Imaginary Virtues

In last month’s “Imaginary Crimes“, I wrote about the fictitious offenses invented by religion to fill people with guilt and shame. But there’s something even worse to write about. The flip side of having imaginary crimes is having imaginary virtues – people who believe themselves to be good and decent based solely on their ability to obey arbitrary religious edicts that offer no benefit to any human being. Not only does religion cause people to feel guilty when they shouldn’t, it causes them to feel virtuous when they shouldn’t, which is arguably worse.

If you feed the poor or shelter the needy, what merit does it add to the act to pass out a gospel tract or splash them with holy water? None – it does nothing additional to provide for any of their needs. If you harm others, what compensation is it to recite the rosary or confess to a stranger? None – the harm is still there, unmitigated. If anything, religious rituals of absolution give the offender a clean conscience without making any meaningful recompense, which gives them no incentive not to repeat their act in the future.

Belief in imaginary virtues stunts moral development. It rewards people merely for their ability to faithfully and mindlessly perform rituals, without requiring any of the difficult work of self-improvement needed to build a truly good character. If you pray five times a day, or five hundred, you may improve your time management skills, but you’re not going to improve your sense of empathy toward other people. If you diligently refrain from eating ham, or beef, or shellfish, you’ll become more accustomed to self-denial, but how have you otherwise improved yourself? There are genuine ways to build character – meditating on compassion, or choosing vegetarianism out of concern for animal welfare – but mere mindless obedience of religious edicts will not produce it.

But belief in imaginary virtues does worse than hobble normal moral education. When the imaginary virtues in question have real consequences for real people, belief in them can actively cause evil and tragedy.

The most horrendous example of imaginary virtues in our time is, of course, the Muslim fanatics who believe that blowing themselves up in suicidal terrorism is a glorious act for which God will reward them with paradise. The imaginary virtue of martyrdom in the cause of jihad has led to incalculable suffering and destruction. A close second must be the medieval inquisitors who worked in pairs so that they could absolve each other for torturing their victims. Their religious beliefs gave them an excuse to continue feeling virtuous despite the terrible evil they visited on the innocent.

Again in modern times, we see parallels in the imaginary virtue of “defending traditional marriage”. Organized religious groups have worked their hardest to write anti-gay bigotry into law, to shut gays and lesbians out from receiving the many benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. Just like the organized religious groups a generation earlier, who tried their best to enact similar measures against interracial couples, the anti-gay crusaders have convinced themselves that doing this is a virtuous act that furthers God’s will.

By soothing the conscience of terrorists, tyrants and theocrats, imaginary virtues provide one of the clearest examples of how superstitious beliefs harm real people. Morality with no connection to the real world enables and encourages people to feel good about their actions when the appropriate emotions should be guilt and remorse.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • velkyn

    Just love this article, ebon. Elegant and succinct. Morality guided by a magic being that does nothing to show what it approves of is no morality at all.

  • David D.G.

    Nice essay, Ebonmuse! I would also add that people who use God’s actions and edicts as described in the Bible as any “standard” of virtue or morality are going by a “standard” that is anything but, since God is wildly inconsistent even with his own stated standards of good — the Ultimate Hypocrite. Following that God as an example is not likely to make anyone morally virtuous.

    ~David D.G.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Have you heard this gem?
    http://pageoneq.com/news/2008/Florida_town_backs_antigay_witchhunt_pr_0820.html

    The self righteousness of them is definately up there with the people you list.

  • velkyn

    Just love this from sam’s link

    “”David Davis is a fine man and good principal, and we are a gentle, peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community,” said Bill Griffin, 73 and a lifelong Ponce de Leon resident who is no relation to the district superintendent. “We aren’t out to tar and feather anyone.”

    nah, not at all. No tar and feathering, we just want humiliate people, tell they are going to hell, assume that they are child molesters, just that “gentle, peaceful, Christian” stuff.

  • Brad

    The most obvious imaginary virtue of religions is the “Virtue of Faith.” Belief for the sake of belief, trust put in a being who may not even be there. It may not be the most directly harmful imaginary virtue, but it is the biggest one in the religious population.

  • bestonnet

    If it weren’t for the virtue of faith (or incorrect belief that faith is virtuous) religion pretty much wouldn’t even exist so that would have to be the biggest imaginary virtue since it makes all the others possible.

  • http://kaltrosomos.livejournal.com Kaltrosomos

    All this discussion of imaginary virtues and vices reminds me of a part of Shakespeare that seems cannily appropriate.

    It’s towards the end of the play Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Nick Bottom and his fellows are putting on this terrible play and some of the other characters are commenting on it.

    Theseus’ wife comments,”This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.”

    and Theseus replies, “The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.”

    In fact, the distinction between reality and imaginary things is a sort of thematic undercurrent in Midsummer Night’s Dream. I found a speech by Theseus elsewhere that also seems appropriate:

    Hipplyta
    “Tis strange my Theseus, that these
    Lovers speak of.

    Theseus
    “More strange than true: I never may believe
    These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
    Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
    Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
    More than cool reason ever comprehends.
    The lunatic, the lover and the poet
    Are of imagination all compact:
    One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
    That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
    Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
    The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
    Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
    And as imagination bodies forth
    The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
    Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name.
    Such tricks hath strong imagination,
    That if it would but apprehend some joy,
    It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
    Or in the night, imagining some fear,
    How easy is a bush supposed a bear!” (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup.

    I’ve long been troubled by the idea that having strong religious beliefs, in and of itself, makes you a good person. The phrases “person of faith” or “man of God” are supposed to be understood as meaning “good, virtuous person.” Even if that person does nothing else that could be considered good, and in fact — as in the story cited by Samuel Skinner — does things that are very hurtful and terrible.

    It’s like misdirection in magic. Look at all the flashy things I’m doing with my right hand, and don’t notice what I’m doing with my left. I’m not saying it’s conscious — I’m sure that these believers think of themselves as very good people — but it’s essentially creating a show of goodness that has nothing to do with the real thing,.. thus distracting and confusing people from the real-world questions of good and evil.

    Hm. I guess I have my topic for my Sunday Sermon.

  • Christopher

    Let me ask this – is there such a thing as a “real” virtue? As far as I can tell, a “virtue” is nothing b ut a behavior endorsed by the social order whilst a “vice” is simply a behavior that the social order disapproves of. Who’s defining the word “virtue” here?

  • Arch

    Any act of virtue is an act that manifests God’s presence, whether one accepts God or not. Anything true, beautiful, or good is of God. The virtuous religious person who you target in this post is recognizing God as the source of grace and the direction of all that is good. They are seeing a greater meaning of a virtuous act which goes beyond the human or temporal level.

    And to tack on to Christopher’s point, I also question what your definition of virtue is, Ebon, and why you are able to authoritatively define it. You mention meditating on compassion… how do and how can you define compassion? What is your standard and why does that standard matter?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Arch,

    Anything true, beautiful, or good is of God.

    I’m sure you have many lines of interesting evidence to compel us all of this. Lay them on me.

    What is your standard and why does that standard matter?

    I’d like to hear yours too, while we’re at it. Perhaps you can answer that age old question of what good is. Is good whatever god does, or is there an external standard of god that god just happens to follow?

  • bestonnet

    Arch:

    Anything true, beautiful, or good is of God.

    Disease is true and some of the microbes do look beautiful to some people, not to mention that bad people sometimes die of disease.

    Therefore disease must be of God.

  • Alex Weaver

    Anything true… is of God.

    The following sentence is of God:
    The previous sentence is false.

    ^.^

  • Brad

    I believe Ebonmuse had a series of virtues to replace the “Seven Cardinal Virtues.” In the first one (Be Mindful), he says this:

    This version is intended to discard the needless supernatural connotations of morality and update this list to more adequately reflect the characteristics that are valuable guides to behavior in any era, describing the interlocking behaviors and attitudes that typify each one. Conscious effort to practice and exemplify each of these traits, I believe, can only lead to a far happier and more fulfilled life.

    I think virtues are traits or characteristics that universally are “morally good” under some type of ethical system (like Universal Utilitarianism).

  • André Phillips

    Let’s not forget the virtue of denying your child medical care.

  • prase

    Let me ask this – is there such a thing as a “real” virtue? As far as I can tell, a “virtue” is nothing but a behavior endorsed by the social order whilst a “vice” is simply a behavior that the social order disapproves of. Who’s defining the word “virtue” here?

    Some behaviour is simply more naturally endorsed than other, and there “virtues” that can be appreciated even if one doesn’t believe in some false (read religious) proposition.

    The fact that different people needn’t necessarily agree on the meaning of a word doesn’t render that word meaningless.

    P.S. Whatever exactly Ebon understands when you say “virtue”, I strongly doubt that especially his understanding is dictated by the “social order”.

  • prase

    Let me ask this – is there such a thing as a “real” virtue? As far as I can tell, a “virtue” is nothing but a behavior endorsed by the social order whilst a “vice” is simply a behavior that the social order disapproves of. Who’s defining the word “virtue” here?

    Some behaviour is simply more naturally endorsed than other, and there are “virtues” that can be appreciated even if one doesn’t believe in some false (read religious) proposition.

    The fact that different people needn’t necessarily agree on the meaning of a word doesn’t render that word meaningless.

    P.S. Whatever exactly Ebon understands when you say “virtue”, I strongly doubt that especially his understanding is dictated by the “social order”.

  • Christopher

    Arch,

    “Any act of virtue is an act that manifests God’s presence, whether one accepts God or not. Anything true, beautiful, or good is of God. ”

    And how is one defining “good” or “true” or “beautiful” – these words mean different things to different people. For example, one may find the exsasperated screams of the death metal musician “beautiful” while another considers it ” terrible;” one person may find a common saying to be “true” whilst another dismiss it as “fallacy;” one may find an action to be “good” while another see an “evil” done – in light the fact that these things are defined by perspective, this definition is meaningless…

    Brad,

    “I think virtues are traits or characteristics that universally are “morally good” under some type of ethical system (like Universal Utilitarianism).”

    And tell me why your ethical system is “good” – is it “good” by its own standard, or “good” compared to a standard that exists ouside itself?

    Both theistic and secular attempts to build an objective “morality” fall on the same stumbling block: niether can say just what it is they are talking about when they say the word “good.”

  • bestonnet

    Good is what makes people happy and avoids suffering.

  • John Hodges

    ATHEIST ETHICS IN 500 WORDS. John B. Hodges, Dec. 21, 2007.

    How can you have any ethics if you don’t believe in God?

    The question must BE questioned. How can you have any ethics if you
    DO believe in a god?

    Religious folk misunderstand morality at its roots. Religion teaches
    a child’s view of ethics, that “being good” means “obeying your
    parent”. Just as religious faith is believing what you are told, so
    religious morality is doing what you are told. Religious morality
    consists of obeying the alleged will of God, an invisible “Cosmic
    Parent”, as reported by your chosen authority. But obedience is not
    morality, and morality is not obedience. We can all think of famous
    people who did good things while rebelling against authority, and
    others who did evil things while obeying authority.

    Religious folk may be Good Samaritans or suicide bombers, it depends
    entirely on what their chosen authority orders them to do. If a
    believer, or a community of same, wishes to make war or keep slaves
    or oppress women, all they have to do is persuade themselves that
    their god approves. This seems not to be hard, and no god has ever
    popped up to tell believers that they were wrong. They do not have a
    code of morality except by the convenience of the priesthood. What
    they have is a code of obedience, which is not the same thing.

    Atheism means looking at ethical questions as an adult among other
    adults. Civic morality is a means of maintaining peace and
    cooperation among equals, so that all may pursue happiness within the
    limits that ethics defines. This civic morality is objective. If you
    want to maintain peaceful relations, don’t kill, steal, lie, or break
    agreements. As Shakespeare wrote: “It needs no ghost, Milord, come
    from the grave, to tell us this.”

    Because we are biological beings evolved by natural selection, most
    of us value the health of our families, where “health” is the ABILITY
    to survive, and “family” is “all who share your genes, to the extent
    that they share your genes.” This is also called “inclusive fitness”
    by biologists. Essentially all living beings are going to seek this,
    because their desires are shaped by natural selection, and inclusive
    fitness is what natural selection selects for.

    Because humans are social animals, who survive by cooperating in
    groups, we have a “natural” standard of ethics: The Good is that
    which leads to health, The Right is that which leads to peace. A
    “good person” is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of
    people who seek to live in peace and raise families. Most people
    understand this intuitively. Understanding the logic of it is better.
    “If you want peace, work for justice.”

    There is a long history of philosophical thinking about ethics.
    Morality is not based on authority, but on reason and compassion. If
    I had to recommend just one book on ethics, it would be GOOD AND
    EVIL: A NEW DIRECTION by Richard Taylor.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Any act of virtue is an act that manifests God’s presence, whether one accepts God or not.

    Presumably, this would include killing people for god.

  • Brad

    Christopher, I’m not disagreeing with you. There is no universally acceptable definition of “morally good,” which is why I put it in quotes! Virtues are tied to different systems of morals just like the label of “morally good” is tied to different systems. I wasn’t claiming *my* ethics system was “good” by its own standard. I wasn’t even referring to any specific ethics system at all! Don’t read more into my words than is necessary, please.

    I will say this though: I like some systems of morals better than others. I like happiness, and to a very large extent I want others to be happy. Einstein said morality should be effectually based on empathy (which isn’t a rational faculty at all), and I agree with him. Systems of morals, or the ones I prefer at least, are just ways of taking my irrational empathy to their logical extensions. (As crazy as that may sound.)

  • Arch

    Morality is not based on authority, but on reason and compassion.

    What do you do when 5 or 50 or 50 million people reason differently about what is good or true? Who is correct? What if people believe different things about what compassion is? How can we know truth if there is no authority?

    What you are believing in then is autonomous morality in which self seeks to replace God as self is considered the ultimate authority. It is self-evident that we cannot create our own universal truths, however. Universal truths are truths regardless of our reasoning.

  • Christopher

    Arch,

    “What do you do when 5 or 50 or 50 million people reason differently about what is good or true? Who is correct? What if people believe different things about what compassion is? How can we know truth if there is no authority?”

    And even if there is authority of some kind what makes you believe that it would tell you the “truth” – as opposed to whatever would give itself the best possition from which to excersize that authority over everyone else?

    Brad,

    “Systems of morals, or the ones I prefer at least, are just ways of taking my irrational empathy to their logical extensions. (As crazy as that may sound.)”

    On the face of it, it does sound crazy – but ultimately all ethical systems are built like this: they take certain virtues (an irrational concept in and of itself) nad try to develop them to their logical conclusions. Thus even the ethical systems that claim to be objective are founded on subjective premises.

    Good observation.

  • Steve bowen

    What you are believing in then is autonomous morality in which self seeks to replace God as self is considered the ultimate authority. It is self-evident that we cannot create our own universal truths, however. Universal truths are truths regardless of our reasoning.

    Our morality is likely to be largely an evolved response, selected for in a past of communal living. It is also likely therefore that we (evolved as we are from common ancestry) will agree in general terms what is or is not moral. The suggestion that “compassion” could be interpreted differently by 50 million people wouldn’t happen in practice. Granted opinion may polarise on some issues (is assisted suicide compassionate or not?)but in general we would all recognise a compassionate act for what it is. Morality may well be a consensus, but it is one born of millions of years of natural selection and some fundamentals such as “thou shall not kill (anyone who is part of your tribe)” are probably hard wired into the communal psyche

  • lpetrich

    Some of these imaginary virtues are designed to show commitment or to distinguish followers from others, like getting hazed in order to join a fraternity. Thus, the more orthodox varieties of Judaism have lots of absurd customs, like having separate cookware for meat and milk.

    Others are simply to promote the religion, making it a self-propagating meme, a sort of virus of the mind. Like a chain letter or a pyramid scheme. The analogy with a chain letter goes further — some chain letters promise rewards for sending out copies or threaten punishments for not doing so.

    Our host has blogged on that in A Cold and Sterile Heaven, noting that the Left Behind authors thought that the only thing worth honoring is spreading their sort of Xianity — nothing else counted in the LB authors’ heaven.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    What do you do when 5 or 50 or 50 million people reason differently about what is good or true? Who is correct? What if people believe different things about what compassion is?

    Those are all good questions. You seem, however, to be under the misapprehension that they only apply to atheists. As simple observation will tell you, religious people are deeply and passionately divided about many moral issues of concern – quite probably more divided than atheists. Religious people don’t agree about the ethics of protecting the environment; of abortion; of gay marriage; of euthanasia; of stem cell research; of progressive taxation and social welfare; of church-state separation; of birth control; of preemptive war; and many more I could easily name. This is true even if you only consider Christians; it’s even true if you only consider Catholics. If God gives us an objective morality, why can’t theists agree what it is?

    Actually, I think you have it worse than we do. Since religious ethics are based on faith, when believers disagree, there is no way to resolve the disagreement. Each side appeals to its own, unfalsifiable belief about what God wants, and there the matter stands deadlocked. Atheists’ moral positions, on the other hand, are based on reason and on facts that anyone can examine – so when we disagree, there is at least a possibility of peacefully resolving the dispute. Religious sects don’t even have that hope.

    How can we know truth if there is no authority?

    What a profoundly disturbing statement that is! You think truth is whatever an authority figure tells you it is? Rivers of blood have been shed by people who hold that belief. The only way to know truth is to question, investigate and reason it out for yourself. Blindly trusting in the pronouncements of authority offers no certainty but the certainty of error.

  • heliobates

    What do you do when 5 or 50 or 50 million people reason differently about what is good or true? Who is correct? What if people believe different things about what compassion is? How can we know truth if there is no authority?

    I guess when 5 or 50 or 50 million do it, it’s called moral relativity.

    When 2 billion do it, it’s called “religion”.

  • John Hodges

    Arch, the real problem with religious ethics is that you don’t have a god, you have stories about a god. Many different stories, by many different self-declared “prophets”. If some god would hold office hours, where anyone could make an appointment to go in and see him and ask “Did you really say THIS???”, then perhaps an ethic based on authority could work. There would still remain the question of why that guy should BE the authority, but let’s assume this god has organized tours of Heaven and Hell so anyone can see those too, and people generally agree he has the power, so we better obey. But religion doesn’t offer anything like that; people have to take it entirely on faith WHICH god, WHICH prophet, WHICH scripture, WHAT interpretation. So in practice religious ethics are entirely subjective, personal, culturally relative, and arbitrary.

  • MS Quixote

    Since religious ethics are based on faith, when believers disagree, there is no way to resolve the disagreement. Each side appeals to its own, unfalsifiable belief about what God wants, and there the matter stands deadlocked.

    At your leisure, EM, could I get a brief example of this? Thanks…

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad

    I predict the theist’s response to your argument, Ebonmuse, would be that believers disagree because the ways of the world have corrupted their ways. Secularization would be contamination of what is really God’s set of morals and virtues. There’s no need to resort to this, though. The definitively inconsistent morals preached throughout the Bible ought to tell us there’s something wrong with God’s perfect, objective moral code (if there were such a God).

    What if people believe different things about what compassion is?

    No matter what words we use for “compassion” and “empathy,” it does not change their presence in our minds and the actual manifestations of themselves in our lives. That we disagree on exactly what empathy should entail (which is a complex issue) is beside the point that we agree to act on it. (I would say that the universality of humanistic empathy is questionable, however. If we accept that variability of empathy across humanity, the problem of living together then becomes how we are to cooperate with unbalanced wants and desires.)

  • bestonnet

    Brad:

    would be that believers disagree because the ways of the world have corrupted their ways. Secularization would be contamination of what is really God’s set of morals and virtues.

    Strange how our morals have improved as securalisation happened (or maybe only strange if you hold to outdated theistic ‘morality’).

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,

    At your leisure, EM, could I get a brief example of this?

    That’s easy. Just look at the Anglican issues over homosexuality.

  • bestonnet

    If that leads to a split up I wouldn’t be surprised if in a hundred years the homophobic church that split off will probably have gay priests.

    The disagreement does get resolved, by the bigots dying and their children not following them (though I think the process far too slow).

  • Arch

    The only way to know truth is to question, investigate and reason it out for yourself.

    How did truth come to be in the beginning, then? Moral truth? Truths of the universe? Truths of the human person? If you are going to reject that God could be the source of truth, you have much more than you can explain… especially since you require demonstration to accept something as true. Yet you will willingly accept that each person has autonomous authrotiy to proclaim truth. Where does that autonomy come from? Why are you confident in each person’s autonomous reason of itself?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,

    If you are going to reject asume that God could be is the source of truth, you have much more than you can explain…

    Fixed that for ya! Or, were you intentionally trying to make a god of the gaps argument?

  • Arch

    How about answering my questions instead of trying to take attention off of the fact that you haven’t responded to them?

  • heliobates

    How about answering my questions instead of trying to take attention off of the fact that you haven’t responded to them?

    Right back atcha.

    You could start with this one:

    If God gives us an objective morality, why can’t theists agree what it is?

  • André Phillips

    MS, I believe he already gave you many:

    Religious people don’t agree about the ethics of protecting the environment; of abortion; of gay marriage; of euthanasia; of stem cell research; of progressive taxation and social welfare; of church-state separation; of birth control; of preemptive war…

    And don’t forget how easily the Bible was used on both sides of such radical issues as women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

    Arch, OMGF is right that you’re making a god of the gaps argument and simply saying, “if we don’t know it it must be God,” just doesn’t cut it. I have an answer for you though. Maybe the reason truths are the way they are in the universe is because ours is merely one in a near-infinitely populated multiverse and we wouldn’t have survived to today unless everything existed in our universe as it does. Right there’s a theory that explains why the truths are what they are without any gods. Sure, it’s not something I believe whole-heartedly, but it seems to be at least as valid a theory as theism.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,
    We don’t know the answers to a lot of those questions (and you are included in that “we”). It’s logically fallacious to simply say, “Since you don’t know how, then goddidit.”

    As for how truth came to be, again, we don’t know, but we are discovering that the universe simply is the way that it is and we can only find out how it is through studying it (scientifically). Moral truths are made from the observations that we find by studying the universe. These questions have all been answered in this way, so for you to complain that no one is answering your question is quite absurd.

  • Arch

    First let’s clarify that a lack of agreement about truth can be seen among all humans, whether they are theists or not. All people have freedom to assent their will to what they choose. But regardless of what a person or people assent to, objective truth does not change. The reality is that there is a fullness of truth that we can come to know on earth, and theists share the base belief that God is the source of this truth.

    Right there’s a theory that explains why the truths are what they are without any gods. Sure, it’s not something I believe whole-heartedly, but it seems to be at least as valid a theory as theism.

    This point brings up a huge issue with the atheist standpoint… you are willing to consider undemonstrable, sometimes absurd possibilities as to how creation came to be, but you then focus on and spend your time calling the possibility of God undemonstrable and absurd. The need for God, an uncreated, omnipotent, free Being, is not an irrational consideration, but a sound conclusion when one considers time and creation. You fall short in offering arguments as to how matter, the cell, and the mind-boggling complexity of human life came to be without God. Sometimes you offer random explanations and uphold them as superior to the possibility of God, but your rationale is coming from the realm of autonomous scientific imagination.

    Moral truths are made from the observations that we find by studying the universe.

    What is the origin of moral truth? How did it come to be and what is its standard? Clearly answering these without an authoritative being is a road block.

  • heliobates

    The reality is that there is a fullness of truth that we can come to know on earth

    That’s a completely unsupported assertion. If it were that simple, how do you explain 2500 years of arguments about epistemology? Find me one person who claims to know “a fullness of truth” and I’ll find you 5,999,999,999 who say he’s wrong.

    What is your evidence that “a fullness of truth” is anything more than rhetoric?

    And you still refuse to answer the question: if a supernatural truth exists as an objective, detectible, discernable identity, why are there competing revelations not just now but throughout all recorded history? Put it another way: how do you objectively determine that Christianity is true and the other religions are false?

    What is the origin of moral truth? How did it come to be and what is its standard? Clearly answering these without an authoritative being is a road block.

    Your suppressed premise is that you are able to rely on the correct authority, and the presumption that such an “authoritative being” even exists. You can’t simply say “truth exists” without explaining what you mean by truth and outlining your evidence for your claim.

    What part of “your beliefs do not warrant our acceptance on faith alone” is so hard to understand?

    This point brings up a huge issue with the atheist standpoint… you are willing to consider undemonstrable, sometimes absurd possibilities as to how creation came to be, but you then focus on and spend your time calling the possibility of God undemonstrable and absurd.

    What’s undemonstrable? What’s absurd? WMAP? Miller-Uray? Biology? Neurophisiology? Physics? Chemistry?

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  • Jim Baerg

    you are willing to consider undemonstrable, sometimes absurd possibilities as to how creation came to be, but you then focus on and spend your time calling the possibility of God undemonstrable and absurd.

    I think people who have raise such possibilities are not claiming that this is what *has* to be the answer, but pointing out that God isn’t the *only* possible answer.

    You fall short in offering arguments as to how matter, the cell, and the mind-boggling complexity of human life came to be without God.

    Evolution by natural selection answers the question for the mind-boggling complexity of human life, & hints at the sort of answer to look for in the origins of life & the universe.

  • heliobates

    … but a sound conclusion when one considers time and creation.

    Let me get this straight. You’ve thought long and hard about cosmic background radiation and the observable size/age of the universe, geological time, the full scope and sweep of biological evolution on this planet, the 30,000 years since humans first produced representational art, the 12,000 years since we started cultivating crops and domesticating animals, the 4,000 years since we invented writing, the 2,400 years of the Grecian philosophic tradition, the 400 years of scientific revolution, the last 150 years of industrialization and institutionalized scientific enquiry, the last 100 years of accelerating technological development… and concluded that the only explanation for all of this is God?

    To borrow a phrase: that’s like insisting that the point of the Eiffel tower is the millimetre of paint at the top.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Arch,

    The need for God, an uncreated, omnipotent, free Being, is not an irrational consideration, but a sound conclusion when one considers time and creation.

    No, it’s not. It’s based on logically fallacious reasoning (mostly god of the gaps and begging the question) and a total lack of evidence. If you had not been indoctrinated with the idea that god exists from an early age, if you had never learned of god at all, would you so blithely assert that god is responsible for all this?

    You fall short in offering arguments as to how matter, the cell, and the mind-boggling complexity of human life came to be without God.

    Again, this is simply god of the gaps reasoning, and it’s still logically fallacious. This also ignores the inherent problems associated with the assertion that goddidit, which isn’t actually an answer for any of this. You’ve substituted one unknown (not all of those are actually unknown BTW) for another – plus quite a few more – just at a different level and still haven’t really answered anything. Instead of saying, “goddidit,” you could say, “humpalumpapump,” and it would be just as descriptive.

    What is the origin of moral truth? How did it come to be and what is its standard? Clearly answering these without an authoritative being is a road block.

    Objection, because this was already asked and already answered. In fact, the answer is in the blockquote that you further questioned. The “moral truth” is the outcome of our observations of the real world and how we decide that we should interact with it. And, no, no authoritative being is necessary for us to study the natural world and declare moral truths – just as no authoritative being is necessary for us to study the natural world and figure out that objects tend to accelerate towards the Earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second per second.

  • Steve bowen

    We struggle to discover absolute truths, partly because we experience the universe only in the way our brains have evolved to experience it. We can measure and observe the universe directly at scales that a roughly comparable to our own, both spatially and temporally. But when we look at (from our point of view) the very large, the very small, the very distant and the far past we find ourselves inferring truth rather than observing it. This is not to say that we won’t continue to find ways to observe the extreme scales of the universe directly and improve our understanding.
    Similarly, moral truth is defined by the social structure we evolved within (this may go back way into the early primates or further). If we had evolved as say, intelligent termites, we may have had a completely different moral compass when it came to issues like war, murder, disease and old age (“there’s plenty more where they came from; another thousand clones please ma’am”). Exploring the fundementals of this are likely to lead back to biological rather than cosmic principles. This may be relativism writ large, but I don’t really see a problem with human morality as an evolutionary “invention” rather than handed down from divine authority.

  • Arch

    I find it irrational that many of you automatically respond to a theist by saying they are professing “God of the gaps”. If you would recognize that a theist believes in both natural and divine revelation you would find many reasons why a theist assents to faith in God. It is not the “God of the gaps” that you robotically respond with. I find your argument of “God of the gaps” also quite contradictory because you pin it on others left and right, yet your stance leaves you with such a multitude of problems, contradictions, and assumptions. If you were fair you would acknowledge that you are accepting several unawnsered “gaps” while maintaining a vigorous proclamation of your accuracy. If you want to be fair and you are questioning the origin of creation, the order of all created things, or the meaning of life, it would behoove you to keep the possibility of a Creator in mind.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Arch,

    I find it irrational that many of you automatically respond to a theist by saying they are professing “God of the gaps”.

    Sorry Arch, but when you state that we don’t know X, therefore god is a rational choice you are making a god of the gaps argument. If you don’t like us calling you out on it, then perhaps you should stop making a logically fallacious argument. And, no it is not irrational to point out your logical fallacies.

    I find your argument of “God of the gaps” also quite contradictory because you pin it on others left and right, yet your stance leaves you with such a multitude of problems, contradictions, and assumptions.

    I’ve plainly stated that we don’t have all the answers and that I see no need to insert a god or any other untested, unknown assertion in there simply to have an “answer”, nor have I said that any answer that I gave is the way or must be rational. Hence, I have committed no god of the gaps and I have not been contradictory. Further, I defy you to point out the “multitude of problems, contradictions, and assumptions,” that you claim I have.

    If you were fair you would acknowledge that you are accepting several unawnsered “gaps” while maintaining a vigorous proclamation of your accuracy.

    And, for the record, could you please state what these alleged gaps are?

    If you want to be fair and you are questioning the origin of creation, the order of all created things, or the meaning of life, it would behoove you to keep the possibility of a Creator in mind.

    Why should I? Have you presented any evidence for this creator? Using your logic, we also have to keep in mind invisible, pink unicorns, FSM, Allah, Thor, the floating, celestial teapot, gnomes, fairies, etc. I doubt that you find anything on that list to be supported well enough to entertain the idea, so why would you insist that I entertain the idea of your unevidenced god which has precisely as much evidence as any of those other items on the list (which is to say none)?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Quixote: There are many good examples of this. OMGF mentioned the Anglican schism over ordaining gay clergy, which is a good example. Another would be the Catholic/Protestant divide over whether the use of contraception is permissible. Another one I had in mind is the right-wing Christians who say that the environmental movement is a disguised form of devil worship (seriously), while other Christians view environmentalism as a moral imperative.

    What is the origin of moral truth? How did it come to be and what is its standard? Clearly answering these without an authoritative being is a road block.

    No, it’s not. Arch, your belief that morality can only consist of an omnipotent being imposing his will by force is, quite honestly, frightening, and implicates you as having a stunted and servile sense of conscience. I’d gladly answer your questions in more detail if you were asking them because you genuinely wanted the atheists’ answer, but it’s plain that you don’t want that. You’re asking them because you don’t want there to be an answer. Well, that’s too bad for you. Atheists do have a moral philosophy, and we don’t need your permission to advocate it.

  • heliobates

    I find it irrational that many of you automatically respond to a theist by saying they are professing “God of the gaps”.

    …then you have a problem with basic argumentation. Saying “science cannot explain this, therefore God exists” is textbook God of the Gaps.

    When you lead with God of the Gaps, the automatic response is “don’t use God of the Gaps, it’s fallacious.” Sorry if you don’t understand how this works.

    If you would recognize that a theist believes in both natural and divine revelation you would find many reasons why a theist assents to faith in God.

    You again have it bass-ackwards. None of us are surprised that theists believe in natural and divine revelation. You seem incapable of understanding that because you can present no evidence to support your beliefs, we are justified in considering them unwarranted. Evidence != “because I said so”. Evidence != “because the Bible says so”

    Evidence to support your beliefs also does not equal “I personally do not accept the naturalistic explanation, therefore God exists”.

  • John Hodges

    Aside from the existence of a god or gods, the validity of claims of “revelation” from said gods is a separate question. Assume there IS some god or other, how can we tell if some human being who CLAIMS to be delivering a message from that god is actually doing so? It is just plain implausible that an omnipotent being would deliver an important message in a way that could be easily faked, by any human who wished to fake it. Humans may be mistaken, they may have hallucinations, the may be impostors and may lie. No REAL god would deliver their message in a way that looks exactly like a human with untreated schizophrenia. If there WERE an omnipotent god, there are many ways they could make their message unfakable by humans; for example they could write it on the face of the Moon, in letters one mile wide, and teach humankind to make telescopes. This omnipotent being would probably not whisper their message in one human’s ear, and tell them to “go tell everyone else”. Any alleged “revelation” DELIVERED BY HUMAN BEINGS is presumptively fraudulent.

  • John Hodges

    I will also be so rude as to point out that the ethics taught by contemporary Christian churches do not remotely resemble what Jesus taught, at least as reported by the Gospels; see http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/JesusEthics.htm … Contemporary Christians do not actually FOLLOW the Law of Moses, and don’t actually FOLLOW the teachings of Jesus, and don’t even pretend to try. Christianity is not about following God’s Law, it’s about believing in Jesus and thereby getting a free pass for NOT following God’s Law.

  • MS Quixote

    EM,

    My fault for being obscure in my request. In particular I would like to read the atheist perspective regarding the claim that religious ethics are based on faith (does that mean the Bible, direct revelation, tradition, whatever any religious person happens to think at any moment). I can piece together what I think is being said, but if you have a moment. Anyone feel free to chime in. I’m not going to argue with anything said…

  • Arch

    And, for the record, could you please state what these alleged gaps are?

    Let’s begin with: how did matter come to be? How did we move from inorganic material to the cell?

    Arch, your belief that morality can only consist of an omnipotent being imposing his will by force is, quite honestly, frightening, and implicates you as having a stunted and servile sense of conscience. I’d gladly answer your questions in more detail if you were asking them because you genuinely wanted the atheists’ answer, but it’s plain that you don’t want that. You’re asking them because you don’t want there to be an answer. Well, that’s too bad for you. Atheists do have a moral philosophy, and we don’t need your permission to advocate it.

    First, God does not impose his will on us by force. We are free creatures who can accept or reject the love and grace of God.
    Second, I actually wouldn’t mind hearing your response to what the origin of moral truth is, how it came to be, and what its standard is… I am curious to know how you would respond to those because I can’t figure out how an atheist can have a confident explanation of those elements of morality or authority.

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad

    Arch, it seems you hit a road block with the idea of “God of the gaps.” As OGMF has said, your hypothesis of a god is a non-explanation for what you say is begging to be explained. Instead of getting unknowns out of the equation, it just adds on another. We can’t profess arrogantly to know what the universe we have emerged in is “about” – if it is about anything at all. By refusing to accept naive gibberish, we are not “accepting several unawnsered ‘gaps’ while maintaining a vigorous proclamation of [our] accuracy.” We are declining to blindly believe an unjustifiable proposition, and that does not mean we are the ones blindly putting forth an unjustifiable proposition all the while making claims to our own accuracy like theists.

    Quixote,

    I would like to read the atheist perspective regarding the claim that religious ethics are based on faith (does that mean the Bible, direct revelation, tradition, …)

    All of the above. Religious ethics, based on faith, aren’t universal and so in some cases are derived from the Bible, in some cases from subjective thoughts, and in others from no special reasoning at all (aka “tradition”). The atheist would argue against all of these forms of attaining ethics. And it’s misleading to use the phrase “the atheist perspective.” We don’t have any official dogma.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Let’s begin with: how did matter come to be? How did we move from inorganic material to the cell?

    No, let’s not. Arch, you seem intent on derailing every thread you participate in with these same boring, tired apologetics, which have been answered ad nauseam. If you really want to know the answers and are not just asking to hear yourself talk, there is plenty of reading material out there; go do the research yourself.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,
    You must have missed the part where I admitted that we don’t have all the answers to all of our questions, but the problem comes in when one of us simply asserts that it must be X. You are the one that is doing that when you assert that goddidit, hence it is a god of the gaps argument. I’ve made no such assertions, hence I have not done so. We have good ideas about how some of these things happened and we know from experiments like the Miller-Urey experiment that inorganic material can form into organic material, so we know it is possible. Do we know the exact events that occurred? No, but we now know it is possible and have a plausible pathway (several actually) and we have some limited evidence for these pathways. So, your complaints are unjustified.

    First, God does not impose his will on us by force. We are free creatures who can accept or reject the love and grace of God.

    We are talking about morality here, not about your apologetics. You seem to want to argue that god must thrust his morality upon us, else there can be no morality. Whether we choose to follow what is moral or not is not at issue here, but what god wills to be moral that he thrusts upon us by force. For instance, I seem to recall that god has ordered genocide multiple times of his subjects as the Bible relates. This, according to you, must be a moral action both for god and for the people who carry out his orders.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    At the risk of getting back on topic here is a “delightful” story about a “Muslim man [who] was found guilty of child cruelty today in a British legal first after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a centuries-old Shia religious ceremony.” No doubt he considered himself to be thoroughly virtuous in his behavior.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    “No REAL god would deliver their message in a way that looks exactly like a human with untreated schizophrenia. ”

    John Hodges, I like the cut of your jib. That is hilarious.

    As others have said before me, if there really was a god it would be obvious. There would be no debate. And there would be no atheists. Except maybe a few untreated schizophrenics.

    But the fact that the “evidence” put forth for these purported gods is so subtle, so subjective, and so dependent on human testimony, proves that there really isn’t any such powerful being out there.

  • Arch

    which have been answered ad nauseam

    Actually, Ebon, the questions I have raised are questions you have no definitive answer for, and they just don’t go away. I am ready to read your answers when you are ready to explain them with definitive answers and not by explaining random experiments that have been done by atheist scientists.

    As others have said before me, if there really was a god it would be obvious. There would be no debate. And there would be no atheists.

    This point has no backing. There are many, many things that people disagree about and give their own subjective view to, but that does not change the truth of a matter.

  • MS Quixote

    And it’s misleading to use the phrase “the atheist perspective.” We don’t have any official dogma.

    My mistake & unintentional…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    In particular I would like to read the atheist perspective regarding the claim that religious ethics are based on faith (does that mean the Bible, direct revelation, tradition, whatever any religious person happens to think at any moment).

    I’m not sure I understand your question, Quixote.

  • MS Quixote

    Since religious ethics are based on faith…a phrase that caught my attention–never quite heard it put that way before. Is it meant as a Kierkegaardian existential faith leap, that “do unto others” is based on faith because it comes from the Bible, that a pro-life position is based on Jeremiah’s claim that God knew him in the womb, that some :) atheists think that religious ethicists do not utilize reason when they contemplate ethics, that all religious ethics inhabit the nether regions beyond Kant’s wall of the knowable?

    I don’t know exactly what you had in mind, but would like to. It seemed as though it was an important premise in your argument. I suspect that an answer is set forth at least in part in “The Ineffable Carrot…” If that’s the case, no further comment necessary…

  • bestonnet

    Arch:

    Nurse Ingrid:
    As others have said before me, if there really was a god it would be obvious. There would be no debate. And there would be no atheists.

    This point has no backing. There are many, many things that people disagree about and give their own subjective view to, but that does not change the truth of a matter.

    A personal god that intervenes in the world should be pretty easy to detect, yet what do those studies of prayer in healthcare show? absolutely no effect (unless the study has a methodological flaw).

    It’s pretty clear that there’s no god answering prayers, if there were a god answering prayers we should have found evidence of that.

    Then we get to the point at which a god wants to be known to us (which seems to be implied in the Christian bible and with the miracles of Christian mythology) in which case why make the proof indistinguishable from untreated schizophrenia?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Quixote, let me echo your “I think I can piece together what I think is being said . . .” with an “I think I understand what you’re asking . . .”

    I don’t claim my view of this is definitive, but perhaps it will shed some light and others can chime in.

    Ebonmuse is responding to this statement from Arch:

    What do you do when 5 or 50 or 50 million people reason differently about what is good or true? Who is correct? What if people believe different things about what compassion is? How can we know truth if there is no authority?

    One of the most important aspects of this critique is the idea that atheist morals lack a universal objective standard by which they can be measured. When people don’t agree, there is no definitive method by which to arbitrate.

    By contrast, some who believe in God would say that they do not have this problem because whenever there is a dispute they can appeal to the authority of God — in the form of “a Kierkegaardian existential faith leap, that “do unto others” is based on faith because it comes from the Bible, that a pro-life position is based on Jeremiah’s claim that God knew him in the womb” or whatever other means you like!

    Unfortunately, this method does not really establish a definitive, objective arbitration standard. Saying that “Morality is what is dictated by God” merely shifts the difficulty away from the question “What is morality?” to the question “What does God dictate?”. Ebonmuse would like to argue that the latter question raises even more disputes than the former, and hence that if objectivity in the form of some sort of agreement is your aim, then this is not an improvement.

    I would like to observe that one of the reasons we care about having some sort of objectivity in our morality (as opposed to ‘meaning’ and so forth where we can all make our own however we like) is because morality is to some extent based upon co-operation and/or reciprocation. It wouldn’t be useful in the same way if it could vary between people as easily as favourite colours.

    (Then again, Quixote, you have a completely different notion of meaning, let alone of morality, don’t you? So I don’t really know what you’ll make of the above. But I mustn’t derail the thread.)

  • John Hodges

    My thesis is: Religious morality is subjective. Secular morality CAN be objective.

    Some definitions, from Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition.

    OBJECTIVE: … in the realm of sensible experience, independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers; having reality independent of the mind…. perceptible to persons other than the affected individual… OBJECTIVISM: an ethical theory that moral good is objectively real or that moral precepts are objectively valid.

    SUBJECTIVE: … belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind;… conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states… arising out of or identified by means of one’s perception of one’s own states and processes.. SUBJECTIVISM: a doctrine that the supreme good is the realization of a subjective experience or feeling… a doctrine that individual feeling is the ultimate criterion of the good and the right.

    ABSOLUTE: characteristic of a ruler or authority completely free of constitutional or other restraints… having no restriction, exception, or qualification… being self-sufficient and free of external references or relationships…

    RELATIVE: a thing having a relation or connection with or necessary dependence on another thing… not absolute or independent… RELATIVISM: (a) a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing… (b) a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them.

    Notice that the two meanings of “relativism” differ in important ways. The scientific method of seeking knowledge admits that its conclusions are relative to, dependent on, the (objective) evidence gathered so far, and may be changed by new evidence. In ethics, “relativism” commonly refers to a particular view, “cultural relativism”, that ethics are a matter of (subjective) individual or majority opinion. These are two different uses of the word, which must be kept distinct.

    “Objective” and “absolute” are not the same, “subjective” and “relative” are not the same. Objective things can be relative, subjective opinions can be held absolutely. Religious morality, for some religions, may be “absolute” in the sense defined above- there is really only one commandment, “Obey the will of God, as reported by the priesthood.” When a believer says that his morality is “absolute”, it means he is resolutely determined not to apply any of his own intelligence to moral questions. When he says it is universal and unchanging, it means his morality is indifferent to the consequences of trying to follow it in the real world. He may also mean that he is willing to apply whatever force may be necessary to make everyone else bow down to his own chosen Lord.

    Is religious morality “objective”? In Protestant Christianity alone there are thousands of denominations, with teachings that differ on every moral issue. There are (regarding violence) pacifists and imperialists; (regarding money) capitalists and communists, millionaires and ascetics; (regarding sex) celibates, polygamists, anti-birth-control activists, and gay churches. If the Bible is supposed to give us “objective” moral standards, it seems to be very easy to misinterpret.

    Religious morality is not “objective” because it depends crucially on faith. It is not “perceptible to all observers”. It requires a revelation, or at least an alleged revelation. The messenger proclaims the message, and the ordinary working stiffs who hear him have to decide if this is a real prophet, or some con artist or demagaogue who has plans to use them. After all, there is a different alleged revelation down the block. Those of us who live many centuries later have to hope the words of the prophets are reported and translated accurately, for, as Jeremiah said, “actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely”. (Jer. 8:8)

    For the full essay see http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/MoralityAndGod.htm

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Lynet put it beautifully, so I won’t repeat her comment, but just to add a few points of my own in clarification:

    Since religious ethics are based on faith…a phrase that caught my attention–never quite heard it put that way before. Is it meant as a Kierkegaardian existential faith leap, that “do unto others” is based on faith because it comes from the Bible, that a pro-life position is based on Jeremiah’s claim that God knew him in the womb, that some :) atheists think that religious ethicists do not utilize reason when they contemplate ethics, that all religious ethics inhabit the nether regions beyond Kant’s wall of the knowable?

    To be quite honest, Quixote, I don’t think most believers have thought this through in that level of detail. I think most of them simply believe that God’s commands are synonymous with goodness, and that if there were no God issuing commands, we would have no way to tell what was good.

    Some believers take this even to the extent you hinted at, that they would see no reason to refrain from killing and stealing if God wasn’t there to tell them not to. (Or so they claim.) For a larger majority, I think the point of contention is that if God didn’t exist, there would be no reason for them to refrain from selfish, self-serving behavior whenever it suited their purposes to do so, and that religious belief gives them a reason to act morally even when it goes against their self-interest.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,

    Actually, Ebon, the questions I have raised are questions you have no definitive answer for, and they just don’t go away. I am ready to read your answers when you are ready to explain them with definitive answers and not by explaining random experiments that have been done by atheist scientists.

    The questions, I presume, are the ones where you are asking how the universe began and the like? Once again, let me remind you of a couple things. One, you don’t have a definitive answer either, and to fall back on your goddidit is simply god of the gaps reasoning! If you can’t understand why that is fallacious, then you are simply in over your head.

    Two, no one here has stated that we have a definitive answer, yet we do have some answers. It is folly to assert that only 100% definitive answers need apply. It has been shown that life can arise from inorganic matter, which is all that is necessary to put that hypothesis on infinitely higher ground than your non-explanation (“goddidit”). Besides, once again, claiming that our ignorance necessitates your god is (cue the broken record) god of the gaps fallacious reasoning.

    Three, the crack about “atheist scientists” has no bearing on anything. In science it does not matter what you believe or don’t believe so long as you perform the scientific method correctly and do not introduce bias. Do you really not understand that? And, BTW, the experiments done were not random in the least. They were set up to test specific hypotheses. Your ignorance about science does not mean that it is wrong, that it is biased, or that goddidit. Perhaps you should try to learn about science before sneering at it and its practitioners simply because your wishes don’t line up with reality.

  • Arch

    and that if there were no God issuing commands, we would have no way to tell what was good.

    For a larger majority, I think the point of contention is that if God didn’t exist, there would be no reason for them to refrain from selfish, self-serving behavior whenever it suited their purposes to do so, and that religious belief gives them a reason to act morally even when it goes against their self-interest.

    Actually belivers do not profess that if God did not exist we would have no way to tell what is good or no reason to refrain from selfish behavior… Believers profess that if God did not exist then we would not exist either.
    An important step of morality is to recognize that God created us with an ability to discern the good. We also have a natural desire for the good and for fulfillment. What is ironic to me is that sometimes an atheist professes the same moral stance as a theist, but feels that their reason alone is what led them to their position, and that there is no moral standard of their behavior other than what they feel or what they can learn from past experience. A theist recognizes God as the source of life and our human faculties, and strives to choose the good because choosing the good means choosing God who alone can fulfill us.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Arch,

    Actually belivers do not profess that if God did not exist we would have no way to tell what is good or no reason to refrain from selfish behavior… Believers profess that if God did not exist then we would not exist either.

    Nice sweeping generalization, but ultimately untrue. I have met theists who do assert that there would be no reason not to lie, cheat, steal, murder, rape, etc. if they were to find out that god does not exist.

    An important step of morality is to recognize that God created us with an ability to discern the good.

    Why, and how do you know that?

    What is ironic to me is that sometimes an atheist professes the same moral stance as a theist, but feels that their reason alone is what led them to their position, and that there is no moral standard of their behavior other than what they feel or what they can learn from past experience.

    Please show us some evidence that god had a hand in it.

    A theist recognizes God as the source of life and our human faculties, and strives to choose the good because choosing the good means choosing God who alone can fulfill us.

    Thus putting the theist on a lower level of moral development.

  • heliobates

    Hey Arch.

    These discussions aren’t Atheism 101.

    Most of the “objections” you raise have been dealt with in Adam’s EbonMusings Atheism Pages.

    Why don’t you start with those? Might help get rid of the taste of shoeleather.

  • MS Quixote

    (Then again, Quixote, you have a completely different notion of meaning, let alone of morality, don’t you? So I don’t really know what you’ll make of the above.

    Lynet, if I thought our ideas of meaning and morality were completely different, I would not be a Christian. I disagree wholeheartedly with Arch’s 5, 50, or 50 million/authority contention. To be honest, Arch would you please knock it off? Just letting you know the criticisms leveled at you on this site are valid. Listen to what OMGF and others are trying to communicate to you.

    But back to Lynet, what I make of the above is that I agree with EM that you put things beautifully and can always be counted on for a good answer. I particularly like “It wouldn’t be useful in the same way if it could vary between people as easily as favourite colours.”

    My thanks to you, EM, and John Hodges who took the time to answer. Much appreciated.


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