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Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Morality

This is a continuation of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity made at a recent debate. See the beginning of the discussion here.

The M in CRIMES is Morality

On the topic of morality, Turek couldn’t resist a Holocaust reference. He showed a photo of the Buchenwald concentration camp with stacks of dead bodies. He said,

If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.

The statement “I like chocolate” is just an opinion. By contrast, I wouldn’t call “I recommend we declare war” in a cabinet meeting just an opinion, but that’s a quibble. If Turek wants to say that both are conclusions grounded in the person making the statement and nothing else, I agree. The same is true for “the Holocaust was wrong.”

What alternative does Turek propose?

Turek imagines a morality grounded outside of humanity. He would probably agree with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality, “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

The other explanation for morality

But there’s no need to imagine Turek’s universal moral truth when we have an alternate explanation: universally held moral programming. We’re all the same species, so we have similar responses to moral questions. That explains things nicely without the unsupported assumption of a supernatural being.

Turek confuses the degree of outrage (which, for the Holocaust, is indeed quite high) with the degree of absoluteness. He seems to imagine that the more emphatically we think that the Holocaust was wrong, the more objective that moral opinion must be, but why imagine this? He provides no evidence to support universal moral truth or to reject the obvious alternative, universally held moral programming.

Let’s take a step back and consider his example. God allows 11 million innocent people to die in the Holocaust, and Turek thinks that this is an example supporting his side of the ledger?

Morality also changes with time. In the West, we’re pleased with our abolition of slavery and the civil rights we’ve established, but these aren’t universals. The modern views on these issues contradict the Old Testament’s, but none of us cling to the Old Testament view. Turek’s objective morality doesn’t allow change with time.

Morality vs. absolute morality

Turek listed things that must be true if God doesn’t exist. First, “The Nazis were not wrong.” If morality is an opinion, the Nazis had an opinion and the Allies had an opinion. We said they were wrong; they said we were wrong. Stalemate.

Nope—dude needs a dictionary. He’s confusing morality with absolute morality. I agree that the Nazis were not wrong in an absolute sense. But they were still wrong (from my standpoint) using the definition of morality in the dictionary, which makes no reference to an absolute grounding.

He continues his list with more examples of the same error: love is no better than rape, killing people is no different than feeding the poor, and so on. In an absolute sense, he’s right; he just hasn’t given any reason to imagine that morality is based in absolutes. Drop the assumption of absoluteness, and nothing is left unexplained.

Why the insistence on objective or universal or absolute morality? We don’t have any problem with shared (rather than absolute) ideas of other concepts like courage, justice, charity, hope, patience, humility, greed, or pride. Again, the dictionary agrees. None of these have an objective grounding, and the earth keeps turning just fine.

Turek bragged about the time he kicked Christopher Hitchens’ butt when Hitchens raised the issue of wrongs done in the name of God during the Crusades. Turek agreed but said that there’s nothing wrong with that if there is no god; without a standard of righteousness there is no righteousness.

Add the qualifier that we’re talking about absolute morality, and I agree. As he stated it, it’s nonsense.

Turek wrestles with science and science loses

Turek continues to praise science when he approves of it and lampoon it when he doesn’t.

If we’re just overgrown germs that got here by some evolutionary process then we’re no different than any other animal.

Yep, science makes clear that we’re just one more species of animal. Is this a problem?

This must’ve been a bone thrown to those in the audience who imagine that the universe was built for them. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson observed, “If you are depressed after being exposed to the cosmic perspective, you started your day with an unjustifiably large ego.”

Atheists can’t justify morality.

Again, I’m missing the problem. What are atheists unable to do?

But the bigger question is, And you think you can justify morality?? Sure, you can point to this doctrine or that verse, but that explains nothing. You say your theology has it all figured out? Great—show that your theology is accurate and you’ve got an argument. Until then, nothing.

Here’s a thought experiment, Frank. Imagine that two Christians are arguing about a moral issue. They finally agree that Christian #1 was correct. Question: did they reach the right conclusion?

You’ll say that you need to know what the options were. But how is that relevant? You inject yourself into the conversation, and now it’s three Christians. How does that help? Or maybe you’ll say that you need to know what procedure they used. Again: how does that help? Prayer is no source of moral truth, and interpreting the Bible is ambiguous. Morality comes from people. That explains how Western societies could think that slavery was okay but now think it’s not. Explain that with unchanging objective morality.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s ruby slippers could always have taken her home. Like Dorothy, we have always been the source of our morality and some of us simply need to realize that. Society’s morality ain’t perfect, but it’s the best we have, and improving it as we mature is a heckuva lot better than being held back by a barbarous book that preserves the morality from a primitive society thousands of years ago.

Continue to the final post here.

One of the great tragedies of mankind
is that morality has been hijacked by religion.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Photo credit: Michael Grimes

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    “If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.”

    Yes. So?

  • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

    I think part of the problem with morality, for Christians especially, is that they have this idea that there is some “Natural Law” which somehow dictates how species behave, and that this “Natural Law” somehow coincides with their particular interpretation of scripture. Its like they’ve bastardized the meaning of Nature, and attributed some sort of legal force to give it an absoluteness.

    I think one of the core reasoning flaws of using the holocaust as an example is that, although we of the western tradition think they were wrong, the Nazi’s thought they were right! You mean to tell me that in the presence of an absolute knowable set of objective morals, the Nazis managed to convince an entire nation to go to war? How is that even possible? Hitler would have sounded like the biggest liar ever, in spite of all his compelling presentation. The holocaust is probably the worst argument to be made for objective morals. Just like any of the other crazy dictators who murdered their populaces.

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

      Good point about the Holocaust. We were the ones judging the Germans at Nuremburg and not the other way around because we won.

      I think Wm. Lane Craig has said that if the Germans won and convinced everyone in 2013 that the Holocaust was morally correct, they’d still be wrong. By what standard?? He imagines an objective morality that he gives no algorithm for accessing.

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

        And, how do we even know that we’re not in such a world? Maybe our universal conviction that the Holocaust was wrong is because we have indeed been brainwashed. Maybe the correct position is just the opposite but we’re deluded–how would we know?

      • Cafeeine

        You can notice if you look for it. Most, if not all, apologists who argue for an objective morality will at some point in their argument both claim that objective morality means that a moral statement is true even if no one believes it, then offer examples of absolute morals by appealing to the consensus of the audience. (The infamous “torturing and killing babies for fun” example )

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

          So what we need as an example is an objective moral truth that no one believes.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Slavery is good for people, because it reflects the divine order. :) Colossians 4:1

        • Ron

          Apologist: Ah, but “slaves” doesn’t mean slaves in the modern sense. It means your paid servants.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          darn it. Apologist wins again!.. How about, Do not wear a garment of two different kinds of fabric?

        • Ron

          Apologist: That was a Jewish civil law, not a moral code.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          hmmmm… sacrifice cows or sheep or doves so that the priests could have food and also forgive your sins? cmon man give me something! All sin requires death right? that’s a moral thing that no one believes in?
          Wait wait, I already know what you’ll say, It still required death so God committed suicide/filicide so that he could convince himself to forgive us.

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

          Cool! Then I guess the “abomination” label is off homosexuality as well.

        • Ron

          Apologist: Wearing mixed fabrics was forbidden, but it was not considered an abomination per se (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:11). Also, the Hebrew words which translate to “abomination” mean different things depending on the context. The word used for dietary restrictions conveys impurity or uncleanliness in a ritual sense, whereas the word used to describe forbidden sexual practices means vile and wicked in a moral sense.

          NB: By introducing topics unrelated to biblical slavery, you inadvertently grant your hypothetical apologist an opportunity to avoid addressing that issue.

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

          Isn’t this distinction a modern interpretation or inference? How do we know that this distinction is accurate and not simply a reflection of modern sensibilities?

          Isn’t homosexuality mixed in with the other “abominations”? The apologist can’t use special pleading to pick out the goodies from the crap.

          And a “crime” with no punishment isn’t a crime. Modern apologists can’t conclude that homosexuality is wrong but that it has no punishment … unless we’re simply saying that it is a sin, in which case the argument is removed from the public square and is relevant only in the church.

          And I didn’t follow your last point. Why not bring up lots of nutty points besides just slavery for life?

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I think he was just pointing out that whenever you shift to a different passage, it seems to the apologist that you are conceding their points. E.g. Atheist points out slavery is bad, Apologist presents some dodge or excuse. Atheist points out additional different items of contention in an attempt to show a consistent theme of bad laws. Apologist assumes you’ve conceded on the slavery point, and proceeds to provide an inconsistent justification for the next thing you bring up.

          I think Ron is right in that apologists always have an excuse for everything and it is not self apparent to the apologist that they apply an inconsistent set of criteria for interpreting scripture. Simply pointing to a specific issue doesn’t necessarily score us any points. I’m sure we do create some level of doubt in those who have any semblance of a moral compass or haven’t ever read the old laws (like many Christians haven’t)

          However, I think for those who are so ingrained in the world of apologetics and the mental gymnastics, circular reasoning and justifications for God’s apparent evil, that that entails, we may be better served to attempt to get them to articulate the very system that they use for assessing the text. Ask questions about their criteria, and let them reveal to themselves the problems inherent in their own minds. In spite of the stranglehold of religious thought, I think most people are still quite reasonable, even if it takes 6 years to finally abandon religious thinking (like it took me) I have to have hope! :)

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I guess I would also add that believers, see are arguments and make the assessment that the reason we make the arguments is that we START with the assumption that God doesn’t exist and are attempting to justify that assumption, when in fact, God’s non-existence is our conclusion, and our arguments are what lead us to that conclusion. It leads to a lot of miscommunication on both sides IMHO.

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

          “God doesn’t exist” is a conclusion, but it’s a conclusion built on evidence. Show that that evidence is faulty, and the conclusion changes.

          The conclusion “God exists” isn’t similarly built on evidence in many (most?) cases.

          This asymmetry is important.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I think they believe that they have evidence though, which is important. They can’t see the apparent asymmetry, because they’ve been told for so long that “faith” is evidence as well as the text itself. Add in the strong emphasis on testimony, and written authority, and every written document that gives lip service to God becomes a valid source of reasoning.

          How else could Josh McDowell & company gain such large readerships? I think what’s more important than the presentation of evidence, is the system by which evidence is interpreted. If we grant them that their evidence is true (e.g. The Bible is completely infallible) and we get them to show us their logic in assessing the text, I’m confident that it will become quickly apparent to them, that the Bible actually isn’t the source of their theology. I got a lady to admit the other day that her source of truth isn’t the Bible. Even though she is still a Christian, the fact that she now is aware that the Bible isn’t her source of evidence provides plenty of room for me to ask the follow up, “what is your evidence then?”

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

          Yes, hold their feet to the fire. I agree. I like to hear Christians say, “Oh, I was wrong.” Doesn’t happen very often, but perhaps if I can get them to at least realize that their argument is a loser, that’s progress.

        • Ron

          Rabbinic Judaism maintains that the interpretation of the written Torah has always been dependent on an oral Torah (transmitted via the priestly class, of course). As such, it frowns upon Christian exegesis of the OT texts just as much as Catholicism frowns upon the sola scriptura doctrines of the Protestants. But I digress.

          The distinction reveals itself through the prescribed remedies — i.e. purification rituals and animal sacrifice for cleanliness violations vs. the death penalty for sexual transgressions.

          You’re right about apologists being selective and inconsistent in the application of those laws. I wonder how many people petitioning for a legal system founded on the Decalogue realize that the death penalty is the prescribed punishment for at least seven of the ten? Goodbye thieves, murderers, pedophiles, adulterers, fornicators, idolaters, Sabbath breakers, unruly children, perjurers, blasphemers, and anyone who’s used the Lord’s name in vain — i.e. pretty much the entire population.

          Christians will counter that Jesus set aside those penalties on the cross, but he’s also quoted to have said, “till heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (And of course, 32 states still have the death penalty.)

          As for my last point, I think that YesDavisIsMyFirstName covered it fairly well. I especially agree with the adage that “he who asks the questions controls the conversation.”

          For instance, instead of asserting that oral traditions are unreliable (in response to my first paragraph above), I’d ask: “By what metric do you evaluate the truth claims of competing oral traditions?” This forces them to justify the hidden premises they bring to the table.

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

          “You can bequeath [foreign slaves] to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life” (Lev. 25:44-46).

        • Ron

          Apologist: Yes, but those slaves were treated with dignity and respect, not like the slaves of the 1800s. And besides, that was under the old covenant with Israel. We’re now living under the New Covenant, which has made the old one obsolete. (Heb. 8:13)

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          But you could beat them until they were unconscious for up to 2 days! Checkmate!

        • Ron

          Apologist: You’re taking it of context. The passage (Exodus 21:20-21) says:

          “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

          See… it’s talking about the use of reasonable force.

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

          That’s an odd definition of “reasonable.”

        • Ron

          Apologist: Define reasonable? Didn’t Christopher Hitchens maintain that waterboarding was morally justified despite conceding it was torture?

          Once again your apologist is in control. ;)

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

          If you want to argue with Hitchens, go for it. Right now, you’re arguing with me.

          To your second point, I usually don’t have a problem with the apologist moving around. He won’t concede anything whether I’m right or not, and I get to see the breadth of his arguments. Still, I like your point, and sometimes I’ll stick doggedly to an argument to force them to admit (even if only to themselves) their error.

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

          Next, I suppose you’ll tell me that the Canaanite genocide really wasn’t all that bad …

        • Ron

          Apologist: What fault can you find in Dr. Craig’s brilliant explanation? To wit:

          I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements. According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

          What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.

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

          What fault can you find in Dr. Craig’s brilliant explanation?

          Relying on a Dr. Craig explanation is like the coyote running off a cliff in a Road Runner cartoon—he’s good until he realizes that he’s not standing on anything solid.

          our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God

          I need evidence that such a god exists. Given the evidence in the Christians’ own book, he certainly isn’t holy and loving.

          Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill.

          If it’d be bad for us, I need good reasons to understand why it’s not bad for God. “God doesn’t have to follow the rules” is crap. “God killing people is justified, just like you could destroy a sand castle that you built.” Wrong again—sand castles don’t have feelings.

          He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.

          Despite the fact that we’re created in his image?

          What kind of morality are we talking about? Is morality objective from the Christian standpoint or not? How can God not be bound by the same moral restrictions?

          For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition.

          When you scratch your head and wonder what gets atheists so agitated, it’s crap like this.

          We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.”

          “Playing God” refers to God’s omniscience. “You’re so smart that you can see everything clearly, just like God??”–that’s what it means.

          God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

          Wow—what’s your problem? Unresolved Daddy issues? How you can embrace the sycophant role so eagerly?

          What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit.

          Yeah—that’s the kind of god I want to worship. He’s cool. He’s under no moral obligation that we understand. God the Cowboy.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I will posit that there is a certain relief in “knowing” that your life is not in your own hands. I can understand the perspective of Craig here, where the “Father” by being all powerful is also deserving of “Awe” and “humbly” accepting that this being could end your life at any second but chooses not to, is kind of personally relieving.

          In addition, the presence of God’s wrath in the text, makes that relief much more real for the cowed person who becomes actually grateful that God hasn’t dumped its wrath on them. I just read a post by Bad Catholic and he gives the example of a person touching noses with a lion, and the sense of relief and joy, mixed with excitement and fear, that this lion hasn’t bit-your-bloody-legs-off.

          If your starting assumption is that, God is the wrathful God, all powerful and true, and that this God (at least in part) loves us, then the above logic fits quite nicely. I’m not saying it’s reasonable, because obviously it is almost impossible for us to accept the starting assumption that God even exists in the first place, though we would grant them, that their God is quite wrathful…

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

          It is certainly humbling to realize that we’re it. Our childhood innocence where we can just not worry about difficult issues, knowing that our parents are taking care of us, can be comforting.

          But now we’re the adults. We don’t have anyone to rely on. Isn’t it kinda pathetic when an adult wants to revert to an infantilism where Daddy takes care of things?

          To your final point, it’s quite a juggling act to imagine God as all loving but also “all just” (translation: a savage SOB who must follow some sort of bizarre Bronze Age rulebook).

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Consider that many apologists today lived and breathed the teachings of their own little communities, sometimes for 15 years after they became “adults” and went out into the world to champion their faith. It’s no wonder that they never grew up.

        • Ron

          lol

          It was a rhetorical question. I’m not WLC, so I can’t address what goes through his mind.

        • MNb

          So god gave mankind one objective moral standard with the old covenant and another one with the new covenant. Sounds very subjective to me.
          Once again it seems that the apologist argument defeats his/her own christianity. Reconvert to pastafarianism is my advise.

        • Ron

          Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, divine command theory — God’s commands are moral and just, even it we can’t understand them — is the moral underpinning of every fundamentalist I’ve ever debated.

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

          When you put aside your judgment (God’s actions are just by definition), how do you know who this “God” dude is? Maybe he’s Satan. Isn’t that just the kind of trick that Satan would pull–tell credulous Christians that he is the Good Guy. He’d tease them with some goodies to get their loyalty, but there’ll be hell to pay.

          Just look around–sure there are puppies and laughing babies and beautiful sunsets, but that’s just the bone thrown to us by the Dark Lord. Think about tsunamis, earthquakes, and disease. And the bonus is, Christians justify Satan’s Dark Experiment as being all good! Satan simply can’t do enough bad in the world for Christians to snap out of it.

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

          So god gave mankind one objective moral standard with the old covenant and another one with the new covenant.

          Oh, give the guy a break. The dude’s how old now? 4000 years?

          You can imagine how embarrassed he must’ve been when remembered that Jesus was supposed to be a key part of the plan, but only after 1000 years of Judaism.

          “Doh!”

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          Or that he actually didn’t like sacrifices to begin with. Isn’t that like pretending to like broccoli, and then when your kid’s get older, going “sorry you don’t have to eat that anymore, I don’t like them either.”

          Wait, bad analogy, broccoli is actually good for us…

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

          “So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.” Ezekiel 20:25–6

          Ouch. That’s an embarrassing admission. God shouldn’t leave his diary around where someone might read it.

        • avalon

          “Most, if not all, apologists who argue for an objective morality will at
          some point in their argument both claim that objective morality means
          that a moral statement is true even if no one believes it, then offer
          examples of absolute morals by appealing to the consensus of the
          audience.”

          There is a reason for this and it addresses the most basic difference between theists and non-theists:
          Theists believe the thoughts and feelings that form the consensus have an external origin. They see the brain as some sort of receiver getting messages from God.
          Non-theists take the scientific approach and see the brain as a generator of ideas. That is, thoughts are internally generated.

          So the crux of the issue isn’t really morality; it’s where our thoughts and feelings come from (received from outside ourselves or generated internally). But this rarely gets discussed. So theist and atheist continue to talk past each other because their two basic assumptions are opposed (thoughts are external and received vs thoughts are internally generated).

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

          have you seen any evidence to support the theist view?
          But maybe evidence (or lack of it) isn’t the issue. If you didn’t reach your conclusion through evidence, you won’t reject it for lack of evidence.

        • avalon

          “have you seen any evidence to support the theist view?”

          I’ve seen plenty of evidence to refute it. Thing is, theists have no intellectual curiosity about their beliefs. It’s all intuitive BS without any desire to test their ideas.

          What they need is a Duncan Macdougall:

          http://www.lostmag.com/issue1/soulsweight.php

          Now there’s a guy willing to test his beliefs.

        • MNb

          “They see the brain as some sort of receiver getting messages from God.”
          Exactly. And this is why all the arguments for god are connected. They assume that said god, an immaterial being by definition, can interact with the material world but never explain how.

  • smrnda

    The problem with a god centered morality is that, particularly when we get the Christian god, this god fails miserably at providing us with anything that is clearly always right or always wrong. Murder, rape, lying, stealing, incest – it’s okay provided it’s somehow sanctioned by god. Someone told me that the Canaanites had to be wiped out because they practiced child sacrifice. But hey, when god tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, child sacrifice is suddenly okay and divinely sanctioned?

    The best way to judge moral systems is to look at the outcomes – in the end, a ‘bad’ moral system leads to bad outcomes, though they may appear to supply some massive gains towards some people in the short run.

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

      Far worse than the Isaac example is solving the Canaanite child-sacrifice problem by killing every single Canaanite–including all the children!

      • EmpiricalPierce

        So much this. What’s the difference between killing a child with a sacrificial knife or an executioner’s sword? The end result is still an innocent life ended for the purposes of a barbarous god.

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

          No difference, but that’s not what we’re talking about. The Christian will say that Isaac wasn’t killed.

          Even if he had been, there were, one assumes, thousands of children consigned to slaughter by God’s command of genocide.

        • EmpiricalPierce

          I understand that. I’m agreeing with you.

        • Greg G.

          Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible , shows that the Isaac sacrifice story has God named Elohim. Yahweh shows up with a goat but Abraham comes down the mountain alone and Isaac is never heard from again in the rest of the Elohim stories.

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

          So in the Elohim source Isaac was sacrificed?

        • Greg G.

          In Genesis 22 KJV, “God” is translated from “Elohim” and “Lord” is translated from “Yehovah” according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance on blueletterbible.com. God (Elohim) is used in 22:1,3,8,9, 1 and 12. Lord (Yehovah) is used in 22:11, 14, 15, and 16. Verses 22:11 and 15 refer to “the Angel of the Lord”.

          Verse 22:13 says Abraham offered up the ram “in the stead of his son” but it doesn’t say he bothered to untie him. Verse 22:19 tells us “Abraham returned unto his young men” and that “Abraham dwelt at Beersheba”. Isaac is conspicuously absent. I took Friedman at his word that Isaac doesn’t appear in the Elohim portions after that expecting that he would have been called out if he was wrong on that point.

      • Greg G.

        Why did God have to make murderers out of the Hebrews? He could have sent a flood, a plague, fire and brimstone or anything else.

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

          And why did he have to make it a painful way to go? How about if God went back in time and made the Canaanite women sterile 50 years prior? Bingo–problem painlessly solved.

        • Greg G.

          He convinced the Shakers to abstain from sex and got rid of that cult.

    • Cafeeine

      There’s a bigger problem to god-centered morality: It’s only immutable tenet is :” You must do whatever God wants, at any given time”. Any other rule may be changed, Killing? Good when its in the name of God. Theft? Good when it is in the name of God. Slavery? Ok for all, but better when its not God’s posse. In what way is this moral behavior?

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

        “… except when God does it” isn’t in the definition of “evil” in the dictionary, though it seems many Christians think so.

        • Cafeeine

          “except when God does it” can be rationalized by appealing to mysteries, omniscience and “reasons”. I don’t much mind it, since I don’t think “God” does anything.
          It’s the “except when God tells *you* to do it” that ennerves me.

    • MNb

      You still need a standard to judge those outcomes. So we’re back to basics. For me it’s happiness. For you?

      • smrnda

        My take on outcomes is that I’m for both maximizing happiness and minimizing misery. I put the second in because I think someone needs to set a bottom for what we’d consider a reasonable standard of living. If we have a society full of a lot of happy people but which allows a small segment of the population to be enslaved and abused, I’d see that as a big problem.

        I view the philosophical issues as incapable of resolution and not that relevant – I’m concerned with what laws we’re actually going to pass regulating human behavior.

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

          If we have a society full of a lot of happy people but which allows a small segment of the population to be enslaved and abused

          This is what the Bill of Rights does in the U.S. We’re not a democracy, and “majority rules” isn’t the way it always works.

        • smrnda

          True, and that tends to be the problem for any system – how to make sure that nobody gets pissed and shat on because someone else happens to have more power.

          I think defining people as having rights is the best way to go.

  • KarlUdy

    Bob, your comments on absolute morality don’t seem to make much sense. If Turek’s view is “If morality is an opinion, the Nazis had an opinion and the Allies had an opinion. We said they were wrong; they said we were wrong. ”

    Then your correction of “I agree that the Nazis were not wrong in an absolute sense. But they were still wrong (from my standpoint) using the definition of morality in the dictionary, which makes no reference to an absolute grounding.” does not advance the issue any. After all, the Nazis were wrong from your standpoint, and it can be assumed that you were wrong (re the Final Solution – I assume this is what is being talked about?) from their standpoint.

    Do we just “live and let live” with competing moral views? Or does might make right? (Perhaps even rhetorical might ie if you can convince a majority of the rightness of your morality, then other moral views must acquiesce?)

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

      To be clear, that quote is my paraphrase of Turek’s view, though I think it is accurate.

      Do we just “live and let live” with competing moral views?

      Who does that? This is the “moral relativism” caricature that so many apologists put forward. They say it’s ridiculous, and I agree.

      If you and I disagree on a moral issue, I think you’re wrong, and I’m sure you have the same view from your standpoint. If it’s an uninteresting issue (littering, not paying a parking fine, how to vote) then “live and let live” applies. If it’s something critical, then I might well get in your way.

      I can’t imagine we differ here.

      • KarlUdy

        If it is a critical issue, then how do we decide who’s right? (Or whose view should be applied?)

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

          I can’t imagine this will surprise you: we have an open mind and enter into discussion, trying to convince the other person of the rightness of our position while not being closed minded to his argument.

        • JohnH2

          And if one side refuses to enter into a discussion?

        • Greg G.

          Shock and awe? Carpet bombing? Kill them by sword and say God commanded you? Open fast food franchises down the street? There are no easy answers.

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

          ??

          How would I approach this difficulty any different than you?

        • KarlUdy

          So if someone is successful in convincing, then they hold the moral right to put their ideas into action?

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

          I’m sure we’ve been over this.

          I see no objective moral truths. If you and I disagree on a moral issue, we each think that we’re right. If you convince me, then we still each think that we’re right, but maybe this shared idea of ours is (or could be) common among society. We could be change makers.

          No, we don’t hold an absolute moral right. It’s still relative.

        • KarlUdy

          Bob, I’m not sure I’m following your logic here …

          If you and I disagree on a moral issue, we each think that we’re right. If you convince me, then we still each think that we’re right, but maybe this shared idea of ours is (or could be) common among society.

          If I convince you when we engage in a discussion on a moral issue that we disagree on, then at the point where we come to agreement then you must have come to a position where you now see the position that I held as right and the position that you previously held as wrong. (Assuming, of course, that both positions were clear and unambiguous to begin with and that the disagreement was real and not simply apparent.) If you still thought that you were originally right then I obviously did not convince you.

          No, we don’t hold an absolute moral right. It’s still relative.

          Do you mean they have a moral right relative to their particular sphere of influence or authority? If not, relative to what?

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

          If you still thought that you were originally right then I obviously did not convince you.

          Obviously. I don’t see an issue.

          Do you mean they have a moral right relative to their particular sphere of influence or authority? If not, relative to what?

          A moral right granted by whom? Or acknowledged by whom?

          If I say, “Karl, you’re wrong on point X,” you don’t say, “All righty then; tell me what the correct view is then.”

          When I say, “X is the correct view,” I’m speaking only for myself.

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          To jump in here, morality is fluid and malleable, the question remains, Is there a set of agreed upon criteria for determining whether something is moral or not? I would agree with Scott of Theoretical BS, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk, and posit that “Do the least harm/ cause the least suffering” is the bedrock criteria of whether or not a specific action is moral or not. If we appeal to an authority like God or Allah, or other, we have to fight through all the various arguments about WHY that particular deity is the source of that authority, and in the end “because he said so” still provides no definite criteria for assessing a moral statute. Not to mention, each of the various deities has commanded behavior which everyone on this thread would consider immoral, based on the fact that we universally value human life and any command to extinguish that life causes un-necessary suffering and is thus immoral.

          Side note: even if we had an objective source for moral truth, we’d still have to access and interpret it. Of course there is no evidence for this. Every culture on the planet has a different set of moral statutes. If the source was absolute and true, you’d expect to see much more consistency.

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

          The best argument that a moral objectivist can make is, “Objective moral truths exist … but can’t reliably access them.”

          But then the conversation devolves into “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

          Who cares about the angels, and why bother about inaccessible objective moral truths?

        • Greg G.

          We use empathy, reason, and a natural sense oof fairness seen in many mammals to set our moral values and hope to deal with others who deal with you with similar values. Some people lack empathy, reason, or a sense of fairness and will exploit others. Protecting oneself from them might require compromising one’s ideals. It’s a complex world and there may be no easy answers or ones that you like.

          Morality works best between equals. The superior has power to enforce unilateral relations.

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

          In the case of a benign dictator, that might work out well. Problem is, that doesn’t usually work out in the long term.

        • Greg G.

          You don’t get to become dictator by being benign. The most benign Roman emperors began their reign by eliminating their enemies ruthlessly so that nobody would wish to get on that list so then they could afford to appear relatively benign. Machiavelli learned from them that “it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both”.

    • smrnda

      I think we ‘live and let live’ to the extent that it’s possible, which is why any sensible moral system should be based on harm – you can do what you want provided you cause no harm to anyone else, since if you aren’t causing harm, what you do is your own business. When you cause harm, what you do becomes everybody’s businesses. Of course, this is a pragmatic business that’s usually solved by laws rather than a philosophical point, but we have to have some *rules* in order to make life livable.

      I’m perfectly happy to disagree with people on moral issues, because for me, the important matter are the rules we actually follow. Example – I’m in support of legalizing drugs because I see no reason why drug use is inherently irresponsible, and the war on drugs causes as much if not more harm than the drug use itself, and when drug use is problematic, it should be treated as a medical not a criminal concern. This does not mean that I think drug use is good and that everybody should always do drugs (I don’t.)

      Some moral issues we can’t take a live and let live approach – it’s either illegal to demand sexual favors in exchange for employment or it’s not, it can’t be left as a matter of ‘choice’ because when it comes up, one party isn’t totally free to refuse and the other party has more power.

      • KarlUdy

        I think we ‘live and let live’ to the extent that it’s possible, which is why any sensible moral system should be based on harm – you can do what you want provided you cause no harm to anyone else, since if you aren’t causing harm, what you do is your own business.

        I’m curious, in avoiding ‘harm’, to what extent do you think we are allowed/obligated to act when the ‘harm’ is not suffered by us (or our family/society)?

        • smrnda

          I’d probably have to take that one on a case by case basis. Here’s a few things I tend to take as guidelines:

          Level of obligation is determined by knowledge. If I don’t know that some harm is being done to some person or group of people, I can’t be held accountable for doing much about it. However, I think anybody can and should be faulted for not staying informed, and certain types of ignorance are inexcusable.

          Level of obligation is proportional to the ease of acting against the harm being done. I fault a Wal Mart manager for the company’s bad policies more than the consumer, since the consumer only indirectly enables them – the manager enforces them.

          Another issue is that people should act on behalf of those who are least able to advocate for themselves.

          Overall, I’d say it’s always commendable to be willing to take on more, rather than less, responsibility for reducing harm.

          I don’t like to draw hard rules on this once since every person and every issue represents a special case.

    • MNb

      “Or does might make right?”
      In a literal sense yes. How do you think the world would have looked like if the Nazi’s had won and conquered the whole world? You’re suffering from the sin of superbia if you think that wouldn’t have affected your views on ethics. Quite a lot of christians hadn’t any problem with nazism. And no, I’m not saying atheist me would have done better than you. But at least nazi’s condemned atheism as well.
      So if according to you there is some objective value that condemns the Holocaust it’s christian you who has to do some explaining. Atheists tended to be the victims, ie being on the good side. The most charitable explanation that I can think of is that christianity is a failure and that you need a better religion, ie one that is less open to moral corruption. Is pastafarianism something for you perhaps?

      • KarlUdy

        Atheists tended to be the victims, ie being on the good side.

        You’re right, Hitler hated those atheist commies.

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

        “Die in the name of the FSM!” is something that has never been spoken in anger and, FSM willing, will never be.

  • Greg G.

    Could God have a subjective opinion? Is God’s opinion necessarily objectve? Leviticus 1:9, 13 says God loves the aroma of burnt flesh. Does that make that odor objectively good? Is it objectively immoral that I stole this meme?

    Dillahunty asked on the last show about how a believer can know that God is the good one and Satan is the bad one. One makes the judgements based on what? If one must use one’s own judgement to decide between the two which is good, then you don’t really need them to tell you what is good because you’ve already decided.

    • JohnH2

      The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil would appear to mean that people do know what is good or evil prior to God’s commands. Their are those, such as some gnostics, which have (and do) believe that God is the evil one and Satan the good one. That often leads to an inverted moral system relative to Judeo-Christian norms, not that dissimilar from many today.

      • Greg G.

        The Judeo-Christian norms have to be moderated by secular society or they can become quite horrible. The Inquisition was pretty nasty when Christianity was the dominant political force in Europe. The ancient Romans enjoyed blood sports and public execution but even they couldn’t abide Judeo law and death penalties. They forced the Sanhedrin to go through the Roman system for death penalties. Christianity had no choice but to do away with that part of Judeo law.

        The freedoms we enjoy come from philosophy despite Judeo-Christian morality.

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

      Since there’s both good and bad in this world, it seems to me that apologists could make the case that either the Good Guy or the Bad Guy is in charge of this world.

      In fact, the apocalyptic tradition that was popular during the life of Jesus imagines that it is indeed the Bad Guy who’s in charge. That makes more sense of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”: if you’re doing well in this world, that can only be because you’re in league the Bad Guy (and vice versa).

      • MNb

        Remember that this case assumes two supernatural entities – which cannot be combined with the assumption of omnipower.

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

          Right. I think each deity had control of different realms or worlds.

          Of course, you could wonder about the Christian view as well. God rules everything? Then why doesn’t he shut down Satan and all his little wizards who are causing so much havoc among the good Christians of the world?

        • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

          I had one of my close friends accuse me of having Satan influence me, which was the reason for my deconversion. My simple response was, “how is it even possible that as a Christian, the devil could be given power to influence me, especially when I specifically used to pray against the devil and request protection from him? Not only that, if I’m not capable on my own of rejecting the devil, why would God allow a supernatural being to basically steal one of his “beloved children” from him, given that I didn’t want to become an atheist at that time. One of the analogies that I’ve used before is, “Isn’t that like letting a child molester baby sit your kids?”

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

          It’s all part of God’s inscrutable plan, my son.

  • Ron

    “He showed a photo of the Buchenwald concentration camp with stacks of dead bodies. He said, ‘If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.’”

    Even with a god, it still remains a matter of opinion — god’s. Which leaves us with the modern day version of Euthyphro’s dilemma:

    “Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”

  • MNb

    I sort of agree with Turek here.

    “If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.”
    “Atheists can’t justify morality.”
    First point is of course that theists can’t either. Remember the Eutyphro dilemma? WLC contradicts himself if we compare what he writes about this and about the Canaanite genocide. What about Turek?
    Then the simple fact is that abrahamistic morals changed over time. So much for absolute standards.
    Finally for me it’s quite simple. The basis of my ethical system is happiness, well-being. What about Turek? If he agrees he has to accept that I can condemn the Holocaust as it didn’t exactly contribute. If he doesn’t we will have to agree to disagree – with the addition that imo – indeed opinion – his belief system sucks major balls and he will never be able to convert me.
    Turek has a problem, not me. I have known since I heard of Euclides that every rational system is based on unproven assumptions – “opinions” if you like. What’s Turek’s assumption? That there are objective values. OK. Can he (or Craig) tell me how we can learn them? Apparently not from the Bible. Oh – and how does his immaterial god communicate those objective values with the material homo sapiens?

    • smrnda

      Between assumptions, I feel a lot safer with ‘it’s good to be happy’ as a basic assumption than ‘let’s assume the Christian god exists.’

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

      Yes, morality is opinion (in that it is sourced just by that person).

      As for atheists being unable to justify morality, what does “justify” mean? If it means some sort of transcendental or supernatural grounding, no they can’t. And you’re right that the theist can’t either (though they pretend that they can).

      Then the simple fact is that abrahamistic morals changed over time. So much for absolute standards.

      Why this alone doesn’t shut down blather about objective moral truths, I don’t know.

      The basis of my ethical system is happiness, well-being.

      A shallow apologist like Turek would be quick to assume that you’re referring to hedonism, but human moral programming means that we’re motivated to help other people.

      Oh – and how does his immaterial god communicate those objective values with the material homo sapiens?

      Not very well, apparently. We still have big debates about euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, and so on.

      I bet that’s just due to the fall. So there we go–it’s been your fault all along.

  • indorri

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the entire morality debate is equivalent in content, usage and the ability to destroy reasonable thinking as the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” thing. It was a confused discussion from the start because of assuming morality is a thing in and of itself.

    When I call an act, a belief or a thing moral and immoral, I mean that act, belief or thing benefits and harms humans respectively. There are always going to be edge cases in which you justify harm based on benefit provided to another (self-defense harms the attacker but benefits the assailed, removing children from abusive parents harms the parents but benefits the children, etc.), but that is essentially what I refer to. Morality is a reference to the consequences on humans of actions, not a referent in itself that is grabbed from the ether and must be followed.


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