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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Real Moral Objectivity and the Euthyphro Dilemma

Must Morality Be Objective to be Real? And Is God the Only Basis for Real Morality?

A common topic within the debate between Atheists and Theists down through the ages, but with a revitalized renaissance within the New Atheist Movement and the apologetical counter arguments, is the concept of morality: what it is, and what can account for and provide a basis for it. In this post I will argue that no matter what someone’s confession is, they will inevitably resort to objective morality, thus showing that all people believe in a kind of objective moral standard. In addition, I will argue that due to the fact that morality is universally accepted as objective, that the only possible basis for such a moral system is the eternal and immutable nature of God.

First, I must show that all people, regardless of what they may confess they believe about the nature of morality, will inevitably posit objective moral statements a) when they are backed into a corner logically, or b) when they are “asleep at the helm” so to speak. That is, when they are not conscious enough of the fact that they are making objective moral statements in order to maintain their counter position (such as relativism, subjectivism, or pluralism).

Let me first prove a). This can be done anecdotally (to show that they are not consistent with their own position) and logically (to show that each position actually leads to illusory morality and not real moral obligation) for each of the three major counter positions: Subjectivism, Relativism, and Pluralism.

Subjectivism – This is the position that morality is subjective to the individual. In my experience, those who hold this position will object profusely when they feel that they have been wronged. They are completely unable to maintain, consistently, their subjective position. Imagine that they were to have their car broken into. They would feel anger, violation, and victimized. But why should they feel that way if the robber is not under the same moral obligation that they are? If morality is only their own subjective reality, why should he expect that the robber should abide by his subjective moral code and not by the robber’s own code? Thus they are not consistent with their own position.

But how does this view lead to only an illusion of morality and not real moral obligation? Well if I am the measure of morality, why should I be expected to respect any other moral code? If I am the basis for my own moral code, then I am not even obligated to my own moral code let alone anyone else’s. I am not a being with the ontology or nature to create and mandate obligation. We see that Dahmer has an equal “moral” as his victims. His victims would be unable to say “you are wrong to eat me” because Dahmer was within his own moral code in doing so. The same goes for pedophiles, wife beaters, rapists, murderers, etc. When a moral theory can lead to the universalizing of moral right to actions such as murder, rape, and child molestation, then it seems obvious that no real morality exists.

We also see that even the subjectivist, not only in practice, but also in theory, end up positing objective morality. If you were to ask them why we must obey our own moral codes, they will form some kind of moral “ought” to answer. All people “ought” to obey their conscience. Now, the content of the conscience may have as many permutations as there are people, but notice that the subjectivist has actually sneaked moral obligation (and thus moral objectivity) in through the back door. We will see over and over again that when one removes God as the basis for morality, they remove the only possible basis for real morality.

Relativism – This position is similar to that of subjectivism, but is extended not to individuals but to culture, society, social contracts, classes, etc. So rather than being subjective to the individual, morality is subjective to a specific group (although those boundaries of the group may be vague). The relativist, like the subjectivist, is also unable to maintain a consistent practice of their position to varying degrees.

There are some who this can be seen with when they show their indignation at things like American Slavery, the Holocaust, Stalin and Mao’s purges, etc. Once they show their indignation they reveal that they believe there is a universal moral code that these other cultures are obligated to obey but had broken. Even though they may belong to 21st century, western, blue state, suburban culture, (for we must realize that “culture” is much more narrow than simply “American” or something of that order) they will find it completely acceptable to say that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., had broken a universal moral code. Yet if moral codes are relative to the culture, then this should not be the case. They should be something like traffic laws; only those under the jurisdiction of the law is obliged to follow them. Why am I not guilty of the English traffic law every day that I drive on the right side of the street? Because I am not under the jurisdiction of the English traffic court. Why would Hitler not be obliged to keep our American moral sentiments about genocide? Because he is not a citizen of our culture.

Now, for some relativists who seek to be more consistent, they will actually admit that Hitler was moral in his own moral context. As was Stalin, Mao, and the American slave traders. This seems disingenuous however because you will only hear them toe this line when backed into a corner to defend their position. When they are not on the defensive or talking specifically about morality, they will often call down curses, so to speak, on the ills of the world and the crimes against humanity. They may seek justice for the oppressed in other cultures, they may support America’s actions in WWII, the Gulf War, or our Invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, within the New Atheist movement, and I have found this multiple times in my debates in the blog-o-sphere, the antitheist will actually say in the same post that Hitler was morally right within his own context 60 years ago, but that that God is morally repugnant for his actions 3000 years ago that are presented in the Bible. The inconsistency of these two positions should be obvious.

Even if that were not the case, as before, it seems that any moral system that leads to the logical conclusion that Hitler was morally right to slaughter 6 million Jews, for Stalin to kill, either directly or by consequences, nearly 100 million people or for American slave traders to forcibly relocate millions of Africans and force them into possibly the worst kind of slavery the world has ever known, just seems to be an invalid moral system because it allows such morally repugnant actions to be on par with helping an old woman across the street, sacrificial love, and generosity.

Furthermore, it is not only the adherents that cannot maintain a consistent application of their position, the position itself is untenable. Why? It again is inconsistent with itself in its attempt to create moral obligation. Why am I obliged to obey what my culture says? Is it because what is best for the culture? But why should I seek to do what is best for the culture just because the culture says so? The answer predictably comes, “because we ‘ought’ to seek the good of the society.” But notice that this comes in a form that is universal and objective. That all people ‘ought’ to act in such a manner that it benefits the culture at large. But in positing this universal statement, they must necessarily contradict their relativism.

Pluralism – This is the view that while there are objective morals, there are adjacent objective moral systems that are all equally valid. In this case the adherent is much more likely to maintain a consistent position because they are holding to what they believe to be objective morality. Yet their problem arises, just like the others, when they must practice moral evaluation. If each moral system is objectively true, but that the moral systems clash from time to time, what is the governing moral system that allows for one objective moral system to evaluate another? The argument here seems to be “morals are objective, except when they aren’t… but even then they are.” This position, it seems, tries to have its cake and eat it too.

And it again cannot account for its own moral obligation. What is the basis for the moral objectivity of each of the morally objective systems? What if one system says lying is objectively moral and one says that it is objectively immoral? The problems with this view abound, but I think the most problematic areas are that it is simply so muddled that it is beyond the pale of reason.

In his recent blog ( my frequent opponent, Courtenay Werleman, made the following argument. From his comments, I will launch into the body of my argument. The form will follow that of a negative rebuttals to the statements made by Werleman followed by a positive argument for my position.

He writes:

“With brevity in mind - here is the slam dunk against the argument that without God there can be no universal objective basis for morality:

1. Rape is morally wrong! FACT. Even if some group residing somewhere on the planet thinks otherwise, they are wrong.

2. Rape is morally wrong because it causes harm to another person. Inflicting physical and emotional pain. These harms are not justified by any benefit to anyone else. This an objective observation.

3. God commands us not to rape, in the Bible. But why should we obey God's commands? The theist will answer that God has good reasons for his commands and that we should obey. Thus God commands us not to rape because it harms another person, the victim. But then it is the harm that makes rape immoral not the command. Therefore rape would be just as harmful without God, and just as immoral without God.

Conclusion: Rape is immoral and God is superfluous.”

Now, does Werleman’s “slam dunk” argument actually achieve what he believes that it does?

Rebuttal #1. Notice that Werleman actually assumes his conclusion in his first argument. He concludes from “Rape is morally wrong” (objectively) to the fact that morals are objective without God. To those who are not familiar with logical fallacies, let me point out that this is what is called begging the question. Here the question being asked is “Why is morality objective” to which he answers “because morality is objective.” He has actually not accomplished anything for himself in the first argument. He assumes the rape is wrong absolutely and universally (for all people, in all places, at all times). Anyone who thinks otherwise are simply wrong. Now, while the theist would agree with this conclusion, the question that Werleman is supposed to be answering is not “what,” but “why.”

Rebuttal #2. Do the ends justify the means? We all know the cliché. No, they don’t. Is rape only wrong because it hurts someone or because rape, in and of itself, is wrong? If harm is the standard of moral wrongness, then there are many things that we know are actually very good that would then be turned bad. Tell someone the truth, though it may hurt them, would be immoral. Self-sacrifice would be wrong. War would always be wrong. etc. We could also imagine several scenarios where we could commit theft, lying, or any number of immoral actions that would not cause any known harm to another, that would then be morally justifiable.

Rebuttal #3. Werleman uses rape as his example, I assume (I could be wrong) because of a previous argument that he and I had on He had argued for an evolutionary basis for morality to which I gave this example:

Imagine a culture (prior to modern medical science) where all the women refused to have sex with the men. (Maybe they believed that their tribal deity demanded it in order for the crops to grow; a kind of a-fertility god.) In order for a society to survive, there must be offspring (the Darwinian mandate) and so the men raped all the women. While this may have been harmful to the women, it was the only way to keep the society (and more importantly the genetic lineage of its people) alive. Thus if evolution is the basis for morality, then rape is not a wrong action, but only wrong as determined by its context and it would be logical to say that mass rape would actually be a moral imperative.

I imagine that this is the reason for Werleman’s use of rape as his example. The problem however is that the objection remains unanswered. He gives pragmatics as the basis for morality, but no reason to assume that his narrow use of pragmatics is the only game in town so to speak. Why should societal pragmatics not take precedent over personal ones.

Rebuttal #4. Notice that He also sneaks moral objectivity in through the back door. Why is rape morally wrong? Because it hurts someone. Why is it morally wrong to hurt someone? ….cricket…. cricket… “because it just is!” He has actually not provided a basis for moral objectivity, he has only provided an example of a moral objective that basis another moral objective, thus merely pushing the problem back a step.

Rebuttal #5. He then makes God to be a god in his own image, that is, because Werleman is a pragmatist, he makes God a pragmatist as well. Why does God command us not to rape? Werleman answers, “because it harms another person, the victim.” Thus he assumes the truth of his own position and at the same time sets up a strawman of the theistic argument, for that is not the position of the theist. We do not say that God commands what is good based on the outcome.

Rebuttal #6. He then posits his own version of the Euthyphro Dilemma, also called the Divine Command Theory (although Werleman’s version is noticeably weaker than other versions of the argument.) For those unfamiliar with the dilemma, it is as follows.

P1) Is an action good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good.
P2) If it is the former, then it is arbitrary because god could have commanded otherwise.
P3) If it is the later, then God is not the ultimate basis for morality since there is a moral code outside of him that he ascribe to.
P4) Thus God is not necessary as the basis for morality.

Before dealing with this problem in the next rebuttal, let me first address another strawman that Werleman sets up when he puts words into the theist’s mouth. According to him, the theist can only responds to the dilemma by stating “that God has good reasons for his commands and that we should obey.” This is actually not the response of most theists familiar with the dilemma.

Rebuttal #7. This rebuttal will actually take the form of three responses (A, B, and C) to the aforementioned dilemma.

Response A – The dilemma is actually a false dichotomy. It only allows in two options for the relationship between morality and God. It assumes in the first case that something is good virtue of it being commanded by God, or that if God commands something that is good, that it is because that standard of what makes it good lays elsewhere from God. Neither seems to be the case. Is something good because God commands it? No, something is good insofar as it aligns with the immutable and perfect character of God. So then when God does command what is good, because it is in fact good, the standard is not something exterior to himself but is rather his own nature.

Response B – If God commands something, it does not necessitate that he could have commanded otherwise. As we say in the previous response, what God commands is actually very much established by his eternal and immutable nature. Thus God could not command something that is contrary to his nature. Since his nature is eternal and immutable, he could only have ever commanded honesty, love, mercy, etc. and forbade lying, stealing, murder, etc. because those are what are in-line with or contradictory to, his immutable nature. Thus the claim of the arbitrary nature of God’s commands s invalid.

Response C – The conclusion, then, no longer follows because the argument is no longer sound. But just because this argument fails, does not win the case for the theist. It simply means that the Euthyphro Dilemma is not a valid critique.

Rebuttal #8. Imagine that Werleman were correct in his assertion that morality is determined by its consequences. We would then never be able to act, because we would never be able to determine the value differential between the positive and the negative outcomes. This is the common response to all forms of philosophical pragmatism. We would need a kind of pain/happiness calculator and an exhaustive knowledge of the future to know what outcomes would be derived from our every action. Could I be moral and lie if I was almost certain no one would find out? Could cannibals kill and eat a person because their amount of cooperate joy outweighs one persons anguish? Say there are 30 fat and happy cannibals after they eat and only one dead person who is dead an no longer suffers. This does not even begin to address things like bio-ethics, media-ethics, and environmental-ethics.

Rebuttal #9. Werleman’s conclusion no longer follows from his false premises above. It assumes the truth of his position (that morality is determined by the volume of harm that results) in his premises and then argues to that conclusion.

My Position. Rape is objectively wrong. This is not because of the say so of culture or society, but because the act itself is immoral. It will always be immoral because it is a violation of a universal, immutable, absolute, and eternal moral standard; namely, the nature of God. This is the only possible basis that offers us real morals and not just the illusion obligation. It is the only position that can be consistently maintained that does not lead to contradictions in practice or in reasoning, and it is the only one that can establish real moral obligation without simply sneaking it in through the back door, but by actually providing a real causal basis for it.

For more on this, please comment with a specific comment or question and I will try to respond as promptly as possible.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I've been Censored by a "Free-thinker"! Ha

On Courtenay Werleman's blog ( have been officially censored. Why? Was I being rude or crass? No. Was I being obnoxious, or constantly delving into rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the posts? No. Was I making Ad hominems or or disturbing the peace? No, not at all. Well what was my offense? It was being of a different position than that of the blogger. When he made arguments such as that Matthew did not know Hebrew because he capitalized the second kurios in a citation, and I responded by showing that this was an ENGLISH translation issue since Matthew would have written either entirely in caps or entirely in lower case, I was guilty of showing that the blogger was well outside of his educational range. When he made citations from a study that over 16% of America are Atheists, and I pointed out that 14% of those were "no preference" and would encompass people who believe in God but do not ascribe to a specific organized religion and that 1.4% were made up of agnostics and secularists, and that only .6% were actually identified as dyed in the wool atheists, I was guilty of showing that Mr. Werleman is an ideologue who was willing to distort any fact to grind his axe even though he has no basis what so ever.

But dont take my word for it. When pressed why I was censored, this was his response:

"Unlike yourself I do not have the time to be constantly replying to your perpetual around the clock BS. To be constantly correcting your blatantly false assertions is time I do not have the luxury of. I can't reason with a guy that thinks Matthew was a disciple of Jesus or that Jesus was not an apocalyptic Jew. These are just facts! Get over it. Seriously get a life buddy. Blaze your own trail and cease trying to define your existence through me. I'm over you, so please get over me."

In other words, "I dont have time to have someone actually call me to account for the fallacious posts on my blog and so rather than engage in open and public debate, I will simply try to peddle my book and make it appear as though no one disagrees with me by making sure that they will not be allowed to post." What is most telling is that he calls "facts" the very issues that are up for debate. In order to avoid open and public debate, he makes the other position false by definition and then suppresses it.

From my experience, those people who are convinced of their position AND the supporting evidence for it, simply do not act in this manner. It is those who know that they are on thin ice who seek to suppress the opposing voice.

But the major irony is that a blog, supposedly dedicated to "free-thought" and "rationalism" is so biased and ideologically driven that it must silence the opposition in order to maintain a solid front.

I encourage all of you Atheists or skeptics who find this to be a blight on your usually intellectually honest enterprise, to voice your protest. In the same manner that I would stand and oppose the tactics of my fellow theists who veer into a similar kind of argumentation, I would think that anyone with even a shred of intellectual integrity would see that suppression of the opposing voice is not a course that should be taken in intellectual interchange.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Logical Problems with Philosophical Naturalism

I saw this great video. It is a nice survey of SOME of the logical problems with Philosophical Naturalism. Any objections?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New posts coming soon!

I am working on a couple book reviews, some posts on what I considered the best logical arguments for the existence of God and a 6 part series on the epistemological necessity of worldview and presuppositions. Keep a look out as they will start to flow in shortly.

But for now, here is a funny joke. For those of you familiar with presuppositionalism... this will be even funnier.

One day a group of atheists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one atheist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The atheist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the atheist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the atheist replied, "OK, great!"

But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

The atheist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cruel Logic

Found this great video by Brian Godawa. What happens when a atheist who believes morality is evolved or some kind of social contract is FORCED to defend their position? While the video is admittedly a bit twisted, the point is clear... "Ideas have consequences." To deny God, is to deny the only possible basis for objective morality. Some people are fine with objecting to objective morality in theory, but they will ALWAYS sneak it in through the back door. Even if their theory states that morality evolved to help the species survive so that we care for our genes, they sneak in the moral obligation that we ought to care for our genes. But that is the point... what is the basis for the ought? If it is evolved then it may be helpful, but it can never be obligatory.

The Summum Bonum of Life

The Summum Bonum of Life

If any one book from the entire Bible was to be selected as the best description of the condition of the American way of life, it is quite possible that Ecclesiastes would be such a book. Even the American dream, the promise of opportunity and success for those who are willing to work, is only an honorable way for a person to earn money in order to eat, drink and be merry. We are constantly in an obsessed race to earn more money, in order to acquire more material possession or to do more of the activities we dream of doing, so that, we hope, we can feel more satisfied with our lives. We measure our success by the size of our bank accounts, the extent of our learning or intellectual prowess, and even by the strength of our relationships to those in our lives. It is in these same ways that we seek to classify or value the worth of other humans, whether intentional or not. Yet when one comes to the book of Ecclesiastes, the meaning and worth of all of this is repeatedly called “vanity.” Some thirty or more times, “the Preacher” rails against the concept of the intrinsic value of our everyday activities and possessions.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2) Under this category of “vanities” the Preacher will include the cycles of the earth and the toils of man, both the rich and the poor, the wise and foolish, and everyone in between. It seems that no person’s life is left unassailed by the apparent meaninglessness of life’s activities. Yet if this were the entire message of the book, it no doubt would have long been removed from our canon. For if the only meaning that could be found in this text is that every part of our life is utterly meaningless and futile, and that if the preachers is right in stating that all will end up in the same place after death, the ramifications of this would contradict the entire message of the Bible. Indeed, throughout Scripture the destinies of the righteous and the wicked are contrasted and they both end up in drastically different eternities. Not only are their destinies after this life distinct, but the manner in which they live their lives are significantly varied as well. One is planted firm as a tree, the other is as chaff in the wind (Psalm 1:3-4). It would do violence to the point of the book to say that the Preacher simply looks at life, declares its meaninglessness, and then calls it a day.

The author in fact does bring our attention to the ultimate meaning and reality of life. He does not drag us down into the gutters of despair just to leave us there to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. Nor does he expect us to stop working or to stop seeking wisdom in order that we can throw our lives into ragged living because all truly is vanity. The message of the book rather, as we shall see, is that any life, no matter how successful or wise, is as futile as the most wasted life, if it does not center and glorify the God who created us.

The Westminster Larger Catechism begins with a question addressing this very concept. It asks, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is not all that different from the conclusion that we arrive at in Ecclesiastes. “Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and to fully enjoy him forever,” is the answer that is provided. It is not success, not wealth, not wisdom, and not even a loving family. The answer is that the chief good and highest end of man is to glorify the one true God and to enjoy a right relationship with him forever. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher frames it this way: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” While the two answers are framed differently, they actually say very much the same thing. For what brings God more glory in our lives than when we honor and obey Him? And what relationship can be enjoyed with God apart from this lifestyle of glorifying God? It seems that the opinion of the Preacher is that only a life lived for God will have any ultimate meaning. This is because meaning is only found in its eschatological importance, that is, only in what happens after we die since everything will pass away when we die.

The Preacher begins by showing several examples from nature that show us the cyclical and pointlessness of this life. He reminds us that one generation, no matter how great, is quickly forgotten by the subsequent generations. Every day the sun rises and then falls just to rise and fall the next day, and the streams flow to the ocean just to be renewed at the head of the stream to flow to the ocean once again. Nothing new is gained. This leads the Preacher to conclude that “there is nothing new under the sun.” We can look at this in our own technological advancements. We may feel like there are new innovations, but they are merely more convenient forms of old concepts. A cell phone is just a more advanced form of communications that accomplishes more quickly the old role of messengers and smoke signals. Cars simply fill the function of travel more adequately than horses. Microwaves merely cook food faster than fire. These too will all be replace by even better and faster methods and ultimately all of them will fail to affect our eternal destiny. For the Preacher, they are meaningless.

Next he goes on to show that even things that we may prize and highly valuable are simply more vanities of this life. He goes on to state that he had set his heart to find all wisdom of what occurs on the earth. He became wiser than all on the earth, a fact attested to even by the narrator of 1 Kings 3 which tells of the great wisdom Solomon attained as a gift from God. Yet even this wisdom, which was given by God, was “a striving after the wind” because “in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecc. 1:17, 18). For the Preacher, wisdom only showed him more and more what he was lacking. Later he would add, “all the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied” (Ecc. 6:7). He means by this that no matter how hard we work, we will always be hungry the next day.

From here he moves on to indulgence and reckless living. The Preacher built houses, he planted vineyards, made great pools and bought many slaves. He ate his fill and drank much wine, and gathered more gold and silver and treasures than any king ever had before or after him. He had not an earthly care in the world and yet all of this came to nothing. He knew the old adage was true; he could not take it with him. It added nothing to the meaningfulness of his life.

We then come to the first of several interludes throughout the book where we see our first glimpse at the highest good, the summum bonum of life. Here the Preacher tells us that the ultimate reason why wisdom, riches, and pleasure are meaningless is because “for the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (Ecc. 2:16). For the Preacher, our life this side of death only finds its meaning based on what it will receive on the other side of death. We see this explicitly in 8:12-13 where he states, “yet I know that it will be will with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.” In the final judgment, it will be the eternal destinies of the righteous and the wicked that determine the value of the life that had been lived.

It does not appear that the Preacher is a defeatist or believes that we should give up all hope of living life because there can be no meaning. His point is simply that the only life that does have meaning, will not find this meaning in the pursuits of man. He will not find it in his work, in his education, in his pocketbook or in his relationships. The only life that will find meaning is the life that will remember its creator (Ecc. 12:1) and thus will “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).

This brings us back to the answer provided for us by the Westminster Divines in their response concerning the first question of the Catechism. They respond that the summum bonum of life is to glorify God and to fully enjoy him forever. This is indeed the very response that Scripture gives concerning how we are to live our lives, not only in Ecclesiastes, but also in various places throughout the New Testament. For example, we see in Romans 11:36 that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” Here Paul upholds the Reformed concept of Soli Deo Gloria in which God receives the glory for all things.
Later in 1 Corinthians 10:31 we see an even more explicit example of what is spoken of in Ecclesiastes. Here Paul speaks of the mundane activities of life and shows that they find their purpose and their meaning only when we do them to the glory of God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” While in the context he is speaking to ceremonial eating and drinking, his universal application to “whatever you do” cannot be understated. Here Paul is clearly showing us that the only life that is worth living is the one that actively seeks to give glory to God with everything that it does; something he later hashes out in Colossians 3:17 when he says “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We also see in the writing of the 73rd Psalm of Asaph, this idea of the life devoted to God being the only one that has meaning because of its culmination after death. Here Asaph writes,

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

The theme of glorifying God and enjoying him is so tangible in this passage that it almost does not even need to be stated. We see clearly that Asaph does enjoy a right relationship with God because he continually gives God the glory and the honor. We can observe that he too states that both the righteous and the wicked will die, his heart will fail just as the wicked heart will perish, yet he knows that he will not be far from God and that God will be his refuge. His life has meaning because it is centered on God.

It is clear from the teaching of the whole of Scripture, that the ultimate good, the summum bonum of life, is to glorify God and to fully enjoy him forever. In fact, something that we should find striking is that there is an all or nothing aspect to this highest good. Our lives either find their meaning in God, or they find no meaning at all. There is no gradation of meaningfulness that can be found in earthly possessions or in our work or even in our wisdom if they do not lead us to glorify the one true God.

Yet here also lies the promise of the gospel. For who of us is able, by our own ability to live a life of full surrender to God? Which one of us is capable of fully glorifying God when we drink, when we eat, when we work, when we sleep? We are depraved to the core and incapable of living this life that fulfills its highest good. It is only by the perfect life lived for us, by the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us, that we are able to find this meaning of life. We may do it imperfectly, but Christ did it perfectly on our behalf.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moral Relativism: Lifting Ourselves Up By Our Own Coat Collars

If I were to say something such as “I cannot speak a word of English,” not only would you look at me like I was a fool, I would be speaking a fallacy. It would be quite apparent that the sentence just uttered from my lips would be a self-defeating thought. By its very existence it refutes its own reality. I obviously speak at least seven English words. This is an illustration of Relativism in general. Relativism is the concept that all truth is relative to some structure of thought or singular experience. Rather than speaking on English, relativism would say, “there are no absolute truths.” The reason that this would be a self-vanquishing proclamation ought to be equally clear. Either this statement about truth is false, and some absolutes do, in truth, exist, or all truth is indeed relative which would make the statement that “all truth is relative” a relative statement but asserted in an absolute manner, making it false. Which means it could either be absolute or false. So why believe it? You shouldn’t. If it is still not clear that this concept is false, consider the fact of 1+1=2 or, “I think therefore I am.” Although this basic form of relativism is clearly false, other forms are not so easily diffused. Religious relativism is a bit more persistent, although I think again provably false. (Where atheism and theism coexist, contradictions abound.) The form of relativism I will be addressing in this paper however, I consider to be the most firm standing of the set. This manner of relativism of course is moral relativism.

Moral relativism states all moral actions (or amoral actions), from lying to helping a little old lady across the street are derived, prescribed, and practiced within a cultural framework. This means that in America we have moral norms and aberrations that vary from those of Japan, the Congo or the Australian Aborigines. This, says the moral relativist, is due to the varying cultural developments within the assorted societies. It seems to me that the main, if not the only basis, for moral relativism is the mere fact that each society has its own moral code. This does not seem to be a very solid foundation for a moral system however. Let us think of an experimental maze in which there is only one achievable path that will lead to the outlet. Any other path taken will lead to an insurmountable obstacle. Let us also assume that this maze will take more than a lifetime to finish, even if the voyager chooses the one correct path. This assures that only the person watching the test, with full knowledge of the maze and of its paths, will know if the traveler chose the correct path from the onset or not. Does the mere variety of choices from the commencement mean that no choice will be a correct one? No, the fact that there is a multitude of choices does not mean that there is no reason to choose one or another. So does a mass of moral frameworks necessitate relative moral truths?

Before I move on I would like to point out the falsehood that so many people come up against when discussing moral differences. This deception is the idea that there is a gigantic gap in the moral structures of the different cultures from around the world from all times. Christian Apologist and scholar C.S. Lewis writes:

"If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason of man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young and the weak, almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised (I certainly was) to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature." (Lewis 106)

With that said, let us proceed as if it hadn’t because many will, for some reason or another, not believe it. Let us continue with the notion that major differences do exist, because that is the general platform from which moral relativist chose to debate from. And even from there, I believe that their theory will still plummet.

Although I believe moral relativism is overall a false theory, it does have a couple of truthful points. In general, our moral framework is based on the culture that we are brought up in. We start thirty paces into the maze. And unlike the maze, no single framework has it completely accurate, and I would argue that in general no single framework has it completely mistaken. Nevertheless, this does not mean, like I have said before, that moral truth or truths do not exist or cannot be found. I argue that just as we see some people as being amoral within our own code, some moral frameworks are simply amoral within the absolute moral law. I will attempt to show that if moral relativism were the only viable choice, we would lose all right to judge others of their obviously egregious actions. (If you disagree that I can call them wrong then consider the torture, rape, and murder of babies for fun or simply Nazi Germany and wonder if you could stand by the concept that no one can call an action completely immoral.) Moral relativism fights against our intuition and our common sense. We have an innate duty to justice and mercy yet within moral relativism, justice falls to the wayside. C.S. Lewis once said this:

"Unless there is some objective standard of good, over-arching the Germans, Japanese and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their own ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring." (Lewis p101)

Two points I would like to extract from this assertion by Lewis are these; first, it is key to notice where Lewis states “whether we obey it or no.” This means that in our society, we judge many people. We look at pedophiles, rapists, murderers, and men like Dahmer and Bin Laden, as extremely immoral. We recognize that they do not comply with the moral measuring rod that Lewis spoke of. But does their disobedience to those morals mean that they are not objective but subjective to culture? People break the speed limit every day. Does that give us the right to look a policeman in the eye and tell them that we shouldn’t get the ticket she is writing because that law is subjective? So is it not possible that there are moral laws that we simply break in the same way that we break our own legalities?

The second point I would like to discuss is Lewis’ final statement about the measuring rod. Unless the moral code is somewhere external to us, meaning not invented by man, then we are indeed left with the conclusion of moral relativism. If we do not have an external moral law, then the moral standard was undeniably derived from men and therefore who is to say which men were correct in their moral assessments? The moral code must be external to humankind. Lewis later echoes this by stating this about the relativist:

"…he does not fully realize that those who create conscience cannot be subject to the conscience themselves… If ‘good’ means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike." (Lewis p111)

Francis J. Beckwith asserts three major reasons why moral relativism must be false. First, he states that if moral relativism were true then we would be unable to make moral assessments like, “Mother Teresa was better than Adolph Hitler; rape is always wrong; it is wrong to torture babies for fun.” (Geisler/Hoffman p19) And the inclination inside all of us is that Mother Teresa is actually morally less corrupt than Hitler was, and that this is not only true in our own framework but in all frameworks. We would have no reason to see one action as more morally acceptable than another.

Secondly, Beckwith says that if the relativist is going to claim that moral conduct is individually based, then they will face another judicial impossibility. That is, what ought we to do when individual moral frameworks conflict? It is guaranteed that Dahmer had a very different outlook on cannibalism then did his neighbor who was his victim. Needless to say, there is obviously a conflict of interest from time to time.

Finally, Beckwith states that if the relativist maintains that morals are qualified by their culture, then they will arrive full force into three more impossibilities. The first of these is that it would be self-refuting. He states this by saying,
…the cultural relativist is making an absolute and universal moral claim, namely, that everyone is morally obligated to follow the moral norms of his or her own culture. If this moral norm is neither absolute nor universal, then cultural relativism is still false, for in that case I would not have a moral obligation to follow the moral norms of my culture. (Geisler/Hoffman p22)

The second quandary observed if morals are culturally based, is that there is no way to impartially decide which culture’s morals (and even which subculture’s norms) we ought to decide from. What is a cultural norm but the moral code from some dominating subculture? But each subculture can be reduced down further to the majority in the subculture and then further and further until we come back to individual moral codes. Think of it this way. We have a “national” moral framework. However, this is only the common ground between various subcultural frameworks. Then further, these subcultural frameworks are again only the major agreements between the proponents of that subculture. This can go on and on until we come down to individual moral systems, which I have already been proven inconsistent with moral relativism.

Finally, without some standard of moral absolutes, there can be no real moral progress. It would be utterly impossible to say that one culture was even changing for better or for worse without some standard to measure it by. “Yet who can reasonably deny that the abolition of slavery in the United States was an instance of genuine moral progress?” (Geisler/Hoffman p23) We often say that we have become more morally enlightened and even sometimes say we have become more civilized or less savage than our earlier counterparts. This is impossible without moral progress. Lewis also writes about moral progress in his essay entitled The Poison of Subjectivism. Lewis writes:

"If good is a fixed point, it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede. We can go on getting a sum more and more nearly right only if one perfectly right answer is ‘stagnant’."

As a side note, Beckwith also adds that if morals are relative to culture, then those who we consider to be great moral leaders such as Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are nothing more than advocators of their own individual moralities, and therefore are bandits raiding the territory of our own freedom to create our individual moral system.

Beckwith also states that moral relativism is self-destructive because it is its own absolute. What that means is that it would claim that we ought to be moral within our own moral structures. But is that not a moral absolute? It unknowingly contends that everyone ought to be obligated to follow the moral norms of his or her own moral communities (Geisler/Hoffman p22). This is a universal “ought to” that is to be prescribed to all people of all places at all times. In essence it states, “Doing what is right within your moral code is the right thing to do.” That is an absolute not to be challenged within moral relativism. If we can find one absolute moral, then moral relativism must be false. And let us even say that the relativist says that even this universal is just as relative as the next. Then what? We are not even proper in doing what is moral in our own moral framework? If this were true, then we creep nearer and nearer to moral nihilism.

So why is this idea, that moral norms are somehow united with some mass cultural dictate about how we ought to act, such a popular mode of thought? I believe it is derived from two dominant rationales. The first, as I have acknowledged previously, is the sheer enormity of moral constructs varying from culture to culture. I will explore this in more detail presently. The second of these, I believe, is the push for tolerance across cultural boundaries. Now tolerance on its own is not an evil or harmful notion. In fact, it is quite admirable. However, I will argue that within moral relativism, the very tolerance that it seeks to promote, actually ends up being abolished.

With that said, let me now address in more depth the idea of variety or moral norms as a proof for a relative moral system. As I have stated before with the maze illustration, the mere variety of choice does not negate the possibility that there is one moral code to which all moral codes ought to measure up to. Let us for now think of moral A as some moral proposition that is consistent and believed to be true in the general populous of the United States. If someone were to break moral A we would not say that it was because they had a different moral proposition in opposition to A. Instead, we instinctively assert that they are somehow acting immoral in regards to A. Often the moral relativist will even say that the person who commits A simply has a different moral code about it. However, contrary to that allegation, the accused most likely knows, with the exception of the ignorant or the deranged, that they did undeniably break the code. We often recognize that we have been immoral. “There is a difference between imperfect sight and blindness,” (Lewis p108). Someone can be immoral within a moral construct, without creating a new moral system. Within moral relativism I would be wholly justified in doing whatever I felt was acceptable according to my moral scaffolding, because as I have shown before, in moral relativism, the culture has no right to judge my moral actions since I can claim sanctuary in my framework. But we, more often than not, observe the contrary. Even within our own individual moral laws, we recognize that we do indeed make immoral decisions and commit unscrupulous acts. Without some moral standard, we would feel no guilt or remorse over our actions because we would be acting out from our own morality. But indeed, we often feel such feelings. We feel bad when we lie to friends. We often feel guilt for our wrong actions. It is possible that whole moral frameworks are off, is it not? How often have we not felt guilt for an action until years after when we recognized its grievance? We are not always enlightened, even in our own morals, to what is right or what is wrong.

We also find that the variety of moral programs works against moral relativism instead of for it. Consider the basic claim of the relativist in regards to disagreement about morality: “the fact that there is disagreement means that there are no absolute truths about morality.” But I say to this relativist, I believe there are moral absolutes. Has not my simple disagreement with him then made his own position untrue? After all, his position is that disagreement eradicates truth. So according to the relativist, he and I would both be incorrect. Hadley Arkes states,

“My disagreement establishes that the proposition [i.e., disagreement means there is no truth] does not enjoy universal assent, and by the very terms of it the proposition, that should be quite sufficient to determine its own invalidity,” (Geisler/Hoffman p19).

So if relativism were the accepted moral philosophy, even though it is false, that leaves us neither here nor there. We must then either have moral absolutes or else all morality is invalid! What a world that would be! We would have no reason whatsoever to teach our children that lying, stealing, murder and rape are immoral actions.

The second reason to endorse moral relativism was for the promotion of moral tolerance and the elimination of ethnocentrism. After all, who are we to judge another culture? However, what we actually find is that relativism is only tolerant of those beliefs to which it decides to be tolerant to and it is again self-refuting and it destroys, as I have briefly hinted at before, any right to justice for wrong doings.

To start with, to assume that tolerance is a chief goal of the moral truth seeker is to assume that it is an absolute good. To be tolerant is to be morally ‘better’ than being intolerant. I would not argue with this proposition but I also have no issue seeing it as an absolute with in my absolute moral code.

Another reason that relativism is in point of fact anti-tolerance is because it itself is an intolerant and arrogant position to maintain. It is a system that Beckwith calls “judgmental, exclusivist and partisan,” (Geisler/Hoffman p25). He states that if you do not agree with the relativistic claims (not his claims of which morals are true, but his overall claim that morality is relative) then you are wrong, so it judges (while claiming not to judge.) Then if you claim to be an absolutist, it “excludes your belief from the realm of legitimate options” so it is then exclusive, (Geisler/Hoffman p 25). And finally since only those thinkers who believe that morality is relative will be allowed into the “correct thinking” party, it is also partisan, (Geisler/Hoffman p25).

Tolerance makes sense only within the framework of a moral order, for it is within such a framework that one can morally justify tolerating some things while not tolerating others. Tolerance without a moral framework, or absolute tolerance, leads to a dogmatic relativism, and thus to an intolerance of any viewpoint that does not embrace relativism. (Geisler/Hoffman p25)

Finally, without any sense of moral absolutes, there can be no real rationalization for any judicial action. Whether this be from a cultural or an individual standpoint, I would not be able to rationally justify saying one action is wrong. Genital mutilation in Africa would be just as morally acceptable as reading my children a bedtime story before tucking them in at night. Nazi Germany was just as right in committing genocide of over six million Jews as I am in feeding the hungry at the local soup kitchen. After all, who would I be to judge one moral platform according to my own? This should raise the hair on your back. It is clear to us, and I would suspect to all moral frameworks, that the slaughter of six million people, innocent or not, is much more wrong, if not even in the slightest degree, than loving our children. I’m sure the officers in charge of the gas chambers would have much rather been at home with their children than slaughtering these people in their camps, even if they did approve of their own actions. Without some system of moral absolutes, it is impossible for us to evaluate the right and wrong doings of others in our subcultures, super cultures, nations and then outreaching into the entirety of humankind.

Does the diversity, or seeming diversity, of moral codes really validate a system of thought that prescribes all morality as relative? If we ascribe to such a belief system what ought we to do with the blatant and blaring contradictions that it generates? What do we do when faced with obvious moral wickedness? Conversely, would praise still be appropriately given to those who do ‘right’ and promotion for those who do ‘good’? Moral relativism is not only self-defeating, and unsound, it is also intolerant and discriminatory. It purges justice and removes praise. It has nothing solid to stand on and no reason, even by its own precepts, to accept it. C.S. Lewis ends his essay with this thought, and since it is befitting I will end mine with it as well. He states that even while the relativist assumes no morals are absolute, they, in their daily life, seek leaders of good morals, trustworthy friends and faithful wives. Lewis records, “But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts and who has learned to do his job,” (Lewis p112). And I resonate that. As for the moral relativist, let him try to live his philosophy and see how quickly, though unwittingly, he falls back into the habits of the absolutist.


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Friday, December 4, 2009

Atheistic Problems

I don’t get atheists who are aggressively hostile against Christianity. For several reasons (starting with the simplest working to the most complex):

1. If there is no such thing as God, why would it matter if other people believed in one? If there is no ultimate reality after death, why should we care what other people believe, so what’s the point in arguing about it (from an Atheist standpoint).

2. They are more hostile to Christianity than any other religion. Atheists are abusive to Christian far and beyond what they are to other religions. If there is no God or after life (a variation of one or both is taught by all major religions) then why not be hostile toward all? And if it is the “irrational” nature of the belief in miracles like the crossing of the Sea, the turning of water into wine, and the resurrection, then look at various other religions with much more wild claims like ancestor worship, people becoming gods to rule their own planets, reincarnation where a person may become a cat, etc.

3. If there is no God, and thus no standard for absolute truth, (I know this point can be debated but I’ve never heard an Atheist do much better than a final authority of “social convention”), then why can’t a Christian be just as justified in their beliefs? And what is the point of debating? Why be so hostile? If there is no absolute truth, then how does an atheist know that there is absolutely no God? How do they know that the Bible is absolutely errant?

4. If there is no God, then the Atheist has the transcendental problem of reason and logic. Atheists like to tout reason as the final authority but they do not realize that it is functioning for them as an a priori assumption, which they claim we cannot have (We cannot assume God as an a priori reality). The question is, if there is no God, what are laws of logic and where did they come from? How are laws of logic immaterial, immutable, and eternal in a material, mutable, finite universe? The answer commonly given is “Social convention” to which the problem becomes: why then should we follow laws of logic? Why not have one culture that can say that “my car is in the garage and it is not the case that my car is the garage”? And if they are not social conventions, then what is their basis? You see, for an Atheist to say that the only absolute authority is reason, then they are using a statement that functions as a pre-commitment. In a Christian’s world view laws of logic exist and we can be rational because God exists as their foundation. But this is not a possible basis for the Atheist.

5. They claim we cannot use the Bible as a final authority because it is “circular” to argue that the Bible is true because it is the Word of God if we learn that God exists from the Bible. But consider the following argument.
Theist: What is the standard of truth?
Atheist: Reason.
Theist: How do you know?
Atheist: Because it is reasonable.
Theist: So it is reasonable to use reason to know that reason is the absolute standard?
Atheist: Yes.

Now this may be simplistic, granted. But the point is clear. There is circular reasoning and there is viciously circular reason. Viciously circular would be something like “there is milk in the fridge because in the fridge there is milk.” The problem is that no matter what the claim is, any absolute authority on truth MUST be circular. It must be used as a precondition because if it is the standard, it must be self-referential or else it would not be the standard. If it can be inferred from something else, then it, itself, is not the absolute standard.

This is all for now. I’m sure I’ll add more later.