not ok for a person to do it, and immediately and instinctively labeled a travesty, but when god does it, it’s called love? I don’t even blame Marxism, I blame fanaticism. Stalin was jealous that anyone would have a leader over him. I’m not sure of a Marxist government insisting itself upon others to agree upon pain of death. Marxism, in essence, wants people to be free. Killing them to enforce this policy doesn’t seem to line up with Marxism itself. Maybe Marxism fails in practice, but that’s not even to say it’s atheism coming from a Marxist ideal that caused the failure. Stalin was a jealous, incompetent, self-serving human being, and so why is that terrible? It’s only terrible from the point of view who think people should not be so uppity as to assume tyranny when that’s god’s domain. They seem to be relatively ok when someone admits to serving god instead. If you are a dictator serving god, whatever you did was just whatever you received instructions to do – see: the bible genocides. EDIT: I didn’t mean to imply that he wasn’t that bad, all considered. Stalin was pathologically bad. Atheism didn’t make him bad – wanting to be “god” to his people probably did make him bad. Why is the assumption that, because Stalin wanted to be god to his people, that that came from atheism, or that’s an example of what atheists really want and pursue?

    • MNb

      Bertrand Russell already pointed out the religious aspects of marxism in his History of Western Philosophy. Stalin may have been an atheist, he surely understood the power of deification and did not mind to be worshipped as if he were a god. The same for Mao.
      I recommend to read a few things about juche, the ideology of North-Korea. It’s religiosity – especially about the bond between the leader and the people – is striking.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        Yes, I’m well aware of the parallels. I’m not sure Marxism qualifies as a religion, however, though its “historical dialectic” is certainly near-supernatural (in Hegel’s original version, it was “the will of God” explicitly). True, Stalin, Mao and the Kim family of Korea have been treated in a manner similar to religious worship (in the last case with blatantly supernatural aspects). I don’t think this negates my point, however.

    • TurelieTelcontar

      Consider the forms of government in these countries before Stalin/Mao/Franco came to power:
      They were empires/a kingdom ruled by a monarch who ruled by god’s grace. In the case of Russia, the czar was the head of the russian-orthodox church. The monarchs’ biggest powerbase were the churches/biggest organized religion in every country. So, the new dictators were atheists because only a non-religious perso would go against a tenet of their faith in overthrowing the monarch. And on the other hand, logically, the churches had to be dismantled before they could actually organize a resistance to the new government, as that would have been the end of that revolution.
      You have a similar effect in France during the revolution 1789. In order to get rid of someone who is actually legitimated as a ruler by the fact that the church hierarchy says he is put there by god, when 98% of the population belong to that church, you have to get the support of that church, get rid of that church, or get rid of religion “officially”. Otherwise, you might just as well give up before you started.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        That’s a very good point. I’m sure the previous regimes being so wrapped up with a state religion was definitely part of the reason it was targeted.

    • Scott_In_OH

      I think Michael is basically right–Bob may be correct on a technicality, but it doesn’t seem like a powerful rebuttal.

      Soviet communism (or whatever it was) was explicitly anti-clerical and anti-religious because it was explicitly atheist. It argued that organized religion prevented the proletariat from advancing, and it targeted religious leaders for persecution.

      Now, it did so in the name of the proletariat, and it did the same thing to a lot of other, non-religious, targets. Also, plenty of the attacks (on religious and non-religious) in reality had nothing to do with helping the working class.

      Still, the fact that the ideology was atheist meant that it was likely to see religion as a threat, and it did.

      Maybe Bob’s point is that the problem was that the atheism was unconstrained by a democratic process, and that lack of constraint is a problem no matter what the guiding ideology is?

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        I would definitely agree-lack of constraint leads to bad things, in any ideology.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

        Scott:

        Soviet communism (or whatever it was) was explicitly anti-clerical and anti-religious because it was explicitly atheist.

        … and why was it atheist? Wasn’t the atheism a symptom of something else?

        Or are you saying that they had a powerful urge to convert the rest of the world to their atheistic philosophy? That their atheism urged them to commit certain acts? Or maybe their dogma or holy writ told them to?

        I’m back at square one, trying to see things from an atheist-only viewpoint. “I don’t believe in god, therefore” … therefore what?

    • smrnda

      I like what you pointed about about Scandinavia. To me, the correct understanding of religion as it pertains to democratic socialism is, once you fix problems of poverty and inequality by changing the economic structure, demand for religion will go down. You can’t just get rid of religion and then find everything okay. If a person in pain is taking opiates, and you take the opiate away, they’re just in more pain.

      The problem, particularly with Mao, is that there was no way the Chinese or Russian regimes could deliver on a decent standard of living. Mao seemed to believe that through willpower and ‘correct belief’ alone you can raise the standard of living in a nation. This actually goes against what Marx wrote, which was that if a country did not yet reach a certain stage of development, a revolution just doesn’t deliver since the means of production aren’t advanced enough yet.

      At the same time, Mao couldn’t possibly let himself or his own special interpretation be blamed, so he blamed others, and we get the Cultural Revolution down the road.

      I’m not sure though if I can really say Mao’s crimes were done ‘in the name of atheism.’ Scapegoating religious people was just a way to get around accepting any blame, and Mao seemed to believe in kind of magical thinking.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        I completely agree smrnda. You made the same point far better than me. I certainly don’t mean that all of Mao’s crimes, nor Stalin’s, etc., were done because of atheism, but at least some had to do with militant anti-theistic atheist views held by the communists. Many of the people they killed were atheists too, however-dissidents were targeted in general.

        • smrnda

          Having read a lot about the Cultural Revolution, religions, be they Christian, Buddhist, or just about anything else, were easy scapegoats. In a way it reminds me of Christians scapegoating Jews – Christian belief has certain antisemitic tendencies which make targeting Jews easy to justify by theology, the way that if you’re view is religion is dangerous and backwards, you can justify attacking religious people.

          Any ideology has to identify bad ideas or groups of people likely to cause trouble, and sometimes this can be taken way out of hand, even when you make correct assessments. I would agree that religions cause a lot of damage, but I’m not about to think that it’s okay to kill a bunch of people and burn down some churches. At the same time, I wonder if the people who do stuff like that are really just looking to cause violent chaos and will seize any justification. It’s probably hard to really tell.

  • avalon

    “For example, we all agree that baby torture is wrong.”

    Not everyone:
    How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock! (Psalm 137:9)

    avalon

    • Nox

      An odd example of something we could all agree on considering what Lennox thinks happens to babies who die without accepting Jesus.

  • MNb

    “why don’t they take seriously the violence and harm …”
    I do. That’s why I am neither a stalinist nor a maoist.

    “Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator.”
    That’s questionable. Stalin had nothing against deifying himself.

    “Marx said that religion was the opium of the people.”
    Not that I’m a marxist, but the Soviet-Union wasn’t marxist either. Lenin made some important amendments. What’s more, it can be argued that the very idea of dictature of the proletariat was opium of the people too. Bakunin made a point like that back in 1870. So this is another religious aspect of the SU and even of marxism in general.

    “by what standard do they judge something as evil?”
    Happiness, pain, suffering, you name it.

    “There’s no rational justification for moral concepts if you abolish God.”
    I’m willing to accept that, in the sense that the only justification for using happiness seems to be that the overwhelming majority of people, including religious ones, prefer to be happy and rather avoid pain and suffering. Unfortunately for Lennox his god is neither rational nor a justification.

    “We all believe in absolute values”
    No, not me. But I do think some values are to preferred and others should be rejected. Because of happiness, pain and suffering. Note that the Bible doesn’t believe in absolute values either – they’ve changes quite a bit a couple of times.

    “Atheists can’t justify morality.”
    So what? Neither can believers.
    (BobS’ answer is not a justification, but an explanation based on scientific facts why humans have a sense of morality. Note that some don’t).

    “in what sense has the atheist solved the Problem of Evil?”
    Herman Philipse again – atheism far better explains why human beings recognize good and evil than theism.

    “But evil and pain haven’t gone away.”
    Correct. I still have to meet the first atheist who thinks this utopian goal can be realized. Personally I prefer to learn to cope with it to longing for an imaginary world which on a closer look isn’t attractive at all.

    “Note that you’ve also gotten rid of all hope.”
    On the contrary. It’s typical for parents for instance that they hope their children will have a better life than themselves. In this world. I want to make it a better place, even if my contribution is tiny. Still I’m very proud of what I actually did accomplish. In this world. I think this splendid thought (it’s not originally mine of course) offers more hope than any religion can.

    “we’d be robots without free will.”
    What about the free will of the victims of our bad actions? Does your god even care? Do you, John Lennox? If yes, why are you so indifferent about your god’s attitude towards those victims? If Elisabeth Fritzl or those three American women who were locked up for seven years or so will ask you, what comfort and hope do yóú and your god have to offer? What are you going to tell them about their free will? Not to mention natural disasters? Couldn’t your god have warned the 20 000 victims of the Japanese tsunami of 2011? Are you going to argue that the free will of the evil culprits is more valuable than the free will of those women?
    Thank you for pointing out exactly why I never will be a christian, even when I will convert.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      MNb: A thorough critique; thanks.

      I appreciate all who’ve jumped in with their responses to Lennox (on either side).

  • Tree

    Stalin and Mao were communists, not just atheists. The things they did came from their understand of communist doctrines. I am not a communist, although I am an atheist. Communism is pretty much defunct as an ideology now. For that reason, I don’t see the point in trying to descredit communism…it’s already been discredited.Communism is a type of atheism, but it’s not the only one. To blame all atheism, everywhere, for things done in the name of communism is like blaming buddhists for the burning of heretics by the Catholic church.

    All the rest of his arguements are the same tired old rubbish apologists have been spewing out for years. There are refutations of all his points on the internet already.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Atheists complain about the evil that God allows, but by what
    standard do they judge something as evil? If there is no god, good and
    evil are just a matter of opinion. There’s no rational justification for
    moral concepts if you abolish God.

    What incredible ignorance. It is startling that someone who knows so little about ethics would make such a public display of his ignorance. Note the conflation of God-given morality with absolute morality. Any first year philosophy student should be able to shred this pablum.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Further: There are atheist philosophers who believe in absolute morality. I think they’re wrong, but they do exist. And someone needs to go all Euthyphro on his @$$.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Daniel Fincke of Camels with Hammers is an example of an atheist who believed in objective morality. Just recently someone seems to have hit him over the head with “shared != objective” hard enough to penetrate a bit, so I don’t know if he will finally wise up or not. Human psychology is a tricky thing.

  • KarlUdy

    Because the atheism was a consequence of the actual problem, that these regimes were dictatorships. Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator. He wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist!

    As someone else mentioned I don’t think this is what you actually meant. What you probably meant is that “Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions because he was a dictator …”

    However, even if you wanted to say that, it doesn’t provide a better explanation of Stalin’s horrors than atheism as there are many dictators who did do the horrors that Stalin did.

    And I do think that Dostoyesvsky’s quote in The Brother’s Karamazov: “If there is no God, then all things are permissable” is relevant here. Not because all atheists will not hold themselves to any code of morals, but that by spreading the idea that there is no moral authority beyond yourself, sooner or later someone is going to be Smerdyakov to your Ivan and commit moral outrage. Whether this was the case for Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot I can’t be sure, but what I can be confident of is that there are atheists that have done horrible things because they believed their deeds would never be judged, and thus did these horrible things as a consequence of their atheism.

    • Richard Hollis

      “it doesn’t provide a better explanation of Stalin’s horrors than atheism as there are many dictators who did do the horrors that Stalin did.”

      I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here. No-one is trying to provide an explanation for Stalin’s atrocities – the point is that atheism in general does not compel the behaviour of atheists. Therefore, it is illogical to attack the validity of atheism by the behaviour of a few atheists.

      ” “If there is no God, then all things are permissable [sic]” is relevant here. Not because all atheists will not hold themselves to any code of morals, but that by spreading the idea that there is no moral authority beyond yourself, sooner or later someone is going to be Smerdyakov to your Ivan and commit moral outrage.”

      The quote is silly. Atheists are not just moral nihilists. It does not diminish the importance of living morally to acknowledge that morality is a social construct, rather than being handed down from on-high by some deity.

      Imagine a group of people who think morality was given to us mere humans by the Giant Purple Fairy. The Fairyists say that anyone who denies the existence of the Giant Purple Fairy is playing a very dangerous game. Anyone who does so, they claim, is denying that morality is objective at all. Deny the Giant Purple Fairy and all things are permissible.

      Do you see the fallacy now?

      • KarlUdy

        No-one is trying to provide an explanation for Stalin’s atrocities – the point is that atheism in general does not compel the behaviour of atheists.

        That’s not how I read Bob’s post. He seemed to attribute Stalin’s behaviour to being a dictator.

        The quote is silly. Atheists are not just moral nihilists. It does not diminish the importance of living morally to acknowledge that morality is a social construct, rather than being handed down from on-high by some deity.

        It might help to read what I actually wrote. I agree that not all atheists are moral nihilists. But surely the vast majority of moral nihilists are atheists. And sooner or later, those who propose it as “merely a theory” will find someone who is prepared to put it into practice.

        the point is that atheism in general does not compel the behaviour of atheists.

        However, atheism in particular will influence/motivate the behaviour of particular atheists.

        I do want to draw on one more remark you made.

        Therefore, it is illogical to attack the validity of atheism by the behaviour of a few atheists.

        Isn’t this in essence what John Lennox is saying when he asks why focus on the wrongs committed under Christian rule and ignore the ills of atheistic regimes?

        • Richard Hollis

          “That’s not how I read Bob’s post. He seemed to attribute Stalin’s behaviour to being a dictator.”

          Indeed. But the difference between being an atheist and being a dictator is that the latter entails certain behaviours. The former does not.

          “I agree that not all atheists are moral nihilists. But surely the vast majority of moral nihilists are atheists. And sooner or later, those who propose it as “merely a theory” will find someone who is prepared to put it into practice.”

          Atheists are no less equipped to answer the nihilist than the theists are. Morality carries just as much importance if it is just a social construct than if it is handed down by God (arguably more so, since there is then no cosmic arbiter to dispense ultimate justice on the end of days). But to the person who does not care about morality, neither is compelling.

          Besides, there are many atheists who are moral objectivists. I have no idea why Christians persevere with this myth that all atheists are moral relativists.

          However, history has not been blighted by atheistic nihilists (who are generally, if dangerous, then at least solitary) half as much as it has by religious fanaticists – charismatic people who can rally a mob and convince people they are the mouthpiece of God – that their orders are of divine origin. And, of course, people who are totally beyond the appeal of reason. It is these people who stain the pages of history with blood. If we are going to single out any sort of person as an immediate threat to humanity, it would be them, no?

          “However, atheism in particular will influence/motivate the behaviour of particular atheists.”

          How? Does your lack of belief in Santa influence/motivate you? Does your lack of belief in dragons? Does your lack of belief in fairies? Does your lack of belief in goblins?

          “Isn’t this in essence what John Lennox is saying when he asks why focus on the wrongs committed under Christian rule and ignore the ills of atheistic regimes?”

          The difference is that Christianity (like most religions) does actively compel behaviour. People DO act on the basis of their Christian faith. They deny themselves blood transfusions and abortions which would save their lives purely out of faith. They go to war for holy causes, acting on their sincere belief in the existence of God. Atheism simply does not compel any belief of its adherents the way religion does.

          Compare belief in Santa with non-belief in Santa. Belief in Santa compels behaviour – writing a list of presents, leaving milk and cookies out, etc. These are actions carried out simply because the person believed in Santa. But what actions does a non-belief in Santa compel?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Compare
          belief in Santa with non-belief in Santa.

          Helpful, thanks.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      Not because all atheists will not hold themselves to any code of morals, but that by spreading the idea that there is no moral authority beyond yourself, sooner or later someone is going to be Smerdyakov to your Ivan and commit moral outrage.

      So we’re not talking about whether Christianity is true or not, only whether it’s useful or not?

      It’s like you’re whispering to me, “Yeah, OK—it’s all BS, but don’t tell the proles! You and I can keep it together, but it’s only religion that’s keeping the low-lifes from rampaging through the streets. For the love of God, man, stop rocking the boat!”

      • KarlUdy

        So we’re not talking about whether Christianity is true or not, only whether it’s useful or not?

        Actually I was talking about atheism and pointing out that merely holding atheist viewpoints will not make someone act immorally, but that once someone starts to act on the implications of those viewpoints, there is a real possibility that they will do things that most of us consider abominable. Ivan had moral restraints that he was not aware of, or more to the point, he was not aware that there were those like Smerdyakov who did not share his moral restraints.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          merely holding atheist viewpoints will not make someone act immorally, but that once someone starts to act on the implications of those viewpoints

          The viewpoint is nothing more or less than “I don’t have a god belief.” What implications are there?

          Granted, one implication is, “… and therefore there is no god to answer to.” Is there anything more?

          And I don’t see this one as particularly powerful. There’s still friends and family to answer to. I don’t see ultimate justice keeping many Christians from doing things that they would otherwise do.

          Experiment: I give you a list of someone’s personality traits plus the good and bad things they’ve done in life. Now you try to guess if they’re Christian or not.

          Ivan had moral restraints that he was not aware of, or more to the point, he was not aware that there were those like Smerdyakov who did not share his moral restraints.

          I’ve not read Karamazov, but I don’t know that a novel is particularly helpful here. I’d rather use real-life examples.

        • KarlUdy

          I’ve not read Karamazov

          Now there’s an unforgivable sin :-)

          I’d rather use real-life examples.

          Fine. How about Kermit Gosnell. It wouldn’t be atheism per se, but the issue of beliefs in theory and practice are very pertinent.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          How about Kermit Gosnell.

          Yeah, that example paints a pretty hideous picture of what a post-Roe world would look like. If you hate the Gosnell example, keep abortion legal and safe! (And working to minimize unwanted pregnancies would be good as well, but we’ve already been there.)

          But I’m not sure where you’re going with Gosnell. Was he an atheist? What’s your point here?

        • KarlUdy

          As I said, not atheism per se. But the case is analogous to atheism and moral authority.

          Let me lead you through it.

          Abortion advocates say that a mother’s choice is paramount regarding the issues surrounding pregnancy. However, almost all would say that snipping the spines of babies that happen to live through the abortion procedure is wrong.

          But if a mother’s choice is paramount, and she has chosen that the foetus inside her should be killed, then there is a certain logic to the idea that if the actual abortion procedure doesn’t accomplish this, then the goal should be accomplished by other means.

          What Gosnell did was follow logical implications from what abortion advocates say, but to do things that most of them find abhorrent.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          almost all would say that snipping the spines of babies that happen to live through the abortion procedure is wrong.

          It was against the law. I’m happy with what that law said.

          But if a mother’s choice is paramount, and she has chosen that the foetus inside her should be killed, then there is a certain logic to the idea that if the actual abortion procedure doesn’t accomplish this, then the goal should be accomplished by other means.

          The mother’s choice is paramount up to the point where the law says that it’s not. I’m happy with what the law says. What I’m not happy with is laws that deliberately violate Roe (introduced presumably to provide a lawsuit) or legislatures that make abortion effectively unavailable even if it’s technically legal.

          The issue with Gosnell was that he was breaking the law. His example does nothing to bolster the pro-life side.

        • KarlUdy

          What thought process could possibly have motivated Gosnell to break the law? And how could he possibly justify it? These are the relevant questions

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl: Puzzle away. Lots of people break the law. Is this guy the worst you’ve heard of?

          Again: this example does nothing to bolster the pro-life position.

        • KarlUdy

          Bob, I’m not talking about this to bolster the pro-life position. I’m talking about it as an explanation of how holding an idea in theory and putting it into practice are very different. And that the actions of the second may be abhorrent to the views of those in the first.

  • KarlUdy

    The natural explanation explains what we see without relying on anything supernatural. Morality has an instinctive part (from evolution) and a social part (from society).

    This is not the first time you have trotted out your assertion that we have moral instincts. There is no moral instinct. We do have moral intuitions, but I’m not sure if you want to go there, because being intuitions they are not automatic physical or physiological responses (which is what an instinct is), but rather responses that come via our mind, which is not going to lead to evolution as an explanation but instead to something approaching the conscience (in which case, you may need to rethink your thoughts on Peter Kreeft’s argument from conscience.)

    • smrnda

      I think this is trifling with words a bit. I don’t see why certain modes of thought cannot be influenced by evolution. For example, people have a tendency to attribute agency to things that have no intelligence, and this likely has survival value. Behavioral tendencies certainly have some biological component, though I think an interaction of factors is the best explanation.

      To separate PURE instinct from social programming is impossible, since outside of rare cases of feral humans, nobody grows up unless they’re inside a culture. I do find it interesting to think of how much of our behavior might be genetically programmed as opposed to taught.

      • KarlUdy

        For example, people have a tendency to attribute agency to things that have no intelligence, and this likely has survival value.

        Be very careful. If the genetic makeup of humanity predisposes our beliefs away from reality, we lose all basis for making claims as to what is and is not real.

        To separate PURE instinct from social programming is impossible, since outside of rare cases of feral humans, nobody grows up unless they’re inside a culture. I do find it interesting to think of how much of our behavior might be genetically programmed as opposed to taught.

        Culture and society is a separate issue. Instincts are physical reactions to outside stimuli. They can be suppressed by conscious effort but the fact that they are instincts means that they occur without any conscious decision. A good example is the instinct to open our mouths and inhale when we need oxygen. Very different from anything to do with morality. And can be easily distinguished from social programming.

    • Greg G.

      There can be a conflict between instincts such as when two grizzlies face off and the first battle is between the flight and fight instincts. Emotional and physical states may play a role as a satiated bear would be less reluctant to relinquish a carcass than a hungry one.

      Social creatures have even more interests in the balance so they must balance harmony with the group vs selfish needs or short-term vs long-term needs.

      It seems like hair splitting to reduce conflicting instinctual motivations to intuitions. If they are passed down biologically and the internal brain mechanisms are the same, and until we understand them as distinct, it’s a difference without a distinction.

      • KarlUdy

        It seems like hair splitting to reduce conflicting instinctual motivations to intuitions. If they are passed down biologically and the internal brain mechanisms are the same, and until we understand them as distinct, it’s a difference without a distinction.

        Perhaps it would be hairsplitting if that was what I was doing. What does Bob mean when he talks about moral instincts? He says that our moral instincts tell us that torturing babies is wrong. Instincts are about actions, not beliefs or thoughts.

        • Greg G.

          Would having a visceral revulsion against eating putrid meat not be instinctual because it’s an inaction? Humans tend to have a visceral revulsion to torture unless the victim has been dehumanized.

        • KarlUdy

          I think a gag reflex or wincing could be instinctual (but I’m no expert on the human body). The thought “this must be wrong” or “this is evil” however can not be.

          As an example, how do we distinguish between an emergency operation (say amputation of a gangrenous limb) and tortur?. The visceral reaction, I imagine, could well be identical. I, for one, would not want to watch either. But I would classify one as good and the other as evil.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl: If you’re just being the Dictionary Police to make sure we use the precisely correct definitions, that’s fine. Let’s not use instinct where a more precise word applies.

          But are you rejecting the idea of a moral intuition (to try out a new term) as part of humans’ programming?

        • KarlUdy

          I believe that humans do have a moral intuition, but when you say that humans have common thoughts and beliefs about morality then you run into ground where evolution is a very poor explanation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl: Again, let’s be clear that the burden is not on me to provide the explanation.

          But expand on that. We’re all the same species. We all have very similar programming. How are common moral beliefs not well explained by evolution?

        • KarlUdy

          If you are right that thoughts and beliefs can be explained by evolution, how can you be sure that atheism is not simply an aberrant genetic condition?

          You’ve sawed off the branch you’re sitting on.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          If you are right that thoughts and beliefs can be explained by evolution, how can you be sure that atheism is not simply an aberrant genetic condition?

          If you’re saying that the human mind is fallible, I agree. Why—is it any different from a Christian perspective?

          If neither of us is claiming a perfect brain, then I guess we’re back to where we started, with the null hypothesis.

          You’ve sawed off the branch you’re sitting on.

          Bold talk, but wrong. The burden of proof is yours. I don’t have to prove anything. You have a remarkable claim like a god exists that created everything, despite what science offers as an alternative, great. Show us.

        • KarlUdy

          If you’re saying that the human mind is fallible, I agree. Why—is it any different from a Christian perspective?
          If neither of us is claiming a perfect brain, then I guess we’re back to where we started, with the null hypothesis.

          The key question is “how can we access truth”? If an atheist can’t even trust the working of their own mind, what is left? A theist at least has other avenues to access truth.

          The burden of proof is yours. I don’t have to prove anything.

          A fairly common refrain from you now.If you don’t have to prove anything, it must be because you are not making any claims worth proving.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          If an atheist can’t even trust the working of their own mind, what is left?

          Can’t trust? I think you underestimate how atheists evaluate their minds. It ain’t perfect, but it does a decent job.

          A theist at least has other avenues to access truth.

          Show that these other avenues have merit and I’ll use them as well. Until then, it’s just wishful thinking (and, looking at the other religions in the world, I suspect you’ll agree that there’s a lot of that going around).

          A fairly common refrain from you now.

          Yeah, and sounding increasingly plaintive. I keep waiting for you to say, “Burden?! Showing that the Lord Jesus Christ® is exists and lives even today?! That’s not a burden but a pleasure!”

          And I keep being disappointed.

        • KarlUdy

          Can’t trust? I think you underestimate how atheists evaluate their minds. It ain’t perfect, but it does a decent job.

          On what do you base your faith that it does a decent job? If you believe it deceives us about some things, how can you tell what you are and are not being deceived about?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          On what do you base your faith that it does a decent job?

          Not faith, trust. Say you’re hitting a ball thrown by a pitching machine (each pitch is the same). You’ve got to respond very quickly. Your brain has a belief that if you swing a certain way, at a certain time, you’ll hit the ball. And, with practice, sure enough—you do.

          Sure, we could be in the Matrix, and everything is simulated. But if the ball really does fly away in response to your swing, that brain and its sensory input does a pretty decent job.

        • KarlUdy

          Not faith, trust.

          Faith is a perfectly valid word to describe the situation according to both the dictionary and general usage. You pull me up on not using the dictionary usage of “plausible” but using a definition based on how you seem to use it, and then you pull me up on using the dictionary definition of “faith”. Could we have some consistency? Please?

        • Kodie

          Faith is trust in your guess. That could be a weak or strong guess. Why do you have faith that demons cause diseases? Only because you haven’t ruled it out and you like to think so. Why do you have faith that there are objective morals? Because you like to ignore scientific and philosophic refutations. You don’t have a good, valid reason for telling yourself those stories while science proves you wrong. I don’t just have faith that the sun rises every morning only because it always does. From my perspective and knowledge, I just don’t have a good reason to understand why that always happens. I have the primitive brain like you and I observe and remember and make a guess. Every day I’m right but I don’t know why.

          Demons do not cause diseases. Scientists can easily ignore that and focus on what they actually see under the microscope and understand biology and chemistry. If demons cause diseases, then exorcisms ought to work rather decently and we never need to learn about biology or chemistry. If we train people how to ward off demons, they will be safe and healthy! If we learn just how demons work, we wouldn’t need medicine to outsmart them, but you assess the properties of demons can never be observed or understood since they can’t be detected. Another excuse. It’s a story that makes sense in your head until we ask “where are the demons then” and you revert to “well we don’t know they’re not there!” Yeah, they manipulate a living organism to wreck someone’s body but we can’t see them. Are the bacterias also friends with the demons or are they enslaved by the demons too? You don’t know but you will still make an answer to it. All it has to do is fit in the story you believe.

          On the other hand, my guess is supported by added information on the earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun. The sun doesn’t “rise,” it doesn’t move across the sky – the earth rotates. So I was wrong, but I wasn’t far wrong in guessing that it happens every day – and that is what a day is. My faith was a guess and comprehended the situation slightly wrong. Since it’s not hidden in the ether, magically operating, I could be corrected about what I had previously believe but not stick to my faith. If it were discovered that, instead of the solar system, the earth did exist inside a dome in which gods drew the sun across our sky, it wouldn’t look like it does. Faith is not the best way to get information – it does seem to be the best way to invent stories if you don’t really know.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl: We have a common definition of “plausible.” When you invent a ludicrous definition and try to pin it on me, I will (not surprisingly) reject that.

          One definition of faith is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” I agree that trust can be used as a synonym, but this leads to ambiguity.

          This is never the definition of trust, and, since I wanted to emphasize that a strong grounding in evidence was part of my view, I wanted to avoid a word that has these ambiguous meanings.

          I’m guessing that my desire for clear communication will continue to disappoint.

        • Kodie

          A theist doesn’t have any other avenues to access truth. If you want to talk about how demons affect people, you have to talk about how you accessed that truth, or admit it’s an irrational guess, given what we know now about how diseases are caused. You take huge leaps across logic to say “but what I believe might be possible” and using only your mind and nothing more than anyone else, you are fallible. You can’t close the gap in your logic, and you can’t stand it being pointed out to you. You never did explain how demons are undetectable by humans and human instruments of exploration and detection, but a virus can be willed to make a person sick on demand of a demon. Why are you thinking here that you have nothing to prove? You are all about “Bob, prove there aren’t demons! You can’t, so I win!” When do we get to the part where you use reason. Explain to us your methods of discernment – no, you just think so, you are just using your brain, and you are an example of how faulty the working of your own mind is. Don’t cast that shit on the rest of us.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl: Good point about “instinct.” What word should I use to refer to the moral programming that people are born with?

        • KarlUdy

          Moral intuition? Conscience?

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “What does Bob mean when he talks about moral instincts? He says that our
          moral instincts tell us that torturing babies is wrong. Instincts are
          about actions, not beliefs or thoughts.”

          I don’t think Bob is completely wrong about moral instincts. This ties in with a false argument I hear often from theists, so allow me to kill two birds at once:

          Theists will claim that if moral values are subjective (ie. coming from our brain) then “they’re no different than our preference in favorite ice cream”.

          A simple thought experiment will prove Bob right about instincts and theists wrong about subjectivity:

          Imagine you’re in a restaurant eating your favorite ice cream, chocolate. Next table over a guy chooses strawberry ice cream, a flavor you don’t like. What motivational force will cause you to act on his choice of strawberry? Given that you only have a weak emotional reaction to strawberry ice cream, you won’t feel much motivation at all. Perhaps, if you really dislike it you’ll look away while he eats.
          Now, imagine your young son is with you. He’s so happy about the ice cream that he stands on the table and drops his pants! You ask him to sit down and get dressed, but he ignores you. So you grab his arm and yank him down, pull up his pants, and give him a swat on the rump. What will be the reaction of your fellow diners? We can guess that some will approve of spanking and smile and nod. Some may be slightly uncomfortable with spanking and give you a dirty look. One may be radically opposed to spanking and come over to lecture you on the evils of spanking; perhaps threatening to report you for child abuse. All these reactions can be considered mid-level emotional responses and motivations to various degrees.
          Now imagine the guy next to you (eating strawberry ice cream) has his young son with him too. The kid starts crying because he didn’t get any ice cream. The father takes his table knife and drives it thru the kids hand, pinning it to the table. What will be people’s reaction? Based on the strong emotional content, the motivation to protect the kid will compel every rational person to act. These acts will not be reasoned out before hand. They will be swift and automatic, like an instinct.
          All of these reactions are based on our emotions which come from our brains. Because we all share the same basic brain we expect to see a fairly narrow range of emotional responses and motivated actions. The man who simply looks away while a child is stabbed is suspected of having a damaged brain (unless he happened to be lobotomized). Likewise, a man who attacks someone for simply choosing strawberry ice cream is considered equally damaged.

          What I hope this shows is:
          1. In extreme cases our emotional reactions to a situation can bring about an instinct to act (Bob is partially correct).
          and
          2. Just because I think morals values are subjective, it does not follow that they are no more important than our preference for ice cream. There is a sliding scale of emotional content and motivations which come with our subjective choices and these play a vital role in our actions.

        • KarlUdy

          Avalon,
          In response to (1), I do not believe that the instinct is to act. The instinct may be a horrified reaction, a scream or something like that. The actions to protect the child would be a conscious decision.

          Regarding (2), the issue regarding subjectivity and morality comes up when we encounter those whose morality differs from us. Do you feel certain that it is wrong to eat or not to eat a certain flavour of ice cream, and that people should be compelled to act accordingly? Yet people do feel certain that genocide or sex slavery is wrong and that people should be compelled to act accordingly. If someone disagrees (and some must, otherwise our world would not have these problems) then on what basis can we say that our take on morality is right and theirs is wrong? You can appeal to your inner convictions, but so can they. You can appeal to the consensus of society about the wrongness of such things, yet there are societies that approve of such actions.

          A Japanese politician recently made the news for saying that the comfort women of WWII were necessary to maintain discipline in the army – in other words, according to his personal view the press-ganging of Korean and Chinese women to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers was not wrong. Japanese society of that time obviously saw nothing wrong with it (and given the reluctance of Japan to apologize for these actions it appears a significant proportion of Japanese society still do not see anything wrong with it.) If morality is subjective then how can we possibly condemn this as wrong, when these people neither have personal objections or societal objections? If we say that our society finds it morally wrong, then is not the enforcing of our society’s morals on another society simply imperialism? (Although, whether imperialism is right or wrong, and on what grounds would be even murkier depths.)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          on what basis can we say that our take on morality is right and theirs is wrong?

          You’re wondering why we can claim that our morality is objectively better than theirs? We don’t. We simply say that we think that they are wrong, and if it’s something that’s actually important (yes for genocide; no for ice cream) then we act on that belief.

          You can appeal to your inner convictions, but so can they.

          And this gets sticky if we imagine an objective truth. Solution: drop that concept.

          If morality is subjective then how can we possibly condemn this as wrong

          What you should be asking is: If forcing women into sex slavery is objectively wrong, why is this not universally appreciated?!

          Yet again, the problem vanishes when you drop that unwarranted concept. If morality is subjective, we have no grounds for declaring them to be objectively wrong. But we can certainly say that, in our opinion, they are wrong. (What else does “wrong” mean?)

          If we say that our society finds it morally wrong, then is not the enforcing of our society’s morals on another society simply imperialism?

          Only rarely is a society in a position to impose its morals on another. The Nuremburg Trials are an example. In general, like our hand wringing about Japanese politicians even now being reluctant to admit that they made a mistake, we don’t.

        • KarlUdy

          You’re wondering why we can claim that our morality is objectively better than theirs? We don’t. We simply say that we think that they are wrong, and if it’s something that’s actually important (yes for genocide; no for ice cream) then we act on that belief.

          So when there is a disagreement, the outcome comes down to power. So in the case of the Nuremberg Trials there was no moral authority, it was really just a punitive effort by those who won the war to punish those who lost?! This is a logical consequence of your position that though we think our moral stances are important, they are subjective.

          What you should be asking is: If forcing women into sex slavery is objectively wrong, why is this not universally appreciated?!

          Yet again, the problem vanishes when you drop that unwarranted concept. If morality is subjective, we have no grounds for declaring them to be objectively wrong. But we can certainly say that, in our opinion, they are wrong. (What else does “wrong” mean?)

          Christian theism describes humanity’s moral state as fallen and sinful, so we do not always live up to or are even necessarily aware of how we do not meet the universe’s absolute moral standards.

          The question you need to answer is: If it is just your opinion, why should anyone who holds a different opinion submit to yours?

          Only rarely is a society in a position to impose its morals on another. The Nuremburg Trials are an example.

          Islamic law has been imposed on many different societies over the last 1000 years or so (and it is still happening in some places around the world.) During the colonial expansion many societies around the world (including Africa, North and South America, the Pacific Islands) were made to live according to European morals, for good or ill. One society imposing their morals on another society has been a common refrain throughout history.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          This is a logical consequence of your position that though we think our moral stances are important, they are subjective.

          Obviously. Objective grounding would be nice. But even getting someone who claims it to back up those claims is very difficult—witness my struggle with you.

          we do not always live up to or are even necessarily aware of how we do not meet the universe’s absolute moral standards.

          Do absolute moral truths exist? If so but we’re unable to access them, why even speculate?

          What I imagine you think (I’ll fill the vacuum since you can’t) is that they exist but that we see them through a mirror darkly. But why invent the incredible concept of absolute moral grounding? Why not accept the natural explanation: we have shared moral values because we’re all the same species?

          If it is just your opinion, why should anyone who holds a different opinion submit to yours?

          It’s weird–it’s like you’re an anthropologist and you’re wondering how these curious humans act. Do you interact with people? Ever had a disagreement? You’ve never convinced someone else that you were right (or vice versa)?

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “the issue regarding subjectivity and morality comes up when we encounter those whose morality differs from us.:

          This is indeed the common usage of the word subjective. I was referring to subjective in the philosophical sense, as defined by William Lane Craig and Peter Kreeft. According to their definition, we could all agree on some moral issue but it’d still be objectively wrong.

        • KarlUdy

          Agreed that we could all agree and all be wrong. Most practical cases and discussion will involve differing moral opinions though.

        • avalon

          Karl,

          “Agreed that we could all agree and all be wrong.”

          Do you REALLY believe that? Let’s follow that belief to it’s logical conclusion. If we all agree and we all could wrong, then how can anyone give any example of an objective moral value? If that’s what you really believe then do you agree that torturing babies for fun could be morally right?

          I want you to imagine seeing a baby tortured for fun. Now pay close attention to your emotional (and maybe physical) reactions to this imagined scene. What do you feel? Could you ever call this collection of experiences morally right?

          Hopefully you will begin to see that moral values added to emotional reactions. The automatic emotional response occurs first, then we attach a moral value to it. And this all occurs in the brain naturally.

          But perhaps I’m wrong. So tell me please, can you imagine that torturing babies for fun could be morally right?

          avalon

        • KarlUdy

          Do you REALLY believe that?

          It is certainly possible that there are issues in the world in which no one (myself included) is holding the right moral view. Which they might be, obviously, I cannot tell.

          However, I don’t believe this means that we have no grasp of objective morality. Some things are clear, others less so. I have no doubt that torturing babies for fun is wrong. And I have doubt that the Jewish Holocaust is wrong. I have no doubt that the Japanese slavery of comfort women in WWII was wrong. I have no doubt that the LRA and others’ press-ganging of child soldiers is wrong. I have no doubt that today’s child sex-trafficking is wrong.

          So in most issues around the world, someone holds the right view, and there are several issues in which almost all of us hold the right view.

        • avalon

          Karl,

          “It is certainly possible that there are issues in the world in which no
          one (myself included) is holding the right moral view. Which they might
          be, obviously, I cannot tell.”

          Great, you’ve proven you’re more logical than William Lane Craig. Now, if it’s possible were all wrong to think baby-torture-for-fun is evil; where does that lead us?
          Well, if God is the source of objective moral values and baby-torture-for-fun is objectively good. Then is God still perfectly good to torture babies for fun. Obviously so, because God is good objective, not good by our human judgement of him. If God says it’s good then it’s objectively true. We may all universally disagree in the strongest possible way but that’s just our subjective opinion.

          Hopefully you can see my point. They are:

          1. Objective moral value theory makes our intuitions about morals irrelevant. We may disagree individually, collectively, or universally but we could all be wrong.

          2. Objective moral value theory does not provide any standard for morality. Instead, it makes the words “good” and “evil” completely meaningless by divorcing them from our common human experience. It is possible God (or us) torturing babies for fun is objectively good. And that defies our common experience.

          When you say “God is perfectly good” everyone assumes you mean good AS WE HUMANS THINK OF GOOD. So, WE judge goodness (ours and God’s) by OUR experience, not some far-flung standard that we could all be mistaken about. The fact is, if we universally agree that baby torture for fun is evil then that universal agreement is the standard we must accept. The fact that it’s grounded in our collective minds (rather than existing objectively) makes no difference. The alternative, to believe baby torture for fun is objectively good, is something we cannot force our minds to do. Clearly, when Craig uses this example as an objective moral truth, he’s built it on the foundation of our collective human experience, which is (as he says) subjective. It should also be clear that when he says we can all agree on a moral value and still be wrong objectively, he’s making nonsense out of the words “good” and “evil”. This makes a perfectly good God capable of being experienced by us universally as perfectly evil. So God as a source of moral values which are good can be experienced by us as totally evil, but we’d all be wrong.

          “I have no doubt that torturing babies for fun is wrong.”

          WHY???!!! Because every person on the planet agrees with you?!!! You’ve just said that universal agreement means nothing in regard to objective moral truth.

          Is it because you have strong FEELINGS about it? That’s not objective, that’s just your opinion based on emotion.

          So please, enlighten me. If we can all universally agree and all be wrong, what makes you certain torturing babies for fun is wrong?

          ” I have no doubt… I have no doubt… I have no doubt… I have no doubt… I have no doubt…”

          According to objective moral value theory, we can all be absolutely certain and agree universally but still all be wrong. Your lack of doubt is just your subjective experience in your mind. So I’m unimpressed by your lack of doubt no matter how strongly you may personally feel about it.

          “So in most issues around the world, someone holds the right view, and
          there are several issues in which almost all of us hold the right view.”

          Yes, according to OMV theory it makes no difference how many people agree (they may all be wrong). And we can’t count votes because majority rule is still just human opinion. So let’s say the few people who believe baby torture for fun is objectively good are objective right. Your personal opinion against that matters not one bit. Our collective majority opinion doesn’t matter either. Your strong feelings, all our strong feeling, they mean nothing. We may force him to stop torturing babies for fun but might doesn’t make it objectively right. So, tell me, what makes it objectively wrong?

          avalon

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          However, I don’t believe this means that we have no grasp of objective morality. Some things are clear, others less so.

          You’re describing my position: we have a common moral programming. Morality is shared, not objective.

          And no need to imagine anything supernatural or transcendent. Explains the facts without unnecessary assumptions.

          I have no doubt that torturing babies for fun is wrong.

          I share that view. Now: why imagine that this is an objective moral truth? Why not say instead that it’s a universal moral truth?

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “A Japanese politician recently made the news for saying that the comfort
          women of WWII were necessary to maintain discipline in the army – in
          other words, according to his personal view the press-ganging of Korean
          and Chinese women to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers was
          not wrong.”

          You have fallen into the bad habit of seeing moral debates as involving only ONE issue. This is never the case.

          In your example there are at least two moral issues: a woman’s autonomy over her body and defending a nation from attack. I assume you’ll agree it’s right to defend a nation from attack. So, how far will you go to do that? You might advocate killing people with guns, or tanks, or bombs. You might even say it’s OK to drop atomic bombs on two cities killing civilians to protect your country.

          If that’s the case, how can you logically object to forcing a relatively few women to have sex temporally if it saves your country?

          Also, if you agree a woman has an objective right to bodily autonomy, then why oppose abortion? If it’s OK to override a woman’s right to bodily autonomy to save one life, then what’s wrong with Japanese officials overriding a handful of women’s rights to save a whole country?

          You may argue that the Japanese officials beliefs were incorrect concerning the outcome of the war if they didn’t use sex slaves, but you (and they) are both trying to predict the future. Neither of you can do so accurately. What you may not do is deny that the officials believed what they did. (That’d be like me saying you don’t really believe in God when you say you do).

          Christian moralists often try to claim a moral debate is about one issue. This is rarely the case.

          They are also very good at confusing the issue with clever wording. For example: baby torture. Christian moralists often say, “Torturing a baby for fun is always wrong.” Supposedly this is about the morality of baby torture, but it’s not. The qualifier “FOR FUN” inserts a second moral right into the discussion, the pursuit of happiness. We can also assume the right of equality for the baby and the supposed torturer. These two words (“for fun”) changes everything. The debate is now about the happiness and everyone’s right to it. Torture becomes irrelevant since it is only one of many means of denying happiness.

          Let’s examine baby torture without the qualifier “for fun” and see why Christian moralists don’t omit it. “Torturing babies is always wrong”. Is this an objective moral truth? Can you always agree it’s true? Suppose a madman has nuclear bombs set to go off all over the country. He’ll turn himself in if we meet his one demand: torture a baby on live TV for ten minutes. Now how do you view things? If torturing one baby for a few minutes saves millions of lives is it still wrong to do it?

          If you wish to engage in moral debates I suggest you always try to see all the moral issues involved (there’s almost always more than one). If you don’t know what moral rights are being discussed, then what you say will have no relevance. Secondly, I would encourage you to use critical thinking when you hear moral statements in order to determine what’s actually being said.

          Take care,
          avalon

        • avalon

          Karl,

          “”A Japanese politician recently made the news for saying that the comfort women of WWII were necessary to maintain discipline in the army – in other words, according to his personal view the press-ganging of Korean and Chinese women to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers was
          not wrong.”

          The Japanese politician was NOT saying press-ganging of Korean and Chinese women to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers was not wrong. That is an assumption you made which will make it impossible to get anywhere in a discussion.

          Why not try this instead?

          1. Acknowledge the moral right he is claiming, namely, the defense of your country in a time of war.

          Suggested statement: ‘It’s certainly your right to defend your country in a time of war and military discipline is vital for doing so.’

          2. Acknowledge that there will be certain relevant facts in every moral situation and one of you may know those facts better than the other.

          Suggested statement: ‘I don’t know much about your country’s history or that particular war, so I’m sure you’re better informed than me.’

          3. Having acknowledged his rights and his superior knowledge, you can now show your openness to hearing his reasons.

          Suggested question: ‘Perhaps you can tell me what evidence led you to believe the sex slaves were vital to the military victory of Japan?’

          What will his answer be? I really don’t know. He may actually have evidence for his belief or he may not. If so,you will have learned something new and gained a better understanding of your fellow man and the situation they were in. If not, then he has exposed himself as someone trying to justify some very bad behavior (and perhaps learned something about himself in the process). Either way you’ll have gotten somewhere with the discussion. And that’s something that won’t happen if you merely focus on one issue.

          avalon

        • KarlUdy

          Avalon,

          I appreciate that most things in life are not simply about one issue, but I do maintain that this politicians’s statements amount to a justification of the Japanese Army’s use of comfort women in WWII.

          Suggested question: ‘Perhaps you can tell me what evidence led you to believe the sex slaves were vital to the military victory of Japan?’

          Good question. What would be an acceptable answer for you? (You can probably guess my answer.)

          And would you pursue the same line of reasoning for Heydrich et al regarding the formulation of “The Final Solution” in Wannsee?

        • avalon

          Karl,

          “I appreciate that most things in life are not simply about one issue”

          Good, you’re making progress.

          “I do maintain that this politicians’s statements amount to a justification of the Japanese Army’s use of comfort women in WWII.”

          On what evidence do you “maintain” this view?

          You may suspect this is the case (I certainly do), but given his superior knowledge of the situation I think you should listen before you decide. Don’t you?

          “Good question. What would be an acceptable answer for you?”

          I don’t know, but I allow for the possibility. For example, I am good friends with a woman who was a Hitler Youth. Before I met her I couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would support Hitler. After hearing her life story I came to appreciate her situation and point of view at that time. Likewise I don’t know what the Japanese endured at that time, so I’m willing to listen.
          Only after hearing his story can I begin to discuss whether he has weighted his options correctly. And as I said, simply asking him to explain may make him aware of his justification.

          In regard to your claim, what do you hope to accomplish by saying he thought sex slavery was “not wrong”? Where do you see that discussion going?

          avalon

        • KarlUdy

          Before I met her I couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would support Hitler. After hearing her life story I came to appreciate her situation and point of view at that time.

          Understanding that someone had reasons for doing something doesn’t mean that those reasons justify the actions. They may explain, but they do not necessarily make it right.

          In regard to your claim, what do you hope to accomplish by saying he thought sex slavery was “not wrong”? Where do you see that discussion going?

          It was a discussion point regarding this discussion on morality. Perhaps I did not put it the best way, perhaps I should have said that he thought that sex slavery was justifiable in times of war.

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          (From previous post)

          “which is why I specifically said “good choice”.

          No, you said:”according to his personal view the press-ganging of Korean and Chinese women to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers was
          not wrong.” You changed to “good choice” after I pointed out what the man actually said. This use of ‘not wrong’ or ‘morally good’ is used quite frequently by objective moralists who wish to focus on a single moral issue rather than acknowledge competing issues. Go watch some W.L. Craig debates or read them at his web site if you want to see for yourself.

          “In a sense, all of our moral choices are “subjective” because they are made from our particular point of view at a certain time in a certain situation. This does not mean that objective morality does not exist – it just means that sometimes it is not clear to us. However, it often is clear.”

          What is or is not clear is, as you said, “from our particular point of view”. That is, subjectively.

          “The Nazis (at least those in the Wannsee conference) decided that it was better to kill all the Jews than to have them live in Germany, better than sterilising them so that they would die out within a generation in Germany – in fact, even better than expelling all of them. The Japanese thought it was better to enslave foreign women for sex for their soldiers than risk their soldiers rioting because they didn’t have enough … sex? fun? entertainment? what?

          Have I put the situations correctly? Would you regard either of these positions as morally defensible?”

          Regarding Germany, no you have not put the situation correctly. You seem to lack the historical context and situations which led the German people to support Hitler.

          In regard to Japan, you ask me if you put it correctly. This is the second time you have misunderstood me, so let me be clear: I am NOT an apologist for sex slavery and I fail to see how you conclude that by me simply asking the man for more information. I AM a proponent of informed decision making which is why I would ask for more information BEFORE I MAKE A DECISION.

          Let me give you an analogy: suppose I told that Japanese official that in our past some Americans ate their fellow Americans. Would that give him sufficient information to make a moral judgement? (Note: I’m not talking about an initial reaction, I’m talking judgement), Now let’s suppose he asks about the circumstances and I tell him about the Donner party, the Rockie Mountains, blizzards, starvation and isolation. (Note that the combination of these circumstances will at the very least blunt his initial reaction by evoking empathy.) Is it possible he’ll decide the Donner party made an acceptable choice? Maybe, maybe not. But the important thing is he’s gained understanding and empathy by knowing all the relevant facts and by doing so come to understand why someone might support a decision different from his own.

          Let’s say he still thinks they were wrong to resort to cannibalism. He tells you that in his culture people believe death is preferable to dishonor. And says if the Donner party was Japanese they’d all commit suicide before eating other people. But he also says he can understand why Americans might resort to this in such a dire situation.

          I hope I have made clear why I am a proponent of informed decision-making and why I’d want to hear what this man had to say. It may not change my initial reaction or it may change everything. I really don’t know. And you really don’t know either, yet you seem willing to pass moral judgement based on the smallest amount of information. Why is that?

          “The question is, do you believe his excuses are valid? Do those reasons excuse that behaviour?”

          I HAVEN”T HEARD his reasons to make any judgement to determine if the ARE excuses. The fact that you call them excuses indicates you’ve already decided that he can’t have real reasons. Are you so arrogant that you think you know every possible thing this man might say? Are you better informed than he about Japan, the war, and all the details of the situation? Because that’s what you seem to be claiming.

          avalon

        • KarlUdy

          This use of ‘not wrong’ or ‘morally good’ is used quite frequently by objective moralists who wish to focus on a single moral issue rather than acknowledge competing issues.

          I think you are missing the whole point about why these examples are used. It is not an attempt to pretend that the world, life and morality are much simpler than they really are, but to point to an example that the whole audience agrees on the moral stance that should be taken towards it. The reason for doing this is so we can talk about something else other than whether this particular thing is right or wrong. The point is not to focus on a single moral issue but to to point to the fact that we all think some things are good/right and others are wrong/evil. This is quite obvious to anyone who listens as once the point has been made, there is no further thought given to “torturing babies for fun”.

          Regarding Germany, no you have not put the situation correctly. You seem to lack the historical context and situations which led the German people to support Hitler.

          I’m not talking about the German people collectively. I said, “at least those at the Wannsee conference”, which is the conference where “The Final Solution” was decided, and they explicitly discussed these options before coming to these conclusions.

          I am NOT an apologist for sex slavery and I fail to see how you conclude that by me simply asking the man for more information. I AM a proponent of informed decision making which is why I would ask for more information BEFORE I MAKE A DECISION.

          The question is, how much information do you need to make a decision? He says that comfort women were necessary to maintain discipline in the Japanese army. At the point when the practice began, Japan were not “defending their country”, they were occupying and invading other countries.

          Let me give you an analogy: suppose I told that Japanese official that in our past some Americans ate their fellow Americans. used quite frequently by objective moralists who wish to focus on a single moral issue rather than acknowledge competing issues.

          Are you thinking that I do not understand what a moral dilemma is? Sure, most people would say that cannibalism is wrong if you asked them. Sure, most people would also say that if your life depended on it, eating the flesh of dead humans is morally defensible. If your life, or the life of your family depended on it, would the Holocaust or Japan’s comfort women be morally defensible?

          I HAVEN”T HEARD his reasons to make any judgement to determine if the ARE excuses. The fact that you call them excuses indicates you’ve already decided that he can’t have real reasons. Are you so arrogant that you think you know every possible thing this man might say? Are you better informed than he about Japan, the war, and all the details of the situation? Because that’s what you seem to be claiming.

          I said excuses because a good excuse can excuse certain behaviour.

          I do not believe that I know the situation in more detail than him. I do believe that he is suffering from a form of moral blindness or pride that prevents him from at least admitting the wrongness of the situation. And I think that his unwillingness to admit wrong is also wrong. Knowing how important honour and “face’ is to Japanese, I can undertstand the reasons but I don’t think it justifies his actions (or inaction).

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “I think you are missing the whole point about why these examples are
          used. It is not an attempt to pretend that the world, life and morality
          are much simpler than they really are, but to point to an example that
          the whole audience agrees on the moral stance that should be taken
          towards it. The reason for doing this is so we can talk about something
          else other than whether this particular thing is right or wrong.”

          So if a majority (or even everyone) agrees that makes it objectively true? That’s not what you claim about objective morality. How is it that the majority can decide morals in one case but not in others? Does universal agreement mean something or not? Remember you said we could all agree and yet all be wrong.

          As soon as Craig says, “Everyone knows…(this particular thing) is wrong.”, he’s no longer talking about objective morals where we could all agree and still be wrong. Instead, he’s joined the subjectivists who claim we determine moral standards by what we collective believe.

          “I’m not talking about the German people collectively. I said, “at least
          those at the Wannsee conference”, which is the conference where “The
          Final Solution” was decided, and they explicitly discussed these options
          before coming to these conclusions.”

          Fine, then pass judgement on those 15 men. You have 15 military commanders following orders from the President in a time of war. At what point do they risk their own lives to disobey orders? And remember, whatever answer you come up with will apply equally to us, the good guys.

          “The question is, how much information do you need to make a decision?”

          More than I have now. Plus, if I ask him to explain and he is indeed making excuses, then perhaps having him verbalize his reasoning will enlighten him to what he is actually doing.

          I know I’ve been guilty of rationalizing in the past and become aware of it when asked to explain what I mean. Thinking it thru and hearing your own words out loud can make you aware of what’s actually going on.

          My question linking sex slaves to Japanese victory is intended to do just that. I might be surprised to learn something or he may be surprised by how flimsy his reasoning sounds when he actually has to speak it.

          “I do not believe that I know the situation in more detail than him. I do
          believe that he is suffering from a form of moral blindness or pride
          that prevents him from at least admitting the wrongness of the
          situation. And I think that his unwillingness to admit wrong is also
          wrong. Knowing how important honour and “face’ is to Japanese, I can
          undertstand the reasons but I don’t think it justifies his actions (or
          inaction).”

          That’s great! I’m on board with you. But I believe you’ll actually make progress in getting him to see that by

          1. acknowledging his claim to defense of his country
          and
          2. acknowledging his superior information and asking questions.

          If he really has no good reason then a series of questions will bring that out, not only for you and everyone who hears but possibly for himself.

        • KarlUdy

          So if a majority (or even everyone) agrees that makes it objectively true? That’s not what you claim about objective morality. How is it that the majority can decide morals in one case but not in others? Does universal agreement mean something or not? Remember you said we could all agree and yet all be wrong.

          No, when everyone in the room is agreed that a particular moral position is not up for debate, you can then go on to the next step, which in our particular discussion would be, “On what basis can you say that someone who dissents from this position is wrong?”

          Fine, then pass judgement on those 15 men. You have 15 military commanders following orders from the President in a time of war. At what point do they risk their own lives to disobey orders? And remember, whatever answer you come up with will apply equally to us, the good guys.

          Just following orders? I would argue that there is a moral authority than is higher than any civil authority.

          More than I have now. Plus, if I ask him to explain and he is indeed making excuses, then perhaps having him verbalize his reasoning will enlighten him to what he is actually doing.

          I know I’ve been guilty of rationalizing in the past and become aware of it when asked to explain what I mean. Thinking it thru and hearing your own words out loud can make you aware of what’s actually going on.

          My question linking sex slaves to Japanese victory is intended to do just that. I might be surprised to learn something or he may be surprised by how flimsy his reasoning sounds when he actually has to speak it.

          But we’re not in a situation where we’re talking to him to help him think about his position. The whole idea of how you and I should discuss this issue based on how a Japanese politician may consider the soundness of his reasoning is a complete side-issue. If either of us were unaware of the issue of comfort women then we could find out more information, but I suspect that we both know enough to know that “maintaining army discipline” is not going to cut it as an excuse.

          If he really has no good reason then a series of questions will bring that out, not only for you and everyone who hears but possibly for himself.

          And since he is not available for me to interview, this is a purely hypothetical scenario. But you have done a good job of trying to put his possible justifications across, but you seem to agree that his position is in all likelihood morally indefensible (ie we can’t imagine a plausible scenario which would justify the actions of the Japanese Army in forcing women to serve as “comfort women” in WWII).

          In which case we can move to my original question, which was:

          If morality is subjective then how can we possibly condemn this as wrong, when these people neither have personal objections or societal objections?

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “No, when everyone in the room is agreed that a particular moral position
          is not up for debate, you can then go on to the next step, which in our
          particular discussion would be, “On what basis can you say that someone
          who dissents from this position is wrong?”

          Everyone in the room agreeing does not (according to objectivists) determine the objectivity of the issue. Subjectivists are the ones who say when everyone agrees with an issue then the morality of that issue has been determined.

          So citing a collective agreement on an issue does nothing to determine it’s objectivity (everyone could be wrong). Since the objectivity hasn’t been determined there’s no point in asking the next question, “”On what basis can you say that someone who dissents from this position is wrong?”. It’s a moot question since the only thing that’s been proven is mutual agreement, not objectivity.

          If as WLC says, “”To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. ”
          Then our mutual agreement is meaningless in regard to the objectivity. We can agree that we all agree on an issue, and say we believe it’s true because of mutual agreement originating in our own human nature (that’s my theory).

          “”On what basis can you say that someone who dissents from this position is wrong?” On the basis of mutual agreement! On what basis can the objective moralist say someone who dissents is wrong? They can’t have a basis because mutual agreement does not equal objectivity (by your own definition of “independently of whether anybody believes it to be so”). According to objectivists, objective moral values are targets in a dark room and we’re all blind, deaf, and dumb shooting in the dark and frozen in place. In that case, on what basis can anyone make any claims about hitting or missing a target?

          &&&&&

          “In which case we can move to my original question, which was:
          If morality is subjective then how can we possibly
          condemn this as wrong, when these people neither have personal objections or societal objections?”

          Subjective morality is morality that is not independent of what anybody believes to be so. I believe the widely-held agreement is that the normal human reaction of rational men to sex slavery is a negative one. We move on from that automatic emotion and label it a moral feeling. This feeling of moral/immoral is always bound to the emotions which came first. I can object to an issue simply because of the intensely bad emotions they bring about in me without ever forming a moral judgement. If and when I do make a moral judgement it indicates my desire to spare others the intensely bad emotions I experienced.I assume they will experience these things in a similar way because all of my interactions with others have taught me that we’re all basically the same. This assumed sameness results in a perception of objectivity. (I am also aware of the relatively rare abnormal humans who lack emotional reactions called sociopaths; who merely mimic normal emotions. Their lack of real emotional response makes them dangerous to us. Since they have no emotional response, we label their actions as immoral.)

          As I explained below, I cannot believe in objective moral values where is something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. You cannot separate the moral value from the emotional response that preceeded it.

        • KarlUdy

          Hi Avalon,

          Everyone in the room agreeing does not (according to objectivists) determine the objectivity of the issue. Subjectivists are the ones who say when everyone agrees with an issue then the morality of that issue has been determined.

          You seem to be completely missing my point. My point is that if we grant that morals are subjective then etc etc

          I’m getting the sense that we may be talking past each other here. If so, then we’d both be better off leaving this topic and moving on to other things.

          Thanks for the discussion :-)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          It’s obviously your call when a discussion is useful for you and when it’s a waste of time. As an observer, however, I find Avalon’s points quite compelling. Perhaps I, too, am missing your point, but your argument does seem to make the subjectivist case.

        • KarlUdy

          I was feeling as though Avalon wasn’t understanding my point. Maybe it is a failure of communication, or maybe there are some unspoken (or even unrecognized) assumptions (and it could be either or both of us). It just seems as though continuing the conversation is not going to get us beyond where we’ve got to so far.

          I am just not really getting how Avalon (or you) thinks my argument proves the subjectivist case, when I think it is pointing out a hole in it.

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          I’m sure your familiar with this:

          1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
          2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

          The definition of OMV is “something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so”.

          That is, ‘Values and duties independent from what anyone believes’. Do you agree?

          Assuming you do, let’s replace “Objective moral values and duties” in #2 above with the actual definition. Namely, “Values and duties independent from what anyone believes”

          Now we have:

          2. Values and duties independent from what anyone believes do exist.

          Everyone in the room agreeing does not in any way address the existence of values and duties that are independent from our beliefs. It only shows we agree.

          According to this statement “Values and duties independent from what anyone believes do exist”, either our beliefs (individually, collectively, or universally) are irrelevant (what anyone believes) or OMV are identical to our beliefs and their independence (Values and duties independent from) is irrelevant.

          If our beliefs are irrelevant, then the consensus of belief means nothing and there’s no reason to assume you’re discussing an actual OMV. Whatever ‘ground’ you may or may not have is irrelevant because no one’s determined the objective truth of the belief.

          If the independence of OMV are irrelevant, then no outside source is necessary and all you need to determine objectivity is consensus of belief. This is what subjectivists claim, that the consensus determines the standard for morality.

          By claiming you can go on to discuss the grounding for your beliefs just because everyone’s in agreement you seem to be assuming that consensus equals objectivity. You can’t logically say OMV are independent from beliefs and then assume consensus of belief makes OMV. They are either independent or they’re not. Which is it?

          As for me, I do not believe “Values and duties independent from what anyone believes do exist”.

        • KarlUdy

          If our beliefs are irrelevant, then the consensus of belief means nothing and there’s no reason to assume you’re discussing an actual OMV. Whatever ‘ground’ you may or may not have is irrelevant because no one’s determined the objective truth of the belief.

          Not for the first time, you seem to have completely misunderstood that I don’t believe consensus implies objective moral values, and that is not the reason I brought up the consensus example.

          This is part of why I think we’re talking past each other.

        • KarlUdy

          You have fallen into the bad habit of seeing moral debates as involving only ONE issue. This is never the case.

          Actually that is not the case. I am choosing these examples for good reasons.

          I am sure that you do not really want to be an apologist for the actions of the Japanese Army in this case. I am also sure that they thought that what they were doing was a good choice (in fact this point is crucial to my argument).

          They are also very good at confusing the issue with clever wording. For example: baby torture. Christian moralists often say, “Torturing a baby for fun is always wrong.” Supposedly this is about the morality of baby torture, but it’s not. The qualifier “FOR FUN” inserts a second moral right into the discussion, the pursuit of happiness.

          The reason that such examples get picked is because they are trying to find an example where their audience will all agree on the moral wrongness of the act so that the discussion can centre around some issue other than whether that particular act is right or wrong. If you suggest that torture is wrong, then someone might give a counter-example where it is not clear that torture is wrong (eg a captured terrorist has hidden a bomb somewhere in a city). So they move to chid torture, but someone proposes another counter-example (presumably involving torture out of necessity, given how things are currently stated.) So we end up with “torturing children for fun” which presumably (and thankfully) no one has made a case for justifying so far.

          Personally I don’t like using the example of “torturing children for fun”. It seems so clumsy.

          But I also want to use examples where we can debate something other than whether a particular case is right or wrong. I think it is better to use real life examples, as they are real things that it matters to have opinions about. The most common real world example used is obviously the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust. In this case it would be relevant. However, there are other issues that I believe can substitute, such as the forced recruitment of child soldiers (as by the LRA and others), child sex trafficking, and of course the Japanese Army and comfort women. If you really do want to take the position as an apologist for any of these issues, please be my guest. I find them morally indefensible, everyone else I know also does, but you would at least be consistent in your moral subjectivism.

          The big problem you get if all of these are morally defensible, is that you really are back at Dostoevsky’s “without God, all things are permissable.”

        • Kodie

          Under what conditions are you aware of that your clothes are made and your housewares, or the food you eat? Do you think morality is black and white or sometimes gray? Have you ever succeeded because you took advantage of someone else? Like, scoop someone’s taxi, or not tell the cashier there’s a mistake in your favor on the bill? Do you believe if good things happen to you then you must have done something to deserve it, or if something bad happens to someone, I mean as chance and not a consequence, that it’s what they deserve because you know they did something immoral (according to you)? Have you ever let someone else get blamed for something you were even partially responsible for? Maybe even let them get fired without speaking up? Have you ever failed to apologize to someone you, even accidentally, wronged? Do you listen politely while others tell racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes? What is the least thing you may have done and still felt remorse and guilt on the order of keeping you awake until you rectified it? In the light of day, did you actually, or did you just blow it off? Do you just get Jesus to forgive you and move on with your life?

        • avalon

          Karl,

          “I am also sure that they thought that what they were doing was a good choice (in fact this point is crucial to my argument).”

          Then you have failed to grasp my point, namely, in many moral situations one must break one moral principle to uphold another. Which moral principle one decides to uphold depends on how you weight the importance of each in any given situation. This makes moral values subjective.

          You may believe in not killing people, but you also believe in protecting your family, friends, or country. A situation may occur where you must choose one or the other. If you kill an intruder to protect your family that doesn’t mean you think killing is “good”. At best, it was necessary.

          This is my frustration with Christian moralists who claim the Nazis thought the Holocaust was morally “good”. Or the Japanese thought sex slavery was a good thing.

          “The most common real world example used is obviously the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust. In this case it would be relevant.”

          I submit that the Nazis did not believe the Holocaust was a good thing. Here’s why: they kept it secret and lied about it to their own citizens. Even most rank-and-file soldiers didn’t know about it. Secrecy and lies indicate guilty actions. When someone does something they think is good they have no reason to hide it and every reason to proclaim it.

          “If you really do want to take the position as an apologist for any of these issues, please be my guest.”

          Like you, I suspect the man is making excuses. Unlike you, I recognize what moral issue he claims to be upholding (civil defense). I recognize that there are two issues involved and try to see what he’s choosing and why.

          avalon

        • KarlUdy

          Avalon,

          Then you have failed to grasp my point, namely, in many moral situations one must break one moral principle to uphold another.

          which is why I specifically said “good choice”. It is often only in a dilemma when you can tell what someone really values.

          This makes moral values subjective.

          In a sense, all of our moral choices are “subjective” because they are made from our particular point of view at a certain time in a certain situation. This does not mean that objective morality does not exist – it just means that sometimes it is not clear to us. However, it often is clear.

          This is my frustration with Christian moralists who claim the Nazis thought the Holocaust was morally “good”. Or the Japanese thought sex slavery was a good thing.

          The Nazis (at least those in the Wannsee conference) decided that it was better to kill all the Jews than to have them live in Germany, better than sterilising them so that they would die out within a generation in Germany – in fact, even better than expelling all of them. The Japanese thought it was better to enslave foreign women for sex for their soldiers than risk their soldiers rioting because they didn’t have enough … sex? fun? entertainment? what?

          Have I put the situations correctly? Would you regard either of these positions as morally defensible?

          Like you, I suspect the man is making excuses.

          The question is, do you believe his excuses are valid? Do those reasons excuse that behaviour? Admittedly some excuses are valid for some behaviour, and most actions will be excusable under certain conditions. But that does not mean that any behaviour is excusable, if you find the right excuse for it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          they kept it secret and lied about it to their own citizens.

          There are YouTube videos in which German citizens from local towns are forced by American commanders to tour the concentration camps in their back yards so they can see what their government was doing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      This is not the first time you have trotted out your assertion that we have moral instincts. There is no moral instinct.

      This is where you offer your explanation that explains the agreed-to facts far better than mine. Ball’s in your court.

    • avalon

      Karl,

      “We do have moral intuitions, but I’m not sure if you want to go there,
      because being intuitions they are not automatic physical or
      physiological responses (which is what an instinct is), but rather
      responses that come via our mind, which is not going to lead to
      evolution as an explanation…”

      Evolution explains it very well:

      “Moral judgment is caused by quick moral intuitions and is followed (when needed) by slow, ex post facto moral reasoning”

      “…intuition occurs quickly, effortlessly and automatically, such that the outcome but not the process is accessible to consciousness, whereas reasoning occurs more slowly, requires some effort, and involves at least
      some step that are accessible to consciousness”
      “humans relied on intuitive reasoning to survive before we evolved
      language based reasoning skills. Because the emotional region of the brain’s ability to make effortless intuitive decisions is a contributing factor to human survivability it was a integral part of our evolution and our current state.”
      (Dr. Jonathan Haidt)

      As to why we would view these intuitions as objective:

      “The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men.”

      “Our moral consciousness is part of our sub-conscience, which we cannot change as we please. We approve or disapprove because we cannot do otherwise.”

      “Owing to their exceptional importance for human welfare, the facts of the moral consciousness are emphasized in much higher degree than would be ordinary subjective facts.”

      “As clearness and distinctness of the conception of an object easily produces the belief in it’s truth, so the intensity of a moral emotion makes him who feels it disposed to objectivise the moral estimate to which it gives rise, in other words, to assign to it universal validity.”(Edward Westermarck 1906)

      These natural explanations are rejected by theists who claim that our moral intuitions are revelations from God:

      “The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul. Like all arguments for the existence of God, this one proves only a small part of what we know God to be by divine revelation. But this part is significantly more than the arguments from nature reveal about God because this argument has richer data, a richer starting point.”

      Peter Kreeft

      So, the whole question of objective/subjective moral values comes down to the source of our moral intuitions. Is it our brain (a natural explanation) or God (a supernatural explanation). If you believe God provides our moral intuitions then many questions remain:

      1. Why provide only moral intuitions and not ALL intuitions (non-moral intuition being often wrong)?

      2. Why don’t all men receive the same moral intuitions? How do you explain men who don’t have any conscience?

      3. What is the means of transmission from God to our brain? If moral intuitions don’t originate in our brain, how do they get there?

      avalon

      • KarlUdy

        Thanks for your reply Avalon. I’m pleased that we don’t have to wade through the “instinct or not” debate.

        I think you have summed up the issue nicely.

        Some quick answers to your questions:

        1) Our moral intuitions are also sometimes wrong.
        2) Humans are plastic and dynamic. Everything we do and experience shapes us. I don’t believe anyone is without a conscience, but I do believe that it can be suppressed.
        3) I’m not sure why this is a problem. It could be an interesting question, but I’m not sure how the mechanics of this is important.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          It could be an interesting question, but I’m not sure how the mechanics of this is important.

          Avalon’s question underscores the limitations of the “God did it!” explanation. We’re no wiser as a result. How does he do it? What’s the physics? Is this laws of physics we just haven’t discovered yet, or is conscience a continual miracle by God, always violating physics? Does this apply just to humans, or does it apply to other animals (which ones and why?)? Etc.

        • avalon

          Hi Bob,

          Thought you might need a bit of comic relief:

          “Searching for some way to capture the idea that moral properties and facts inhabit our world and exert a genuine influence on us, Ronald Dworkin describes a universe that houses among its numerous particles of energy and matter, some special particles—morons—whose energy and momentum establish fields that at once constitute the
          morality or immorality, or virtue or vice, of particular human acts and institutions and also interact in some way with human nervous systems so as to make people aware of the morality or immorality of the virtue or vice (“Objectivity and Truth: You’d Better Believe It,” Philosophy and Public Affairs (1996), pp. 87 – 139.”

          avalon

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          avalon: So that’s the physical explanation of morality! Nice!

        • avalon

          Hi Karl,

          “1) Our moral intuitions are also sometimes wrong.”

          Are you saying that moral values exist objectively (ie. separate from human minds) but there’s no way to reliably access them? It seems useless to say something exists objectively but can not be discovered objectively.

          ” I don’t believe anyone is without a conscience, but I do believe that it can be suppressed.”

          Brain scans and genetics prove this is indeed true. Are you familiar with the psychopath gene? Or the brain scans of sociopaths which isolate the areas of the brain responsible for empathy? These and other discoveries point to natural causes for our moral intuitions.

          “3) I’m not sure why this is a problem. It could be an interesting
          question, but I’m not sure how the mechanics of this is important.”

          The problem is that objective moral values aren’t just said to exist, they are also claimed to motivate us. They attract us to the good and repel us from the evil. They exert and influence on us in some way. This motivating force demands an explanation.

          If, as I claim, our moral intuitions come from our brain then this motivation is explained by biology and physics. But if, as Kreeft claims, our moral intuitions have an outside source then a transference is necessary and proving this mechanism would prove his claim of an outside source for intuitions. This makes it more than just an interesting question.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

        avalon: Thanks for the input. The distinction is said much better than I have done.

        I would add to your list of questions: Why imagine that moral intuitions are objective and accessible when we don’t agree? I’m not talking about the psychopath outliers. I’m talking about thoughtful, sensible people being dramatically opposed on issues like abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and so on.

        It’s a sloppy reality, and the natural explanation does a far better job. (Unless you want to paint God as an inept bungler.)

  • avalon

    “Sure, God could’ve made us so we wouldn’t do bad things, but we’d be robots without free will.”

    Theists may want to reconsider making this argument. A world without evil wouldn’t mean a complete lack of free will. Given the wide variety of good things a man can do in his lifetime (plus all the neutral things, neither good nor bad), it seems clear there’d still be a multitude of free will choices to be made in a world devoid of evil. The only choices which would disappear would be evil ones. So the theists seem to be saying that free will must include the right to choose evil. But if that’s their position, why insist that a person who chooses to do evil must be punished? Why punish a man for exercising his rights?

    avalon

  • Greg G.

    Why is it that apologists don’t get The Problem of Evil and The Problem of Suffering? You can use either to show that there cannot be a god who is both omnipotent and good. They respond that it doesn’t prove that there is no god and go right back to believing in a good omnipotent god.

    It’s been said that if The Problem of Evil doesn’t keep the theist up at night, he/ she doesn’t understand The Problem of Evil.

  • Guest

    Bob: Yes, I think he his childish, or childlike. Why? Because he named called, or labels atheists whiners because of an assertion some have made. For example, Mr. Lennox said, “atheists whine about the Crusades and the Inquisition…” I think to label anyone’s assertion, because you don’t like it, whining, is immature, childish. If he didn’t use the word whining, then never mind…lol.

    I will take the bate and be distracted by his “whining” assertion and say this: Mr. Lennox, quit whining about whining.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      Just to be clear, only the bits in quotes are exact quotes. Everything else is authentic, though it’s paraphrased. I think “whiners” was my word, not his.

  • Compuholic

    A prime example of what religion can do to otherwise really intelligent people. Now imagine what it can do to people who don’t fare as well and you have a truly scary scenario…

  • MNb

    @Michael ea: my point was clear, or so I thought. If marxism, especially as put in practice in the SU under Stalin, China under Mao and North-Korea have religious apects nobody can blame atheism for its atrocities. There is another point I forgot to make. It’s silly to blame Jehovah Witnesses for the Crusades. For the same reason it’s silly to hold atheist democrats responsible for the Gulag.

  • primenumbers

    “Sure, God could’ve made us so we wouldn’t do bad things, but we’d be robots without free will.” – therefore your God is a robot without free will. Nice argument there, theist.

  • VF

    Every once in a while I am given scientific proofs of God. This week the little boy next door who use to hang out at my house (boy scout science badge etc.) and then grew up and went to Penn State sent me this statistical proof of a “higher power of consciousness”. Although I am a Statistician the proof did not make much sense to me. Equations would have helped. I do know that one has a multi comparison problem if you transform a statistic too many times, which I suspect lies unmentioned here. Does this proof make any sense to you?

    and .

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      VF: It doesn’t. First, I’m not sure I have the URL correct. I think it’s this. If that’s it, it’s way too tangential from a conventional brief apologetic to get into.

  • connorwood

    I’m sorry, but your claim that Marx was complimenting religion with his “opiate of the masses” passage is very, very wrong. Eliminating religion was, for both Marx and the Communist leaders around the world who cited him, a fundamentally central element of the transition to a socialized economic system. In Marx’s thought, religion defused the proletariat’s motivating sense of injustice and thus was a crucial ingredient in prevent the uprising of the oppressed classes. You absolutely HAVE to get rid of religion in order to start the revolution in Marxist thought.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Connor: I’m not saying that he didn’t want to get rid of religion. I’m saying that, in context, “opium of the masses” was a compliment.
      Opium is medicine. When you’re in pain, it’s really helpful. But it addresses the symptom, not the underlying problem. And that was the issue from Marx’s viewpoint.

      • connorwood

        That’s partly true, but religion wasn’t just a palliative for Marx. To take your metaphor one step further, in Marxist thought religion isn’t just a medicine that only treats the symptoms. It’s a medicine that, in treating the symptoms, makes the patient completely forget the disease. This is why the elimination of religion is so fundamental to communist methodology.

        The real relevance of his question, of course, is for your assertion that Stalin and other communist dictators outlawed churches just because those churches competed with the state for power. Your underlying claim is that the motivations for Soviet and communist oppression of religion were purely political. But this claim is incorrect, full stop. The communist rejection of religion was not just a convenient strategic move for consolidating power; it was grounded, from the very beginning, in Marxist ideology that equated religion with the willful blinding of the oppressed masses. There was a significant ideological grounding for Communist opposition to religion.

        In other words, atheism is no more tangential to Communism than Christianity was to the Crusades – it’s central. To pretend otherwise is blatant misreading of history. Sorry to be harsh, but I had to weigh in on this one.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          We’re dancing around the issue. Marx said:

          Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

          This is a compliment.

          There was a significant ideological grounding for Communist opposition to religion.

          Then blame Communism. You’ll have a hard time finding “In the name of atheism …” behind any pronouncement of Stalin.

        • connorwood

          I have never heard anyone else, ever, call this passage a “compliment” to religion. The only way one can do so is by completely ignoring Marx’s other writings and context. Here are the very next two lines following the quote you selected:

          “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”

          This is not complimentary. Eliminating religion – which is illusory and thus misleading, according to Marx – is absolutely necessary in order to inspire the proletariat to throw off their chains. Any other interpretation of Marx’s attitude toward religion is simply unsupportable by the texts in question.

          Thus, atheism may not have been the banner under which Communism spread, but it was nothing like tangential to the Communist project; you can’t separate Communism from atheism. Your basic objective, of course, is to try to de-implicate atheism in Communistic abuses, but the only way you can do that is by ignoring the reality of Communism, which centrally includes anti-religious ideology.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          I have never heard anyone else, ever, call this passage a “compliment” to religion.

          We must travel in different circles.

          Eliminating religion – which is illusory and thus misleading, according to Marx – is absolutely necessary in order to inspire the proletariat to throw off their chains. Any other interpretation of Marx’s attitude toward religion is simply unsupportable by the texts in question.

          Marx wants to treat the problem rather than imagine it away because we’re treating the symptom with religion. Similarly, if you were a doctor, you’d prefer to treat the problem instead of the symptom. Nevertheless, until a treatment comes along, treating the symptom can be pretty good.

          Are we quibbling over definitions here?

          you can’t separate Communism from atheism.

          I have no intention of doing so. I’m simply trying to figure out cause and effect.

          Your basic objective, of course, is to try to de-implicate atheism in Communistic abuses, but the only way you can do that is by ignoring the reality of Communism, which centrally includes anti-religious ideology.

          My basic objective is to follow the facts accurately.

          If you get hit on the head with a hammer, do you blame the hammer or the guy holding it?

        • connorwood

          I can see we are going to make no headway with one another. Believe me, there are no scholars of Marxism who would claim that Marx was complimentary to religion. He wasn’t. His position was unequivocally anti-religious and Feuerbachian. I wish you were willing to modify your position in response to a well-informed critique. But since this is probably not in the cards, I will wish you a good day, and invite you to visit my own Patheos blog, Science On Religion, where I am quite sure you will find much to critique in my own work. Best, Connor

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          His position was unequivocally anti-religious

          So Marx has absolutely nothing positive to say about religion? It’s a universal bad, from start to finish?

        • connorwood

          I think the best and fairest rendering of Marx’s attitude would be that he had genuine sympathy for religious people and saw religion as an understandable reaction to horrific material conditions. But – especially in his later work – he also had a strong conviction that religion needed to be eliminated, outright, in order to wake people up to their true condition. For Marx religion was ultimately an illusion, a Feuerbachian projection of people’s inherent capacities which, being displaced onto a divine facade, actually alienated people from those very capacities. So, yes, religion was, in Marx’s final analysis, a bad thing.

          To sum up, here is a quote from Lenin to illustrate the centrality of atheism to the 20th-century Communist movement:

          “Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.”

          Lenin and other Communist leaders were very clear on the centrality of atheism to the Communist project. It was, and is, one of the basic cornerstones of Marxist thought.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          Still seems to me that distilling down that passage by Marx into “Religion is 100% bad; not a gosh-darn thing good about it” isn’t an accurate rendering of his position here. But I have nothing new to offer on this point.

          Let’s move on to the more interesting point

          Lenin and other Communist leaders were very clear on the centrality of atheism to the Communist project. It was, and is, one of the basic cornerstones of Marxist thought.

          Got it. But this doesn’t clarify the cause and effect that I’m trying to figure out. Is my hammer analogy (above) off target?

        • connorwood

          I think it is, yes. The cause-and-effect relationship simply isn’t a neat linear chain here. Think feedback loops instead. Atheism is primary to Communism, as Lenin tells us above. Communism destroys local communities and oppresses nations in favor of a massive (inefficient and corrupt) bureaucracy. Life under Communism is frustrating and bleak. So who is ultimately at fault – Marx? Communism? Atheism? The answer is all these elements, plus the personalities of Communist dictators and their ambitions, plus the lifestyles of local peoples. If you want to ask how big a role atheism plays in this story about feedback loops, the answer is one of the top two or three. The anti-religious ideology within Marxist political philosophy is one of the most central drivers of the entire process.

          In the same way, Christianity plays a central role in the brutal Spanish conquest of South America, but it’s not the only role. There was clearly a major lust for gold and silver on the European Continent (in fact there is good evidence to suggest that massive influx of South America silver, especially, routed through Spain was large enough to essentially trigger the commercial flowering of the 17th century). There were imperialist ambitions on the part of the Spanish monarchs. But at the same time, priests and monastics really were there on the front lines, trying to (and sometimes succeeding) convert the natives to Catholicism. I think we can assume that their desire to convert indigenous people was usually genuine, and so Christian evangelizing ideology really does play a major role in the story about the Spanish conquest.

          In neither case does it make sense to say “This is a story about Christianity (or atheism) screwing things up for everybody.” In both cases it is very accurate to say “Christianity (or atheism) was very central to this horrific story about some people doing really unpleasant things to other people.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor: You’ve lost me. What can we lay at the feet of atheism? Seems to me that the hammer analogy is very apt: yes, it was the hammer that actually hit you on the head, but it’s hard to blame it when it was swung by someone else. Yes, it was the official policy of atheism that shut down the churches (or whatever), but why blame atheism? Blame instead whoever put the policy in place.

          So who is ultimately at fault – Marx? Communism? Atheism? The answer is all these elements, plus the personalities of Communist dictators and their ambitions, plus the lifestyles of local peoples. If you want to ask how big a role atheism plays in this story about feedback loops, the answer is one of the top two or three.

          The atheist says: I have no god belief. That’s it. No policy decisions flow from this.

          In the same way, Christianity plays a central role in the brutal Spanish conquest of South America

          The Christian, by contrast, says quite a bit more. The Great Commission has been interpreted in lots of ways. The atheist, by contrast, has no infallible holy book.

          In neither case does it make sense to say “This is a story about Christianity (or atheism) screwing things up for everybody.”

          You treat Christianity and atheism as symmetric forces. I don’t see the symmetry.

        • connorwood

          If you don’t want to “blame atheism” for the various abuses of Communism, and instead want to blame whoever put the policy in place, then don’t blame “Christianity” for the Spanish Conquest. Blame Isabella, Ferdinand, and De Soto.

          What I’ve been trying to say is that the despicable policy objectives of the Soviet Union and other Communist states are just as inextricably bound up with their atheist ideology as the imperialist abuses of European states were with their Christian commitments. You’ve been trying to de-implicate atheism from Soviet atrocities, while still very much blaming Christianity for European ones. In my view, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too – either ideologies and religious commitments are implicated in the behaviors of states and societies, or they aren’t.

          Christianity and atheism are “symmetric forces” in this context because they both represent ideological systems that center on a Tillichian ultimate concern. You can dispute that characterization, and I suspect you will, but the fact remains that atheism was a major part of the central Communist ideology, and it is very much implicated in the horrific actions of Stalin, Lenin, Mao, etc., as much as you would like to insist otherwise.

          To return to your metaphor, you contest that atheism is a “hammer” and the real culprit is the guy who wields it. A better analogy would be that atheism is a book the guy read once about how you need to hit people with hammers in order to show them how oppressed they are by the bourgeoisie and liberate them to manifest their own potentials. Is the book at fault? No, the guy is. But you still wish he hadn’t read that book.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          If you don’t want to “blame atheism” for the various abuses of Communism, and instead want to blame whoever put the policy in place, then don’t blame “Christianity” for the Spanish Conquest. Blame Isabella, Ferdinand, and De Soto.

          Atheism and Christianity are parallel here? They both drive human actions? I think we’re defining things differently.

          Cause and effect is what we’re talking about. Yes, I see how Christianity can cause actions. “Go forth and make disciples of all nations” and all that. There is no atheist equivalent.

          You’ve been trying to de-implicate atheism from Soviet atrocities, while still very much blaming Christianity for European ones.

          Now you’ve got it!

          In my view, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too – either ideologies and religious commitments are implicated in the behaviors of states and societies, or they aren’t.

          So you think atheism is an ideology? Call it what you will, but it sure ain’t the same kind of thing that Christianity is.

          atheism was a major part of the central Communist ideology, and it is very much implicated in the horrific actions of Stalin, Lenin, Mao, etc., as much as you would like to insist otherwise.

          Yes, people make this claim. No, they’re not correct in doing so.

          you contest that atheism is a “hammer” and the real culprit is the guy who wields it. A better analogy would be that atheism is a book the guy read once about how you need to hit people with hammers in order to show them how oppressed they are by the bourgeoisie and liberate them to manifest their own potentials.

          Fascinating. I’ve not read this book. Summarize it for me. (As an atheist, I’m in a pretty good position to tell you if your characterization of the atheist manifesto is on target.)

        • connorwood

          I don’t see how you can read Lenin’s quote above and not see that atheism as an ideology was a driver of his and other Communist leader’s actions. I have done what I can to show that how Christianity and atheism are implicated in various atrocities throughout history is much, much more complicated than you have depicted. As much as you would like it to be, Christianity’s evangelistic impulse was not the major impetus behind colonization and Europe’s rapacious behavior toward the world. Greed was. Nonetheless, Christianity certainly played a part in justifying these actions, and even in inspiring them. Christianity is thus very much on the hook, although not quite as much as other factors. Atheism, meanwhile, clearly does function as an ideological driver in Communist history, despite your protestations to the contrary. Note that I have brought in textual evidence that supports my claim, while the only text you have cited was egregiously misinterpreted. If you don’t believe me about that, email literally any professor in the world who focuses on Marx and ask whether it is legitimate to describe that passage as primarily constituting a “compliment” to religion, as you originally claimed in your article. Note that my description of things includes nuance and room for multiple attributions. Yours does not, and apparently you would like to keep it that way. So, having understood that your goal is not to encounter new facts and adjust your view accordingly, but instead to advocate for a particular, and in my opinion not very historically or theoretically informed, understanding of what atheism is (I note that you did not reply to my description of Marxist atheism as representing a Tillichian ultimate concern) I will say good day once more. Thank you for the debate, and very best wishes for your blog.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          I have done what I can to show that how Christianity and atheism are implicated in various atrocities throughout history is much, much more complicated than you have depicted.

          And despite your efforts to obfuscate, it’s still not that complicated. “I have no god belief” doesn’t drive any action. Doesn’t say that I’ll do good things; doesn’t say that I’ll do bad things. In fact, it doesn’t even say that I won’t go to church (I do sometimes—church is interesting).

          Contrast this with “I follow the dictates in the Bible.” I’ll grant you that it’s not clear what that actually means (the Bible follower might hold up signs that say “God hates fags,” he might advocate for slavery, or he might advocate that we put care for the poor and disadvantaged as society’s primary goal) but it can certainly drive many actions. The atheist has no equivalent holy book. The atheist has no creeds or dogma or dictates.

          As much as you would like it to be, Christianity’s evangelistic impulse was not the major impetus behind colonization and Europe’s rapacious behavior toward the world.

          I never said that it was. (Are you confusing this conversation with one you had with someone else?)

          Atheism, meanwhile, clearly does function as an ideological driver in Communist h istory, despite your protestations to the contrary.

          It’s all cause and effect. What caused what? You’ve still not shown that atheism wasn’t simply a consequence of communism. Yes, it was the hammer that hit you, but the blame must be put on the guy swinging the hammer.

          Note that I have brought in textual evidence that supports my claim, while the only text you have cited was egregiously misinterpreted.

          That’s a bit harsh. Your point, which I am happy to accept, is that Marx overall thought that religion was a bad thing that, for the good of society, needed to be eliminated. And that’s not what I was talking about. It’s hard to draw that sweeping conclusion from just this one passage, which is all I was talking about.

          Note that my description of things includes nuance and room for multiple attributions.

          I missed the nuance. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions” isn’t equivalent to “religion is 100% bad with no redeeming qualities.” At least to me. But perhaps your mileage will vary.

          I note that you did not reply to my description of Marxist atheism as representing a Tillichian ultimate concern

          Was that on topic? Seemed like it wasn’t.

          I will say good day once more.

          Good day. Thanks for your input.

        • connorwood

          You’re right, that was harsh, and I apologize. That’s what I get for replying to comments before I finish my first cup of Earl Grey.

          Our basic disagreement is over the nature of atheism. You characterize it as a purely negative lack of religious belief: atheism is what life is when you subtract belief in God. This is not really a supportable position; religion isn’t just about God beliefs, as generations of sociologists and anthropologists have shown us. It’s also about ritual, practice, and formatting structures to guide relationships within communities. Atheists generally tend to extract themselves from these webs of ritual and social interdependencies as well as deny belief in God. A good example is found in the fact that atheists tend not to enjoy family reunions as much as religious people, and go to fewer of them. They also tend to be much more individualistic, to participate less in team sports, etc. Atheists also tend to share certain interests and values, including humanism, science, utilitarian approaches to morality, etc. This is all to show that atheism is a positive assertion of certain values and lifeways that are actually (very often) perceived by atheists themselves as being of ultimate concern. This is why I brought in Tillich, and why that comment was relevant: you asked me why I was describing Christianity and atheism in equivalent terms, and I was explaining the reason.

          The reason I brought in European conquests was because your original article was responding to Lennox, who was in turn responding to the accusations often made against Christianity that it was responsible for Crusades, Inquisition, etc. Perhaps the European conquest of the New World (which was carried out in the name of Christianity) was too tangential to these events, in which case I apologize. But I think Lennox would agree that this was an example of precisely the kind of accusation against Christianity that he was responding to.

          Finally, I don’t think the question was whether Marx thought that religion was 100% bad. He didn’t, although his final analysis was very, very anti-religion. Your original quote implied, quite strongly, that the anti-religious strands in Marxism were tangential or unimportant. This claim is false, and was the reason I commented originally. The relevance of my quibble is that atheism is, in my view, quite central to the Communist project and, being a positive assertion of values rather than merely a negative absence of God beliefs, is quite readily implicated in Soviet tyrannies. This also refutes your claim that atheism was a consequence of Communism; it clearly was not. Atheism preceded the institution of Communist regimes and is traceable right back to the very source of Marxist thinking. Atheism was there at the beginning.

          Thanks again, and best wishes. Connor

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          That’s what I get for replying to comments before I finish my first cup of Earl Grey.

          :-)

          You characterize [atheism] as a purely negative lack of religious belief: atheism is what life is when you subtract belief in God.

          Even this is grander than my phrasing, but, yes, I think you’ve hit on one of our difficulties.

          religion isn’t just about God beliefs, as generations of sociologists and anthropologists have shown us.

          Fair enough. But it remains the case that atheism is simply the lack of a god belief. Atheists may (or may not) value community, ritual, and so on, just like a religious person does (or doesn’t).

          Atheists generally tend to extract themselves from these webs of ritual and social interdependencies as well as deny belief in God.

          You must hang out with different atheists than I do. I was at a wedding just last week. I get it—ritual and community are valuable. In fact, with meetup.com and similar groups, you’re seeing many atheists trying to recreate the community that they miss from their Christian days.

          A good example is found in the fact that atheists tend not to enjoy family reunions as much as religious people, and go to fewer of them.

          Huh?! I have definitely not read the study that proves this curious factoid!

          Atheists also tend to share certain interests and values, including humanism, science, utilitarian approaches to morality, etc.

          Yes—they share these interests with many Christians as well.

          As an aside, one question atheists need to answer is how to position themselves. Atheist, agnostic, Bright, freethinker, skeptic, humanist, and so on. I happen to like “atheist” simply because that’s one of the few categories that a Christian can’t call himself. Christians can call themselves “humanists” just like I can.

          This is all to show that atheism is a positive assertion of certain values and lifeways

          Careful. Let’s let people define their own labels and bins.

          This is not what atheism means to me. I realize that this is getting boring, but atheism = lack of a god belief. That’s it. Others may define it differently.

          you asked me why I was describing Christianity and atheism in equivalent terms, and I was explaining the reason.

          You and Tillich can define words any way you want. But on my blog, it’s good to know how I define “atheism.”

          responding to the accusations often made against Christianity that it was responsible for Crusades, Inquisition, etc

          “Christians are responsible for the Inquisition” is an argument that I rarely use, probably because I see it similar to how you do. And I didn’t use it here.

          I don’t think the question was whether Marx thought that religion was 100% bad. He didn’t …

          OK. It would’ve helped if you’d made this clear (in response to my “So Marx has absolutely nothing positive to say about religion? It’s a universal bad, from start to finish?”) 10 comments above.

          his final analysis was very, very anti-religion.

          OK.

          Your original quote implied, quite strongly, that the anti-religious strands in Marxism were tangential or unimportant.

          I was focused on one widely known statement by Marx and trying to show how the popular interpretation (religion dulls your senses) is wrong.

          atheism is, in my view, quite central to the Communist project and, being a positive assertion of values rather than merely a negative absence of God beliefs, is quite readily implicated in Soviet tyrannies.

          Then if it’s a positive assertion of values, it can’t be atheism as I’ve defined it.

          You can define “atheism” any way you want. You can say “atheism” = “the intense dislike of pickles” if you want and we could proceed from that point with a common vocabulary. But that’s not how I define it, and it’s not how most atheists that I’m familiar with define it.

          This also refutes your claim that atheism was a consequence of Communism; it clearly was not.

          Expand on this. You can’t be saying that the Soviet Union was officially atheist before it was Communist. Are you saying that atheism influenced Marx? I have no idea what your point is.

        • connorwood

          It took me a day to dig up the source about family reunions and atheism: Bainbridge 2005, “Atheism,” in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. The data is from a survey called Survey2001, sponsored by NatGeo.

          Bainbridge’s results align pretty neatly with nearly all other research out there on the sociology of atheism. Atheists tend to be much less interconnected in webs of mutual social obligation than religious people. They are less likely to be married, less likely to have children, more likely to be well-off and well-educated; Bainbridge’s research also showed that they were less likely to report confiding their difficulties in close friends or in expecting friends to be there for them. In short, atheists are generally positioned socially in such a way that they do not depend interpersonally on many other people and have relatively few people depending on them. Your scientific instincts surely tell you that your own anecdotal counterexample about attending a wedding does not contradict the statistical evidence; saying so would constitute a logical fallacy. If you could find concrete statistical or demographic evidence that said that atheists were just as socially integrated as religious people, then that would count as a legitimate argument against my claim and Bainbridge’s. However, I am very confident no such evidence exists. You can certainly try to prove me wrong; I’d be delighted to see hard evidence that atheists are just as socially integrated as religious people. But your evidence needs to be of the same kind as mine in order to count as a refutation.

          To go further, a Durkheimian reading of religion in society would predict that atheists’ attempts to reproduce the kind of tight social bonding within their own communities are, by and large, unlikely to succeed. It is the ritual, the practice, the shared mythology and symbols, and the high thresholds of investment, as well as standards for exclusion, that make religious communities work. Without this basic social technology, communities are prone to ephemerality and lack of robustness in the face of any conflict or external challenge. (Incidentally, this Durkheimian model could be seen to account for the persistent weakness of the social fabric in post-Communist countries, where nearly all of the above religious technologies were outlawed or forced underground for two or three generations.)

          The upshot is that your definition of atheism is 1:) questionable, sociologically, since atheism is reliably correlated with a whole host of other behavioral, cognitive, social, and personality factors; and 2:) pretty thin, even if it passes muster conceptually. It’s a bit like saying that the sole defining characteristic of a car is the internal combustion apparatus. It may be a sine qua non, but it’s certainly not the only relevant element within the concept “car.” In fact, an engine sitting on the ground by itself is very definitely not a car.

          Finally, in the context of Communism, yes, atheism influenced Marx. That’s not the way I would prefer to put it, since it reifies the concept of atheism in a pretty anachronistic way, but for your purposes it’s true. Marx was heavily influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach, whose book “The Essence of Christianity” propounded a materialist atheism that characterized religion as a projection of man’s inherent capacities onto a divine symbol – thus divesting humans of their ability to actually manifest those capacities in their real lives. Without Feuerbach, there would have no Marxist thought as we know it. Without Marxist thought, no Communism. Without Communism, no Cultural Revolution, no Leninism, no eradication of local cultures across Eastern Europe and Asia in the name of historical materialism and proletariat revolution. See where I’m coming from? You’re correct to say that Communism and institutionalized atheism arrived in, say, Russia at the same time. But Communism itself never would have arisen without the atheistic foundation that Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels laid.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Connor:

          It took me a day to dig up the source about family reunions and atheism: Bainbridge 2005, “Atheism,” in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.

          Here’s the link.

          The upshot is that your definition of atheism is 1:) questionable, sociologically, since atheism is reliably correlated with a whole host of other behavioral, cognitive, social, and personality factors

          Huh? I’m simply telling you what the word “atheism” means. Whatever hideous baggage people who identify as atheists bring isn’t relevant to what the word means.

          Somehow we’re talking about different things here.

          Finally, in the context of Communism, yes, atheism influenced Marx.

          Christianity and Islam are in the same bin because they are both an extensive set of beliefs with traditions, history, and holy writings. Atheism, by contrast, has none of these things and doesn’t fit in this bin.

          I could see the logic in “Islam influenced Marx,” but what does it even mean to say that “atheism influenced Marx”? He may have been an atheist, he may have been attracted to the worldview one gets by discarding Christianity, but what is there to influence anyone?

          You imagine atheism a force behind Communism, and I’m completely missing your point.

          Marx was heavily influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach

          Feuerbach influenced Marx? Now that I could believe. But with atheism, there’s no there there. Atheism is a conclusion; it’s not a dogma or doctrine.

          See where I’m coming from?

          I do. Damn that Feuerbach! He’s the cause of this whole mess.

          But Communism itself never would have arisen without the atheistic foundation that Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels laid.

          And you still haven’t addressed the problem: showing that the philosophy of atheism (which doesn’t exist) was a driver for anything. If Communism had the trait of atheism, sure, I can buy that. But who’s driving whom?

  • bob cauler

    Bob, your answers to Lennox seem more like opinions than reasonable answers..

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You could be right. If you find specific points where my argument or complaint doesn’t hold up, point that out.

      • cetdac

        Well it could be said its all subjective Bob. Looking at the good arguments on both sides it seems neither will budge from their own belief or lack off. The operative word being belief – something John is good at explaining I think (although of course that’s only my childlike opinion too).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, he’s good at explaining his beliefs. I don’t think I got any new insights, so I’m not sure he’s remarkably better than anyone else.

          I also agree that history shows that people don’t change their beliefs easily. Still, it happens, so I don’t know that my work here is completely worthless.

          I hope to be giving people something to consider.

  • Kevin Nelson

    Your Quote: “Because the atheism was a consequence of the actual problem, that these regimes were dictatorships. Stalin was an atheist because he was a dictator. He wasn’t a dictator because he was an atheist!”

    Not all dictators are atheists, so not sure where your “because” is coming from…but I’ll ignore that for now. However, just to get this straight…by arguing against John Lennox you are saying that when atheists abuse their political power, it is the political power itself that is the problem. However, when religious people abuse their political power, it is no longer the political power that is the problem but the religion.

    I’m not sure how you don’t see the double-standard there. It is that double-standard that I believe John Lennox is trying to confront. If anything it is quite the opposite of your double standard and the double-standard leans the way of the Christian. When a Christian has political power and they abuse that power, you can clearly see that they are doing so in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus. However, when an atheist has political power and abuses it, they can do so without violating anything.

    I am not saying that atheism leads to the abuse of power. I would never accuse atheists of being amoral just by being atheists. However, it is true that there is nothign in atheism that requires morality and therefore there is nothing within atheism to restrain the abuse of power. Whereas, there is the accountability to God to restrain believers.

    The inquisition killed roughly 5,000 over 350 years. 14 people per year. I’m not defending that. It’s still a blasphemy to the Bible. However, Stalin and Mao did 5,000 in days and weeks. In any case, John Dickson discusses these issues quite well, IMHO:

    http://www.rzim.org/let-my-people-think-broadcasts/violence-in-the-old-testament-part-1-of-2/

    • MNb

      “However, when religious people abuse their political power, it is no longer the political power that is the problem but the religion.”
      Of course this is a double standard. Hence this is not the way I present the argument. First thing we need to realize is that organized religion always is politics. Second thing is that religious authorities with political power invariably claim moral superiority and use it as a justification to impose their moral views on dissidents.
      Btw I think it’s sick to organize a competition what was worse, the Gulag or

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra_Decree
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_the_Moriscos

      “Whereas, there is the accountability to God to restrain believers.”
      Then your god is a failure, given the enthusiasm of those believers happily smash in each other heads because of religious differences for centuries. A quite recent example are The Troubles in Northern Ireland/Ulster. Not much restraint there.

      • Kevin Nelson

        “The Troubles in Northern Ireland/Ulster. Not much restraint there.”

        People that are from Northern Ireland have said that it is not actually a religious issue. That podcast by John Dickson also covers this issue (part 1 or 2 I’m not sure).

        “Then your god is a failure”

        I did not say God controls people, so there is no measure in that to call God a failure. I said that there is power to restrain people in the belief that God will judge them for their actions. Even if God does not exist and it’s a delusion, it does not diminish this truth. If the inquisition were not restrained by a religious system and could operate autonomously like Stalin or Mao…I would place a bet that there would have been a lot more than 5000 deaths over 350 years.

        • MNb

          “People that are from Northern Ireland have said that it is not actually a religious issue.”
          Of course not. IRA has nothing to do with catholicism and DUP nothing with protestantism. Ian Paisley happily visited catholic mass once in a while.

          “I did not say God controls people”
          Yup, I forgot about that apologist cop out. If something good happens, praise the lord. If something bad happens blame the people. It always works, but never convinces anyone.

          “I said that there is power to restrain people in the belief that God will judge them for their actions.”
          Which totally didn’t happen during the Troubles, with 93% christians or more. So god failed in that place in that time – his power was zero.

          “it does not diminish this truth”
          Except it isn’t a truth.

          “…I would place a bet that there would have been a lot more than 5000 deaths over 350 years.”
          Yeah, you like your sick competition, especially if you’ve set the rules in such a way that you can’t lose.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “Yeah, you like your sick competition, especially if you’ve set the rules in such a way that you can’t lose.”

          Actually, I’m the one that said there shouldn’t be a double standard, but that if we were going to use one it would fall in favor of religious countries because there were only 2 or 3 formally atheistic regimes and they weren’t improvements. However, I’m in favor of not having a double-standard. Truth is truth and I’m interested in finding truth…not in straw men like this. I could write a book about the horrors done in the name of democracy. If you want to show the horrors done by XYZ belief, they aren’t hard to find because all belief systems have people in them…and people do horrible things to each other. Slavery was horrible, and the US is still paying for that atrocity. However, we don’t use that atrocity to say that democracy is evil. That is my point, not the double standard.

          I’m sorry, really, that I must not have made that clear enough in my first post because you are getting all defensive about the double-standard going back against the atheist. I also said that those 14 people per year were still a blasphemy, so no I get no pleasure out of admitting that truly bad things did happen in the name of Christ.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We’ll never know how many people were killed because they were thought to be witches. Some estimates are over a million people in Europe throughout the centuries. We probably should add that to the list.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “We’ll never know how many people were killed because they were thought to be witches. Some estimates are over a million people in Europe throughout the centuries. We probably should add that to the list.”

          I think you’re confusing the Inquisition with Salem. The targets of the inquisition were people “who pretended to convert to Christianity for purposes of political or social advantage and secretly practiced their former religion. More importantly, its job was also to clear the good names of many people who were falsely accused of being heretics. It was the Spanish Inquisition that, at least in the popular imagination, had the worst record of fulfilling these duties.” (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-inquisition). Thus, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and rationalists were the main victims of the Inquisition, not witches.

          Additionally, the “millions” estimates are recognized by modern historians as fallacious. John Dickson in that podcast I linked to discusses this. He states the modern historians put the number more accurately around 5000. This is confirmed in the following:

          “It is likely that the total would be between 3,000 and 5,000 executed. However, it is impossible to determine the precision of this total, owing to the gaps in documentation, unlikely that the exact number will ever be known.”

          https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060903192705AAZ0Dnd

          Another article regarding the take by modern historians:

          http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jun/16/artsandhumanities.internationaleducationnews

          I hate that this was done in the name of Christ, but to me it is just an example of what humans are able to do to each other. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, the Inquisition, and all the others are just examples of how evil humankind can be and how dangerous it is when any political body has too much power.

          Also, I do want to point out something. In your other post you put: “Except shared standards of morality.” as what would restrain an atheist. However, if this is what we use to define morality, than you have no basis by which to say that the Inquisition was immoral because that was the shared standards of morality of that day.

          Under atheistic beliefs there is no mandate for the sacredness of life. Currently, we have a huge world problem of overpopulation headed our way. There is no conceivable reason that voluntary euthanasia should not be allowed…and when not enough volunteer…for the good of humanity, a forced euthanasia. If it saves humanity from destruction and extinction, wouldn’t that be justifiable? However, Christians would be unable to concede to these allowances because of the sacredness of life…one of those restraints…

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I think you’re confusing the Inquisition with Salem.

          No, I’m talking about neither. I’m talking about “witches” killed in Europe in the last 2000 years. Was I unclear?

          if this is what we use to define morality, than you have no basis by which to say that the Inquisition was immoral because that was the shared standards of morality of that day.

          No, shared moral standards of our day.

          Under atheistic beliefs there is no mandate for the sacredness of life.

          I dunno what that’s supposed to mean.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “No, shared moral standards of our day.”

          Okay, so similar question I asked of Kodie…currently the majority of people in the US (for the first time since Roe vs. Wade consider themselves pro-life). If I follow your statement logically, that means that since we use the moral standards of our day, which I would assume means the majority held-view…we have no choice but to say that over the past 40 years we have been evil in aborting 55 million babies. Or please explain to me how I am wrong.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          People who think abortion is evil think it’s evil. I don’t, so I don’t. We can make it complicated, but I’d rather not.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Okay, then, if we can’t discuss a modern moral dilemma…and say that with modern problems truth is relative and evil is relative…then I don’t see how we can make judgments against the past. In 500 years people may be talking about how evil we were to abort so many babies…were we evil (which implies an absolute moral) or did we just not know how to solve the social issues because there is no such thing as evil? Is it complicated? Definitely. Is there anything more worthwhile than trying to make sure we aren’t abusing other humans with abortion…Definitely.

          In the end, if there is no God…it’s just social norms and social taboos…and we can only specify our preference as Bertrand Russell finally conceded. Any attempt to say that other societies (past or different countries) are evil because they don’t have the same social norms and taboos is called ethnocentrism.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Okay, then, if we can’t discuss a modern moral dilemma…and say that with modern problems truth is relative and evil is relative

          We can discuss it. And yes, truth is not objective. If you propose that it is, show me. I’ve seen no reason to conclude that.

          In 500 years people may be talking about how evil we were to abort so many babies

          Yes, they might. They might be as unified against abortion as we in the West are against slavery.

          Is it complicated? Definitely.

          I don’t think the “Does objective morality exist?” is complicated at all. I’ve seen no reason to think that it does.

          If you’re thinking about getting everyone on the same page about abortion, yes, that is complicated.

          Any attempt to say that other societies (past or different countries) are evil because they don’t have the same social norms and taboos is called ethnocentrism.

          Ah, the moral relativism fallacy. I see no evidence for objective morality, but I will (with pleasure) tell you where I think you’re morally wrong. Or anyone.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “We can discuss it. And yes, truth is not objective. If you propose that it is, show me. I’ve seen no reason to conclude that…I don’t think the “Does objective morality exist?” is complicated at all. I’ve seen no reason to think that it does.”

          So, back to my original point, if there is no objective morality, it’s asinine to criticize the Inquisition and other societies that don’t share our social norms.

          “Ah, the moral relativism fallacy. I see no evidence for objective morality, but I will (with pleasure) tell you where I think you’re morally wrong. Or anyone.”

          I’m not sure how my defining a term, ethnocentrism, is a moral relativism fallacy. It’s straight from my sociology and anthropology classes. Additionally, the relativism fallacy is only applicable if the relativism breaks the law of non-contradiction. Since you don’t believe there is an objective morality, there is no grounds to say that anything regarding morals is a relativism fallacy. I could accuse you of it, but I’d have to prove objective morals, which I concede I can’t do. When faced with a person who doesn’t believe in reality, I can’t even prove that I exist. Objective morals is way harder, you have to accept some premises first.

          “If you’re thinking about getting everyone on the same page about abortion, yes, that is complicated.”

          You gotta start somewhere. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream which still isn’t fully realized today because we still don’t stand together as brother and sister across races…closer, but not quite. We still practice voluntary segregation. I’m “happy” that laws are pushing the late abortion date back to 20 weeks where doctors believe that the child can experience pain. I’ll be happier if we push it back to 7 weeks where brain activity and the heart beat starts. And, I’ll be happier still if we stop playing God and stop deciding who we can and can’t dehumanize.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          So, back to my original point, if there is no objective morality, it’s asinine to criticize the Inquisition and other societies that don’t share our social norms.

          Huh? Makes no sense. I see no objective morality, and I happily criticize others’ morality when it doesn’t match mine.

          I’m not sure how my defining a term, ethnocentrism, is a moral relativism fallacy

          Who’s criticizing a definition? Saying that we have no stance from which to criticize others’ morality (unless we accept objective moral truth) is the moral relativism fallacy.

          Since you don’t believe there is an objective morality, there is no grounds to say that anything regarding morals is a relativism fallacy.

          Not sure I follow. You’re saying that there’s objective morality or there’s nothing? Show me this in the dictionary.

          I’d have to prove objective morals, which I concede I can’t do.

          So where does objective moral truth enter into our conversation? You hold that position but without evidence? Or what?

          Objective morals is way harder, you have to accept some premises first.

          Seems easy to me. Not objective moral values is the null hypothesis, and that’s where all the evidence points.

          But just to make sure we’re on the same page, you say that objective moral truth exists and that this truth is reliably accessible by humans? Because if the second part isn’t your claim, then this claim is meaningless to me.

          And, I’ll be happier still if we stop playing God and stop deciding who we can and can’t dehumanize.

          And don’t forget: and that you get to impose your beliefs on the rest of the country.

          Seems to me that the single cell at the other end of the spectrum isn’t a person.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker
        • Kevin Nelson
        • Kodie

          “Except shared standards of morality.” as what would restrain an
          atheist. However, if this is what we use to define morality, than you
          have no basis by which to say that the Inquisition was immoral because
          that was the shared standards of morality of that day.

          It wasn’t shared with their victims. It was assumed by the body in power, they could treat other people as expendable, evil, targets of their agenda. This is pretty much the way we’re looking at things today, that it’s barbaric. If some people don’t share it, it’s not shared, and you can’t say it’s moral any more than we could say it would be moral today.

          When Americans took Africans to enslave them as property, would you say that wasn’t immoral because it was the shared standards of morality of the day? Did you ask any Africans or did you just ask the white plantation owners about their shared standard of morality?

          We progress from that morally when we recognize that a category of humans was left out of the prior standard of morality and were in fact victimized by that standard. So, that is not really an excuse.

          Under atheistic beliefs there is no mandate for the sacredness of life.
          Currently, we have a huge world problem of overpopulation headed our
          way. There is no conceivable reason that voluntary euthanasia should
          not be allowed…and when not enough volunteer…for the good of
          humanity, a forced euthanasia. If it saves humanity from destruction
          and extinction, wouldn’t that be justifiable? However, Christians would
          be unable to concede to these allowances because of the sacredness of
          life…one of those restraints…

          This is some more gibberish. There may come a time when there are not enough resources, and then what are we to do? I find it hard to think it will come to euthanasia before it comes to looting and murder for food and water, which will be extreme and desperate survivalism, and who are the ones who stock bunkers with guns and canned food? That doesn’t come from the values of atheism. We have means to avoid it coming to that, and who are the ones who deny that global warming is a thing? Who are the ones who oppose sex education, birth control, and abortion, and women’s healthcare, providing for family planning from healthy sexual adults? That’s not a value coming from atheism. If we’re headed to a disaster that we could prevent, but it’s the Christians holding us back, I doubt it would be a value coming from atheism, i.e. “no mandate,” no doctrine telling us what to think of other people, when it’s the Christians who don’t want to feed poor people except that come through their church, or who don’t want to provide for children living in poverty after failing to do their part to allow for the prevention of these births in the first place, I do not know if you know what the sacredness of life is.

          Morality comes from empathy. Immorality comes from not considering another person equal in value to you, and sometimes, people get to desperate places and need to work out some new equations, but all the examples you’re using, nobody was in a desperate place to oppress and kill others, they simply lacked the empathy to consider another person as an equal. If you’re going to encourage “sacredness of life” as a mandate and a Christian value, you’re all going to have to think a little harder how that all shakes out when you consider women to be lesser or poor children to be none of your problem, and effects of polluting our environment in the long (not really long) run as false, do not try to come down on atheists for not having a published mandate on the sacredness of life. Morality comes from empathy, looking at a problem, and coming to an agreement to help people to solve problems. If Jesus said, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ I don’t see that Christian value as much these days. I see excuses and exceptions and stubbornness to help out. Do not preach to me what the sacredness of life is about. You only have to have empathy. An atheist can have empathy and also does not have the restriction of some other religious “mandate” to work out an excuse.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “If Jesus said, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ I don’t see that Christian value as much these days. I see excuses and exceptions and stubbornness to help out. Do not preach to me what the sacredness of life is about.”

          I 100% agree. Christians are not nearly Christian enough. We don’t really follow Christ. We follow social norms and call it Christian. I swear some Christians actually think that conservative politics/capitalism is synonymous with being a Christian…that’s absurd. Christians should be the biggest environmentalists because they’ve been ordered by God to be good stewards of the earth. Christians should be careful how they treat animals because the Bible says that God cares for every sparrow that falls to the ground. Christians need to stop arguing about whether global warming is actually occurring, because any scientist can tell you it is, and then they can finally join the debate as to what can be done about it. The Catholic church’s prohibition for birth control is beyond me…having a 4-year-old and twin 3-year-olds, I love birth control.

          “You only have to have empathy. An atheist can have empathy and also does not have the restriction of some other religious “mandate” to work out an excuse.”

          Before I concede your point that empathy is all you need for a valid morality, I have a question:

          Does your empathy, like Christopher Hitchens’, extend to unborn children?

          If “yes” then the U.S. is probably the most evil nation in history and we have no right to talk about the atrocities of other countries. You said, “but all the examples you’re using, nobody was in a desperate place to oppress and kill others, they simply lacked the empathy to consider another person as an equal.” and I would say that that same statement could be used regarding abortion because I have a very strong empathy toward unborn children. Christopher Hitchens who doesn’t believe in God also believes in the rights of the unborn (not sure if he uses the word empathy or not).

          If “no” then we have a problem…do we use your empathy to determine laws, or mine, or the majority’s. For the first time since Roe vs. Wade the majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life…so if we accept mine or the majority’s empathy we need to make it “evil” and consider the past “evil” for having allowed it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I like your concern for the environment.

          Does your empathy, like Christopher Hitchens’, extend to unborn children?

          What’s an “unborn child”? A week-old zygote isn’t a child. A 2-month-old fetus isn’t a child. I’ve raised children before, and I think I know what a child is. The single cell that it started out as isn’t a child.

          You didn’t ask me, but I’ll volunteer my answer: I’m pro-choice. Roe v. Wade seems like a good compromise.

          do we use your empathy to determine laws, or mine, or the majority’s.

          You know how laws are made. Do you not like that process?

          For the first time since Roe vs. Wade the majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life

          The fraction of Americans in support of Roe has recently taken a turn up. You won’t find majority support for overturning Roe.

          Anyway, overturning Roe isn’t where you want to go. If abortion were made illegal, that wouldn’t make abortion go away. There are better ways, ways that work with pro-choice people rather than fight against them. That’s how you should be proceeding.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “Anyway, overturning Roe isn’t where you want to go. If abortion were
          made illegal, that wouldn’t make abortion go away. There are better
          ways, ways that work with pro-choice people rather than fight against
          them. That’s how you should be proceeding.”

          Of course making murder illegal wouldn’t make it go away. People murder people every day. That doesn’t mean I need to provide a safe place for them to off people. If you believe, as I do, that it is a little baby, then what you just said is absolutely RIDICULOUS. Work with murderers to try to define how and when it’s appropriate…if you call it a zygote, so be it, I can’t prove you logically wrong if you say it’s not a baby…but me, I side with life and protecting the unborn.

        • Kodie

          If that’s your viewpoint, don’t have an abortion. Secondly, if life is sacred, then support the born as well. Not being born is hardly the worst thing to happen to someone or something. A lot of people simply do not want a child, but for many it is a matter of economics being a factor in their decision. What it normally comes down to is a lot of lip service to “life” being sacred, and then on the other end, they don’t want to encourage poor people to have more babies than they can feed without any assistance.

          Do you see the dilemma here? You’re the one who supposed if resources became limited that atheists would be first in line, because they have no “mandate” i.e. doctrine sanctifying life, to euthanize undesirables (for lack of a better term). I have a bit of a problem with this equation. What is euthanasia and how is this different from starvation? Actively ridding the world of a category of humans is somehow different than passively starving children born to mothers who were obstructed from getting an abortion? Don’t try to take the moral high ground here, since the latter is what is on the table currently. Your imagination takes you to another place where you imagine some atheist eugenics situation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Of course making murder illegal wouldn’t make it go away. People murder people every day.

          I suspect that there would be way, way more murders if they were legal. This is a poor comparison.

          If you believe, as I do, that it is a little baby

          I don’t. The parents-to-be can call it whatever they want. However, your demanding that I see it as a baby from day 1 wouldn’t work.

          if you call it a zygote, so be it, I can’t prove you logically wrong if you say it’s not a baby…but me, I side with life and protecting the unborn.

          OK—crazy thought here—how about if we make it a choice? Those people who think that the factors weigh in favor of abortions on occasion are free to make that always-difficult decision. Those who think that abortion is never right for them don’t have abortions.

          It’s when you think you’ve got it all figured out for the rest of us that we have problems.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “I suspect that there would be way, way more murders if they were legal. This is a poor comparison.”

          I rest my case, if we made it illegal, there would be LESS abortions…LESS murders.

          “OK—crazy thought here—how about if we make it a choice?”

          Dang, why didn’t I think of that. Heck why didn’t Abraham Lincoln think of that and allow slave masters in the south to choose whether they thought Black Americans were really human or not? Would have saved us from the bloodiest war in US history. Why couldn’t Martin Luther King just be tolerant of the people who were choosing not to serve him food and choosing not to sit next to him or go to the same schools? Why did these men push their morality on other people?

          Did I say I have it all figured out? No, I have conceded that if you don’t believe it’s murder, that’s your right and I can’t prove you wrong…but don’t for a minute tell me that you have a right to fight for choice but I don’t have a right to try to protect the lives of the unborn.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I rest my case, if we made it illegal, there would be LESS abortions…LESS murders.

          You ought to rest your case when you have a solid point.

          Making murder illegal means that there are far fewer of them. I’ve seen studies that argue that making abortion illegal would have minimal effect on the number. I haven’t studied those sources, but the point is that if Roe were overturned and every state made abortion illegal, there would still be many, many abortions—so many that pro-lifers would still be in business. Conclusion: Roe isn’t where your focus should be.

          Dang, why didn’t I think of that. Heck why didn’t Abraham Lincoln think of that and allow slave masters in the south to choose whether they thought Black Americans were really human or not?

          Or, we could talk about the real issue at hand. You do realize that I don’t think of the unborn as inherently persons? Your examples avoid the issue—I’m guessing because you’re clueless about where I’m coming from.

          don’t for a minute tell me that you have a right to fight for choice but I don’t have a right to try to protect the lives of the unborn.

          Why bring this up? Did I for an instant suggest that I wanted to curtail your ability to talk about this? Or are you just eager to find more areas of antagonism?

        • MNb

          “if we made it illegal, there would be LESS abortions”
          Using capitals doesn’t make this any less wrong. Just check the numbers in western European countries. Bar one (Sweden) in all countries the numbers have been stable since abortion was legalized. In fact they are two till five times as low as in the conservative christian American states.
          Example:

          http://www.igz.nl/actueel/nieuws/aantal_zwangerschapsafbrekingen_in_nederland_daalt.aspx

          “Abortion rate has decreased since 2007. 12 percent of them were women from outside The Netherlands.”
          But let me be generous to you and accept the number of 30 000 iso of 26 871. In The Netherlands live about 17 million people. That’s a rate of about 3,5 per 1000 women. Now Louisiana:

          https://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/louisiana.html
          Yup, 13,1 per 1000 women.
          Do you seriously want to reduce abortion rate? Like me, btw? You have to advocate three things.
          1. Legalize it.
          2. Provide thorough sex education.
          3. Make contraception easily accessible.
          The only remaining interesting question is if you’re a fundie and will stick to your views because god and Jesus or if you will accept the hard facts.

          “Did I say I have it all figured out?”
          Fortunately not, because obviously you haven’t.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And you didn’t address my point that to get your goal of minimizing abortions (I presume you know that you’ll never get the number to zero), fighting Roe is the wrong way to approach it.

        • Kevin Nelson

          I’ll also never get racism to zero, but I sure would like to try. I do address in another comment that I’m “happy” many states are moving to 20 weeks as the latest allowed for abortion…I just don’t stop there.

          I will also point out…I am pro-abortion in one instance…if it saves the life of a twin to lose an unviable baby, or if the mother’s life is at risk, I have absolutely no problem with abortion. When the motivation is to save lives, I can conceed to the loss of another. It really annoys me when states make a 20 week line but then require that both babies must die rather than saving one twin. But this is self-constent with the concept of the sanctity of life. When a paramedic enters a crashed plane, they often have to label people as dead who are actually alive and not waste their time on them in order for the greater good of those who have more chance of survival.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’re bypassing the issue, again.

          What’s the goal? Is it minimizing abortions? Then fighting Roe is pointless. It’s great for the politicians (who are calling the tune, IMO), because it’s a big high-profile demon to attack. But if you actually want to reduce abortions, look at abortion rates in other countries. Ours are way higher. Clearly, whatever we’re doing to minimize unwanted pregnancy isn’t working. And that’s the place to focus. Instead of swimming against the current, you’d be working with everyone.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “You know how laws are made. Do you not like that process?”

          You mean the laws and legal process that made slavery legal…the laws that made segregation legal? Do I like that process? In theory the system is a good one, but when it victimizes people for the sake of other people’s rights…masters rights over slaves, husbands’ rights to abuse their families, or mothers rights over babies…then NO, I do not like it when the process allows such abuses.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Are you just raging against injustice? If so, I may be on the same page.

          Or do you have a proposal for a better way to do things?

          Morality changes. Slavery wasn’t that big a deal in the minds of Europeans and Americans 300 years ago. Now, it’s unthinkable–yet another reason why the evidence points away from objective morality.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “Are you just raging against injustice? If so, I may be on the same page.”

          Yes. If only we agreed on who needed justice.

          “Or do you have a proposal for a better way to do things?”

          Nope, wish I had “the answer”…I have to respect other people…I can’t force my views on them…but I sure hate it when people hurt each other, and as I said, I consider the unborn child to be someone that is getting hurt. But, I respect how our laws are made even when I think they are morally wrong, so I can only work within the system.

          “Morality changes. Slavery wasn’t that big a deal in the minds of Europeans and Americans 300 years ago. Now, it’s unthinkable–yet another reason why the evidence points away from objective morality.”

          Technically, unless you believe the military is wrong, you don’t believe “slavery” is wrong in and of itself. Soldiers are property of their governments, and–like slaves–desertion means prison time…we don’t call it slavery because that word is now associated with the abuses of our past. Because of that connotation, calling the military slavery would seem like minimizing the atrocities that African Americans went through…kind of like when the animal rights activists compared chickens in coups to the holocaust. So, I am not saying that the military is anything like the atrocities we committed. However, by strict definition–a person being the property of another–soldiers are slaves…and yet people sign up to be property of the US government because the government promises them food, shelter, and some money for expenses. In turn, the military can do to its soldiers things that would put a corporation out of business. Anyway, in some societies past, that is more what slavery was like…it wasn’t always people being chained up and abused like what we did in American history.

          Naturally, I would say that morality never changes. The Golden Rule can be found in EVERY religion and belief system…even Christopher Hitchens likes it…his preference is the one that goes something like: “Don’t do unto others what you would find reprehensible to be done to you.”. If I take that golden rule and think…if I were that baby…what would I want to be done to me…would I want my chance to live life taken away? I would find that reprehensible. However, whether you accept the Golden Rule or not and whether you apply it to unborn children has to be your own choice.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          I have to respect other people…I can’t force my views on them

          Of course you can. That’s the core concept behind the pro-life position: take away everyone’s choice by law.

          I consider the unborn child to be someone that is getting hurt

          . But, I respect how our laws are made even when I think they are morally wrong, so I can only work within the system.
          “Morality changes. Slavery wasn’t that big a deal in the minds of Europeans and Americans 300 years ago. Now, it’s unthinkable–yet another reason why the evidence points away from objective morality.”
          Technically, unless you believe the military is wrong, you don’t believe “slavery” is wrong in and of itself. Soldiers are property of their governments, and–like slaves–desertion means prison time…we don’t call it slavery because that word is now associated with the abuses of our past. Because of that connotation, calling the military slavery would seem like minimizing the atrocities that African Americans went through…kind of like when the animal rights activists compared chickens in coups to the holocaust. So, I am not saying that the military is anything like the atrocities we committed. However, by strict definition–a person being the property of another–soldiers are slaves…and yet people sign up to be property of the US government because the government promises them food, shelter, and some money for expenses. In turn, the military can do to its soldiers things that would put a corporation out of business. Anyway, in some societies past, that is mor e what s lavery was like…it wasn’t always people being chained up and abused like what we did in American history.
          Naturally, I would say that morality never changes. The Golden Rule can be found in EVERY religion and belief system…even Christopher Hitchens likes it…his preference is the one that goes something like: “Don’t do unto others what you would find reprehensible to be done to you.”. If I take that golden rule and think…if I were that baby…what would I want to be done to me…would I want my chance to live life taken away? I would find that reprehensible. However, whether you accept the Golden Rule or not and whether you apply it to unborn children has to be your own choice.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I have to respect other people…I can’t force my views on them

          Of course you can. That’s the core concept behind the pro-life position: take away everyone’s choice by law.

          I consider the unborn child to be someone that is getting hurt

          Even back to when it was just 1 cell?

          Soldiers are property of their governments, and–like slaves–desertion means prison time

          Better example: prisoners.

          This is a tangent.

          Anyway, in some societies past, that is mor e what s lavery was like…it wasn’t always people being chained up and abused like what we did in American history.

          Lev. 25:44-46 describes slavery by the Israelites that was just like the slavery for life we imposed on Africans. But perhaps this is also a tangent.

          Naturally, I would say that morality never changes.

          Some absolute, unobtainable, indecipherable morality? I guess. The kind that we have changes quite a bit—our positions on genocide, slavery, alcohol, etc. have changed with time.

          If I take that golden rule and think…if I were that baby…what would I want to be done to me…would I want my chance to live life taken away? I would find that reprehensible.

          And what happens when you ask the single cell?

        • Kodie

          I have empathy for the women facing that choice. I have empathy for their life. I think whatever they are caring about is a sentimentality. Emotions should take a backseat and get real. Make your decision on what’s real. I don’t consider it a person. The woman is a person. A zygote only seems like a person because most people who have one want it to grow into a person and start considering it a member of their family. That is not how we should make laws. That is not “who” should be in charge, when you have a woman alive and take away her control or right to not participate.

        • Kevin Nelson

          So, do you have empathy for the teenage boys who aren’t ready for the responsibility of being a parent, but because it is the woman’s choice, they are forced to pay child support for 18 years. Or is the rule: “women, have it if you want it,” but with men, “if you don’t want it, keep it in your pants”? But then you are taking away his right to not participate.

          Just curious because I’ve often wondered with the justifications for abortions that are used, why is it that there is this apparent double-standard where men are forced to suffer the consequences of their actions but women are not. Or, on the flip side of that, what’s the empathy for women who want the baby but feel pressured into abortion because of the above scenario where the man pushes her to have one?

          Ultimately, it’s either a baby or a zygote. Since I believe it’s a baby, I cannot logically believe it is anything other than legalized murder, and I can logically say that both the mother and the father have to take responsibility whether they want to or not rather than having a double-standard. However, if it is just a zygote, it does seem that a man could issue some sort of legal “no responsibility” statement that says that if a woman proceeds to have the child, since it is her choice and her choice alone to have the baby, that he has no parental rights or responsibilities…he is just the sperm donor of her choice. He would lose his rights, but since it’s not his choice to have the baby, not sure how you can force responsibility on him…especially given your statement about a person’s control or right to not participate.

        • Kodie

          I believe it’s in their power to sign off responsibility and have no access. That’s their own choice. The problem occurs when you make it solely a woman’s problem of abstention or responsibility for a child, due to her anatomy, socializing her into a world where she must do what you’d have her do. You want to give boys and men an out, give her an out. Fair is fair. But it is her body, it is her decision. If everyone abandons her, that is a factor in her decision, but it is never the man’s or boy’s decision.

          I will now ask you why you see it as a baby. I see it as a person-forming shape. Don’t let the shape fool you as it grows along. Why do you think it’s always a person? Is it possible you’re the victim of propaganda?

          This is not a human being.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Kodie, if I were a victim of propaganda, then I would give no concession for logical consistency. If you are logically consistent and say that removing a zygote or fetus is no different than removing a mole, then I cannot “prove” you wrong. Propaganda is typically logically inconsistent.

          Why do I believe it’s a baby. I was pro-life before this event, but I remember seeing my 7-week old baby for the first time. Hearing the baby’s heartbeat. When we lost that baby a week later, nothing in the world could convince me that my wife just passed some tissue with the potential for being a baby. I lost peanut.

          If I’m a victim of something, it’s my empathy, which you said is the basis for morality. My empathy makes me sickened at the idea that someone could rip a baby limb from limb and then re-assemble it to make sure they got everything out…I mean how sick do you have to be to be able to perform that job. Even from a Naturalistic position, we are “hard-wired” to protect babies and pregnant women. But, if you are logically consistent and only argue that it’s not a baby, then I can’t prove you wrong.

        • Kodie

          I feel bad that you and your wife lost what I will concede is a child for the sake of going forward with this paragraph. I say generally that it is a projection, you wanted it, and you started to consider it part of your growing family, and expected it to reach that point, and in that explanation, it was a child to you. That’s not a reason for other people to consider the same thing “a child”. What you admit to having is an emotional response. It defies logic. My empathy is for you and your wife, and about you suffering a loss. I am having trouble even in your words to find where you have empathy for your peanut and not sympathy for yourselves and each other. Your prospective child did not have any feelings or struggle or pain. It is not a body to feel empathy for how the world treats beings similar to it. You attached feelings to yours, because it was yours. When it died, you felt pain.

          Where you err is forcing other people to feel sentimental about something that’s about to damage their life in a way they’re neither prepared nor compelled to simply allow, because your peanut meant something to you. If you think about a tree, it’s a living organism. One person plants this tree and it grows and grows, very large. Generations of family and neighbors know this tree and it’s a fixture of the landscape. People get sentimental about trees, don’t tell me they don’t. Then the house has to get sold, no grown child to inherit it, they’ve all moved away. The new owner decides that tree cuts into his plans to install a pool in the yard. Done, no more tree. He doesn’t feel the same way about the tree. He has no history of the tree. All it is to him is an obstacle getting in the way of his plans for his new home. Are you mad at that guy now? Has he done something wrong because he doesn’t feel the same way about the tree as the previous family?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Great example about the tree. Is it a cherished memory of Grandpa? Or is it an obstacle? There’s no objectively true definition.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Why do I believe it’s a baby.

          Cool. Call it a baby. I have no objection. Also, I feel for your loss. I’ve raised two kids myself.

          The problem is when you demand that everyone else call it a baby in the same situation. What you haven’t addressed is the elephant in the room: when a woman hears that she’s pregnant, that’s rarely ho-hum news. It’s often either some of the best news she’s ever heard or some of the worst.

          As for a late term abortion, do you know the reasons why women have them? I actually haven’t found a good survey of reasons, just anecdotes, but here’s a clue: it’s not “being pregnant makes look too fat.” To have any credibility criticizing people who make that tough decision, you must at the very least understand the reasons why.

          Valerie Tarico’s story is a place to start.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          There’s an inherent asymmetry. She’s carrying the baby.

          I have no quick answer to your question–yes, that’s a dilemma–but let’s acknowledge the asymmetry. It may turn out that the woman makes all the decisions until birth.

        • MNb

          “Christians are not nearly Christian enough.”
          Then after 2000 years it’s safe to conclude that christianity is a failure, just we needed only 70 years to conclude that communism is.

        • MNb

          If you are only willing to discuss the Inquisition regarding the restraint a belief puts on people you are once again defining the rules in such a way you can’t lose. You’re really a dishonest guy, aren’t you?

          The witch hunts in Europe – Salem is pretty irrelevant here – were executed by christians, based on a book written by christians. The witch hunts show too – I might have added them to he list I gave above – that there is no power to restrain people in the belief that God will judge them for their actions.

        • Kevin Nelson

          The reason I use the Inquisition and haven’t talked at length about any of the others is because the Inquisition was specifically a “church-action”, thus, I find it the most reprehensible of all the things that you could list. All the wars you were listing had more political motivations and are easily dismissed. About the only war that you can’t say had a primarily political motivation is the Crusades.

          As to the power of the Christian worldview to change lives, it is better if I let an atheist speak on my behalf because you’ll ignore anything I say:

          http://pandawhale.com/post/5030/as-an-atheist-i-truly-believe-africa-needs-god-matthew-parris

        • MNb

          “more political motivations and are easily dismissed.”
          All organized religion is political, so this is irrelevant. What’s more, your claim that “there is power to restrain people in the belief that God will judge them for their actions” obviously should be especially applied to religious folks doing political things or it will lose any meaning. Finally the Killing Fields of Pol Pot were politically motivated as well, so dismissing atrocities committed by christians because of this reason just displays your double standard.
          I have never denied that the christian worldview can change the life of individuals, so now you show your prejudice. As I have witnessed it myself – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad – I don’t need to read your link. Of course atheist worldviews can change lives as well. Just read the blog of Ryan Bell.
          This is irrelevant for your statement though. We are discussing mankind in general. Human nature being responsible for violence and cruelty my statement is that the whole world becoming christian (or any other religion or non-religious) won’t make it a better place. That’s why you’re wrong, which has nothing to do with me believing you or not.

        • Pofarmer

          “Human nature being responsible for violence and cruelty my statement is
          that the whole world becoming christian (or any other religion or
          non-religious) won’t make it a better place. That’s why you’re wrong,
          which has nothing to do with me believing you or not.”

          Which is why pushing religion as the solution to social ills is pointless. It just breeds more ills. The basic problem with Christianity, as with all religions, is that it miss-diagnoses the problems and then starts treatment as if it were correct.

        • Kevin Nelson

          “All organized religion is political, so this is irrelevant.”

          I see no basis in fact to say that organized religion is political unless your definition of political includes all social organizations. I.e. you would have to then assert that an organized chess club is political because it is a group of people coming together with common interests and a common value–the love of chess. However, I consider that nonsense. Merely organizing something does not make it political.

          Nothing about Christianity even requires that it be organized. Organization is a byproduct of people wanting to get together with other people with similar values, which is why the chess club and churches both create schedules and “organize”. Interestingly, the Bible denies the ability for any Christian to have authority over another Christian (Matt 23:8-10), and each person holds their own account to God (Rom 14). There is no biblical basis for the “church” to be a political body because there is no biblical basis for the church to be anything other than a collection of individuals with a common value–the love of Jesus. Biblically speaking, the only reason to go to church at all is so that you can “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10)…so that we can remind each other that we should be putting our money where our mouth is: taking care of the poor, etc.

          “Finally the Killing Fields of Pol Pot were politically motivated as well”

          EXACTLY! YES! AND, OBVIOUSLY, OF COURSE MY LOGIC WORKS IN REVERSE. THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG. Seriously, did you only read half of what I wrote? That’s exactly what I’m saying. All those atheists had political motivations. I am not portraying a double-standard, I’m saying the double-standard is STUPID. That’s just finger pointing instead of dealing with the real issues: Either there is a God or there is not. Either Jesus is who he claimed to be or he is not. You cannot use the atrocities used by a person of a particular belief (atheism or Christian or Hindu or Muslim) as a falsification of that belief unless the atrocity itself is a basis for the belief. If you found proof that Christians are the most evil people on earth, that would still not falsify Christ…it would instead only show that people seem to have a difficult time doing what he commanded.

          “so dismissing atrocities committed by christians because of this reason just displays your double standard.”

          Again, no double-standard here. As I’ve said all along…if you don’t use a double-standard, I won’t use a double-standard.

          “I have never denied that the christian worldview can change the life of individuals, so now you show your prejudice. As I have witnessed it myself – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad – I don’t need to read your link. Of course atheist worldviews can change lives as well. Just read the blog of Ryan Bell. This is irrelevant for your statement though. We are discussing mankind in general. Human nature being responsible for violence and cruelty my statement is that the whole world becoming christian (or any other religion or non-religious) won’t make it a better place. That’s why you’re wrong, which has nothing to do with me believing you or not.”

          If the entire world claimed to be Christian, then the world would likely NOT be a better place. I agree with you there. If Christianity ever became a political figure-head again like with the Catholic Church of old, then the coercion to become Christians would be a bad thing because coercion is antithetical to the Christian faith. So, I’m sure we agree there. In order to disagree, I have to make a distinction.

          If someone claims to be an animal rights activist but tortures puppies for fun, we could rightly say that the person does not really care about animal rights and probably has some ulterior motive for affiliation with the animal rights movement he or she joins. We could say this because it is easy to see that the declaration and the reality are self-contradictory.

          In the same way a person who claims to be a Christian but does not obey and “follow Christ”, which is the definition of the word Christian, is self-contradictory. So, if our definition of Christian is everyone who professes to be a Christian, then you are right that the world would NOT be a better place. Adding more hypocrites doesn’t help anything. I’ll go one step further. If the world were filled with “Christians” like those that go to Westboro…the world would be a WORSE place by far.

          So, if we make this distinction…the Bible has a mandate to take care of the poor, the widows, the orphans, those in prison…a mandate to FORGIVE, and even to love your enemy–the hardest of all. In fact, this is so strong that it says if you don’t forgive others who sin against you, God will not forgive you of your own sins. The Bible also commands Christians that they are NOT TO JUDGE people outside the church (1 Cor 5), which means Christians are supposed to be getting along with non-believers rather than judging them…kind of like what Ryan Bell is endorsing for working together. In the early church, the assistance of the church was made available to all regardless of whether any beliefs were shared…so much so that the emperor Julian was quite annoyed by it:

          “Because Christian charities were open to all, including pagans, it put this aspect of the Roman citizens lives out of the control of the Imperial authority and under that of the Church. Thus Julian envisioned the institution of a Roman philanthropic system, and cared for the behaviour and the morality of the pagan priests, in the hope that it would mitigate the reliance of pagans on Christian charity, saying: “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae [agape feast], they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”[1]

          In any case, if the world were filled with more people that actually followed those mandates of the Bible…whether they believed in Jesus or not…then the world would indeed be a better place.

          [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_%28emperor%29

        • MNb

          “I see no basis in fact to say that organized religion is political unless your definition of political includes all social organizations.”
          It does apply to most social organizations indeed; possibly even to tea-parties. Politics has three components, which are related: struggle for power (absolutely not necessarily by violent means), conflict of interests and allocation of finances. All three can be found back in organized religion.
          So the rest of your comment is uninteresting – especially when you begin to quote the Bible, which authority I reject anyway (and no, I do not imply I reject everything written in the Bible).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve seen articles like this one, and when they gush too much, I wonder what kind of “atheist” we’re talking about.

          If a Christian missionary school is good, better would be a non-missionary school.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Did you actually read the article…??? That’s what he pretty much said he thought too…that the only reason to allow religious people to do it would be so it gets done. However, despite thinking like you, he saw a distict difference in the liberation of the people who had become Christians…and said that the secular NGOs were not able to do the same for the people even when they provided the same service. That isn’t “gush,” it’s just an observation.

          As far as what type of atheists…do atheists have a type or a creed now? Is he a Dawkins-creed, “bright”, is he one of the “new atheists” who think Christians are delusional and that we need to abolish religious thought…? No, he’s probably not that type of atheist. But, I believe Matthew Parris is well known in some circles, so if you mistrust that he is actually an atheist and this is just Christian propaganda, then check out other things he’s written.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Did you actually read the article…???

          Nope. Paywall.

          Lots of Christians do good things just because, y’know, they’re good things. Same reason an atheist would do them. Bravo for those people, regardless of their beliefs.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Did some quick research…voted the 49th most influential LGBT member in the UK…Being a gay man, I would bet that Matthew Parris has more reasons to have a bias against Christians than for. A quick look at the discussion on old.richarddawkins.net on this article only questioned his conclusion, not the substance of the article.

        • Will Good

          Right, because “non-missionaries” are always hard at work, founding and building schools all around the world.. Ha!

        • Greg G.

          Don’t overlook the Peace Corps.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          U.S. Social Security distributes probably 100x more money than that spent on churches’ good works.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          How much money do U.S. churches spend supporting international good works? (It’s a trick question because no one can answer–their books are closed.)

          Whatever it is, I suspect that the non-missionary charities (CARE, Save the Children, Oxfam, etc.) are indeed doing far more.

        • Pofarmer

          The witchhunts started in Europe, and had gone on for a long, long time.

        • MNb

          I’m not talking about double standard, I’m talking about body count. You have apparently missed my point, because you totally neglect what I write about this:

          “there is power to restrain people in the belief that God will judge them for their actions.”
          Apparently you need the full treatment. Here you go. When talk about “belief” I assume christianity. You give exactly one example: the Inquisition. Well, I have some examples for you, plus a question.

          Catholics killing off protestants and vice versa during The Troubles;
          Christian Germans (remember Gott sei mit Uns on their belts) burning down about 5000 Ukrainian villages during WW-2 plus all the other war crimes;
          Five christian nations starting WW-1, fought by christian soldiers;
          Confederates and Unionists fighting a civil war with both parties having god at their sides;
          Christian Americans committing genocide on several Amero-Indian tribes;
          The Thirty Years War ruining large parts of Germany in the 17th Century thanks to all kinds of European christians;
          Please look up what the Dutch christians did on the Banda Islands – one of the most successfull genocides in human history;
          The French civil war of the 16th Century and specifically St. Bartholomeus Night;
          The Cathar Crusade exterminating a complete heresy;
          The First and Fourth Crusade starting off with some cute pogroms and ending with bloodbaths in Jerusalem and Constantinople respectively.

          All this was done by christians who thought they did the will of some version of the christian god.
          Where exactly can we find the restraint resulting from their christian beliefs?

          Also note that atheists happen to be significantly underrepresented in prison. Now I don’t think religion causes criminal behaviour. Rather I think criminal behaviour induces religiosity. Isn’t it remarkable that the most christian western country, the USA, also has the highest crime rates? Again christian belief doesn’t put a restraint on criminal behaviour.
          Now you’re obviously a good apologist and this means that no amount of empirical facts can convince you that you are wrong. You rather corrupt your morals as your insistence to compete on numbers shows. As I have made my point crystal clear for every single neutral outsider I rest my case.

          “there were only 2 or 3 formally atheistic regimes and they weren’t improvements.”
          That was not because of atheism but because of a certain political ideology, which btw shared a lot of features with christianity. The way Stalin was worshipped was not so different from the way some christians worship Jesus, Mary or whoever you pick.
          Anyhow the biggest improvements can be seen in those countries with constitutions that don’t mention god at all. You can find them in western and northern Europe. In your line of thinking – and let’s see if you’re serious about double standards – inserting christianity into politics, which is the big issue now in the USA, tells us something negative about the moral value of christianity.
          It’s a conclusion I don’t share, but that’s because I think your line of thinking is wrong.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Oh, the full-treatment, how exciting…

          “Now you’re obviously a good apologist and this means that no amount of empirical facts can convince you that you are wrong. You rather corrupt your morals as your insistence to compete on numbers shows. As I have made my point crystal clear for every single neutral outsider I rest my case.”

          A “good apologist” huh? I’ve never been called an apologist before, let alone a good one. I’m a programmer and would probably qualify as a Christian moderate. But thanks, I guess, for the back-handed compliment. It’s always nice when we assassinate someone’s character and imply how that person handles evidence in a derogatory fashion.

          But again, DUDE…you are totally missing my point…”my insistence to compete on numbers”…nonsense…I’m saying the numbers game IS STUPID. I’m saying, you don’t do it, and I won’t do it. Stalin and Mao weren’t using the atheist handbook that doesn’t exist, and all your citations show that those people clearly weren’t using the Christian handbook that does exist, unless those nations were fighting in self-defense, which is appropriate, IMHO.

          I will grant you, I am deeply ashamed of all the things that people who have claimed to be Christian have done in the past. DEEPLY ASHAMED. Even though I could argue that none of those were Christian-motivated except the Crusades and Inquisition…I’ll give them all to you, because it makes no difference.

          The fact that anyone could justify doing some of the things that were done in the name of Christ is beyond me. Christ’s commands: Turn the other cheek, Meek shall inherit the earth, walk the extra mile, bless those that persecute you, the Golden Rule, LOVE YOUR ENEMY. That is the system of Christianity, and it is on Christ alone that I make my judgments. All the people who claimed to be Christian but didn’t do the things that Christ said to do, I would argue are not Christians or at least not acting out of their Christian ethics on the basis that the word Christian means “follower of Christ” and those who do not do what Christ commanded–such as loving their enemy, etc., clearly aren’t “following” Him. So, in the same way that you are able to exclude the atheism of Stalin and Mao because they are not following some Atheistic handbook, I can exclude these examples you give as not following Christ’s commands, because clearly they are NOT FOLLOWING CHRIST’S COMMANDS…the handbook we DO have.

          Now, if you find some historical proof of Christ doing evil, etc., then my worldview is falsified and I will resort to being a Deist.

          I will even grant you the criminal people being Christians. Everyone in prison is religious…those that genuinely convert, and those that don’t, because looking “penant” can make parole easier. So, whether they are actually Christians or not is debatable…depends on the person. But, ultimately, that’s the problem with Christianity…we just don’t blacklist people well enough. We let ANYONE become a Christian. It’s ridiculous. We really need to work on our screening mechanism. Atheists should do the same. It’s amazing how atheists let anyone claim to be an atheist.

          “In your line of thinking – and let’s see if you’re serious about double standards – inserting christianity into politics, which is the big issue now in the USA, tells us something negative about the moral value of christianity.”

          WOW!!! When did I EVER make the claim that Christianity should govern politics???????????????? Christ said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar and to God that which is God’s”. Unlike Islam, there is no inherent aspect of Christianity that pushes a specific civic system.

          I have no desire for Christianity to ever become a political body. That is the worst thing that can happen to Christianity, and probably the worst thing that DID happen to it. In the beginning of the United States each state had their own denomination…Baptists in a Presbyterian state were forced to pay tithes to the Presbyterian churches. Christians soon realized that this wasn’t a good system and the church gave up its state-level authority voluntarily and now we have separation of church and state. Some conservatives “think” they want that kind of control back, but it’s only because Christians are dumb (again, we let anyone be a Christian) and don’t really think through the implication of what that kind of coercion does to Christianity. When a religion or belief system is the governing body, people are essentially forced to pronounce their conversion whether it’s real or not. “Christians” have done this when the Catholic church had power, and the USSR did it to require people to declare that they were atheists before they could proceed to higher education. Both coercions are wrong.

          So, I have no desire to make any religion a political body and thereby coerce people into that religion. It is that kind of thinking that creates all of the problems and dilemmas you are trying to say are the result of Christianity. However, IMHO, it is really politics.

          Every bad item you and I both listed was a result of politics…so we could, then, say, that the REAL problem is politics. Fighting for land and resources.

          “It’s a conclusion I don’t share, but that’s because I think your line of thinking is wrong.”

          I would argue you don’t yet understand my line of thinking because what you are repeating back to me is clearly nothing along the lines of what I believe. Either I’m a horrible communicator, which may be the case, or you are completely misunderstanding what I am saying.

        • MNb

          Irrelevant blabla.
          You say that belief puts restraint on human behaviour. The facts contradict you. Hence you are wrong.
          Apparently – your view on abortion showed the same – you are not capable of admitting it, because belief.
          That makes you look silly.

      • Kevin Nelson

        The moral to the story is that you don’t judge a belief system by its abuse. You don’t judge Christianity by the people that disobey its tenants, and you don’t judge atheism based on the people who are atheists and are cruel. You judge a system based on whether it is true not based on what people who believe it do. Atheism is true or false based on whether or not there is a God, not on what atheists have done. Hinduism is true or false based on whether its system is true or false, not based on whether Hindus have burned wives alive for not paying enough dowry. Christianity is true if Christ is who He claimed to be, not based on what anyone who “professed” to following him did. Islam is true if Muhammed really did get his message from God, not whether or not Muslims have participated in female genital mutilation (female-circumcision euphemistically). You judge a system based on its truth claims and whether or not those truth claims can line up with reality.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You rant about how to judge a religion true (and the bad actions of its believers doesn’t count), and then you wrap up your initial comment by observing how many people Stalin and Mao killed?

          I’m sensing inconsistency.

        • Kevin Nelson

          Actually Bob, I was not being inconsistent. I specifically said that if we were going to use a double-standard it would lean in favor of religion. That does not in any way say that we should use a double standard…just saying that historically speaking leaders who were religious or had to feign religion at the least for their religious base are more restrained than the few examples who were not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m not sure how you don’t see the double-standard there.

      I guess I’m just a surprising guy.

      You’re right that not all dictators are atheists. I didn’t say that they were. In Stalin’s case, however, the evidence points to his being a dictator (or wanting to be), next he saw the church as competition, and then he eliminated the church (mostly) with a policy of atheism for the country.

      When a Christian has political power and they abuse that power, you can clearly see that they are doing so in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.

      Some would see the contradiction; some wouldn’t. Some would share your interpretation; some wouldn’t. The Bible is ambiguous, and people make it say just about whatever they want.

      I look at politicians who’ve made their Christianity a dominant part of their platform (despite the Constitution) and can’t believe that their Christian base keeps re-electing them. (But maybe that’s just the different interpretations again.)

      However, when an atheist has political power and abuses it, they can do so without violating anything.

      Except shared standards of morality.

      it is true that there is nothign in atheism that requires morality and therefore there is nothing within atheism to restrain the abuse of power.

      There is also nothing in chemistry that requires morality. Neither atheism nor chemistry are about morality.

      Whereas, there is the accountability to God to restrain believers.

      And yet that doesn’t happen as much as you’d hope, does it?

      Stalin and Mao did 5,000 in days and weeks.

      Yeah, and why did they do that? Carrying out the dictates of the Atheist Bible, were they?

  • MNb

    Another atheist who is rather unimpressed by Lennox’ intellectual genius:

    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2015/03/john-lennox-talk-1.html
    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2015/03/john-lennox-hoist-by-his-own-petard.html

    Personally I increasingly fail to see the difference between scholarly apologists like John Lennox and creepy science deniers like Ken Ham.

  • ተስፋዬ

    I was waiting you are going to say something profound. Alas, you just want to enter into the fray of things on the back of someone much too big for your small talk. You cherry-picked your objections out of context. It is only fair you should post links to Lennox’s side of the story for readers to make their own assessment of facts.

    • Philmonomer

      (Bob can obviously speak for himself–but these are so easy!)

      I was waiting you are going to say something profound.

      Why were you thinking Bob was going to say something profound? Has he said profound things before?

      But, in any case, I’m excited now! Bring on your profundity! Let’s hear it:

      Alas, you just want to enter into the fray of things on the back of someone much too big for your small talk.

      Nuts. No profundity there. Just a (weird) personal attack. Why? It only makes you look, well, small.

      You cherry-picked your objections out of context.

      Ok, now we are onto something. Let’s see the evidence! Remember the old adage: “Show, Don’t Tell.”

      It is only fair you should post links to Lennox’s side of the story for readers to make their own assessment of facts.

      Hmmm, I guess you don’t have anything to show. Do you think (somehow?, somewhere?) Lennox has answered these charges? Do you have any links? Or, much better than links, actual answers?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Why should I have all the fun?!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      A name in Amharic–how cool is that?!

      Read other posts. When there’s something online, I always give links. This was an in-person lecture.

      I attended; it was crap; I summarized it for you; you’re welcome.

      If you’d like to respond with specific concerns, go for it. A drive-by like this doesn’t advance the conversation, however.

  • Craig Peyton

    Moral instincts ? LOL

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Craig: I’m not following what your point is.

  • Craig Peyton

    Maybe Charles Manson has instincts.

  • Craig Peyton

    How about the millions in jail?

  • Aram

    I just had this guy recommended to me as a great argument for Jesus et al.
    So much for that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I have little respect for someone like Wm. Lane Craig with two his doctorates. He’s wasted his learning. But I’m sure Lennox has made contributions in his field of math. That’s why it’s sad to see what that great mind does when put in the quicksand of apologetics. He becomes a shill for God.

      • Aram

        Yeah, Lane Craig just annoys me with his rambling about nothing. This Lennox guy seems more genuinely useful, but also conflating arguments for deism into the exact Christian god (as imagined by Lennox). How do they not see it’s only their conditioning that makes the massive leap possible? (Rhetorical)

        • MNb

          To be fair to apologists: arguing for deism usually is only their first step. They usually add something like “the empty cave” to argue that god must be the christian one.
          I disagree that Lennox is more useful. For a smart guy like him the quotes BobS gave are amazingly silly.

        • Aram

          I meant more useful as a human being. But I guess next to Craig most people are.


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