A Christian Apologist Wrestles Euthyphro and Loses

A Christian Apologist Wrestles Euthyphro and Loses May 11, 2018

We’ve recently seen how poorly God fares when measured against his own Ten Commandments. Let’s move on to a classic argument about God’s relationship with morality.

Euthyphro dilemma

Is something good because God says so, or does God say so because it’s good? The first option makes morals arbitrary. They’re just whatever God says, and he could’ve made them something else. They’re not based on anything, including external facts.

If God couldn’t have made them anything else, then they’re constrained, and that’s the second option. But this is no better: morals are external, and God’s role in morality is reduced to messenger boy. God is bound by this external morality.

Here’s an analogy. If I’m a clerk in a store and need the price of something, I look it up. I consult an external, correct source. But if I’m the boss, I could just make the price whatever I want it to be: “For you, let’s say $5.95.” So which one is God? Is he the boss (morals are arbitrary and changeable) or the clerk (morals are external and fixed)?

It’s “heads you win; tails I lose” for the Christian. Either option is unpalatable—morality is either arbitrary or God is not sovereign over an external morality.

Christian response

World famous apologist William Lane Craig (WLC) responds:

The Euthyphro Dilemma has been refuted again and again as a false dilemma. We are not under any obligation to choose between saying something is good because God wills it or that God wills something because it is good. Those two are not contradictories. Those are not A or not-A. Therefore you can have a third alternative which is that God wills something because he is good. God is the good and his will is an expression of his essential nature.

How does this help? This simply changes the dilemma to: Is something good because God’s nature says so, or does God’s nature say so because it’s good? Is “God’s nature” changeable (morality could be something else) or fixed? If it’s fixed, what does God’s character conform to? And we’re back to the original problem, with arbitrary vs. external!

And what does it mean to say that God is good? We run into Euthyphro yet again: Is WLC proposing that this is true by definition (“good” is arbitrary—it is whatever God says it is) or that we can know that God is good by evaluating his actions against a standard (“good” is defined by an external standard)?

Make it a proper dilemma

If WLC wants a proper dichotomy, let’s give him one. Let A be the statement “Morality is within the control of God” (or “God’s nature” if you prefer). The two possibilities are now A and not-A. No other option is possible.

Consider the consequences:

  • Option A is true, so morality is within the control of God/God’s nature. Morality can be anything that God says it is since it’s not bound by or evaluated against anything external, and morality becomes changeable. Murder would be a good thing, for example, if only God had said that. (And why couldn’t he? He’s not bound by anything.)
  • Option not-A is true, so morality is not within the control of God/God’s nature. This makes morality external to God. God might accurately report morality to us (through the Bible or one’s conscience, say), but morality’s source is something besides God.

(The Transcendental Argument for God runs into Euthyphro in a similar way. Is God bound by an external logic? Then logic is what it is, and God is stuck with it. Or is logic just what God says it is? Then logic is arbitrary. More)

Sauce for the gander: how does this work for the atheist?

To be fair, we should consider what the Euthyphro problem would be for the atheist. How does the atheist explain morality? Let’s simplify and consider just the Golden Rule: why is the Golden Rule a fairly universal moral belief among humans? It’s because evolution gave us that as part of our programming. We’re social animals, and working and playing well with others had survival benefit.

Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? But there’s no dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad. (That is, seen from the human standpoint, our conscience tells us what is good and bad. Seen from an evolutionary standpoint, our conscience tells us what is useful to believe.)

God can’t just say, “Okay, that takes care of lying. The next item on my list is murder . . . hmm . . . oh, what the heck—let’s call that one bad.” We certainly don’t do it that way—we feel that murder is bad, and we get that by consulting our consciences.

Does God have such a fixed source of morality that he consults? Then Christians are caught on one horn of the dilemma. Or does the buck have to stop somewhere, and God is it? Then Christians are caught on the other horn. The naturalistic explanation seems a lot more reasonable.

Science flies you to the moon.
Religion flies you into buildings.
— Vic Stenger (1935 – 2014)

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/1/14.)

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  • Bob Jase

    Might as well ask if Dog is good because he wants to be or has he no choice. if its because he wants to be then he can change his mind and be evil, if he has no choice then he’s a powerless spirit puppet.

    Once logic is invoked Dog is uintenable.

  • Kevin K

    Willam Lame Craig uses this line of reasoning to excuse the genocides in the OT. God willed it, so killing every man, woman (including pregnant women) and child (except for the virgin girls, of course) is a moral good

    • Yes, in the past I was told repeatedly that Craig was a brilliant thinker. So I started reading some of his stuff. Wrong!! Like you point out it is shocking beyond belief. He actually also says that it is harder on the soldiers who slaughter infants and children than on the victims:-( Sick, sick, sick.

      Also one Christian leader claimed that the atom bomb is “God’s gift” to America. And, of course, various Christian leaders in the last year have been claiming that Donald Trump is “God’s right hand man,” that God has destined him to lead the U.S., etc.

      • Kevin K

        As to that last bit, at this point in the proceedings, I just hope we can avoid nuclear-fuck war.

        • Since I’ve lived in Palestine-Israel in the past and have been involved with the Middle East for many years, and know its history, I am, indeed, worried that the current U.S. government could cause an even worse war (than the 7 we are already involved in) the way that we are supporting Islamic jihadists, threatening Iran, supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, etc.

        • Kevin K

          Yeah, there’s no silver lining. The only question remaining is just how ugly it’s going to get.

      • Raging Bee

        As Garry Trudeau said long ago, presumably it was God’s dumb cousin Ernie who slipped the Russians theirs.

  • You wrote, that something is good because of our genetic programming.

    On the contrary, if our genetic programming said that sexual harassment and racism are good, they would still be wrong.

    Besides, about 98% of biologists of all sorts claim that evolution has no meaning and has no purpose. Also, philosophers such as David Hume emphasized that humans can’t get an ought from what is.

    And lastly, the biologist Richard Dawkins has repeatedly emphasized that he doesn’t–and wouldn’t–get his ethics from evolution. According to Dawkins, choosing to live by evolution’s ways would create a cruel, nasty society and that humans accept causing suffering to others because of natural selection. But Dawkins emphasizes that we humans don’t have to accept that. (I’ve read 7 of his books and read number of interviews which have been conducted with him.)

    It would seem that ethics–what is good–like human rights, equality, justice, human worth, etc. is inherent. This is usually called moral realism, and various thinkers explain that this is the best view of ethics.

    As for the Christian Divine Command Theory that you mentioned, I completely agree that it is wrong. I experienced that personally when I was 17 and trying to decide whether or not to go to Nam to kill Viet Cong. A new leader at our youth club told us that God would sometimes command us to do what is wrong, but that since God is God, if God orders us to do wrong, then it is right.

    I was horrified to hear such immoral advice. I did the opposite; applied for conscientious objector status and worked in a mental hospital for emotionally disturbed children. But, I had to spend almost 55 years verbally battling Christians who strongly subscribed to CDCT:-(

    Finally, I wised up and left the Christian religion.

    • Kevin K

      I’m not much of a fan of Dawkins … seriously. And I’m also not much of an evo-psych person. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that our current social fabric supports an evolutionary history of cooperative small-groups. It doesn’t necessary point us towards a “nasty” brutish society.

      And although I think Pinker over-reaches, I also think he’s right in that our culture has evolved to be less violence-prone, less nasty. With the occasional … aberration … that we see in Washington today.

      Those are two separate types of “evolution”, of course, one biologic and one cultural.

    • RichardSRussell

      if our genetic programming said that sexual harassment and racism are good, they would still be wrong.

      Well, you and I (and probably Bob and many others who post here) would probably think so, but it would still be a matter of opinion. All morals are matters of opinion. There’s no objective method for telling right from wrong, the way we can, say, determine the freezing or boiling points of water. It takes very little stretch of the imagination (indeed, only a reading of history) to come up with stories of societies where sexual harassment and racism were not only OK, they were expected and often glorified. Those people too had moral opinions, just not the same ones as we do.

      I sometimes wonder if the politically correct citizens of the future will condemn our generation because of its willingness to eat the flesh of our fellow creatures, or laff at us for our insistence on wearing clothing, or puzzle over our mindless fascination with things like fidget spinners and the Kardashians. Morality has taken stranger turns in the past.

      • Zeropoint

        I will take the bold and possibly rash step of making the following prediction: Future generations will look back on us with an imperfect understanding of our circumstances and culture. They will be repulsed by some of our behaviors, puzzled by many, and will admire some. These reactions will not perfectly coincide with our own opinions of ourselves, but there will be some overlap.

        “if our genetic programming said that sexual harassment and racism are good, they would still be wrong.”

        Would they, really? Our genetic programming and cultural history tells us that eating babies is wrong. And for us, that’s because babies are rare and expensive to produce–any group of pre-technology humans that made a habit of eating its babies would be out-competed by the groups that didn’t. Our evolutionary history bred the exact opposite impulse into us: we instinctively cherish and protect our babies.

        But, what if a sapient species had a very different form of reproduction? What if their evolution led them to consume their own offspring, as several Earth species do:


        Might such a species consider baby-eating to be morally acceptable, at least under certain circumstances? If eating their own babies is a survival technique required by their evolutionary heritage and ecological niche, can we really say that it’s wrong for them to do so?

        • RichardSRussell

          I agree with Zeropoint. When it comes to objective measurements with respect to morality, there’s really only one that applies: evolution. If a particular mindset or practice leads a species as a whole (ignoring its effects on individual members of the species) to thrive, survive, and reproduce, then objectively it’s a good practice. For example, I’m not fond of baby-eating, either, or (more realistically) the Islamic practice of subjugating women and turning them into baby factories. But if it proves successful, if it leads that particular culture to eventually triumph over all its competitors, then all future generations will view its ideals and attitudes as being, by definition, the good ones.

        • Greg G.

          But morality determined by evolution is species subjective rather than objective. What is moral for the predator is immoral for the prey. What is moral for the extant is not necessarily moral for the extinct.

        • RichardSRussell

          Right. But the method of measuring it is still objective: Does the species survive and thrive under Moral Code X better than under Moral Code Y? And this fully recognizes that Species P may do well under X but poorly under Y, while Species Q does poorly under X but well under Y. The question is still one of long-term species survival; that’s pretty much all there is with regard to objective measures of morality.

        • dala

          Yes. There’s nothing immoral about bacteria making its host sick or ants forming a strictly hierarchical society or turtles being absentee parents or lions killing a competitors’ cubs, but in humans these would be problematic behaviors. What’s more, if there was no life then there would be no morality at all.

    • chemical

      Ethics defines how we should interact with other people in an appropriate manner. We develop ethics as a guide for society. The more everybody acts in an ethical manner, the faster society can advance because it essentially expands a culture’s talent pool: Create a level playing field, and your best and brightest rise to the top. In an unethical society, there isn’t an incentive for the downtrodden to contribute to the system because they won’t get to reap the benefits. Even if they did want to contribute, they often won’t have the tools to do so.

    • Raging Bee

      Also, philosophers such as David Hume emphasized that humans can’t get an ought from what is.

      Actually, yes, we can. That which is beneficial ought to be done, and that which is harmful ought to be discouraged.

      • Michael Neville

        That which is beneficial ought to be done, and that which is harmful ought to be discouraged.

        While that’s true as a generality, there’s much dispute about specifics. For instance, is all killing harmful? Killing in self-defense is acceptable but it’s harmful to the deceased. Buy is the deceased always harmed? A terminally ill person in great pain might consider being killed beneficial. But people like the Catholic hierarchy claim that the terminally ill person should not be killed because deliberately killing them is harmful to Gawd.

        • Raging Bee

          All true, of course; but none of that means a valid moral/ethical code cannot, or is not, derived from observation and reason.

        • I would agree that observation and reason are involved in moral/ethical views. However, as the 20th century showed brilliant leaders using reason can somehow, sometimes, end up supporting immoral actions.

          It would seem that compassion, honesty, and other basic values work along side of our reasoning for us to recognize what is true morally.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      On the contrary, if our genetic programming said that sexual harassment and racism are good, they would still be wrong.

      The world is full of creatures whose genetic programming allows or even promotes all sorts of things we find reprehensible. Is it wrong for a praying mantis to eat its mate? Or for a lion to kill the offspring of its competitor?

      Obviously that kind of behavior would be “wrong” if done by a human, but that is the point. The actions aren’t inherently wrong, it’s our biological tendencies and desires that makes them wrong for us. Had we been different, they might not be considered so.

      • Lark62

        Child abuse statistics show children are murdered by stepfathers at an alarming rate.

        Our human ability to create culture and ethics can partially offset baser instincts, but just like abandoned buildings are soon overrun by vegetation, human culture can quickly descend into brutish “everyman for themselves.”

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      When societies become sufficiently complex, *social* evolution becomes the driving force. That rules out personally beneficial / pleasurable activities that hurt *society*.

    • if our genetic programming said that sexual harassment and racism are good, they would still be wrong.

      Based on what? If you’re arguing for an external, objective morality, I’ve seen no evidence of such a thing. Please provide.

      philosophers such as David Hume emphasized that humans can’t get an ought from what is.

      You can’t get an objectively grounded ought from an is, but you can get the regular kind.

      • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

        “Please provide.”

        He never will. Because he can’t. He’ll still talk an awful lot about a thing he can’t provide a shred of evidence for, though.

        • ildi

          Actually, I did look up Erik J. Wielenberg, found an article that was interesting and linked to it under DW’s comment mentioning him, but the interwebz seems to have eaten it

        • Thanks for the quotes.
          Also read Erik Wielenberg’s In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism:
          Many believe that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. I maintain that there are sui generis objective ethical facts that do not reduce to natural or supernatural facts. On my view, objective morality does not require an external foundation of any kind. After explaining my view, I defend it against a variety of objections posed by William Wainwright, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland–
          wrote Wielenberg
          abstract at https://philpapers.org/rec/WIEIDO

        • WLC defines objective morality as “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.” Is this your view?

        • However, WLC doesn’t accept objective morality in cases related to the Old Testament. He posits that it was God’s will for Hebrew warriors to massacre infants and children, many others, etc., to commit genocide (though he doesn’t use that term).

          As I recall, WLC is not a huge fan of Divine Command Theory, but he seems to, basically, have that view of reality, that whatever Yahweh orders is “good.” This is similar to the view of the new leader of a youth group I attended years ago. He told us that sometimes God will command us to do what is immoral, but that we should obey because if God commands the immoral, then it becomes moral. Of course, I strongly disagreed.

          So I don’t think I have anything in common with WLC. Heck, I would have strongly disagree with him when I was a Quaker member for years. (I suppose, in some sense, I’m still a Quaker-sort, though not a member.)

          To save space:-), if you want my views see my long response to Michael. I think that morality, human rights, justice, etc. are like human worth, reason, and math. They are inherent in reality. That doesn’t mean that morality or rights or reason exist in every rock or flea;-), but that whenever species become conscious, aware, rational, they will eventually come to realize that abuse, slavery, rape, slaughter, etc. are wrong, and that honesty, compassion, equality are good.

    • On this we agree Dan. However morals can still be natural (ethical naturalism). I think most here will not concur though. Could you also give some arguments for moral realism, either in a comment or referring to sources?

      • Michael, I’m baffled how many think that ethics and morality are subjective. Such a view of ethics and reality has caused so much horror in the past.

        Right now I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, where he appears to reject subjective ethics. In his previous book, he emphasized that human rights are very good.

        I think that equality, justice, etc. are actually better and more true, and more reasonable than the very popular belief now that ethics are subjective.

        Pinker does a fairly adequate job of showing how Divine Command Theory and other forms of religious ethics are relativistic. He also points out that many contemporary philosophers are moral realists, not relativists.

        I’m not a philosopher. I do know that philosopher Erik J. Wielenberg and others think that moral realism is true. I’ve read at least one of his books, but I don’t claim to be able to explain his complex thought.

        My own support for moral realism is basic. I do think that racism, rape, sexual harassment, slaughter, abuse etc. are actually wrong, not subjective opinions or only social/cultural mores. And I think this because equality, fidelity, compassion, reason, justice, etc. are better in so many ways.

        Can I prove that compassion is better than abuse and slaughter? That equality is better than inequality, the will-to-power, racism, etc.?

        That human rights exist?


        But then I don’t think–though we need to keep doubting, keep seeking, keep questioning–that we need to throw out all ethical oughts, even if we can’t prove they are true.

        I’ve lived in the Middle East (Palestine-Israel) where various groups including religious and non-religious cheat, lie, steal, and slaughter each other.

        I don’t think they get a pass because we can’t prove that such immoral behavior is immoral and unjust.

        Even if someone could prove that the cosmos is absurd (which I don’t think is true), I would then adopt the perspective of the later-Camus, where he rejected the amoral, and emphasized that slaughter is always wrong. He even came to the conclusion that capital punishment is wrong for every society/nation. His view is probably best expressed in The Plague, a book that dramatically affected me. If existence is absurd, then I agree with Camus, that we humans ought to rebel against the absurdity, and stand up for compassion, help, justice, etc. because such ethical views ought to be true even if they aren’t.

        HOWEVER, I don’t think existence is absurd (most of the time–except when I read the news or hear another creedal Christian or Muslim leader making gross statements in favor of slaughter, injustice, inequality, and so forth).

        I would add some passages and urls on all of this, but for some reason, lately, disqus marks my comments as spam when I do.

        Besides, the last few times I’ve written extensively for subjectivists, they don’t answer my evidence, but only say again that I can’t prove that slavery, or whatever, is wrong.

        Well, heck, I still plan to keep seeking to get humans out of slavery. And I still think the abolitionists were right, and the slaveowners in the past were wrong, REALLY wrong.

        Lastly, I’m not sure that your –natural– compared to my –inherent– is vastly different.

        What I do know is that I am opposed to non-religious and religious leaders who claim that ethics are subjective and relativistic (the former claiming that is so because there is no god, the latter claiming that is so because god is sovereign).

        I’m much more concerned with what is happening to individual humans here and now. While brilliant philosophers argue whether or not morals are real, only only myths, subjective, etc.,
        I am concerned for those hundreds of thousands of little girls who are mutilated in Egypt (where allegedly 80% or more of the parents have supported mutilation).

        And the little kids in Syria that suffer and die because of the power politics of Turkey, U.S., Russia, Israel, Iran, etc.

        And the young teens who suffer and die here in the U.S. because of botched gross government polices, negligent parents.

        I was a teacher for many years, worked with at-risk young people.

        I may not be able to articulate the complex reasons why I think moral realism is true, but I am convinced that moral realism brings great good and hope to humans. Not only have I read of it as in Among Dead Cities by A.C. Grayling, Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, the amazing accomplishments of abolitionists around the world in the 19th century, etc., but I’ve experienced the reality of it in daily working with troubled youth, dysfunctional parents, unfair governmental practices, etc.

        Thanks for asking:-)

        • I agree, it seems Pinker rejects this view. To be honest I’m not sure how many who say this understand what it means. Moral realist philosopher David Enoch argues most people aren’t. http://www.academia.edu/4116101/Why_Im_an_Objectivist_about_Ethics_And_Why_You_Are_Too_ At least, they sure don’t act like it when speaking of things they’re against. It seems to me that determinism is like this as well. Few can hold it consistently.

          It seems to me many atheists are self-described moral subjectivists because theists claim they are moral objectivists. That’s a poor reason to hold a view, and in my experience many don’t even know what it means (as said above). Like you, I’ve read a book by Wielenberg. Unfortunately that didn’t really go into moral realism so much as defend it against criticism. Enoch, who I’d linked above, is another, along with Russ Shafer-Landau. I was just interested if you knew more.

          I personally think, even if moral subjectivism was true, the Golden Rule (or something similar) is a good guideline for behavior. Perhaps that itself is objective morality. It’s a fairly universal one, as it’s been found in ancient China, Greece and of course among the Jews. I think that you probably agree about this.

          My reading so far of Camus is limited to The Stranger. I’ll have to get The Plague sometime as well.

          You’re probably right that my natural is not that different from your inherent. The philosophers I cited earlier believe in something like Platonic forms of moral goodness. I guess I’m more skeptical of that so far. Pleasure seems like the good (with caveats and refinement).

          I am glad to see that you find much admirable in these authors.

        • In The Stranger, of course, Camus was positing/promoting a completely amoral existentialistic view of existence similar to Sartre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy where Sartre’s hero intentionally slaughters in order to kill all morals.

          (Or possibly Camus was only assuming that nihilistic identity, not really accepting it sort of like Dostoevsky did in his controversial novels.)

          But later, Camus told people he wasn’t an existentialist, though people kept assigning him that category. Our comparative literature prof at Long Beach State had studied in France and met Camus. Our prof claimed that Camus was really not the nihilist that The Stranger seems to present.

          After all, consider that during WW2, Camus wrote and worked for the Resistance against the Nazis. Camus took a very strongly moral position against fascism, didn’t think that ethics are subjective.

          Camus wrote of existence as being absurd, especially in The Rebel, probably his best book.

          Also, later Camus made a sharp break with Sartre, when the latter started supporting Marxism.

          And Camus, then began to work extensively for ethical change, was especially against killing civilians, and even against executing guilty criminals.

        • I’m not clear on how existentialism and absurdism differ. My understanding was that existentialism says we can make our own meaning however, thus isn’t nihilist.

          It’s worth noting Sartre was also in the Resistance at the same time, and worked along with Camus. Also, moral subjectivists like Bertrand Russell advocated many positions strongly too, so that itself isn’t proof of their views on morals.

          Camus advocated a different kind of socialism. He specifically disliked that Sartre and so many others supported the USSR even after its abuses had been revealed.

        • Right, Camus disagreed with Marxism as practiced in the USSR, and was very troubled that Sartre continued to support the USSR.

          There’s a significant difference between existentialism as conceived by Sartre versus Camus’ absurdism, but I think that takes us too far away from this blog article.

          Russell’s another animal altogether. I’ve read various things by him and am in the middle of a compilation book of his thoughts called Bertrand Russell on God and Religion edited by Al Seckel.

          I’ve also read part of Russell’s autobiography, etc. While I admire his stance against the Great War, on other issues I strongly disagree with his lifestance and his view of morals.

          As for Sartre, it’s difficult to understand why he worked in the Resistance. Maybe he did so because he was French or because the Nazis inhibited people’s freedom or because, while he claimed to be amoral, in the dire situation, he reverted to standard ethics.
          According to Sartre’s Roads to Freedom, total freedom is central to his philosophy. He opposes morals against lying, stealing, and killing because such morals inhibit humans’ freedom and so need to be ‘killed.’

          While I was greatly moved by those 3 books, especially the first one, The Age of Reason, I was very strongly opposed to Sartre’s view of reality and morality and still am.

        • What do you mean by Russell’s lifestance? His atheism?

          I’m surprised that Sartre really claimed to be amoral. That is another example of a person using a term which doesn’t match their life. He wrote against antisemitism and supported communism (not that one must agree with the latter, but both are hardly amoral). According to what I’ve just read, those books were written after World War Two, a response actually. Perhaps his view changed then. Otherwise it would be hard to reconcile this, not that thinkers are never inconsistent. Such a “freedom” of course I find very undesirable.

          From what you’ve said and I’ve read I too oppose his view.

    • Herald Newman

      It would seem that ethics–what is good–like human rights, equality, justice, human worth, etc. is inherent. This is usually called moral realism, and various thinkers explain that this is the best view of ethics.

      I’m pretty much convinced that moral realism is not worth believing, and that there’s no good evidence to support the idea. I’m willing to concede that I’m wrong, but so far nobody has ever provided anything close to compelling evidence that morality is objective, or that human rights, justice, and human worth, are “inherent”. As far as I can tell, human rights, justice, and human worth, are all things that we invented because they help us to achieve a particular goal. I would describe myself as a moral consequentialist, and that what is right (or wrong) is derived solely from values and goals, and how the objective consequences of actions stack up against those subjective values and goals. If I want a society where people are happier, enslaving people and forcing them to obey my every whim isn’t going to make for a particularly happy society.

      So, if you are a moral realist, can you identify for me one objectively moral value or duty, and actually establish that it is objective? After all, it’s one thing to come out and assert that some action is objectively morally wrong or right, but it’s quite another to actually demonstrate the truth of this extraordinary claim without appealing to our intuitive (and ultimately subjective) senses of right and wrong, and fairness.

  • RichardSRussell

    Odd: Hey, didja ever notice that the original Armistice Day was 11/11, we all remember 9/11, and there’s a chain of convenience stores named 7/11, but nobody ever gives a shit about 5/11?

    • chemical

      Here’s something else:
      The president elected in 1860 was assassinated.
      After that, every president elected in a year divisible by 20 died while in office, EXCEPT:
      The president elected in 1980 survived an assassination attempt.
      The president elected in 2000 had 2 shoes thrown at him.
      Whatever this is, it’s getting weaker.

      • bullet

        Hey! Don’t forget about 311.

      • Greg G.

        I remember reading about that in the late 60’s or early 70’s. It was said that a Native American chief was put to death in 1840 and put that curse on the United States. I remember musing whether modern medicine had defeated the curse with Reagan’s survival.

        I do not intend to run for president in 2020 but not because of fear of the curse.

      • Windy Wilson

        1840, William Henry Harrison died in office, as did Harding elected in 1920 and Roosevelt elected in 1940. Not assassinations, although some people suspect Harding’s wife. Zachary Taylor, elected in 1848 also died while in office, but since that wasn’t an election in a year ending in zero, his death apparently doesn’t count.

    • Michael Neville

      1/11 is almost a palindrome.

      • Susan

        almost a palindrome

        I’ve always found it deeply disappointing that “palindrome” spelled backwards is “emordnilap”.

        I mean, come on.

        • I’m still haven’t gotten over “monosyllabic.”

        • Greg G.

          I think it should be spelled “abbrev.”

        • Michael Neville

          That still isn’t monosyllabic.

        • I don’t think that was his goal. I think he’s objecting to the fact that the word “abbreviation” isn’t written as an abbreviation.

        • Greg G.

          You are correct and MN is inkorekt.

        • I saw what you did there.

          Well played, sir, well played.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          And the word “phonetic” isn’t spelled that way.

        • TheNuszAbides

          all that tells me is that you haven’t Opened your Heart(TM) to the full hermeneutical potency of emordnilap.

        • Greg G.

          I have opened my heart to the lluf lacituenemreh ycnetop fo emordnilap.

    • It’s the only day that’s today–that’s something!

      Of course that won’t mean much tomorrow.

    • eric

      Amusing factoid: around my area we have a 6/12. 7/11 Sued them for copyright infringement and lost. 🙂

      • Michael Neville

        About 30 years ago McDonald’s sued the owner of a hamburger joint in some Minnesota town because he called his place McDonalds. He was able to show that his father had started the place in 1936, a year before the McDonald brothers started their first stand in California and his and his father’s last name was McDonald (no relation to the California McDonalds). The suit was dropped.

  • Raging Bee

    Let’s simplify and consider just the Golden Rule: why is the Golden Rule a fairly universal moral belief among humans? It’s because evolution gave us that as part of our programming. We’re social animals, and working and playing well with others had survival benefit.

    That’s simplifying it too much. “Our programming” includes the capacity to reason, and we use reason, along with observation of actions and their consequences, to decide, and collectively agree, on which actions are “good” or “bad” based on whether their consequences are beneficial or harmful.

    • Slavery was considered morally acceptable in the 1860s in the US (probably far later than that in some minds, but let’s ignore that). Presumably the calculus was, “OK, this is hurtful to some people, but it’s a big plus to others, so it’s a net positive.”

      • Lark62

        Morality tends to be tribal. “Do not steal or murder” in every case means “Do not steal or murder from members of our tribe.” Non tribal members are not protected.

        This was true when the ancient Hebrews carried the 10 Commands into battle as they murdered and stole from other tribes.

        Organized crime syndicates have prohibitions on randomly stealing from or murdering members of their own group. Everyone else is fair game.

        Slavery was fine as slaves were “them” not “us.”

        My own definition of humanism is consciously expanding who gets included in “us.”

        • My own definition of humanism is consciously expanding who gets included in “us.”

          I’ve not heard that before. Interesting.

          I fear that this will be a continual upstream swim as we push back against the tribalism that evolution programmed us with. Which doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t have a go.

        • al kimeea

          And that would be all of us on the beautiful blue marble

      • Raging Bee

        Scientists got things wrong in the past too. That doesn’t mean science is invalid or doesn’t work.

      • Raging Bee

        And in fact, slavery was NOT universally considered “morally acceptable” in the USA in the 1860s. There was an abolitionist movement that predated the USA itself (who managed to get slavery abolished in the Northern states), and plenty of people saying it was wrong and inexcusable.

        • Of course. I think the Quakers from day 1 were against slavery. I didn’t say that it was universally considered acceptable. If I wasn’t clear, I was only referring to the dominant opinion in the South.

        • I wish it was so about the Quakers, but unfortunately not. It’s true that the Quakers emphasized equality from the beginning as an ethical truth (unlike most Europeans of the time), but for years they actually still shipped slaves, still accepted slavery, even some still owning slaves! Their focus on equality was related to men-women and social classes, like another group of the time, the Levelers.

          This support of equality but also support for slavery was a contradiction which some Quakers recognized. The first Quaker stand against slavery happened in 1688 in Germantown, PA, but it was a tiny group that did that. Then other Quakers began to recognize that slavery was very wrong and worked against it such as John Woolman.

          More and more Quakers rejected slavery. Finally, slavery was banned about 1776, a lot earlier than most humans. In fact most of the members of the anti-slavery society in Britain in the late 1700’s were Quakers.

          Also, Quakers in the the South of the U.S., of course, opposed slavery, but most of them were run out of the South before the Civil War.

          By the way, many Anabaptists also opposed slavery beginning back in the 1500’s, but they, too, were a small group.

          Other humans have opposed slavery in human history, as well. Some Buddhists. And a couple of years ago, one atheist leader cited an ancient Greek leader who opposed slavery, but I don’t recall who it was.

          For the supportive views toward slavery of early Quakers including George Fox, see pages 233-236 of the excellent biography of George Fox by H. Larry Ingle, professor of history at the University of Tennessee.

        • I thought I heard that the Cynics rejected slavery, and that was before Jesus.

          Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t. Doesn’t make him look so good.

        • I think you are correct about the Cynics. I’ll stop and look it up.

          I also agree that Jesus’ acceptance and support of slavery doesn’t make him look so good.
          For all the years that I was a Christian, that deeply troubled me, beginning when I was about 13.

        • Greg G.

          I believe Seneca was a Cynic. Compare what he said about slaves compared to Jesus who wouldn’t consider thanking a slave.

          “‘They are slaves,’ people declare. NO, rather they are men.
          ‘Slaves! NO, comrades.
          ‘Slaves! NO, they are unpretentious friends.
          ‘Slaves! NO, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike. That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man to dine with his slave.

          But why should they think it degrading? It is only purse-proud etiquette… All night long they must stand about hungry and dumb… They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies… This is the kernel of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.

          ‘He is a slave.’ His soul, however, may be that of a free man.”
              — Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD), Epistulae Morales, 47.

          7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” –Jesus, Luke 17:7-10

        • Thanks for the passage from Seneca.

          However, I don’t see where Seneca says that slavery itself is wrong.
          In fact, his advice isn’t all that different from some of the more civil slave-owning Southerners in the U.S. in the 1800’s who also emphasized a kind relationship with their slaves.

          As for Jesus, and the Bible, I’ve already agreed that he and the Bible were pro-slavery. That’s one reason that the vast majority of Christians for 1,800 years supported slavery.
          A powerful book on Christians in the U.S., slavery and the Civil War is God’s Almost Chosen Peoples by historian George C. Rable.

  • Good_Samaritan

    “Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? But there’s no dilemma here—the answer is the former.”

    I disagree Bob. Morality is an evolved feature of our species. Our genetic programming was selected by what was advantageous, so in a sense our genetic programming says so because it’s good. We have been shaped by reality, not the other way around.

    Yet, good could also mean something which our genetic programming likes, in which case.

    I agree there isn’t a dilemma, but I think the answer to your hypothetical is “both.”

    • I don’t see much to disagree with.

      Yes, we were shaped by reality, but we weren’t shaped by an objective good. Cooperating, trusting, and other social traits were evolutionarily beneficial.

  • John MacDonald

    In a sense morality is conditioned by our culture, values, biases, prejudices, personal point of view, etc – as Nietzsche showed with his Slave Morality analysis.. For instance, there is video on Youtube of many people in the Middle East celebrating the Twin Tower terrorist attack of 9’11 as wonderful and holy, but which was regarded by many others as a horrific tragedy. How can one event trigger such diametrically opposed interpretations? Cultures in the past have promoted such things as cannibalism, feeding Christians to the lions, war rape, and institutionalized same sex pederastry (boy love) and thiasos (girl love). So if one does not take a self-righteous, holier than thou attitude, there is a sense in which morality is relative. I can say I find pederastry and thiasos terrible, but that’s just me. But in another sense, morality is very much objective/universal. Everyone, unless they are insane, comport themselves ethically/morally to their inner circle, whether that circle includes just them, or beyond that to friends and family, country, or even the entire world. The moral compass of the world seems to slowly be becoming more and more sensitive, acknowledging such things as children are too young to make decisions about sex and marriage. There has been a universal declaration of human rights. Of course, many moral issues are simply personal taste, like the abortion issue. Pro lifers look on the issue as the mother merely being “inconvenienced” for 9 months, whereas pro choicers view what is being destroyed is in no sense a human being. There is no right answer here.

    • Morality seems to be subjective. That assumption seems to nicely explain what we see in human morality.

      • John MacDonald

        I think morality is “subjective” in “content,” but “objective” in “form.” The particular things an individual or a culture finds to be, on the one side, “pro-social,” and “wrong” on the other end, are subjective, and vary radically over place and time. On the other hand, we all behave morally to our “inner group,” whether that means just ourselves, our friends and family, or whether that is extended to include the whole human race. How one specifically acts toward their “circle of friends” is completely subjective, but whatever the agent does in practice they think they are being moral to their “circle.”

    • Lark62

      My opinion is that morality is like language – every collection of humans uses language to communicate. Every collection of humans develops expected standards of behavior.

      The details vary from group to group, culture to culture and era to era.

      Dining with one group of friends, everyone might split the check to the penny. With another, everyone might chip in the same amount. With yet another, people might take turns picking up the entire check. There is no absolute check-splitting morality. But if someone who benefited by someone else picking up the entire check one week tried a “to the penny” split when his turn came, he would likely be ostracized or socially punished.

      Even within a culture, there is not one morality, hence debates over capital punishment, what constitutes fraud and how teenagers should talk to adults.

      Every culture has a morality. We judge those moralities by what we find normal, but there are no absolutes. There was a morality in Nazi Germany even though we find that morality “wrong.” Future generations may well be appalled at our acceptance of factory farming.

      • John MacDonald

        What I find to be a good argument against “moral objectivism” is that one group can treat something as special and holy, while another group can treat the same thing as an abomination. Things like 9’11 and child sacrifice come to mind.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Tribalism to answer your first question. Bodily autonomy of a sentient being is the answer to the abortion issue.

      IMHO, YMMV, etc.

      • John MacDonald

        Pro lifers would simply answer that it is worth a mother being “inconvenienced” for 9 months to preserve a human baby’s life. That trumps “bodily autonomy of a sentient being” they would say.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Let me hook such ‘pro-lifers’ up to a mechanism that uses their organs to keep another human body going for 9 months and we’d see just how much they actually believe that nonsense…

        • ildi

          …or make it a requirement to donate blood on a regular basis, or donate organs once you’re dead.

        • John MacDonald

          (1) Pro lifers would probably reply: Accidents happen and you have to live with the consequences. Too bad, so sad. For instance, you might accidentally hurt your back, and have to live with the pain for years – maybe forever. So what if you accidentally get pregnant? You deal with it for 9 months and then give the kid up for adoption or whatever. Avoiding personal suffering doesn’t justify taking a human life. (2)The pro choice advocate would reply the aborted fetus is hardly what we would call human, and the debate drags on endlessly like this …

        • Roughly 2% of women with an unwanted pregnancy but who carry it to term release the baby for adoption, so that’s not much of a solution.

          (1) Pro lifers would probably reply: Accidents happen and you have to live with the consequences.

          What a compassionate ER doctor they’d be. “Sorry, pal, you accepted the possibility that you’d be horribly mangled in a car accident when you got in the car, didn’t you? Now go home and stop wasting our time here.”

        • John MacDonald

          The fact that women don’t give the baby up for adoption doesn’t mean they can’t. It is a solution. Women just aren’t taking it. I’m not saying I agree with the pro life position. I’m pro choice. The point about subjective/relative morality was that morality was understood relative to one’s values, culture, biases, prejudices, point of view, etc. Pro lifers value the sanctity of the humanity of the fetus, so they invent an apologetics for that value. Pro choice advocates value the right of the woman to make decisions around their own body, so they construct a system in defense of that. No one is arguing it is always wrong to take a life. We kill animals and plants for food all the time. As an old Philosophy professor of mine once pointed out, there really isn’t any way to resolve the abortion issue because both sides are starting from two fundamentally different points of view.

        • The fact that women don’t give the baby up for adoption doesn’t mean they can’t. It is a solution. Women just aren’t taking it.

          It’s kind of a problem if the “solution” doesn’t solve the problem for 98% of the people. Not much of a solution.

          Pro lifers value the sanctity of the humanity of the fetus, so they invent an apologetics for that value.

          I see it as a little more complicated. As I see it, pro-lifers are manipulated by political and religious leaders with this argument. It’s not like they would all naturally gravitate toward it.

          No one is arguing it is always wrong to take a life.

          And, ironically, pro-lifers are the most pro-capital punishment group, I hear.

        • John MacDonald

          Pro lifers would say the solution is simple: If you don’t want the baby, then endure the inconvenience for 9 months and give the baby up for adoption. Surely saving a human baby life trumps nine months of inconvenience. No need to kill a little person just because you are going to be uncomfortable for a while. That’s the best I can argue the pro life position, anyway. My subjective preference is pro choice. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I think about the liberal women’s lib agenda. lol

        • John MacDonald

          If moral preferences (e.g., pro choice) are value judgments, they are grounded in our personal tastes/preferences/values/points of view/culture/biases/prejudices/etc. If that is the case, then morality is mostly subjective/relative, and moral preferences are akin to saying I prefer a Merlot over a Cabernet, and having an extensive list of reasons why I like the one wine over the other.

    • dala

      I don’t think what you’re describing is a cultural difference, only different perspectives. I seem to remember Americans cheering or ignoring the deaths of various brown people in the right circumstances.

  • MR

    @BobSeidensticker:disqus Well, I must say, I didn’t realize other blogs were so thin-skinned compared to yours! Give my love if they ask about me, and of course he can keep my comments–they were sincere. I’d still like an answer if you ever get one. I guess I can join the banned club, now, sigh….

    • I responded to his post today, which is a (very long) rehash of our comment discussion. It was peppered with snarky asides, about how atheists always use this or that underhanded rhetorical trick, and so on. I was convicted before I even got there. He demands a minimal standard, though I think an objective observer would have a lot to complain about in his comments. He has a lot of ideas (not sure if any are worth considering yet), but I doubt that I’ll have the patience to hang in there much longer.

      • MR

        Oh, I see, he’s probably hoping to use you to generate traffic. Well, that’s not going to help if he bans people at the drop of a hat. :S I was particularly amused that he threatened to leave my words up for all to see. Um, okay. I mean, if anything I want people to see that he dodged. If only he had more traffic.

    • I think I’m done at Dave Armstrong’s blog for now. I was a little taken aback by all the snarky/hateful comments. The ones that stuck out to me are below.

      Admittedly, I’ve made plenty of snarky comments in my day, but I think they’ve been provoked. In the case of Armstrong, these were bonus (unnecessary) comments. They make engaging in a discussion way too much effort.


      “Don’t try this at home” etc. If you say I can’t say that, I say that I certainly can, having engaged in scores of dialogues with atheists on the Bible, and having shown virtually every time that they were woefully ignorant and misinformed.

      Both [Christians and atheists] interpret [the Bible] in a woodenly literalistic, genre- and context-ignoring fashion, which is contrary to all informed biblical exegesis, and how all literature whatever is intelligently, sensibly, and fairly read and interpreted.

      Then you haven’t read enough of the Old Testament or fully understood it’s message.

      Another nice try to hit me with several major topics at once.

      Like most atheists I have interacted with (scores and scores of ’em), you are just seeing what you want to see in the Bible and not even understanding that.

      For example, the Bible doesn’t require a global flood at all, and almost all non-fundamentalists believe in a local flood.

      I’ve also compiled many articles explaining the biblical and historic Christian view on slavery: if you really want to understand it; not just use it for your “gotcha!” lines.

      But again, it’s the rare atheist who truly seeks to understand the Bible on its own terms and not their own cynical, grossly (even ridiculously) uninformed take.

      Why does God allow atheists to exist, who exhibit constant insufferable attributes of always thinking they are smarter than the God Whose existence they deny and infinitely smarter than Christians, whose beliefs they invariably distort and turn into straw men, which they then proceed to quixotically demolish.

      But I do know that it is a common trait of atheists to avoid answering questions that have to do with difficulties (real or imagined) in their own positions.

      • MR

        Yeah, major chip on the shoulder. I noticed him a few times accusing you of the very behavior he was exhibiting. Project much? That last one on your list is poignant to my comments. He totally avoided answering the question because it complicated his own position. From you he expected a simple, straightforward answer, “align the stars…,” but for him it was C-O-M-P-L-E-X. I see. You’re not fooling anyone, dude.

        • Susan

          I noticed him a few times accusing you of the very behavior he was exhibiting.

          They have a script.

          In no particular order:

          -Atheists are hostile.

          -Atheists are as bad as fundamentalists. (I love when they sneer at fundamentalists. Fascinating.)

          -Atheists don’t understand exegesis.

          -Atheists claim they can disprove the existence of deities/my deity.

          -Some very, very clever people exist who used to be atheists and now believe in supernatural things.

          -If there is no objective morality, then anything goes. By “objective morality”, I mean whatever my (so far) imaginary deity says.

          -There is no kind of or amount of evidence that would convince you. (Even though I provide none when asked for some.)

          There’s a script.

          Ask them what they’re claiming and how they support it and they go back to the script.

        • MR

          That is a very useful list, Susan, thank you.

        • Susan

          a very useful list

          Feel free to contribute to it as you see fit.

          Or anyone here.

          It doesn’t take long to go around the carousel.

        • Ficino

          There’s the subgroup who, to any request for evidence, retort “you are holding to scientism, and scientism refutes itself!” They like to drag the discussion into the halls of metaphysics and assail the “atheist” with lacking a robust metaphysics.

        • The “that’s a self-refuting argument!” retort drives me crazy. It always strikes me as cowardice–if my argument could be interpreted as being self-refuting, let’s figure out if there is a core point that isn’t, and then you respond to that.


        • Ficino

          Something like “it is true that no assertion is true” directly entails a contradiction. But the person who asks for evidence for the truth of religious claims is not violating the law of non-contradiction. Anyway, retorsion arguments of the kind beloved of Edward Feser et al. do not establish the falsity of the position their proponents attack. And they betray an “ignoratio elenchi” when levied against, say, a Pyrrhonian skeptic, who does not propound skepticism dogmatically.

          One Christian apologist who was banned here not long ago was fond of writing, “scratch a skeptic and you find a dogmatist.” Ain’t necessarily so.

        • Susan

          and assail the “atheist” with lacking a robust metaphysics.

          Always while being as vague about “robust” and “metaphysics” as they are with all the terminology they use in their “robust metaphysics”.

          So… no reason to find their “metaphysics” particularly “robust”.

        • One benefit is that I’ll be a little more careful in my responses. Assuming the conversation with a Christian commenter hasn’t degraded to name calling, I’ll take more care to ensure that my comments are hard hitting intellectually but make no claims about my antagonist that can’t be easily defended.

        • Greg G.

          You are taking it out of context.

          It is a metaphor.

        • Michael Neville

          I’d add one more item to the script:

          -It’s those silly Christians over there who believe in that nonsense, real Christians like me don’t believe in that specific thing you’re arguing against.

        • al kimeea

          “That’s not MY deity”

        • Susan

          -It’s those silly Christians over there who believe in that nonsense,

          But those are the fundamentalists. And we are as bad as they are for dealing with the arguments of those silly christians.

          They never show that their claims are any less silly than the claims of the silly fundamentalists.

        • MR

          Also, science is wrong in the areas that undercut my beliefs.

          As if Christianity then wins by default. It’s a useful tactic, though, ’cause we atheists love to defend us some science, which means that they don’t have to defend their own stance. It keeps the battle out of their camp. They’re not interested in understanding the science, so it’s all just so much mental masturbation.

        • Otto

          Those points all assume the atheist was never a Christian, and when it is pointed out that some of us were Christians and very much believed they have to find a way to discount our religious experience as being invalid.

        • Michael Neville

          That’s where that favorite of Christian apologists comes in handy, the No True Scotsman.

      • Michael Neville

        I made a comment on Armstrong’s blog, he replied and I replied back. Now he’s making a new blog post based on our discussion. It hasn’t appeared yet, I’ll post a link when I know it’s there.

        • Otto

          Please do!

          I put the over/under on you being banned at 4 comments.

        • Greg G.

          I’ll take the under.

        • Otto

          I should have said 3.5 so there isn’t a push.

        • Well, he does kinda have my number. If you had a nickle for every time I said those very words …

        • Thanks. I read it. Words fail me, so I’ll just ignore it.

        • Seidensticker: Christians R Intellectually Dishonest Idiots

          That’s a lie! When I write it, I use Я.

    • Halbe

      This is what got me banned at Dave’s blog:

      I understand that you want to go back to the paradise of the 1950’s where Christian men like you could dictate how others should live their life. The problem is that almost all these others (women, gays, poc) remember very well that this was a paradise only for the (white) men doing the dictating. What you call a “moral revival”, we call a power grab. What you call “persecution of Christians”, we call whining about loss of undeserved privilege and power.

      This was my first comment on his blog and he banned me within 5 minutes from posting, with an angry reply along the lines of “Shut up! You are ruining an adult, intellectual discussion here!” Dave is very thin-skinned.

      • My latest round of comments (now over) came after he un-banned me.

        The latest insult was his deleting my goodbye comment. I suppose he couldn’t have the other guy to hold the moral high ground.

        • Herald Newman

          Just for my own curiosity I went and read his exchange with you. Dave acted exactly as I expected Dave to act. Point out that God has some problems with being just, and he points out that “God doesn’t match up with “enlightened” notions of ripping unborn babies limb from limb and slaughtering them without mercy.” It was just a cheap shot to get in something about abortion,. He dodges, weaves, wobbles, and spins at every opportunity. He’s condescending, and seems to think that his theology is perfect, and that he must be correct.

          In short, Dave is an apologist, and he acts like it every single time he gets the chance! I’m glad I got banned from his little echo chamber.

        • Otto

          You have to be talking about Dave Armstrong…ugh.
          Yeah he brought up the whole ‘poor widdle bables’ argument with me, and I pointed out how theology is more important to him and the RCC than people. I cited examples of Church theology causing direct harm to people and children and the Church literally lying to further their theology. It was a direct rebuttal of his position with citations…and he banned me. It is the only blog I have ever been banned from…lol

        • Ficino

          I’m surprised he didn’t just sigh at your stupidity for thinking that such harms constitute evils.

        • Otto

          It was just easier for him to ignore everything I said and pretend to be offended than to actually address the issues.

        • You can wear your ban with pride.

          His approach is so caustic, that I can’t imagine he’s changed many minds. Maybe it just feels good to have a pulpit and a stick by which he can control the message.

        • Otto

          It is a very Catholic approach, though even for a Catholic apologist he seems to be on the extreme end of the arrogance spectrum. I admit I have little patience for that type having come from a Catholic background myself, but I tried very hard to keep to the issues and not be caustic…alas it made no difference.

        • al kimeea

          Shirley it must be difficult to comment with Julie Hagerty’s face in your lap.

        • Otto

          You spelled ‘optimum’ wrong…;)

          And quit calling me Shirley.

        • al kimeea


        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          “His approach is so caustic, that I can’t imagine he’s changed many minds.”

          Give him some credit. He may have changed people’s minds about remaining Catholic, or Christian when they realize how poor his arguments are, and leave religion altogether.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Definitely not the kind of mind change he’d hope for, though 😉

        • abb3w

          To my amateur eye, it resembles a psychological defense mechanism against persuasion: to wit, attitude bolstering which “involves support arguing- that is, generating thoughts that are consistent with and supportive of one’s original attitude without directly refuting message arguments”. (In this case, because when he starts discussing a topic there have been no explicit prior message arguments to refute.)

          Granted, he also seems semi-willing to engage in some counterargument in the comment section… up to a point. Eventually (like most of us) he appears to resort to selective exposure — “resisting persuasion by leaving the situation or actively tuning out the persuasive message”.

        • Interesting, thanks.

        • al kimeea

          “Ripping babies limb from limb”

          IIRC, in the 1200s the Catholic English were defending Chateau Gaillard from the Catholic French siege. Caught in the middle were the Catholic peasantry, who began starving as the siege wore on. Neither army had any concern for their plight. Eventually, this caused a woman to deliver a stillborn baby that was seized and eaten…

        • But then when I go off on a tangent to show the errors in a statement he makes, he fumes that I refuse to stay on topic. I suppose because standing my ground would be suicide?

          He’s a smart guy. With a snark filter, his side of the conversation might’ve been thoughtful and stimulating.

        • MR

          What was your goodbye comment?

        • I forget the details, but I tried to take the high road, encouraging him to not be a dick. It really ought to be easy to do, since the most offensive stuff was unprovoked. In his mind, it would occasionally seem time to drop in some sort of ad hominem or sweeping complaint (which may or may not apply to me–he hadn’t established that).

          Every man is a teacher, I told him, and I was actually trying to help. I’m sure he learned nothing from the exchange. And even though he softened his tone a bit at the end (always with a caveat, “if I’ve been a dick, well, that’s because you were, too!!) and encouraged me to stay, I feel certain that further conversation would’ve very quickly gotten into the same infuriating morass. Life’s too short.

        • MR

          It’s telling that he would delete your comment. The apologetics are bad enough, but I noticed there’s a massive ego there, too.

        • My primary focus has been with fundamentalists, but the few Catholics on this blog that I’ve dealt with (Longenecker, Shea, and now Armstrong) have been pretty sensitive. They don’t appreciate any frank criticism. Maybe I just got unlucky? But whatever the reason, it’s not pushing me to engage with any more.

        • ildi

          I checked out some of his posts; I get the feeling he goes straight to the snarky, trying-to-piss-you-off tone to throw “fact-based” atheists off balance? Also, I find that style of taking comments and turning them into stand-alone posts a bit off-putting; maybe it’s just me, though. It seems the ultimate way to control comments, because he doesn’t have a high count, so must be banning those emotional and rude atheists left and right.

          Funny how perceptions are so different, your bud /s Jim Daily had this to say about He Who Shall Not be Named in the 50 atheists post: “One guy got into it with them at Cross Examined, was politely answering their ALL their questions, providing cites and links, and giving his reasons for disagreeing with their ever-changing logic. He was banned because they complained about him “hijacking” the thread!” Oh, yeah, right, answering ALL our questions! Ever-changing logic-lol

        • Otto

          Catholics are much more passive aggressive types…Dave is more aggressive than most but then he can’t stand someone responding in kind. He says he hates sweeping statements about a group (which is what he uses as a reason to ban people when he can’t find anything else). He claims he does not make sweeping statements but then in his diatribe on you there was this doozy.

          We can’t tell if a person’s atheism is from an outright rebellious spirit or out of misinformation or lack of information and knowledge. In my long experience in debating atheists I almost always find that it is the latter (from my perspective).

          So either we are in rebellion from his God (what the Bible refers to as fools in his opinion), or we are just plain ignorant…no sweeping generalization there. Hey, we all make these type of broad statements, but if one is going to be hypersensitive about it then I expect more self awareness.

        • Ficino

          After he couldn’t refute me, he said it would take an act of grace to unfreeze my “frozen heart.” That was after I demonstrated that I do know a ton about the Bible and Aquinas. He never did give good reason why I should buy what he’s trying to sell.

        • Michael Neville

          Armstrong claimed that YEC were a tiny minority of Christians and, when I gave a link to a Gallup poll from 2017 saying that 38% of Americans are YEC, he didn’t revise the claim. He also didn’t like that I said he’d been condescending and patronizing to Bob. I haven’t been banned but I doubt I’ll be back to his blog any time soon.

        • Ficino

          Yeah, with me it was as though, if I didn’t know much, I’d be guilty of failing to understand the gospel/Aquinas/[fill in blank], but if I did know a good amount, and still declined to agree, then I’d be guilty of moral vice for knowing but suppressing the truth. Armstrong’s system allows him to explain away any disagreement as the other person’s fault.

          But the inquirer is left with no stimulus to buy the product; the best one gets is a link to a long paper where Armstrong says he’s set forth the truth about a given topic.

        • He responded to my post link equating biblical slavery with American slavery with a link of his own to a page of links. Nothing by him. But he seemed confident that he was right, so I guess I’ll question my position …

        • An act of grace? I get the sense that he was talking about an event that’s very unlikely or very difficult. But isn’t that how it works with every person who believes the correct Jesus-y thing?

        • Doubting Thomas

          I’ve noticed that ego a lot with the “professional” apologists. I’m guessing it’s analogous to someone who went to school for years for homeopathy.

          Once you start debating, it’s not just that they feel the need to constantly present shitty arguments. It’s that behind all of those shitty arguments lies the thought “My belief can’t be wrong. I spent years studying it.” The realization that if the other person is right then you’ve wasted your life must press people into an uncomfortable position and make them say things they typically wouldn’t.

        • MR

          Admittedly, it wasn’t very nice of me to put his beliefs on the table like that, but then again, it was his question originally.

          I got a kick out of this:

          On my site, it’s not only the Christian who is always on the defensive, always on the hot seat. Atheists receive scrutiny, too. They don’t like that — aren’t used to it at all — , but that’s reality and life. Tough!

          On his site he never wants the Christian on the defensive. If you do put him on the hot seat, you get banned! I think that comment speaks volumes about his modus operandi. He’s not really interested in honest “dialogue,” as he likes to call it. He wants to toy with atheists, but doesn’t want to deal with any uncomfortable realities regarding his position.

          Nice comparison with the homeopathy. That rings true with me. I know a couple people who’ve developed careers in that and they throw up walls of defense at the slightest skepticism.

        • ildi

          ” Atheists receive scrutiny, too. They don’t like that — aren’t used to it at all — , but that’s reality and life.”

          wtf? What country does he live in?

        • Well, atheist are in the majority, in the US anyway. To be honest, you really can’t be elected to public office if you’re not an atheist. As someone from a beleaguered minority, I can see how he’d have this attitude.


        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          What *planet* does he live on? And what color is the sky there?

        • Susan

          it wasn’t very nice of me to put his beliefs on the table like that

          Nothing unnice about it.

          It was his question.

          Yes. A question designed to shift the burden.

        • He jumped into questions with me. They weren’t particularly answerable, but I did my best. Then he pointed out the answers that got a failing grade and demanded that I got back and try again.

          He needs to learn who’s making the extraordinary claim.

        • Doubting Thomas

          It’s also amazing how oblivious he is to how these discussions make him look. He comes across as a huge ass and yet he posts the discussions as blogs as if he’s proud of them. Maybe he’s trying to market himself as the Catholic firebrand?

        • MR

          Yeah, I like how he threatened me with:

          But your protests will be recorded in my blog paper for all to see. Every single word of yours will appear.

          Oh, no-o-o-s!

          Well, a) I put them there in the first place, I’m not ashamed of them and b) any 15-year old can see you’re evading, so post away.

          I suppose his approach works with teh believers, but my audience is always the people who are doubting. They’ll see through his ruse and be turned off by his arrogance like I was. It was types like him that destroyed my Christianity.

        • Otto

          The point you were making sailed right over his head. He did not understand that the same question cuts both ways.

          He likes to talk about how much logic and evidence he has for Christianity, Jesus, the Resurrection, etc. but when broken down all of it amounts to ‘Christianity is true because a very few people said so a long time ago’… that realization was a huge back breaker for me but, he thinks somehow that makes it indisputable. He is a smart guy but I just don’t see how all these smart people fool themselves to the level they do…but then again he is an asshole so there is that.

        • IMO he has the right to move comments into a post, but it does seem like simple courtesy to either ask for permission or to say at the beginning of a conversation, “This conversation of ours may develop into something substantial, so I reserve the right to use our conversation (including your comments) in a future post. FYI.”

        • MR

          I agree. It’s a weird tactic. I imagine it would be off putting for some people to ever want to comment on his site. I don’t mind that he put it up, though it does strike me as rude, more in the way he framed it. Like you say, common courtesy would be to forewarn or ask. But I’m still scratching my head as to why he would even want to put it up in the first place. From my perspective, it’s useful because it shows a Christian avoiding an important question, that when followed to its logical conclusion undermines the Christian criticism of atheist skepticism. From what I gather, the way he saw the exchange was me just being a pain in the ass. If he thought that, why make a blog post out of that? It certainly didn’t “develop into anything substantial.” Hardly blog post worthy if you ask me. If anything it seemed to be laziness on his part. “I can’t come up with a decent topic on my own right now, so here’s an exchange I had with some else and I’m going to call it a blog post. Oh, and atheists are pestering dicks.” There’s only one audience for that. He’s certainly not about “dialogue.”

        • There may be only one audience for that, but if he’s writing for himself, then it makes sense.

          I agree that his selectively pulling out bits to support the ongoing narrative “atheists being mean to me,” that doesn’t make him look good to any open-minded reader.

        • TheNuszAbides

          [by other apologits]

          i don’t know if that was intentional, but as a fan of the term ‘git’ i loved it and will try to remember to use it in the future.

        • MR

          No, pure, dumb typo. I’d correct it, but it appears I may have inadvertently coined something.

        • Greg G.

          I am stealing it.

        • TheNuszAbides

          i’m considering adding a hyphen for clarity.

        • Greg G.

          How about “apologits” for clarity?

        • TheNuszAbides

          hmm … well, they’re both better than apologists …

        • “Christian apolo-gits.” I like it.

        • Careful–that kind of thing can start a meme.

        • MR

          You heard it first from me, folks! Well…, maybe @AbidingBab:disqus should get the credit. Unless, of course, there are meme royalties, then there will be a lawsuit.

        • MR

          I see the Russian trolls are back to liking comments. They liked my previous comment. It looks like they dropped the .ru in their urls, but are still using sex to try to get you to click on their links. Please DO NOT click on any of these links and please report any such links. Not that Disqus will do much about it. I’m waiting for the day Disqus appears in the news alongside Facebook and Twitter for their role in providing a platform for attacks.

        • If you click on the 3 dots next to any Disqus user, you can report them. I just did that to the bot that liked your prior comment.

          (For what it’s worth.)

        • MR

          Yes, I did do that and encourage everyone to combat the bots. Thanks!

        • MR

          And there’s another one. Be wary, everyone.

        • TheNuszAbides

          you as Primordial Visionary and me as Conscious Discoverer?

        • Those in his camp who think he’s making himself (and Catholicism) look bad probably don’t feel comfortable asking him to dial it back. Or maybe he just drives them away.

          Trivia: I stumbled across “Dave Armstrong (Catholic apologist)” in Wikipedia. After seeing how he’s quick to point out how many atheists he’s vanquished, how foolish atheist arguments invariably are, and to polish his own image (at the expense of actual apologetic topics), such an entry makes perfect sense.

        • Jim Dailey

          I read the Wikipedia post and it nowhere talks about vanquishing atheist arguments or how foolish atheist arguments invariably are.
          Am I reading the right post?

        • Greg G.

          Bob recently had a conversation with Armstrong on Armstrong’s blog. I think Bob is summarizing the nature of the articles on Armstrong;s blog, not the Wikipedia article.

        • Dave brags about his success against atheists in his comments. It’s not in the Wikipedia article.

        • Jim Dailey

          I saw where Dave castigated atheists who refuse to follow some simple rules of courtesy, but no “bragging” or “vanquishing” type comments.

          Besides, you yourself seem to think that adding a little hot sauce to these discussions is desirable.

        • I saw where Dave castigated atheists who refuse to follow some simple rules of courtesy, but no “bragging” or “vanquishing” type comments.

          I put a Greatest Hits here:

          Here are some of them:

          “Don’t try this at home” etc. If you say I can’t say that, I say that I certainly can, having engaged in scores of dialogues with atheists on the Bible, and having shown virtually every time that they were woefully ignorant and misinformed.

          Like most atheists I have interacted with (scores and scores of ’em), you are just seeing what you want to see in the Bible and not even understanding that.

          But again, it’s the rare atheist who truly seeks to understand the Bible on its own terms and not their own cynical, grossly (even ridiculously) uninformed take.

          But I do know that it is a common trait of atheists to avoid answering questions that have to do with difficulties (real or imagined) in their own positions.

          You said:

          Besides, you yourself seem to think that adding a little hot sauce to these discussions is desirable.

          Not really. I responded to the BS. You’re welcome to say that I made a mistake in taking the bait. But I don’t remember any instance where I, out of the blue, tossed out some sort of insult about Christians. That was the problem.

          He said that he appreciated honest, civil dialogue, and that’s good, but it seems in fact that he insists on being talked to in a civil manner. He doesn’t hold himself to those standards. He obviously doesn’t want to hear that from me, but you might pass it along in a way that he would accept.

        • epeeist

          When one is looking at Wikipedia articles it is always worthwhile looking at Talk page.

        • Wha-a-a-at? Wow–that’s a gold mine of embarrassment. Nice catch.

          This individual tried to put up a Wikipedia page of himself several years ago and after investigation by Wikipedia it was deleted. He’s now come back and done the same thing. Basically, he is self-published. He collects his numerous blog posts and puts them into ‘books’. Then he declares his ‘collected works’ to be more world historically valuable than the collected works of Luther and Calvin combined. Basically, he’s a narcissist.

          I wondered if he had written that article himself. Note, however, that Armstrong himself said that, while he had edited the page to correct it, he didn’t initiate it.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, I was banned my first interaction there. The guy is spewing make believe,

      • MR

        Yeah, I think adult, intellectual discussion for him means, “I’m in control deprecating atheists.” He’s certainly not willing to examine the flaws of his own position. You can bounce quarters off the cognitive force field surrounding his site.

      • Otto

        Dave from the Catholic blog?

    • Yet another post from Mr. Catholic. I won’t bother reading it, but I suspect you’re the star this time.


      • MR

        So, basically he just took our exchange from the comment section and put it up top with a little additional commentary. Weird. Rereading (skimming) it, I have to laugh because his cognitive dissonance is so obviously on display. I love how he keeps pointing the squirrel finger at you, “Yeah, but Bob didn’t answer the question, how come you don’t make him answer the question?!” Sigh….

        • All I can think is that he knows deep inside that he’s guilty of various excesses, so he digs until he finds evidence of that in his atheist antagonist. There you go–problem solved.

      • Kevin K

        He’s a rather thin-skinned jerk, isn’t he?

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          He tried to pick a fight over on Godless in Dixie, but I cut him off at the knees very quickly. He’s just an attention whore, so I made sure he didn’t get any attention from anyone over there by not allowing him to link his blog entries in his comments, and then I banned him.

          I wouldn’t bother interacting with him. It’s not like he gets many posts from Christians. If he didn’t have atheists debating him (that he goads by picking fights with them on atheist blogs), he’d be down to five comments or less per blog entry. The dude’s a cancer within Patheos.

        • Greg G.

          He wrote a book called The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants. James White did a series of blog posts on it back in 2004-5. I posted a couple of quotes from it somewhere around here.

        • Pofarmer

          You just described most all of the Catholic sites that don’t allow comments, or are moderated so heavily they might as well not, IMHO.

        • Otto

          Exactly…he comes onto atheists blogs and picks fights, writes a blog about the fight and invites his opposition over to continue the conversation. He then looks for any reason he can find to take personal offense and bans his opposition…and then claims victory.


        • Greg G.

          He then looks for any reason he can find to take personal offense and bans his opposition…and then claims victory.


        • Otto

          1) That’s a keeper!
          2) He is not allowed the other kind

        • I noticed his comments but didn’t think to count them. Out of his last 20 posts, he has 5 that have more than 10 comments.

          Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Christian forum that welcomes atheists who want to have a civil and invigorating conversation?

        • Kevin K

          It seems as if his hobby is goading people to go over to his site, so he can ban them.

        • Greg G.

          Armstrong 18:18
          Most certainly I tell you, whoever you banned on earth will have been banned in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.


          whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.

          Whatever you do, don’t think about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

        • Kevin K

          An egotist’s egotist.

        • It’s the smile that lures you in.

    • What’s most telling, now that I think about it, is that his posts about our comments have all been of the sort, “Don’t say that my comments have bad properties (hateful, thin-skinned response, overgeneralizing, etc.); look at what these atheists have said! They’re far worse!”

      My initial (long) conversation with him had been about worship and whether an omni-everything being would want, desire, or allow himself to be worshiped. But all he wants to focus on is his reputation. Or maybe it’s his self image.

      • Jim Dailey

        Why didn’t you answer what it would take for you to convert? You could simply have linked to a post you had written.

        • Greg G.

          Why didn’t you answer what it would take for you to convert?

          I think that is one of the silliest arguments that Christians like to ask. If my unbelief in god thingies is a detrimental situation and there is an omnibenevolence, it would want me to convert. If omniscient, it would know better than I what it would take to convert me. If omnipotent, it would be able to accomplish that. The fact that I do not believe in such a being is proof that it does not exist.

          But the answer to the question is quite simple – evidence! I am surrounded by dozens of things in my living room and I accept that all of them actually exist because of the evidence, even all 750 pieces to the jigsaw puzzle in the box. So it is not hard to convince me that something is real.

        • Herald Newman

          And yet, for some reason, religious apologists think we determine that something exists by using complex philosophical arguments word games, rather than actual empirical evidence. It’s the strangest thing.

        • Jim Dailey

          It got to the point where Dave asked Bob the question because Dave had already replied in detail as to why he believed in Catholicism – which included several items that Dave submitted as evidence he accepted.

          Bob methodically went through the list, and posited why none of Dave’s evidence was acceptable evidence for Bob.

          Thus leading the discussion to the point of what sort of evidence would Dave find acceptable. It seemed to me to be a natural flow of a discussion. Bob, for reasons I still find mystifying, refused to answer/ provide the link to the article where he said what he would find acceptable.

          I tend to agree with you regarding the need to feel a personal contact with God. However, this demand for personalized evidence brings to mind an old joke regarding such demands.

          The fundamentalist farmer is at his farm, and a policeman comes by and says: “There is a flood coming, you better evacuate.” The pious old farmer quotes something about the Bible and God protecting him. The policeman leaves.

          The flood waters start to rise, and a rescuer comes in a boat and says “Let me get you out of here.” The farmer says “Blah blah Bible Bible… The Lord will protect me”. The rescuer leaves.

          Later, the waters have risen and the farmer is sitting on his roof when a helicopter comes by. Same thing happens, and helicopter leaves.

          Farmer drowns.

          In Heaven, the farmer confronts God and says “Why didn’t you protect me like it says in the Bible?”

          God says “I sent a cop, a boat, and a helicopter…”

          The reason this joke reminds me of the atheist demands that God personally prove himself to everyone as being what He is is hopefully obvious.

          Of course on a more intellectual level, we could discuss free will,

          I really wish the discussion between Bob and Dave had continued, but they both seem to be incensed.

        • Otto

          I must have missed it…where is the connection that God sent those things in that joke?

          (Signed…one of Bob’s Chowderheads)

        • Greg G.

          I am reminded of the guy who fell over a cliff but caught onto a tree limb. He prayed to God to save him. A voice from the cloud said, “LET GO OF THE BRANCH AND I WILL CATCH YOU.

          The guy replies. “Is there anybody else up there?”

          But if the guy had let go and fell, he would be in the farmer’s position. God would tell him that he put the branch there for him. Or God could say, SORRY, I HAD TO TALK TO A DROWNED FARMER. It’s like there is no god at all.

          The free will excuse doesn’t work. Is Satan’s free will inhibited by knowledge of God’s existence?

          Why would a god only give sufficient evidence to gullible people? Does it limit their free will?

        • Doubting Thomas

          Why do religious people seem to imply that proving one’s existence would be a difficult thing? I do it multiple times a day. I simply refer to it as “introducing myself” and it doesn’t take a metaphorical cop, boat, or helicopter. Why can’t god reliably do something that I find so easy?

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          And if God could figure out how to put an entire universe together, complete with self-replicating, sentient chemical reactions, why the hell can’t he even write a single coherent instruction manual? The Bible is the very last thing I would expect to be either written by or inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity.

        • Greg G.

          God is a technician, not a manual writer.

        • Doubting Thomas

          You have to remember, three out of the four people god chose to write his human biography couldn’t even remember the zombie hoard that strolled through town.

          The real problem is that, for us, it’s incredibly easy to see that there is a zero percent chance that Yahweh exists. All it takes is an objective look at reality. For the believer, all it takes to disregard all the evidence against their position is an excuse. And it doesn’t matter how horribly pathetic the excuse is. Babies can starve to death by the thousands and it’s brushed off with talk of free will.

        • TheNuszAbides

          You have to remember, three out of the four people god chose to write his human biography couldn’t even remember the zombie hoarde that strolled through town.

          nominated for quotation at the end of an article!

          and even worse of an oversight with ‘Luke’ making such a show of having done extensive research/interviews.

        • Otto

          God for all intents and purposes seems to be powerless without people. Even in the ‘joke’ Jim wrote it was all people supposedly being sent by God to save the farmer. Everything people claim to know about God seems to be traced to another person. There is nothing that can be unquestionably attributed to God. Even Jesus couldn’t write his own stuff, someone else had to do it for him.

        • Pofarmer

          ^^^^^^^^ This.

        • More to the point: since God can’t just show himself (despite having a great desire to have us know that he exists, according to Christianity), why do Christians hang on to their beliefs?

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah Jim. the thing is you just nicely illustrated another problem. As Mark Twain puts it in “Letters from Earth” all the good things that happen happen because of People, but God gets all the credit.

        • Bob, for reasons I still find mystifying, refused to answer/ provide the link to the article where he said what he would find acceptable.

          No, I did answer Dave’s question.

        • MR

          Poignantly, I thought.

        • Why didn’t you respond to the answer I gave?

          And how does this change the fact that Dave is more concerned about discussing his image than in discussing an apologetic issue?

        • Jim Dailey

          I did not see that you gave an answer. Did I miss it? If so, I apologize.

          If I see it, I may respond separately. The dialogue between you and Dave is a pretty good read, and when people start jumping in the conversation gets screwed up.

        • Dave didn’t like my answer, and it was clear that we were getting into the delightful project where I humbly submit my answer over and over, and the stern but fair Mr. Armstrong rejects my answer each time, taking the opportunity to tell he how disappointed he is in me and my kind. Fun, but I didn’t have time for that.

          My answer: Dave, I need pretty much the same evidence to change my worldview as you would. What evidence would it take you to become a Shinto or Hindu or Scientologist? That’s pretty much what I would need. And whatever that is, God knows it, and he hasn’t given it to me. (Which doesn’t put God in that great a light. It’s almost like God isn’t there.)

        • MR

          I’m just thankful, Bob, that you’re able to handle more than one thread at a time on your site!

          The point you made I think is an extremely important one. Dave punted and all I was saying was, hey, wait a minute, that’s an important point, can we go back to that for a minute, and then we got all kinds of hand-waving and finger-pointing at you. Why is it a fair question for him to ask you, but not for him to be asked? Unless, it’s an inconvenient question for him to answer, of course.

        • Slight tangent: he initially wanted to talk about how he felt deluged at an atheist site. He characterized it as the “101 topics routine.” What he seemed to be referring to was a Gish Gallop (I asked, and he agreed with that comparison). But what he apparently got was simply a large number of atheists having concurrent conversations with him.

          I can appreciate that’s hard, time consuming, frustrating, and maybe infuriating if insults are added. But juggling multiple conversations in itself is not dishonest game playing (which seemed to be his complaint). It’s only difficult. This seemed to me to be yet another case where he took a narcissistic attitude.

          I agree with you–pointing out where he’s dropped an important point is relevant to the conversation.

        • ildi

          For that reason, I wait to comment when I feel like somebody is arguing in good faith and another commenter is already making my point (often a lot better, I might add!)

        • MR

          Right, and I certainly wasn’t participating in a Gish Gallop nor had any impression that he only allowed one-on-one conversations. I think I was pretty respectful if a little snarky once I felt like my chain was being yanked, but even so I tried to stay on topic and direct it back to the question. I thought I explained pretty clearly why his answer didn’t really answer the question, and I think he demonstrated my case clearly himself when he stated the kind of evidence he was expecting to hear from you. We both expected some kind of concrete example to demonstrate the kind of evidence that would be acceptable.

          I could have followed the vein when he said:

          Obviously, “theological, biblical [or alternate claimed inspired / divine / revelatory holy book], historical, philosophical, scientific, experiential” evidence and reasoning and facts.

          But by then it was already getting rather farcical. It’s really still a non-answer, but I’d have continued with, “Okay, obviously every religion believes it has such evidence, reasoning and facts, now give me some concrete examples of those things that would be convincing to you.”

          Maybe a better question would have been, “What kind of evidence do you think Bob should accept before he believes in (fill in the blank religion you don’t believe in).” Maybe making it personal to him turned up the cognitive dissonance levels too high. Still, I think the more interesting question for anyone, myself included, is “What would it take for you personally?”

        • Some hosts take pains to set a good example. Others, I suppose, figure, “Hey, this is my house, so I’ll do whateverthehell I want.”

          “What kind of evidence do you think Bob should accept before he believes in (fill in the blank religion you don’t believe in).”

          An excellent question. That ensures that there’s a consistent bar of evidence. If the question were, “What should he accept before he believes in Catholicism,” you’d risk bullshit answers like, “The marvels of a cell” or “a warm spring day” or even “the smile of a baby.”

        • MR

          Clear evidence for Demetra and Hathor, respectively.

        • Otto

          I got into a back and forth with a guy who liked Astrology, so the answer was “A Star”…ugh

        • MR

          I saw an answer (for evidence of another religion) along the lines of, “It would have to have a saviour-like figure.” 😛 Basically it had to be Christianity in disguise.

          Your answer takes the cake, though.

        • Pofarmer

          Sathya Sai Baba works.

        • Greg G.

          What would it take to make you believe the sun is a god? You have evidence that it exists.

        • MR

          That’s an excellent point. I can see it with my own eyes every day. I can pray to it and I get similar results as to what Christians get when they pray to their God. Interesting.

        • Greg G.

          If you pray to the sun and hang your wet laundry outside, it will dry your clothes..

        • That’s more than Yahweh will do.

        • MR

          Loose tangent: I recently had a rl conversation with a Mormon in which I was describing how several sets of my great^x grandparents from different parts of the country ended up in a certain area in the 1800s because of a specific event. I noted that if that event hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t exist today. That person kind of wistfully looked off into the distance (so as to avoid eye contact) and said something like, “It makes you wonder if it was just chance (that the event happened) or if something more was involved….” Some subtle proselytizing there!

          I suppose that there is evidence for Mormonism! 😀

          I wanted to say, “Not really. I just wouldn’t have been born, and some other people somewhere else would have been born.” I just let it go, but it kind of ended our interesting little conversation on family histories.

          It also reminded me of my lottery fallacy. The appeal only works if I was meant to be the end result. It’s an appeal to the ego and my ego isn’t quite that big.

          [Edit: I probably placed this poorly in the flow of this thread. It fits better lower down.]

        • Greg G.

          What if the steak your father ate the night you were conceived was a little bit tougher so it took one extra chew which threw off the timing for the rest of the night and made your sperm come in second, or “first loser”? Your brother or sister might have achieved world peace by now.

        • Pofarmer

          He characterized it as the “101 topics routine.”

          It’s not that it’s “101 topics” the problem is that every time they open their mouth they bring up another fallacy or problem and they don’t even realize it.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Yup. On a profession website I frequent, a religious guy complained that atheist are always pointing out fallacies. It never occurred to him to stop saying fallacious things.

        • Pofarmer

          You have to conclude that they hear what they are saying all the time and never had it pointed out to them that it was sloppy thinking. Except the apologists. They know it and do it anyway because they’re dishonest jerks, mostly.

        • Jim Dailey

          Ok. I thought you were just being snarky with that response because of previous posts where type 3 atheists never get converted because Xtians can not overcome atheist arguments.

          I think Dave got around to describing what it would take for him to convert (and it looks a lot like your type 3 atheist description) in discussion with MR.

        • Yes, in practice, there never is enough evidence to get well-informed atheists to convert to Christianity for intellectual reasons. But Dave’s question is still valid: if not what you’ve seen so far, what evidence would you need?

          I had no problem with the question; I did have a problem with the approach he was trying to take, keeping the questioning on me (presumably because he doesn’t like to defend what may seem to him to be the weaker position). I suspect that if we went a few more rounds, it would be clear that nothing would satisfy him.

          The inherent problem there, of course, is that he’s the one making the extraordinary claim. I’m happy to kick around my reasons for my stance, but let’s not pretend that I have a symmetric burden of proof.

        • Greg G.

          What would it take to make me believe that dark matter exists? Evidence that it exists. I don’t have to know all of its properties, just that it exists. We see gravitational anomalies that are not caused by matter or blackholes so we have evidence of something which we call “dark matter” for now. It doesn’t seem to interact with anything except by gravity.

          So how can I believe in a god thingy with no evidence that it exists? How can people tell me about its properties when they have no evidence at all for it?

        • Pofarmer

          How can people tell me about its properties when they have no evidence at all for it?

          Yeah, about that. ……….

        • “We can’t observe quarks or black holes, but we should see their effects. We do.
          “We can’t observe the Christian God, but we should see his effects. We don’t.”
          — Victor Stenger, “Faith in Anything is Unreasonable”

        • Tell me how you thought our dialogue was useful so I can see where you’re coming from. Dave thought it was useful to highlight atheist imbecility. I thought it was useful because we were actually exploring an interesting question, what the point of worship is.

        • Jim Dailey

          I have to say I came down on Dave’s side on this, but I thought you asked very legitimate questions.

          That is, what kind of God requires worship? It’s silly. I agree. If we are created out of love, why is falling on your knees in abject adoration some sort of requirement for maintaining that love?

          Dave’s response – that in a well ordered state of being, “worship” and “gratitude” are basically interchangeable. I found Dave’s description of the parental relationship (in a good family) an apt analogy. My parents did not require my “worship” but as I have aged my respect for what they accomplished and gratitude for their gifts, and hopefully my articulation of these may be thought of as worship.

        • ildi

          “That is, what kind of God requires worship? It’s silly. I agree. If we are created out of love, why is falling on your knees in abject adoration some sort of requirement for maintaining that love?

          Dave’s response – that in a well ordered state of being, “worship” and “gratitude” are basically interchangeable. I found Dave’s description of the parental relationship (in a good family) an apt analogy. My parents did not require my “worship” but as I have aged my respect for what they accomplished and gratitude for their gifts, and hopefully my articulation of these may be thought of as worship.”

          That potentially answers the question of what worship feels like and/or whether it’s onerous (which I don’t think it does), not whether God requires worship, and the Catholic Church is clear on that. You may think it’s silly, but Catholics are supposed to take the first commandment at face value and God demands it:

          “God makes himself known by recalling his all-powerful loving, and liberating action in the history of the one he addresses: “I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The first word contains the first commandment of the Law: “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him. . . . You shall not go after other gods.”5 God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him.”

          “Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy.”

          “To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the “nothingness of the creature” who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name.14 The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.”

          I don’t know how you and Dave feel about your parents, gratitude for good parents is definitely an element of love for them, but worship as the Church talks about it is a) demanded (do good parents demand gratitude, or hope for it?) and b) has a strong element of adoration/submission/lack of self-worth that I would not recommend in a healthy family. Second, it’s very clear per the catechism that it’s not a feeling, it’s an activity. I didn’t want to add another link, but according to the Catholic Diocese of Orange: “As the only remedy for sin, the divine grace of God is experienced by Catholic believers through the seven sacraments – rites instituted by Jesus and practiced by His followers as acts of worship.”

          Of course, this is where a lot of Protestants disagree with Catholics.

        • Jim Dailey

          What can I say? I do not see the worship as “forced.” If it is, you’re doing it wrong.
          Gratitude for where and what you are is imho, an essential part of being happy. The Church, from my read of it, simply requires that you periodically reflect on the joy of your existence, and give thanks for the incomprehensible number of things that had to go just right in order for you to experience this moment.

        • ildi

          “The Church, from my read of it, simply requires that you periodically reflect on the joy of your existence, and give thanks for the incomprehensible number of things that had to go just right in order for you to experience this moment.”

          You are perfectly free to interpret Catholic teachings however you wish, of course (many/most Catholics do), but the whole point of catechism and attendant heresies etc. is that YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT. That’s why we have thousands of denominations, and my main reason for not taking the bible as divinely inspired.

        • Jim Dailey

          Whoa! Who says I am being heretical?

        • ildi

          I am. I cite Church catechism and doctrine for worship, and instead of correcting me with the proper citations, or maybe what the pope, or even your priest has said, your refutation is “your read of it?” Dude, what do you think heresy means? I’m going by the wiki definition: “any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization” and I am comfortable saying your take on what the Church requires for worshiping God is is pretty strongly at variance with established Church doctrine. Now, there are no consequences to it in our secular society, but that’s a different conversation.

        • Jim Dailey

          Since you asked:

          How Catholics Pray

          Expressions of Prayer

          Many years ago a group of seminarians were gathered and their Novice Master instructed them, “Now remember, you are not allowed to chew gum while you are praying.”

          One of the seminarians asked, “But, Father, is it okay to pray while we’re chewing gum?”

          “Of course,” the Novice Master replied, leaving them wondering just how to follow these contradictory instructions.


        • ildi

          I asked about prayer? Where?

        • Jim Dailey

          “Worship” in one form is a prayer of adoration. You said I was a heretic for my description of the form my prayer takes. I am showing you that there are many forms prayer takes.

        • ildi

          I’m not sure if you’re genuinely confused about your own religion or just prefer sinning. Prayer is NOT synonymous with worship. The church makes it very clear that prayer is part of worship, but that worship is an activity that is dictated by the sacraments:

          “The Catechism clearly defines prayer as a “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC, no. 2558). Prayer is Christian “insofar as it is communion with Christ” (CCC, no. 2565), and a “covenant relationship between God and man in Christ” (CCC, no. 2564).

          It is important to remember that we understand prayer through our celebration of the Sacraments and in the Liturgy of the Hours. The word liturgy comes from a Greek term meaning “public work or work done on behalf of the people.”

          A work, then, done by an individual or a group was a liturgy on behalf of the larger community. All the worshipers are expected to participate actively in each liturgy, for this is holy “work,” not entertainment or a spectator event. Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the High Priest and of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. It therefore requires the participation of the People of God in the work of God.”

          Further, the catechism makes it very clear that skipping Mass is a grave sin:
          “2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”117 “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”118

          2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. [emphasis mine]

          2182 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

          2183 “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.”

        • Greg G.

          or just prefer sinning.

          If not, what would you have to talk about in the confessional?

        • Jim Dailey

          Interior worship is to be distinguished from exterior worship. the former is not manifested by external acts, but consists in internal adoration; but when this inner sentiment is expressed by words or actions, prostration, genuflexion, the sign of the cross, or any other gesture, it becomes exterior worship. Again worship is private or public; the former, which may be an act of external worship, is performed unseen by men or seen by only a few; the second is official worship rendered by men assembled for a religious end and forming a religious society properly so called. This is not the place to show that Christian worship is a worship at once interior and exterior, public and private. It should be interior, otherwise it would be mere comedy, a purely pharisaical worship such as Christ condemned when He told His disciples that they should worship in spirit and the truth. But it should not be purely interior worship, as Sabatier, with certain Protestants and most Deists, maintains (Sabatier, Esquisse d’une philosophie de la religion, 1908, 5); for man is not a pure spirit but composed of body and soul, and he should adore God not only in his soul but also in his body. This is the justification of all external manifestations of worship

        • ildi

          Did you read the whole thing? Right after where you stop with the quote, it says: “Neither is it difficult to prove that, since man is a social being, his worship should be public and in common with others. Worship in private or even individual worship in public, is not sufficient.” Further down: “Finally, theologians usually connect worship also with the virtue of justice; for worship is not an optional act of the creature; God is entitled to the worship of intelligent creatures as a matter of justice.”

          To recap: your statements
          – “worship” and “gratitude” are basically interchangeable
          – I do not see the worship as “forced.” If it is, you’re doing it wrong.
          – The Church, from my read of it, simply requires that you periodically reflect on the joy of your existence
          Are factually wrong and you may find that as a result of these beliefs you are not in a state of grace. I fear if you don’t remedy this, you will end up in the same place as those ebil homosekshuals.
          Glad we cleared that up – you’re welcome.

        • Otto

          Yep, that sums up Catholic BS in a nutshell

        • Otto

          I know I was never taught that Mass was an option, it seemed rather forced to me.

        • ildi

          Also confession.

        • Joe

          It’s Energy and the speed of light that aren’t optional.

        • ildi

          I looked it up for Jim Dailey. It is a grave sin. Oh, well, I guess he can always work it off in purgatory. Wait a minute, though, from my understanding of the argument against the “gay lifestyle,” if you continually commit a grave sin but don’t confess it, and don’t ask forgiveness for it, aren’t you going to hell no matter how devout you are? Inquiring ex-Catholics want to know…

          [edit corrected name-sorry Jim!]

        • Otto

          I think that is right…additionally even if you confess the sin and ask forgiveness but you do not really intend to change (i.e. you plan on continuing) I think the confession for that sin is null and void. That is their workaround for gay activity vs. adultery or sex outside of marriage.

          Very good responses to Jim, exactly what I was hoping you would address.

        • ildi

          In fact, re-reading the catechism, not so much skipping mass as skipping communion. I forgot that part. So worship is clearly a communal activity, not a personal thing or a feeling. I guess what annoys me the most in arguing with a Catholic about their own religion, which has clearly written rules that you can look up if you forget, Catholics and Protestants waged wars over these doctrinal differences. PEOPLE DIED OVER THESE POINTS, and now Jim blithely shrugs these requirements off. Catholics like Jim were my first baby step in questioning religion.

        • Otto

          Mass = Communion i thought.

          Watching the moral failures of not just the Catholic authorities but of the church itself did it for me. Even though I knew that early Christian’s fought and died over stupid shit, learning about them just made me realize I absolutely made the right call.

        • ildi

          Nah, there’s four parts: introductory rites, liturgy of the word, liturgy of the eucharist, concluding rites. In fact, recreating the actual cannibal sacrifice on a minimum weekly basis is THE most important act of worship for a Catholic. That was part of the USCCB website’s point above about worship being active communal work. Not doing this is really, really bad. I didn’t think this had changed and all the practicing Catholics I know, no matter how cafeteria in other ways, go to Mass every week and other holidays of obligation. Being able to go on a Saturday evening was a boon.

        • Otto

          Yes…but is it Mass without communion?

        • ildi

          No, but my point was per my reading of the catechism now, if you attend Mass but don’t take communion, you are still committing a grave sin, which I don’t think is commonly how it’s considered? Back in the day if I went to Mass but didn’t take communion because I had missed confession that seemed to satisfy the requirement, and people did that pretty often.

        • Otto

          True…but I think it is supposedly worse to eat Jesus with sin, at least that was what I was taught. But inconsistency is nothing new in the RCC. Where I went to Church not going up for Communion got a lot of side eyes.

          My mother was forced into a divorce she didn’t want and then moved on with her life and got re-married. She knew she should not take communion and rather than going to Church and feeling the embarrassment she just stopped going, of course us kids were still expected to attend. (Family first in the Catholic church amiright?) But then my father died, and my step-father got his previous marriage annulled…so all better! Now she is a Catholic in good standing but none of the kids identify as Catholic.

        • Susan

          My god. It is all so silly.

        • Otto

          Yep it sure is, add to the silliness the child rape scandal and the amazing part is that there is anyone left in the pews at all.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, it’s supremely silly. Except I suspect we both know people who are pretty darned serious about it.

        • ildi

          Yeah, you weren’t supposed to do it on the regular. Mostly at our church it was inconvenient for people in the pews to have to cross in front of you coming and going and that would make you stand out-quelle horreur! I also hated the whole shaking of the hands thing, so the point of worship being a communal activity passed me by. I did like the singing though, Eddie Izzard style:

        • Have you heard David Sedaris speak? His “Santaland Diaries” are hilarious.

          As a Macy’s Santaland elf, one Santa asked him to sing a Christmas carol. He’d been practicing imitating Billie Holiday, so he did it in her style (which is a bit incongruous). You had to be there, I guess, but here’s a bit of Billie to put you in the mood (skip to the middle).


        • Pofarmer

          My BIL married a woman who had been divorced and had a kid. Her family(and her) are evangelicals, basically. She did the typical evangelical thing and got married young and it didn’t work. Anyway. Before they could get married “properly” in the Catholic Church she had to go and get her previous marriage annulled. I believe they had to declare that it was never a proper marriage or some such. It’s been quite a bit of time ago. But I remember thinking at the time “Screw that, it’s nobodies business, get married somewhere else.” But, of course, they didn’t because fundamentalist Catholics and fundamentalist evangelicals take this stuff way too seriously.

        • Otto

          In order to get a marriage annulled in the church the powers that be have to determine that the marriage never actually existed, usually they decide there was never ‘love’ in the marriage. It is completely arbitrary and pretty much a joke.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, my problem with the whole thing at the time is that it is just fundamentally dishonest on the one seeking the annulment and manipulative on the part of the Church. This was when I was still nominally a Christian but I remember thinking “Why would anyone want to voluntarily be a part of that organization?” I don’t want anything to do with something that makes me lie, and then rewards me for it.

        • Otto

          Very good point. I think it is just a way for the Church to retain power in the dynamic. I have heard of people having 3-4 children and still being granted an annulment because ‘love’ never existed. So does that make the children illegitimate? It is a really shitty way to do things and to treat people…but it is a great way to put theology first. With all the rotten things the RCC does the goal is always to protect and elevate the theology, I don’t care what the RCC says, theology is their top priority over people.

        • Pofarmer

          theology is their top priority over people.

          Not even the theology but the Church. The multiple sexual abuse scandals in multiple countries makes that crystal clear.

        • Otto

          Well the Church is the theology…or at least the determination of it, so yeah the Church has to rank ahead as well.

        • ildi

          In my brother’s case, he said he had to prove that he entered the marriage contract without being of sound mind so couldn’t be held to it, and I think he argued that he had smoked some weed once that somebody had laced with acid, so there… what other contract could you invalidate with that type of weak-sauce excuse? I asked him how the marriage could never have existed when it was clear that at least he was deeply in love, and they had two children. He was quick to say he personally couldn’t explain it, but he would be happy to have me talk to his priest about it. (Any opportunity to bring me back into the fold.)

        • Otto

          Easy to explain, it puts the Church in the position of power and allows them to hold the reigns. Funny, I have never heard of an annulment being denied. I have heard of some individual priest denying one but then the person just went to a different priest and got it done.

        • Venavis

          I’m a gay man. In order for you to ‘convert’ me to any biblical religion, you would have to convince me I deserve to die. And, according to you, convince me I should be grateful for that.

        • What amazes me is seeing homosexuals seek out churches that will allow them in. In the Pride parade, there are always lots of churches.

          I realize the pull of the religion of their youth, but c’mon–this religion is doing its best to hate them. They should walk away.

        • Joe

          Never underestimate the ability of Churches to cherry pick scripture, or for humans to turn a blind eye to them having done so.

        • Venavis

          Not going to find any argument here. I was put into the hospital by a bunch of ‘loving Christians’ because of my orientation.

        • I’m not gay, but I’ve been impressed that the atheist community seems almost universally concerned about and in support of homosexual civil rights. I was too young to participate in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, but I’ve done a little in support of this cause with this blog, and that’s been a privilege.

        • Venavis

          Sadly, there are still far too many transphobes and homophobes among atheist communities. Ties a lot into the persistent misogyny problem in atheism as well.

        • Gratitude isn’t what we’re talking about. The topic was worship.

        • I have to say I came down on Dave’s side on this

          You mean on the issue of worship?

          but I thought you asked very legitimate questions.


          Dave’s response – that in a well ordered state of being, “worship” and “gratitude” are basically interchangeable.

          Then if “gratitude” is the correct feeling, let’s go with that. If “worship” brings along crazy baggage but is synonymous with “gratitude,” then drop “worship.”

          As an aside, I find that Christians play games with definitions a lot in this way. Does “faith” = “trust”? Is “good” just “that which God does”? And so on. I encourage you to watch out for this and either stick with conventional definitions or be careful to define any special word up front.

          I found Dave’s description of the parental relationship (in a good family) an apt analogy. My parents did not require my “worship”

          Yep. There’s the problem.

        • ildi

          Related to comparing God to the relationship with a good parent, what jumps out at me is that even the favored biblical scripture, John 3:16, is about conditional love and I expect better from a good parent much less an all-loving deity:

          “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

          Shouldn’t it just read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that [they] should not perish, but have everlasting life.” However, one could argue why did God have to give anything so that everybody could have everlasting life, and then one goes down the rabbit hole of what this religion has to say about people and knowledge and gods in general.

        • Pofarmer

          Worship of a tri-omni deity makes as much sense as prayer to it. It doesn’t make sense and couldn’t matter anyway.

        • Greg G.

          I saw on his Wikipedia page that he wrote a book called The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants. I looked for a list of them but found that James White did a series on the book back in 2004. (https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2004/12/30/the-catholic-verses-95-reduced-to-91/ ) He quoted Armstrong:

          “Be that as it may, it is scarcely possible to discuss that issue constructively , because (in my opinion) Protestants are so afraid that any serious discussion of Tradition will cast doubt on sola Scriptura and lead to undesired ‘Catholic’ consequences.”

          Armstrong must be an equal opportunity castigator as he thinks all Protestants are afraid of serious discussion, too.

        • ildi

          I went to Catholic parochial school and it did seem like half of religious education was “how Protestants are wrong.” Atheists didn’t exist back then 🙂

        • Long ago, I was (correctly) reprimanded for using “Christians say” or “Christians think” when I should’ve said some Christians. I ignored Christianity’s bigness of tent.

          Dave needs to learn the same lesson. Some atheists are idiots (or pompous or whatever), but not all.

        • Greg G.

          James White @ https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2004/12/31/armstrongs-reading-list/

          Mr. Armstrong has provided a reading list on his blog. In essence, this means that instead of blaming ignorance for his very shallow misrepresentations of non-Catholic theology and exegesis, we must now assert knowing deception.

        • I was frustrated that his sweeping dismissal of my comments about biblical slavery (to which I felt moved to say, “Thank you sir! May I have another?!”) pointed me to a list of links, like you say. If it’d been a thousand words or so of his own argument, I might’ve had something to respond to. Not so if it’s a huge pile of documents to which he could always say, “Oh, well I’m not saying that; that’s just that what that guy says” in response to any on-target response of mine.

        • Pofarmer

          Whoa, whoa, whoa, a dishonest Catholic Apologist?

        • TheNuszAbides

          and when he says things like

          having shown virtually every time that they were woefully ignorant and misinformed

          (emphasis mine) he doesn’t actually comment in any way on the exceptions. what about the time(s) he didn’t show that _____ was woefully ignorant and misinformed?

  • Otto

    WLC subscribes to Divine Command Theory so basically something is good because God says so. He should just admit it but he won’t.

    • Michael Neville

      There are other objections to WLC. The one I find most annoying is his claim that he “knows” Christianity is true because the Holy Spirit has told him so. How he differentiates between the Holy Spirit and the voices in a schizophrenic’s head is one of those mysteries Man Is Not Meant To Know!

      • Further, if he gets a notion and declares that it’s the infallible word of the Holy Spirit, how can he contradict some other dude who gets a notion from his god? He tries to handwave his way out of this problem in his Reasonable Faith, but it’s not pretty.

        • Positivist

          I once had a debate over Facebook messenger with a Mormon. I was a petering out garden variety fundagelical at the time. Our conversation ended something like this (Readers Digest version):

          Me: How do you “know” the Mormon faith is the One True Faith (TM)?

          Momo: We have something special.

          Me: Umm so do we.

          Momo: I just know.

          Me: So your feeling of knowing is more valid than my feeling of knowing?

          Momo: Yes.

          I still get a kick out of that.

        • Pofarmer

          And that’s the gist of ALL of it.

      • Positivist

        As an ex-Xian it is now shocking to me how I once believed that my “feeling of knowing” actually meant something (such as that that feeling was the Holy Spirit or in any way resembled an objective and knowable reality).

        Additionally, for me, WLC went from being an icon of hope (that my faith was defensible), to a disappointment, and then to a paragon of cold-hearted evil.

        How did I ever fall for this evil crap?

        • Great question, and one that might be worth studying. Don’t forget the you that you used to be, since that’s the mindset of many of those you’ll be debating with.

          This post touches on WLC’s crazy thinking that, if you’re inside, probably feels right:

        • Positivist

          He makes me crazy. His smarmy condescension and contempt for logic is beyond off-putting. I don’t know how you handle reading his tripe! Gah!

        • Have you listened to WLC’s podcast? That can get pretty bad in that department.

          The real fingernails-on-the-blackboard for me is when he comments about a recent debate and condescends to talk about his opponent’s argument. “Let me tell you, Kevin,” he’ll say to his sidekick in a slightly breathy voice, “that I was shocked that he used the XYZ response to the Kalam Argument. Doesn’t he know that that went out centuries ago?”

        • Positivist

          I can’t listen to, watch or read WLC. He was the last apologist I listened to as I tried to hang on to my fleeting faith. Instead of bolstering my faith, he finished it off with his smarmy attitude and grating condescension. I have never felt so impoverished as I did then, when the person (WLC) who was supposed to be helping me retain my faith is instead punching me in the face with his smarminess, arrogance and shit logic. I will never forget how broken I felt.

        • MR

          The Truth Project was a big one for me, though I felt more anger than anything. Anger that I was trying to hang onto my faith and the ones who were supposed to help me salvage my faith were driving me further away. 🙁

        • Oh, no not that Calvinistic howler! That film series was so bad in so many ways…

        • MR

          ?? It was a Focus on the Family seminar, well they did have some DVDs. I don’t remember it being Calvinistic. I think they were even having courses around here at some of the Catholic churches. Are we talking about the same thing? http://www.thetruthproject.org/

        • The leader of the series or the one who produced it–I forget–was a strong Calvinist/Reformed. In fact Focus on the Family, which started out with a Nazarene member founder, James Dobson, was very contrary to the determinism of Calvinism. But by the time of The Truth Project it had gone Reformed/Calvinistic.

          It wasn’t in-your-face Calvinism like John Piper, but a more subtle form. However if you ever watch the series again, look for the pushing of the Reformed view of reality and Christianity.

          I went over that series meticulously, showing various Christians why it was so bad.

          But it wasn’t even so bad because of its Calvinistic focus, but because of its weak, distorted human history.

          Before I deconverted, after searching around for a non-Calvinistic church (there aren’t many in central California), I finally found a charismatic, creative church…BUT then the minister introduced The Truth Project and started his small groups doing Calvinistic books. Whew…exit stage left!

          Keep in mind, too, that many Catholic thinkers are actually deterministic, just don’t call themselves ‘Calvinistic;’ they refer to themselves as Augustinian. Back when I was still wrestling with whether or not to deconvert, I talked with a Roman Catholic leader who claimed that Catholicism is really “Calvinistic.”

          Since, years ago, I read Erasmus’ book versus Luther’s on free will, I strongly disagreed. The Catholic leader told me that I was incorrect about orthodox Catholicism and had me read a section of Thomas Aquinas. I was shocked to see Aquinas was, basically, a determinist like Augustine and Calvin and Luther!

          I used to call that series The UN-truth Project.

        • MR

          Ah, thanks for your insight. I’ve thought about going through the series again and taking note of all that’s wrong. It was the seminar that really did me in, though. Bald-face propaganda and manipulation. Making science say the opposite of what it really said. It was really hard to sit there. It destroyed what I called the second pillar of my faith (using their metaphor).

        • Ficino

          Writing a paper on Aquinas and predestination in my medieval philosophy class in college, while I was an Arminian (Assemblies of God), pushed me to become Calvinist. Some years later I gave up resistance and went over to Rome. Took a while longer to get out of the cult.

        • Do you know that many Assemblies of God are becoming Calvinist, especially in Brazil? And here in California! After leaving our ‘non-denomination church,’ when it went Calvinist, I visited a wide variety of churches trying to find a non-Calvinistic, non-Augustinian church. I went to a bunch, but they all emphasized determinism and that infants are sinful.

          Finally, I decided to try the AoG here because, even though I wasn’t Pentecostal, I remember them being non-Calvinistic.

          Wrong! In the men’s Bible study I attended for months, the leader had us read 3 Calvinistic books in a row. I thought maybe he wasn’t aware of Calvinist theology so I courteously explained why the books were horrific and contrary to AoG.
          The next book he picked was another Calvinistic one.

          So I quit and haven’t been back since.

          I deconverted, realizing that Christianity is so contradictory it can’t be true.

        • Ficino

          Wow, I am surprised. But maybe the AoG is too muddle-headed. This apparently official page says they lean toward Arminianism:


        • Yeah, I know. My wife always checked the nursery, and the music, but I always immediately acquired a church doctrine book.

          The leader at the AoG here didn’t say, ‘Now we are going to study a Calvinist.’ Calvinism is flooding into non-Calvinistic churches and denominations under the radar. It’s happening, too, in the Southern Baptist Convention.

          Heck, one famous Calvinist leader, professor Wayne Gruden, (whose huge doctrinal tome is required reading at many Christian seminaries), wrote a long article explaining why all Christians ought to vote for Donald Trump!

          And the Billy Graham Association, (contrary to Billy Graham’s explicit sermons emphasizing Arminianism), in the last few years has gone totally T.U.L.I.P. Every issue of their Decision magazine has articles by Calvinists.

          When I first read this, I couldn’t believe it and so called the BGA long distance and spoke with a leader. He emphasized that limited atonement is true and he strongly supported the extremist views of John Piper.
          The leader then said, that Billy Graham still thought God loved to save everyone, but that the BGA leaders didn’t, were now Calvinist.

          Really bizarre.

        • ildi

          I remember reading something about that; congregations were hiring ministers who weren’t up-front about being Calvinist, like this letter:

        • Ah, that’s helpful.

        • I’m not familiar with the Truth Project. Was it a movie?

        • epicurus

          One of my evangelical friends refuses to believe that a person in any cult or other religion could possibly believe with the same conviction with which she believes her evangelical faith – that their “feeling of knowing”could ever be as strong as her’s. I always point out she doesn’t actually know any JWs, Mormons, Muslims, etc, (with a couple Catholic exceptions at work, but they don’t discuss religion), with which she could see how fervently they believe. And of course she doesn’t think I ever really believed Christianity if I wound up leaving it.

        • TheNuszAbides

          doesn’t think I ever really believed … if I wound up leaving

          what’s the best way to phrase that in relation to the sunk costs fallacy? obverse of the same coin?

  • eric

    To be fair, we should consider what the Euthyphro problem would be for the atheist.

    IMO there’s no real dilemma. Subjective morality sucks, it’s true. But objective morality is meaningless since we don’t believe in a soul, an afterlife or any other metaphysical mechanism for punishing breaking them…so for all practical purposes, it’s subjective.

    Personally, I take comfort in thinking it’s subjective. Because there’s no reason to believe an objective morality that rewarded/punished souls after death would conform to 21st century western human norms. Or even human norms at all. Imagine (for example) that it says “don’t kill, period.” Meaning not even killing for food is moral. Sentient plants and vultures of the universe, rejoice! But omnivores, carnivores, and parasites are basically SOL. Even vegans grow (and kill) plants. Or perhaps sex is immoral – all of it. Mixing genes is an abomination punished by torment after you die! Asexual species would be fine with that. But pretty much every multicellular species on Earth would be SOL. If you consider the vast variety of possible alien objective moralities, the odds of an objective morality aligning with ours seems pretty slim.

    • I pound my head against the wall when I read a Christian take that explores (from their viewpoint) the terrible consequences of subjective morality without ever showing that they have anything better. It’s basically, “But objective morality sounds so much better!”

      • Ficino

        Morality boils down to what John Piper tells us is right. Or, is it what that Bergoglio guy says is right? Or what the Mormon elders tell us is right? Hmm… well, it’s objective, anyway, that’s for sure!

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        ‘Paper Tiger’…

      • TheNuszAbides

        It’s basically, “But objective morality sounds so much better!”

        maybe that’s an[other] extension of the first thing i noticed watching theist debaters that rubbed me the wrong way – reliance, like clockwork, on some kind of down-homey storytelling (less subtle than the personal/secondhand anecdote). it’s only persuasive/comforting power that matters (or so they’re counting on – or are trained to insist on).

    • Michael Neville

      One of the problems with objective morality is that it needs a source, an authority. Abrahamists claim that source is their gods* but then we run into the question of the existence of those gods.

      *Jews, Christians and Muslim all claim to believe in God but their gods are all different in completely unsubtle ways. Each particular branch of Abrahamism disagree amongst themselves as to the specific characteristics of their gods, Allah, Yahweh and Jesus are three separate kinds of gods. Orthodox and Reform Jews describe their gods differently, Wahabbi and Druse Muslim gods are not identical, and there are at least 45,000 different sects of Christianity ranging from fundagelicals to John Shelby Spong.

      • eric

        One of the problems with objective morality is that it needs a source, an authority

        No, it could be property of objects or actions. When I throw something, it has momentum (and yes, I get the irony of using a relative property in my analogy). And the act physically changes my own momenta. When I throw something at someone, it could likewise have ‘karma’ and doing so may likewise change my own ‘karma’.

        Do I believe that? No not at all. But my point is simply that an objective moral property wouldn’t need a goddy property-giver any more* than physics properties need a goddy property-giver (*or, if you ask SN, any less).

    • Kit Hadley-Day

      It’s not like we have a choice, their is no objective morality so we play with the hand we a dealt, and i am heartened by the fact that at least part of the driving force of subjective morality seems to be the betterment of all, true it gets derailed and side tracked but generally leaving society in a better state than when i found it seems to be a significant engine behind morality. It’s just a shame what some people think is better.

      • eric

        at least part of the driving force of subjective morality seems to be the betterment of all

        I’m heartened by the fact that modern western morality mostly accepts the betterment of all as a good. But this is certainly not an historically common position and I think it has a lot to do with relatively high prosperity and education (including, in particular, the recognition that society does not have to be a zero sum game, but with the right rules and incentives can be transformed into a positive sum game). So it’s something we need to actively support and promote, along with social policies that make it practically reasonable to think about the betterment of others….else we might lose it.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          I completely agree, constant vigilance is the only way to ensure that we continue to progress. It is important that we don’t allow the entitled and selfish derail the betterment of society for their short term benefit. Unfortunately long term planning and democracy do not play well together but we have to make do with what we have.

  • Damien Priestly

    Gotta love WLC and his arrogance…He responds to the Euthyphro issue by just pulling a “God is good” out of his ass — then tells everybody “God wills something because he is good”. No logic or reason behind his statements, no sequential steps that get to a “good” God…just lame assertions.

    We could just as easily say that “ice-cream is good” because “the nature of the ice-cream truck driver is good” !!

    Frankly, if I was a Christian looking for a good Apologist to make the case…I would say that WLC should be put out to pasture. I have more serious, interesting discussions with my undergraduate Christian relatives over Thanksgiving dinner, than anything WLC has shown recently.

    • His fame is remarkable from our standpoint, but I imagine that if you’re a Christian novice, you hear that you’ve got Goliath in your corner, and that’s all you need to hear to put apologetics aside and turn back to the TV.

    • John MacDonald

      One thing WLC “seems” to be on sturdier philosophical ground with is the Cosmological argument. Even from a simplistic point of view, if we trace the universe back to the Big Bang, the question then becomes how the materials that made up the Big Bang got there? Similarly, if we trace life on earth back to single celled organisms, the question then becomes how the first spark of life began. Unless we want to fall into an infinite regress, WLC says it seems we must posit an explanatory “un-caused cause” for these two scenarios = God. But WLC’s argument only “seems” reasonable. Invoking God to explain the origins of the Universe or Life is a “God of the Gaps” fallacy. It is like when the Greeks didn’t know why the sun went across the sky, so they filled this “gap” in their scientific knowledge by speculating the god Helios dragged the sun across the sky. Theists (the opposite of “a-theists”) love to invoke God as an explanation for coincidences and gaps in scientific knowledge, but it is no different than saying fairies are responsible for gravity.

      • Otto

        While I agree with your points I don’t see how that is sturdier grounds than other theistic arguments. An argument from ignorance is still fallacious. I am not even convinced there is a problem with infinite regress, infinite still requires there to be ‘time’ and our current understanding is that time and space are connected so can it really be said that before there was space there was infinity. And then even if we do stipulate that there is in fact an infinite regress problem how in the world can we conclude that the ‘uncaused cause’ is because of a being with intention, many things are caused without intent behind them. His whole argument is a muddled mess.

        • John MacDonald

          That’s why I said “seems,” and put “seems” in quotes. Apologetics is all smoke and mirrors. People that don’t have a Philosophical background can be duped by the “apparent reasonableness” WLC’s arguments appear to have at face value. Hence, Craig’s success at recruiting followers.

        • Otto

          Fair enough. I agree that much of apologetics on the surface seems very reasonable. The problem I always ran into is that whatever theistic answer that is posited always seems to conflict somewhere else, if one just compartmentalizes the answers there is no problem, and all humans are exceeding good at compartmentalization. The worldview is not internally consistent.

        • John MacDonald

          One big paralogism of theists is that they think because they have “successfully” argued for the existence of “a” deity (e.g., through the ontological argument, cosmological argument, argument from design, etc.), that they thereby have ALSO proven a God of a particular “type (e.g., the Christian God).” Evidence for “a” God (even though there really isn’t any such evidence) doesn’t necessarily imply evidence for a particular “type” of God (e.g., the Christian God).

        • Michael Neville

          Theists think they’ve “proven” a god with the ontological argument or a cosmological argument or other suchlike arguments. At best they’ve shown a deist god could exist and getting from there to their favorite pet god is wishful thinking.

        • Susan

          -At best they’ve shown a deist god could exist

          So could my Immaterial Snowflake Fairies.

          getting from there to their favorite pet god is wishful thinking

          That’s a nice way of saying “cheating”.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Since WLC has been repeating himself for more than two decades, he clearly wasn’t serious or interesting back then either.

  • Alan Mill

    Humans are social animals. Humans are political animals.

    The first principle of socio-political existence for humans is that society is not optional. Society is necessary, it is not a preference. Without society, a human baby will not live for a week. It takes a village (a society) to raise a child. This is not an opinion, it is observed fact.

    Society is not optional as humans are also totally useless at self sufficiency and need to cooperate with other humans in order to prosper and lead a better quality of life and survive for longer. It is the division of labour which improves the quality of our lives and the division of labour is most obvious in the idea that humans all over the planet have embraced – society.

    Society is necessary so we ought to behave morally. We can get an ought from an is. Chinese philosophers and political scientists were onto this 2,500 years ago, answering Hume’s
    question over 2,000 years before he posed it.

    However far back archaeologists have looked, humans of all the seven know species of humans have lived socially. To live socially requires rules for social living. These rules are what we call
    morality – don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t enslave, don’t steal, don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you, do get on with your neighbour, do practice mutual aid.

    These rules are political relationships that deal with power relationships.
    Morality is the rules of social living, as Peter Kropotkin observed in his book Ethics.
    Morality is a political act, a power relationship between people.
    That political act is grounded in a political idea – mutual peace leading to mutual confidence, as Confucius observed and the Chinese have been following his secular ethics ever since.
    Moral obligation is also a political act that is grounded in a political idea – society.
    The first humans who substituted mutual peace for mutual conflict created the social living of society, as Thomas Huxley observed,

    The rules for social living are grounded in mutual peace and the obligation to follow those rules for social living are grounded in the need for society.

    Mutual peace is objective as it is external to the individual as it involves two or more people and requires the goodwill of more than one mind and that requires objectivity to reach a
    cooperative decision about behaviour.

    When humans behave in ways that create or sustain mutual peace, they are being moral, they are doing right. The conditions necessary for mutual peace are created using observation and reason to form the golden rule, mutual aid and loving your neighbour, using the tools of empathy, compassion and emotion. Morality is measured against mutual peace.

    Externalising our thinking enables us to see objectively that it is in our self interest to have a group interest. This is not the easiest thing to do and it takes strength of character, but you
    find people doing it time and again, stepping into someone else’s shoes and walking around. This objectivity grounds society. Self interest depends on group interest.

    Gods are not needed to explain to humans the basic rules of social living. Our cave dwelling ancestors would have been quite capable of working these out for themselves. Enforcing them was another separate political issue.

    The basic rules of social living are a product of human experience. Morality is not a solo gig. It’s not about the individual, it’s about the group. Morality is a subset of ethics. You don’t need morality if you are living alone and isolated on a desert island but you would still need other ethical behaviour there.

    Morality is a very practical political tool for a practical political problem – society is not optional.

    Theism does not supply a non optional reason for obeying the alleged commands of its alleged god. Secular morality does.

    The reasons I’ve heard so far from Theists are optional and can be dismissed out of hand.
    These reasons do not supply a non optional reason why humans need to be moral. The standard responses to the theistic reasons are;
    No –
    I don’t want to or need to –
    Says who?
    These are not sensible ideas –
    Supply some credible objective proof –
    I deny it.

    So what!

    The supernatural claims are not anchored.
    The necessity of society cannot be dismissed or denied.

    There is no mention of good or bad as they are subjective and cannot be used to objectively ground anything. What one mind thinks is good, another mind thinks is bad.

    A moral theory needs to be applicable to every human of every human species who has ever lived in society. The secular grounding for morality and moral obligation in mutual peace and society
    does this, as was first pointed out by Confucius 2,500 years ago and the Chinese have been following his secular ethics (and unfortunately, authoritarianism as more liberal philosophy of the time lost out to Confucianism) ever since.

    The monotheistic idea that came into use a few thousand years ago cannot be applied across all humans who have ever lived in society. It doesn’t explain how all those humans before a few thousand years ago and who lived in parts of the world where monotheism was unknown, grounded their rules for social living in the character of a god whom they had no awareness of. Nor could these people ground moral obligation in the commands of this god they were unaware of as they never heard any commands from this god. A command that is not heard is not a command.

    Morality is the political application of cooperation. Humans are not the only animal species that cooperates but is the only one as far as we know that consciously directs political applications and
    changes them as they socially evolve.

    We practice morality as it gives us society and the social contract which gives us the ability to live a prosperous meaningful life of mutual peace and propagate our species, steadily increasing our prosperity and level of peaceful living. It has not always been a forward movement, immoral behaviour has pushed us backwards time and again but over the time span of our species we have moved forward and continue to do so. Coming up with moral rules for social living is not difficult. Living them is the difficult part.

    • Thanks for this interesting (and very long) essay, but it seems out of context. Does it tie in somehow?

      • Alan Mill

        Sorry about the length. I’ve found when doing shorter pieces that the same old questions come up so I try to preempt them now. It’s also Saturday arvo and the weather is not for outdoors activities, so I have too much time on my hands.
        I should have put the good is not a grounding as the first sentence instead of down towards the end.

        Euthyphro revolves around this “good” thing and reveals a weakness in the Theist (mono and poly) approach but not why good would be a worthwhile measure or something else might be better or what the nature of morality is or even what good is. The dilemma does not supply an ought and we could go on for yonks about whose good is better without resolving anything. A C Grayling wrote an entire and interesting book called What Is Good? without objectively answering the question other than falling back on the subjective description that appeals to him and others (including me).
        The focus on good in discussion about morality fails to notice the political character of moral behaviour.

        Unlike the West, the Chinese weren’t concerned about supporting a particular theist narrative so examined the politics of life – the personal is political is the modern version of it – and came up with an approach that doesn’t deal in an individuals idea of good or bad but in an objective base for moral values. Whether and how people act out those values is another separate issue. Anything based on the subjective “good” will create problems as the definition of good varies.

        It’s a pity Euthyphro didn’t go further and the Greeks and Chinese weren’t able to meet and discuss ideas. Maybe it would have given Euthyphro something further to deal with.
        The “God is good” line does not stand up to political analysis, nor does monotheism which is why WLC and other apologists get tied up in political knots when they occasionally get taken down that political path. Liberal democrats find it very hard to justify the authoritarian politics of Christianity and the political consequences of its implementation as you observe in your piece on the chaos Christendom gave us when it was the power behind European politics for over 1,000 years.
        We need more than “good” to ground values.

        The Chinese found a grounding for moral values in observed fact – the various forms of Theism are all still trying to ground these values in speculating about speculations.
        PS You have an interesting blog. I’m enjoying working my way through it.

        • A quick thought in response.

          The “God is good” line does not stand up to political analysis

          It’s surprising how often I need to reach for a dictionary when engaging with apologetic arguments. We all know what “good” means, but they don’t mean that when they apply it to God. Stuff that would get you thrown in prison is fine for God if “good” = “everything that God does.” Same for “meaning” and “faith” and others.

        • Alan Mill

          Indeed. But then they don’t have much option as they are living in a modern liberal social democracy that is the only ideology that guarantees them the freedom of religion when not even their own religion does that, and they are proselytizing for an ideology created a couple of thousand years ago when the standard ordering principle for society was authoritarian despotism ruling via totalitarianism and the religions created then reflected those politics. The only option for them is to cherry pick, define words to suit themselves or come out with gobsmacking apologies like WLC does to account for the barbaric “good” actions attributed to their god in the OT. After all there is a lot for them to apologize for.

        • Alan Mill

          Discussing Euthyphro with Theists can lead to dead ends unless we have another direction to challenge them with. We know that they will always deny the horns by
          appealing to their own definition of their god as “good” and then it becomes an argument about definitions rather than discussion about facts.

          This is contradictory to most of their claims against secularists, as “good” is highly subjective yet Theists like to bang on about Secularists having only subjective groundings for moral values and moral obligation while hanging their own claims off a very subjective skyhook.

          But “good” is no use as a grounding as it is subjective so we need another direction. I’ve found that direction is political science. Asking Theists to justify the
          totalitarian political nature of their religion causes factual problems and internal contradictions with their politics if they are living in a liberal social democracy and identify as democrats.

          Having challenged many Theists to ground moral obligation by supplying a non optional reason for why everyone should obey the alleged commands of their alleged god, I have never had anyone give me such a reason. Every reason I’ve been given is optional and that is not a sound basis for moral obligation.

          It is an observed fact that the East has been successfully using a secular ethics for the past 2,500 years and the Chinese are still bemused that the West needs to off load responsibility for morality and moral obligation to a supernatural third party, when it is clear that morality is a natural human political response to existence.

          The tie in is that the secularist explains morality by going further than Euthyphro did, away from subjective good into objective political relationships, because morality is not what one person thinks but what two or more people do. Morality is political, not theological.

        • Pofarmer

          It’s very hard to have a discussion with theists about facts, since they are mainly dealing in make believe.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience has framed that in terms of hurt / harm, which are measurable.

        • Ficino

          Thomists insist that the “transcendentals” are all coextensive and interentailing. “Being/existence,” “thing” “good,” “true” “one” “something” are all predicated of the same referents, and anything of which one of the transcendentals is predicated, is the subject of all the others. So if something exists, it is good, it is “true”, etc.

          A fawn burned horribly in a forest fire and spending some days in agony before finally dying is good, and so is the fire, and so is the agony as something existing (it’s only bad accidentally), because these all fill up levels of Being, and Being is perfected as all its levels are occupied by actualities.

          Checkmate, atheist! /s

          I agree with you about “good” in apologetics, Bob. I cannot see how apologetics does not move the goalposts so often that “good” means whatever the apologist needs it to mean at any point.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          ‘God is good’ is the claim.

          Euthyphro just punches a hole right through it.

  • strawberry

    Dang, everybody was rong about God again. Thanks William “nothing to see here move along” Craig!

  • Ficino

    Who says God doesn’t cause amputated body parts to grow back??! Oh, wait …


  • Greg G.

    SMBC shows how to make prayer work:


  • sandy

    Forget what’s good according to the bible…just be good as human against fellow human, how simple is that. We all know what is right now let’s living it!

  • Verbose Stoic

    Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? But there’s no dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad. (That is, seen from the human standpoint, our conscience tells us what is good and bad. Seen from an evolutionary standpoint, our conscience tells us what is useful to believe.)

    This doesn’t work. First of all, we can easily conceive of alternative concepts of good and evil that clash with our evolved nature, and yet we know that we might be capable of acting on those and not acting on our evolved concepts. So you’d still need to justify using the evolved one. Second, we know that evolved senses can be maladaptive — like the sweet tooth — so you can’t simply say that the evolved one is useful or the most useful and so the one we should use, since it might not be what we should use now. At the end of it all, since that evolved sense would track utility far more than any actual concept of good, we can’t say that something is good just because our evolved conscience says so. If there is an objective quality of good, then it might not track it, and if there isn’t, then we still need a justification for accepting that one rather than the alternatives.

    • epeeist

      This doesn’t work

      It doesn’t need to, the “Problem of Evil” isn’t a problem for atheists.

    • “Good” and “bad” are what your conscience say that they are.

      I’ve seen no evidence of objective morality (moral statements that are valid and binding whether anyone is here to believe them or not).

      • Verbose Stoic

        “Good” and “bad” are what your conscience say that they are.

        So if your conscience tells you that slavery is good, then it is? Seems like you’ve definitely walked yourself into the same problem that you say the theists have.

        I’ve seen no evidence of objective morality (moral statements that are valid and binding whether anyone is here to believe them or not).

        That’s not really relevant. ANY external standard other than our evolved sense will cause an issue because our evolved sense might not be tracking that standard, and given that there are other possible conceptions and that our evolved senses can be maladaptive if there IS no such external standard we still need to justify our evolved sense, which in this case would be our conscience. Ultimately, you can’t simply appeal to evolution to justify our senses of good and evil.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Many of us use freedom to act (as long as it doesn’t hurt other(s)), agency to make one’s own decisions (same proviso), and informed, enthusiastic consent as goals toward which society should be directed.

        • So if your conscience tells you that slavery is good, then it is?

          If my conscience tells me that slavery is bad, then, from Bob’s standpoint, slavery is bad. Or that slavery is good.

          Going beyond that—slavery is bad for all people at all times—might also be my opinion, but “According to Bob’s opinion” is always a caveat whenever I say anything. I see no evidence for objective morality.

          Seems like you’ve definitely walked yourself into the same problem that you say the theists have.

          Theists claim objective morality. They have no evidence. My position is trivially simple and meets the evidence. No, I don’t think I have their problem.

          Ultimately, you can’t simply appeal to evolution to justify our senses of good and evil.

          No? Evolution gave us our conscience (or moral programming or however you want to say it). “Good” and “bad” are determinations that that black box tell us. Seems pretty simple to me. What am I missing?

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          “Ultimately, you can’t simply appeal to evolution to justify our senses of good and evil.”

          Sure we can. Evil societies didn’t survive, evil being selfishness and lack of cooperation.

        • Verbose Stoic

          This falls right into the “sweet tooth” objection: our conscience might well have facilitated the survival of society in the past, but there’s no guarantee that it still does so in today’s society. Maybe we need to be more selfish and less co-operative. Or maybe we need to be MORE co-operative, as our conscience still allows for a lot of selfish and competitive behaviour. Either way, we can’t just claim that our evolved conscience is what we should rely on because it facilitated the survival of society in the past, because it might not be doing so now. Plus, even making this claim reduces the appeal to, again, facilitating society as opposed to simply following our evolved instincts, which means that, again, you can’t just appeal to the evolved conscience, but instead have to justify that with an appeal to facilitating society.

        • ildi

          “Either way, we can’t just claim that our evolved conscience is what we should rely on because it facilitated the survival of society in the past, because it might not be doing so now.”

          The point is, it’s still evolving. Or, our species goes extinct.

        • Verbose Stoic

          But since extinction is a possibility and presumably we wouldn’t like that, why wouldn’t we look to see if we should alter that evolved conscience or even ignore it to prevent that?

        • ildi

          You ask like you don’t think that’s happening.

        • TheNuszAbides

          or like they think anybody here ever prescribed not “look[ing] to see if we should alter that …”

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      As soon as human beings formed societies, social evolution and the good / survival of the group overrode individual beliefs unless an individual was enormously charismatic (and I think that’s where religion came from…)

  • Alan Mill

    “How does the atheist explain morality? Let’s simplify and consider just the Golden Rule: why is the Golden Rule a fairly universal moral belief among humans? The Euthyphro dilemma (where does morality come from?) is a venerable problem for the Christian apologist. God doesn’t come out looking good.”

    Nor do most Atheists because they are often barking up the wrong tree. At least they are doing better than the Theists who are not only barking up the wrong tree but are also in the wrong forest.

    In my experience, most Atheists, are looking at physical science to gets answers of where morality comes from. There is also 2,500 years of Theist baggage in the west, restricting thought.

    But the Chinese of 2,500 years ago were not constrained by theology and an alleged creator deity so they looked at morality with a more useful science – political science. Morality is political, it is not physics or chemistry or biology or theology.

    The Chinese reasoned from observed fact that as morality is a political act, it is grounded in an objective political idea external to an individual – mutual peace, leading to mutual confidence. They also reasoned that moral obligation is a political act and so it is grounded in another political idea – society – an idea that has been found where ever any humans have gathered over hundreds of thousands of years. They have been using this secular grounding for ethics ever since.

    Society is not optional. A human baby will not survive a week by themselves.

    Social living is necessary so we ought to follow the rules of social living which are encapsulated in the Golden Rule.

    Euthyphro’s other dilemma is that while he was living in a limited democracy, he was living in a society where Theism still had the practical political power to kill those they decided lacked piety and the Theists no doubt thought this was a “good” result. Theism is an appalling socio-political ordering principle.

    Theism can’t ground morality in “God is good” as good is subjective and Theism does not supply a non optional reason for obeying God’s commands as a grounding for
    moral obligation.

    That ties in the context in a small unpack.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      The Golden Rule (and MOST societies phrase it as ‘do NOT do to others what you would NOT want them to do to you’) is an outgrowth of civilization.

      If a social group is to cohere, it must be fair or it will splinter, unless great force is applied or the environment is otherwise so hostile as to make splintering a death sentence to those leaving.

      So, no supernatural mumbo-jumbo necessary.

      • Alan Mill

        Hi Hairy
        Indeed. A society of sociopaths will implode before too long.
        Evolution has naturally selected people who are empathic to be the majority.
        It is my understanding it is only the Christian version of the golden rule that puts it as a “do” command rather than a “don’t” command. Others put it as a “don’t “command.

    • Greg G.

      Using the term “political” is interesting. I see some natural (possibly evolved) morality types as being in-group and out-group. The challenge of population density is to bring in more and more out-groups into the in-group. But the scale of the group also affects the morality. The mores of sex in a hippie commune may not go over so well down town.

      Worshiping one and only one god was the norm in Jerusalem but didn’t play well in Rome and Athens back in the day.

      Is that what you mean by morality being “political” or am I way off?

      • Alan Mill

        Hi Greg G
        With politics, I’m not referring to the that one type of politics we know as parliamentary/congressional politics governing the state.

        The politics I’m talking about with morality is the very broad politics we find everywhere there are humans interacting, aka the personal is political.

        From playground politics to kitchen politics to office politics to sport politics all the way up to the politics of governing the state.

        Politics is power relationships. Politics is not just the governing of the state, eg playground bullying is politics etc etc.

        Politics is one person or a group exercising power, be it physical, financial, emotional or psychological power over another person or group of people.

        Morality is a political act as it is all about power relationships between people and the consequences when those power relationships are abused.

        The main moral values that make up the golden rule are
        Don’t murder
        don’t rape
        don’t enslave
        don’t steal
        don’t cheat
        don’t lie

        I suspect most Theists will agree with these though they don’t all appear in the Bible. No surprise there.

        These values all describe power relationships between people.

        They are not relevant if there is only one person living isolated on a desert island as there is no one else to have a power relationship with.
        If there is not more than one person, there is no need for morality, just like there is not democracy if there is only one person.

        However, even an isolated single person on a desert island needs ethics. Morality is a subset of ethics and morality and ethics are not always inter changable.

        Does democracy exist if there are no people? Or is it only a product of the actions of reasoning minds?

        The most political act you can do to another person is to murder them. It is also the most extreme breach of mutual peace.

        If the town is big enough I reckon there will be quite a variety of sexual mores behind those suburban walls.

      • TheNuszAbides

        Alan reminds me of Chuck.

    • Kevin K

      In the west, morality was also political. The priest was in service of the king. Whatever the king declared to be moral, that’s what the priest declared to be moral as well. Hand-in-glove relationship.

      • Alan Mill

        Hi Kevin
        That’s not quite what I was referring to. The priest would engage in moral relativism and cherry pick the Bible to find support for the actions of the monarch. The Bible is the bible of moral relativism.
        See also my response to Greg G.

    • MR

      How does the atheist explain morality? Where does morality come from? They looked at morality…, Morality is political…, [Morality] is not…, morality is a political act…, is grounded in…, etc.

      I guess for me the error lies in phrasing morality in these ways in the first place. Morality isn’t a thing in and of itself. It’s just a label we use describe actions and their consequences, and our judgement of those actions.

      • Alan Mill

        Hi MR
        Not sure what your point is.

        If morality isn’t a political act (or the rules of social living, as Peter Kropotkin called it in his book Ethics) what is it?
        We carry out actions (political and otherwise) all the time – don’t see much point discussing whether actions are things or not.

        • MR

          I wasn’t addressing whether or not morality is a political act, I was commenting that my problem with discussing morality lies in how we refer to it. Morality isn’t what I call a res ipsa, that is, a thing in and of itself, which is how we tend to refer to it. It’s a useful linguistic shortcut, but when you’re dealing with a conversation between theists and atheists you’re going to get them talking past each other because theists do, in fact, see it as a thing in and of itself. It’s like the “Why does evil exist” argument. The atheist hears, “bad shit happens,” and the theist hears, “Satan is alive and well in the world,” and they’re not having the same discussion. By phrasing things in terms of “Why does evil exist,” or “Morality is (fill in the blank), morality comes from…, morality is grounded in…,” we’ve already set the stage to begin talking past each other.

        • Alan Mill

          Yes, discussions with Theists on morality can easily end up talking past each other if the boundaries are not established first. That’s done by getting agreement on what are the moral values we are talking about and how many do we agree on. While Theists at times define morality as obeying god, as opposed to enacting actual moral values, they also agree that the rules that make the basics of the golden rule are moral values, well at least the ones that are found in the Bible.

          Theists tend to start the discussion somewhere down the road to avoid dealing with the fact that humans have been living socially for as far back as archeologists have looked and there fore had morality. Morality wasn’t invented by Abrahamic monotheism. You can’t have society without having rules for moral behaviour like – dont murder, dont rape, dont enslave, dont steal, dont cheat, do get on with your neighbour, and do practice mutual aid.

          Put the ball back in the Theists court with top spin by asking for specifics on how our human ancestors of our species and other species acquired moral knowledge. The Secular response is that they got it by observing their behaviour with others and going with what worked to aid survival and peaceful prosperity. The Theist response is usually along the lines of “god wrote it on their hearts” which is meaningless and not an explanation. How was this done?

          Also ask for a non optional reason for why everyone should obey the alleged commands of their alleged god to be morally obligated. We know why Theists think they should obey their god but why should everyone else. I’ve yet to come across a Theist who can answer this question which means they can’t ground moral obligation in their god.

          Then you wont be talking past each other. They have to respond to these challenges and they cant refute or dismiss the idea that social living is not optional, particularly while communicating using social media.

          Its harder to talk past each other when disussing observed political facts. The Theist may well go into denial but by the secularist positing a method of grounding morality and moral obligation in the natural world, they have to refute it or deny it. Its an observed fact that the East has been using a secular ethics for thousands of years, articulating what humans have probably been using for hundreds of thousands of years.

          You may still talk past each other in the end but the Theist is now aware that someone has put to them a natural objective grounding for morality and moral obligation and they wont be expecting that as for some reason, the west just doesn’t do eastern philosophy very well, if at all. Most people, Theist and Atheist alike, don’t seem to consider that the East has been articulating and successfully using a secular ethic based in the natural world for longer than Christianity has been around for. Instead the west keeps reaching for Hume and Kant. If good knowledge of the east and translations of Chinese thought had been available in the 18th century, Hume and Kant may well have reached different conclusions.

        • MR

          I guess you missed my point. I wasn’t talking about theists. Looks like we’re talking past each other. 😉

        • Alan Mill

          Then your point is still not clear.

        • MR

          No. Clearly.

        • Alan Mill

          Good that we’ve sorted out that your point was pointless.

        • MR


    • Otto

      I agree with a lot of what you wrote but I don’t see morality being external to the individual, it is shared among individuals and refined by groups.

      • Alan Mill

        Hi Otto
        Shared among individuals is external to an individual. Sharing is a mutual activity of multiple minds in regard to morality (stepping into each other shoes and walking around in them) as opposed to an individual mind laying down the moral law

        • Otto

          I agree with your point but not your wording. A rock is external from individuals, the concept of a rock is not.

        • Alan Mill

          Life is a practical act, not an academic linguistic excercise. You seem to be confusing the difference between the idea of morality (the rules of social living) and the act of morality ie living those rules. That mutual act is external to a single individual.

        • Otto

          Morality is both informed and refined by the group and by the individual, so labeling it as being exclusively external is a misnomer.

        • Alan Mill

          That’s your words, so what’s your wording for the nuts and bolts of an individual making an internal decision based on walking around externally in the shoes of others. What’s your measuring stick?

        • Otto

          I am not sure what you are asking.

        • Alan Mill

          You agree with the nuts and bolts but are pedantic about the wording so supply some other wording.

          Also – whats your method of determing whether actions are right or wrong? How do you measure those actions?

        • Otto

          My intention is not to be pedantic, the issue I have is that characterizing morality as something external to humans makes it sound like it is something to be discovered, much like what a theist would argue, that morality comes from a law giver like God (I know this is NOT what you are saying however). One term I have heard used is ‘inter-subjective’, i.e. morality is group dependent. Personally I think morality can be objective as long as the goals are agreed upon, like limiting harm and promoting well-being and then built upon from those basic premises.

          I believe the basics of morality are usually inherent in individuals that are part of social species, most people have an ingrained sense of basic fairness and empathy. From those basics, like minded individuals will refine morality as a group. I do not however think morality is just simply imposed on the individual by the group. Do you?

        • Alan Mill

          Hi Otto

          I see you are not being pedantic. Maybe there is a shortage of words to describe the ideas that Atheists now talk about a lot in the public square since the creation of the internet gave us the ability to mass communicate. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t have had the conversations like I have on these blogs.

          In the 1880s, Thomas Huxley said “The humans who substituted mutual peace for mutual conflict, created society.” Long ago our distant ancestors did work out that the group dependent morality of social living was better than isolated individuals constantly fighting.

          I think “worked out” is a better way of describing it than “discovered” as I agree that discovered does tend to make it look like a rock that was just lying around waiting to be spotted. It was the evolved ability to reason that enabled our ancestors to work out the rules of social living and very very gradually develop a socio-political ordering principle that harmonised the politics of moral values with the politics of governance values which I think is the ultimate aim of the Enlightenment project. We are not totally there yet but have made very good progress.

          I’m not saying morality is something external to a person. It’s the measuring stick of our behaviour, mutual peace, that is external. Humans still have to make a subjective decision to act and embrace this objective grounding and the rules that flow from it and they do that through empathy.

          Inter-subjective sounds like another way of saying objective. Thanks for that term as I’d never heard it before.

          I think most people don’t think too much about the origins of morality and why we need to follow the golden rule. They are values that are handed down (ingrained)
          from generation to generation as they work when used by empathic people.Evolution has naturally selected empathic people to be the majority. Empathy is being objective, externalizing your thinking so you can see life from another person’s point of view. Going from the way people vote with their feet, most people prefer to live in a state of peace and prosperity rather than a state of conflict and persecution.

          Self interest (survival and prosperity) relies on group interest (mutual aid and the division of labour). No one can supply their own needs.

          We do use a justice system to coral people into the rules of social living though most people do not break the law and that’s not because they are worried about
          getting caught and punished, they just understand that life works better when we cooperate and we’ve found that we enjoy that social interaction too.

          Many ideologies do impose moral standards on the individual, religion being one ideology that does that. The struggle in secular liberal social democracies is to remove those religiously imposed standards where they are immoral and substitute a standard that is in line with the absolute of the golden rule. The religion derived laws on homosexuality have been repealed across all my country, but only in the past 25 years and 150 years ago Australia was still following the Bible’s command and hanging men for the “crime” of loving each other. We have also made same sex marriage legal and the sky has not fallen in. Those moral standards around homosexuality have been brought into line with the moral absolute of not persecuting others.

          Coming from a western culture and language that has been dominated by Theistic thought for a couple of thousand years, we don’t seem to have widely used words and ideas that describe secular objective morality as such thoughts were thought crime for so long and as Orwell showed, by restricting words and meanings, you can make it harder for people to think along certain lines. The Chinese seem to have these words and ideas for secular ethics as they were not restricted by Theistic thought but translators have a hard time finding English equivalents. Maybe we haven’t developed enough of those words yet. If we had more, maybe we wouldn’t be talking past each other so often.

  • watcher_b

    I’ve found those that want to declare that morality is objective can be impossible to argue with. At some point they just declare “If morality is objective then murder/slavery/pedophilia/Hitler is ok, thus I win!”

    At the same time, the Evangelicals I’ve argued with would also say that if God says murder/slavery/pedophilia/Hitler is ok, then it must be ok.

    Ignoring the double standards, I think the theist argument is that morality is a law the same as any other physical law such as gravity. Things fall because of gravity and God created gravity. And he created gravity by saying it exists. Morality exists because God created it and he created it by saying it exists. So something is good because it lines up with this objective morality that God spoke into existence (also known as, “because God says so”. But again, in the theist argument, gravity exists “because God says so”).

    So a lot of arguments between atheists and theists start going past each other because the atheist treats morality as purely subjective and the theist treats anything that is subjective to God is objective by definition. (I had always wondered in church whether it was permissible to have a different opinion on something than God)

    The goal of the argument then should be to compare how gravity is objective (or any other agreed upon objective fact) and how that compares to morality. It doesn’t take special revelation to test the physical laws, why does it take special revelation to test the “objective” facts of morality?

    • Ficino

      I think in your first sentence you left out “not” as in “If morality is [not] objective…” ?

      Yes, many of these arguments see the disputants going past each other.

      • watcher_b

        Thank you!

    • Gary Whittenberger

      I think you are confusing two different definitions of “law.” One is descriptive, and one is prescriptive.

  • abb3w

    While I personally find the Euthyphro argument one of the more useful ones for sending many sorts of theists running in circles, the arguments here seem subject to a flaw even from my atheist perspective.

    A little bit of background math — mostly painless — is required. Most people are loosely familiar with the notion of a set. They’re also familiar with the idea of two things having a relation, such as (with numbers) “A is an integer multiple of B”, or (with chickens) “A has been observed pecking on B”, or simply “A is bigger than B”. In the abstract, there’s many relations possible over elements in a set. (For those liking mathematical formalities: the set of relations on a set is the power set of the cartesian product of a set taken with itself.) Among these are relations that correspond loosely to the idea of comparing things — “partial orders” and the associated notion of “posets”. We can have A>B, A<B, A=B, or A||B (denoting “A is incomparable with B”). The mathematical existence of such relations can generally be shown; however, for nontrivial cases, the uniqueness cannot.

    With this in mind, I turn to with particular interest to the moral notion of “better” — which appears to be a “poset” relationship over a set of options. In the case of a moral decision between options A and B, one may be morally “better”, “worse”, “equivalent”, or perhaps incomparable. The notions of “Good” and “Evil” (and potentially “Neutral” for D-and-D fans) appear to correspond to comparison to some reference 0 that may not actually be an element of the set of options. Hume’s famous “is-ought” observation thus corresponds to noticing that before discussing particular orderings, there is a need to axiomatically specify which basis for ordering is under discussion.

    Presumably, there would seem little debate over the part up to here from either theists or atheists. (I do not count as “debate” the snark and mockery over perceived pointlessness.)

    As a final step, to suggest flaws may exist in this article’s criticism of the Euthyphro dilemma I will now briefly take a semantically valid but absurd position, becoming a mathematical religious fanatic who takes “moral” to mean “more probable”, and who takes as a pantheon of “gods” the probability axioms.

    Is something good because God says so, or does God say so because it’s good?

    Well, these gods don’t exactly “talk”. However, they do have implications, which mathematicians will loosely refer to as “saying”, so that’s close enough. However, the question of whether something is probable because the axioms say so. or do the axioms say so because it’s probable really seems confused.

    And what does it mean to say that God is good?

    Well, the prior probability of the axioms under the axioms is unary, which is as likely as anything gets.

    Let A be the statement “Morality is within the control of God” (or “God’s nature” if you prefer).

    So, translating to statement A’: “Probability is within the control of the Axioms of Probability”. In some sense the statement seems trivial, and in others it seems absurd; the question would appear to be what the ineffable is meant by “control”? But probability certainly is not exactly external to these axioms.

    Granted, this has been an absurd stance. However, that such answers are possible with this pantheon may suggest something about how answers might be possible for Christians — and how the questions might seem peculiar.

    So much for my absurd exercise. On to one other point…

    Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? But there’s no dilemma here—the answer is the former. Our genetic programming (our conscience, in this case) tells us what is good and bad. (That is, seen from the human standpoint, our conscience tells us what is good and bad. Seen from an evolutionary standpoint, our conscience tells us what is useful to believe.)

    As a quibble: the genetic programming gives a probabilistic approximation as to what tends useful (good) toward survival of something similar to the genetic programming. Our genetic programming may well have some serious bugs in it, in that some alternative programming might have substantially higher tendency to survival (IE: be better). However, the current human genome is at least good/useful enough that humans haven’t gone extinct yet. (Check again next Tuesday for possible new developments on that.)

    • Damien Priestly

      Wow, a lot of words there — but the OP only was concerned with the arbitrariness of the Euthyphro dilemma. No need to introduce mathematical relationships…or to speculate whether moral means “more probable”. But thanks for putting paragraph breaks in there at least.

      • abb3w

        No need to introduce mathematical relationships…or to speculate whether moral means “more probable”.

        The math provides a fundamental framework for talking about “moral” sufficiently general to apply to discussion of any purported “morality”. Getting recognition of such basic notions can help provide a semantic framework for more controvertible concepts, such as “theft is immoral”. Others might note that my comment somewhat anticipated complaints of this sort, with my previous remark about “snark and mockery over perceived pointlessness”. You don’t see the need for the math, and consider it pointless — but that doesn’t make that part wrong. (There seems likely a comparison to the classic complaint from math students of “but what USE is any of this”.)

        Furthermore, I wasn’t “speculating”. The Euthyphro dilemma is not specific to the Christian God. (Note that Socrates was originally discussing the Greek pantheon.) Rather, it’s a more general problem applying to any patheon claiming divine basis for morality. I thus was presenting a particularly absurd contrived theology with some moderately capricious definitions to which nevertheless a form of the Euthyphro dilemma applied, to help show (demonstrating an existence case) that the questions being presented about the relationship between “gods” and “morality” might not make sense.

        the OP only was concerned with the arbitrariness of the Euthyphro dilemma

        Actually, it also seems to be concerned with how the responses by Christians appear arbitrary and deficient.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      Your explanation is too technical to be appealing to a mass audience.

      • abb3w

        Probably; however, that doesn’t make it “wrong”, and I thought Seidensticker and at least a decent-sized minority of his readership might be able to follow it.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          But it doesn’t make it “right” either. It makes it very difficult for most people to assess whether it is “right” or “wrong.” I recommend that you re-write your view to make it comprehensible to at least 80% of the persons who typically read this blog.

        • abb3w

          It makes it very difficult for most people to assess whether it is “right” or “wrong.” I recommend that you re-write your view to make it comprehensible to at least 80% of the persons who typically read this blog.

          Are you familiar with the adage “there is no royal road to geometry”?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I am not familiar with that adage, and I don’t agree with it either.

        • abb3w

          I am not familiar with that adage

          See here, please. It seems a pretty basic bit of Western cultural literacy.

          I don’t agree with it either.

          It’s not 100% accurate†, but the principle it tries to convey is sound (and formalizable): math is hard; in some cases, very hard; and in some cases, there provably can be no easier means than the hard way.

          † Technically, Euclidean Geometry isn’t in this absolute hardest class of problem. Contrariwise, even approaches of modern textbooks tend little if any improved over Euclid.

  • Your solution is to take the former. But then that implies that if our genetic programming said that slavery or any other thing that we normally think is heinously immoral was good, then it just would be so.

    Huh? If our genetic programming said that slavery was good, then we wouldn’t think of it as heinously immoral. Conversely, if we thought of it as heinously immoral then that would be our genetic programming talking.

    Of course, there is a gray area, and slavery is in that area. We do indeed think of it as immoral today, but that’s because we live in the West in the 21st century. For gray-area topics, social norms play a factor. For black-and-white issues (torture for fun), it’s programming.

    • Verbose Stoic

      Huh? If our genetic programming said that slavery was good, then we wouldn’t think of it as heinously immoral.

      Yes, that’s rather the point. Take the thing that you consider the most heinously immoral act possible with your current genetic programming, and if your programming — or even someone else’s — said that it was good, then it would be, at least to you/that person. For example, take your “black-and-white” issue of torture for fun. If the genetic programming said that doing so was good, then someone doing that would be acting properly moral to do so and would be a good person for doing so, or at least it wouldn’t make them evil for doing so. And we know that there are people whose programming, at least, doesn’t give them guilt when they do that, because there are people who, well, actually DO torture people for fun. These people are not evil by your view, nor can you say that they have some kind of a deficiency in their genetic programming and thus their conscience. They are, in all ways, just as “good” as someone whose genetic programming says that torturing people for fun is bad, under your view, unless you can find something outside of genetic programming to appeal to.

      And that’s actually the weaker argument against taking that side of the dilemma, as I’ve been pointing out. You CAN bite the bullet there and say that no matter how much you might dislike it, that’s all we can do when it comes to morality. But it’s not as easy to dodge the “sweet tooth” objection that you’ve been ignoring: how do we know that our genetic programming is still providing the function that it evolved for, and hasn’t become detrimental to our survival as a species? This fact will make us look at why it evolved to determine if following it is still in any way useful, and once we do so we can find all sorts of purposes that we can use to condition it and to determine when or if we want to follow it. All of this means that we are not going to be able to simply say “Genetic programming says!” when making these decisions unless we really want to boil down following our consciences to “For no reason!”.

      • And we know that there are people whose programming, at least, doesn’t give them guilt when they do that, because there are people who, well, actually DO torture people for fun. These people are not evil by your view

        We were on the same page up to this point.

        Yes, they’re evil by my view. Morality is a moral claim plus a platform. For example: “Torture is bad, according to Bob.” You’re welcome to have any opinion you want, but I will argue against your position if I disagree with it.

        • Verbose Stoic

          Yes, they’re evil by my view. Morality is a moral claim plus a platform.
          For example: “Torture is bad, according to Bob.” You’re welcome to have
          any opinion you want, but I will argue against your position if I
          disagree with it.

          Um, wait. Morality is about good and bad, and for you that comes down to our evolutionary genetically programmed conscience. All moral claims of any kind, then, are the result of the dictates of that conscience. This then means that:

          1) It’s not an opinion. Genetically programmed dictates aren’t opinions. It’d be like calling someone feeling hungry “an opinion”. It makes no sense.

          2) It’s also not a position. Positions imply arguments and some kind of rational or external basis. Again, it’d be like calling “feeling hungry” a position on food of some sort.

          3) You can’t argue against that “position”, because genetically programmed dictates aren’t the result of arguments. What’s there to argue against? You’d have to be simply stating the dictates of your own genetically programmed conscience which, in this case, conflicts with theirs.

          4) Since presumably the reason we have a genetically programmed conscience is to guide actions, you would run into the “ought implies can” objection if you tried to insist that they act on the dictates of your conscience and not theirs. Well, unless you concede that we can act against our own consciences, but this, again, destroys the horn of the dilemma that you were trying to take to show that it wasn’t an issue for you.

          5) Since you define good and evil as being simply what someone’s genetically programmed consciences SAYS are good and evil, there is no meaningful way you can call someone evil for following the dictates of their genetically programmed conscience. That, to you, is just what being moral/good IS. So no one can be evil for following those dictates as long as what is moral just is what the genetically programmed conscience SAYS is moral. You’d either need to introduce an external source of good or evil, or else run into the problem of “ought implies can” again.

          So all that your “moral claim and a platform” can boil down to is a statement that you don’t like what they’re doing. But even — or rather, especially — by your definition, that’s no longer a moral statement at all … even if your dislike is driven by your conscience.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    GW1: I agree with most of your points in this essay, Bob. Except for this one:

    BS1: Euthyphro’s question to the atheist would be: Is something good because our genetic programming says so, or does our genetic programming say so because it’s good? But there’s no dilemma here-the answer is the former.

    GW1: I disagree. Given only the two options, the latter is the answer. Our genetic programming reflects which was “found” to be good through trial and error of mutations, where “good” means conducive to survival and reproduction. In philosophy, however, “good” has a somewhat different meaning.

    • Maybe we’re getting caught up in definitions.

      I’m saying that our genetic programming tells us it’s good because it was useful. Does that sound right?

      • Gary Whittenberger

        Ok, let’s set aside the concept “good” for awhile and instead just use the term “useful” which will refer to “facilitating survival and reproduction” to assess the atheist position.

        You are claiming that our genetic programming tells us that certain behaviors are useful and I’m claiming that because certain behaviors are useful our genetic programming influences us towards those behaviors. So, in a way, we are both correct. But I think you went off on a tangent when you started trying to apply the Euthyphro dilemma to the atheist position. I think it was confusing and not helpful.

  • Dave Armstrong has a new post, “Reply to Atheist Seidensticker on Demands for “Evidence”” here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2018/05/reply-to-atheist-seidensticker-on-demands-for-evidence.html

    Wow, I must really be important! Or–frightening thought–Dave is pressed for time, can’t think up anything interesting to say, so he mines our conversation to find silly nonsense.

    Ah, well. Time to return to mundane-ity.

    • Doubting Thomas

      Again, why he feels the need to post stuff that makes him look bad is beyond me. Of course, I’ guessing that his Catholic readers think he got the best in the discussion, but even considering that he still comes across poorly.

      I guess he has increased his readership to include more of us ungodly types.