In my last post, I mentioned an email exchange I had with a fan of my podcast. My co-host and I had a discussion on the show about the Pledge of Allegiance, how Americans should never expect foreigners to recite it in public settings and they really shouldn't be asking for it to be recited at all in international events.
This ticked off one of our listeners, so much so that he accused us of slamming theists all too often on our show, which isn't about atheism at all. His email basically pulled out a lot of the fallback responses from theists, like "If we are all just walking chunks of flesh then why should I believe anything you say?" etc. It was a crude email that was typical of uneducated theists only reciting what they had been fed in social media and on YouTube, as you'll see he referenced William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist and debater. I didn't keep that original email, but I did keep the rest of the correspondence we had.
You'll notice his replies are short and from the hip while mine are long and thought out. I won't fix his grammar and spelling. The first response is from me, and it comes after he said he appreciated our responses and that he would continue listening to the show.
ME: Thanks for sticking with us. I actually enjoy debating theists in my spare time and have watched just about every WLC debate out there. I have to admit he rubs me the wrong way, but I still listen to him. I think Sean Carroll did the best job of dismantling his Kalam, though I tire of philosophical arguments. I'm more of an evidence guy.
I thought about addressing your email in an entirely different way, discussing the fallacy claim, objective morality, etc., but I didn't want to turn you off any more than I may have already.
Again, thanks for sticking with us and if you want to discuss theism-atheism further I'm open to it as long as you don't let it keep you from listening to our show.
HIM: Hey buddy, thanks for the reply. Honestly, you would probably destroy me in a debate. It gets so complicated at times, I have to re-read, or re-listen about 10 times to fully understand the point! I personally think WLC is an excellent debater, he actually saved my faith! I especially liked his debate against Alex Rosenberg. I do enjoy studying philosophy of religion, as I find science doesn't always answer my questions. I thought WLC did well in the Carroll debate, especially since he is not a cosmologist. I listen to Hugh Ross for things concerning those matters. Are you convinced morality is subjective? I have to ask, do you "believe" in anything other than science? You know where I am going with this! Thanks for being so accessible, and keep up the great work on the podcast.
ME: The Carroll-WLC debate hit the nail on the head when it comes to refuting the Kalam because the KCA asks the wrong questions and Carroll proves that. It's a fine argument from the pre-Enlightenment era, but now it makes little sense. When WLC is shown his argument is false, he still continues with it, because he's merely a hired gun and is working on an outdated script. And you're correct, he isn't a cosmologist, so he should stick to what he knows. I have another argument that I believe refutes the KCA, but like I said, I despise philosophy. If you want to read my opinion on it I will gladly write it up for you. I enjoy doing this and spend a lot of time debating theists in forums.
To answer your question about science, we would first have to agree on a definition for belief. If you mean do I believe unconditionally everything science has to offer? Of course not, because that flies entirely in the face of what the scientific method is all about. Science isn't my religion, but there is no better way on this planet to decipher what is true when it comes to the physical world. The scientific method ensures questions get answered and conspiracies are all but impossible. The mere fact that science is transparent and scientists live for being double-checked and found wrong is the reason to trust it.
As for morality, yes, I 100 percent believe it's subjective and, like the U.S. Constitution, it's like a living breathing thing and can change over time, as it of course has. Even if there were a god, and that god is your god, he/she/it would still have an opinion as to what is moral, making it subjective. We are a product of our times and environment, always have been, always will be.
Like I said before, I wouldn't want this to affect our relationship. I appreciate your candor and honesty and the fact that you like our show. But if you want to keep this up, I'm game. You asked me some questions so I guess I'll just ask you one: What is your worldview?
HIM: Thanks for the reply, you're very intelligent when it comes to these matters. However, for me there is a big problem with a naturalistic world view. If morality is subjective, and we are just evolved chimpanzees, then everything that comes out of your mouth, or is printed in a science book, or even science itself, is purely subjective! How can one say that torturing somebody for fun is only subjectively bad? At least you didn't say "science is the only truth," like so many others I talk to will say. The statement "science is the only truth" by itself proves that science is not the only truth! You are too intelligent to say that, which says a lot about you.
Also, if my God did exist, he would be a maximally great being. He would be the greatest conceivable "good." Therefore, "good" would be objective. In other words, God did not choose good because it is good, but good is only good if a maximally great being possesses that quality. To answer your question about my world view, I am an old earth creationist. I have learned a lot from William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, and Fazale Rana. I am sure I will learn something from you as well! This will not affect our relationship, I enjoy hearing about your world view.
ME: I'm so glad you responded and I must admit my response is quite long as I use some info from Wiki, responses from TTA forum members and Iron Chariots. Since you were the first to mention fallacies I assume you will be OK with me treating our correspondence as a debate and pointing out when you commit fallacies, etc.
Your first statement "If morality is subjective ..." has many problems. You said you were an old world creationist, but that still needs some clarifying. You could be a gap creationist (god created life instantly and recently), a progressive creationist (god allows for gene mutation and natural selection but intervenes at key points to guide the process to create humans) or a theism creationist (god of the bible created the universe and life through evolutionary processes.)
From the comment, I might guess you were a gap creationist because that statement about chimps means you might not understand what evolution really is. We are not evolved chimps. They are distant cousins to Homo sapiens on a geological timescale. Along the evolutionary tree we had a common ancestor, but we didn't come from chimps. I hope you don't ever make statements such as, "If we evolved from chimps then why are there still chimps?" because that is truly a gross ignorance that needs to be eradicated from this planet.
The topic of our discussion is objective morality. Based on this, your statement commits a few fallacies, including the evolutionary one I pointed out already. The examples you give are non sequiturs (another fallacy) in that they have little or nothing to do with the topic. Casual conversations are hardly subjected to such scrutiny as to be deemed important enough to be judged objectively by an all-powerful being. Same with textbooks, etc. These examples serve as a red herring in that you are avoiding the subject by invoking false dichotomies.
It's not that I disagree with the "subjective" portion of the statement, it's that it serves little purpose when trying to get to the heart of the matter, which is objective morality. What I say, think or do is purely subjective, yes. I am the subject, I am performing these acts or having these thoughts, hence they dictate their subjectiveness. It has nothing to do with determining if there is objective morality, so the examples are pointless.
Now, let's get to it. You brought up the example of torturing for fun and ask how it could only be subjectively bad. Torture is by definition unlawful abuse and/or creation of mental anguish. So any agreement is merely that people within a society should obey the rules of society. (Saying it is for fun is a nice touch but has little bearing on the degree of the act.)
For the argument to have any validity, all societies would have to agree on which types of mistreatment constitute torture, but even a cursory review of human history shows this is not the case. Violent interrogation, which one might think would be universally reviled, was perfectly acceptable to the Romans and Spartans (hell, even police/government agencies still do it).
Let's step it up to murder just for fun. Human sacrifice has been practiced by cultures around the world, as have judicial executions. The slaughter of civilians in war was widely accepted until fairly modern times. Some cultures did not consider it murder to kill people from other nations. At one point, samurai had wide latitude to kill peasants over the slightest discourtesy. Unless there is at least one type of killing that is universally considered to be murder, it cannot be argued that all societies agree that murder is wrong in any meaningful sense. This is the same for torture.
So to say these atrocities are objectively bad wouldn't quite be correct. I also think you may be confusing objective truth with objective morality. Again, let's go back to your statement. What comes out of my mouth or is printed on the pages of a science textbook could very well be objective truths, but it doesn't need an omnibenevolent deity to validate it. Those have nothing to do with morality.
You can certainly use objective tools to find out whether an action is morally good or bad, but the parameters you have to set up before doing so remain a subjective choice. One person may choose human suffering/human happiness as a parameter for determining morality, another person may choose his own well-being as a parameter and a third person may choose a religious scripture as his parameter. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
All fields of science have to make certain subjective assumptions to pursue objective truths. You need to subjectively value logic, reason, evidence before you can accurately gauge and measure objective truths. If you require that a science of morality to be 100 percent objective, then you're requiring it be self-justifying in a way no science can.
To quote Sam Harris in a debate he had with WLC: "If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?"
Your statements about "your" god commit two fallacies: special pleading and wishful thinking. While it's fantastic to be able to recognize the god you want, you are merely creating the being that best fits your worldview, a god you hope exists. No objective source of morality has ever been confirmed, nor have any "a priori" proofs been offered to the effect that morality is anything other than subjective. The moral principles theists claim to be "objective" usually coincide very well with what they feel subjectively to be true. The fact that you give this god the qualifier that he's maximally great means nothing and can't be proved. Why couldn't this god be maximally bad? And even if he did exist and was good, saying that he is the definition of good doesn't make it objective. If we as humans have to be told what is good then god is defining it for us, making it subjective.
Here is where it gets tricky and your worldview is important: Humans have been around in our current form for at least 100K years (it's closer to 200K but for the purposes of this discussion 100K will do nicely). I can produce mountains of evidence that proves this if you doubt it. We can easily show humans lived long before religion, before your god finally presented himself to us some 6K (or 2K) years ago. Did humans have objective morals then? How did we survive as a race if we didn't have a bible or personal revelation of god to keep us from torturing for fun and murdering for no reason? Why didn't we just die out from everyone committing every repulsive atrocity possible? Was god screwing with our free will and keeping us alive by squashing our urge to kill each other? That can't be, right?
Or maybe something a little more logical happened, you know, Occam's Razor and all. Maybe we formed tribes and packs, and realized it was much easier to survive when we worked together. Maybe we developed empathy through experience and protected each other from those individuals who didn't have the same moral compass as society. Then over the years we continued to learn and developed the Golden Rule, which means don't do something to someone you wouldn't want done to you. By the way, Confucius used the Golden Rule centuries before Christianity even existed so it's not a Christian concept. Also, we have witnessed empathy and morals in the animal kingdom countless times in countless acts. I can prove this, too. Where did they get their morals? God?
I have studied this from all angles and I didn't take my deconversion lightly. I can debate everything from philosophy to the bible, I can give my take on Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even Hinduism. I can discuss the historicity of Jesus, the irreconcilables of the gospels, the problems with the Old Testament, the problems with the New Testament, the contradictions riddled throughout the bible and I can hold my own with science.
I very much enjoyed this and hope I didn't turn you off. I'm pretty passionate about it and eagerly await your response. If there are other topics you'd like to discuss, I am all for it.
HIM: I appreciate your thorough response. To be honest, you're just way to advanced for me to have a proper debate with. At least I am man enough to admit it. You're very intelligent! Not making excuses, but I guess I kind of am, with a full time job, a wife and two kids, and trying to start up an early 60's surf rock band, I just don't have time to commit my life to studying all these things right now. I will say, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, and Fuzale Rana do address everything that you have brought up. I have been thinking, why don't you send in either your rebuttal to the Kalam, or a write up about objective/subjective morality to William Lane Craig? I am serious, you are so advanced, I think he will take one of your questions as one of his "questions of the week." I have enjoyed our conversation, and hope I havn't let you down. Please do keep in touch with me, as I think you are very kind and respectful to other people with different world views. Take care!
At this point I think he is waving the white flag and he is actually asking to stay in touch. So I just try to end it quickly.
ME: Nah, his rebuttals aren't rebuttals. But that's cool. Just glad we are cool with each other. Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you're sticking around. If you change your mind or have questions let me know in your free time.
HIM: Yes, they are rebuttals. There is a reason why he wins every single debate that he is involved in. Dawkins is too chicken **** to debate him, most atheist agree Harris lost by a mile, Carroll was shown why none of his lame, outdated models would work, the panel voted 4-2 in favor of Craig when he debated Rosenberg, and the Atheist Wire newspaper said "Hitchens got spanked." Are you sure the reason why you don't want to send in your thesis isn't because he could easily refute it? If Atheism is so obviously true, why does WLC keep winning these debates?! Deep down you know he shows that theism is true, but you just choose to ignore that fact. Anyway, I will definitely continue to listen to the podcast, keep up the good work!
I found it very telling how one line in my brief response got him to start to show his true feelings and unleash a little vitriol.
ME: I knew you'd be back! He won all of the debates? Hmmm. Anyone who thinks Sam Harris lost his debate to WLC must be Craig's mother or have his same last name. It was the most embarrassing one-sided affair I've ever watched and I've seen a lot of them. Not sure where you're getting your info.
And exactly who told you he won the Carroll debate, theist bloggers and Christian websites? Did you watch the debate?
Of course both sides would declare victory, just like political debates when each side spins it their way in the moratorium. But Carroll didn't try to win the debate, he even said that, he just completely dismantled the antiquated KCA. Anyone who actually followed the debate and listened to what Carroll said would know he said models don't have to be perfect, they only have to be possible. It's a moot point to say they don't work.
Your rhetoric about what I feel "deep down" was comical at best and I'll let it slide. I'm an evidence guy, just like in poker. If the story doesn't add up, I'm calling your bluff. WLC's story doesn't add up in the 21st century. And neither does yours here. You played that weak card a little too early. Do you think if I really believed the Christian god existed that I would piss him off like this? LOL! And if, as you admitted, you're not equipped to debate me on your own about such issues, how do you know WLC has won anything? Because you're being told he won? Kinda like being told what to believe by the church? Hmm.
BTW: Dawkins hates debates, but when he does agree to one he wants to be debated by legitimate clergy, not a hired gun throwing around science terms he really doesn't understand.
I have a real problem with WLC but I won't get into that here. My disdain for him came WAY after I saw the debates, so this attitude I have toward him didn't affect my objectivity when I was searching for the truth years ago. I listened wholeheartedly to him when I was at a crossroads and he just didn't do it for me.
Are we having fun yet?
Tell me, have you read the bible cover to cover? And you said WLC restored your faith. Why did you lose it in the first place, and are your beliefs solid now because of his debates alone?
HIM: Answer this question honestly, and think before you answer. Would you personally debate WLC? Also, I am not dumb enough to say if we came from monkeys why are they still here. It does not matter if one type of murder is universally accepted or considered wrong, that doesn't change the fact that it is objectively wrong to murder somebody (we're not talking self defense here). It doesn't matter if all societies agree upon one type of torture, it's still objectively wrong. What society says about it has nothing to do with it, you atheist don't seem to grasp that point. Are you familiar with special pleading? You are guilty of it, sir. Since everything is subjective, and we are all just walking chunks of matter, why do you stand up for same sex marriage? You shouldn't care about it! I know what you will say, but really you shouldn't care, even if it "infringes on your rights." Atheist are very closed minded. I need to get back to work, have a great day!
ME: Ever notice WLC ALWAYS goes first in a debate? Why do you think that is? It's because he insists on it, including many other stipulations like a favorable location, time constraints, etc. Why? Because he then uses a tactic on the level of a high school debate team by altering the topic of the debate to something he can manipulate, forcing his opponent to do one of two things: spend his 10 minutes refuting the BS that WLC just pulled, thus surrendering his 10 minutes and playing defense for the rest of the night, or he can go ahead with his prepared 10 minutes that actually addresses the subject, and then will be subjected to WLC's underhanded cries of foul, accusing his opponent of not addressing the points he brought up, and declaring his victory. It's something that ignorant audiences and inexperienced debaters fall for and is why so many theists believe this guy wins. It's manipulative and unprofessional at best.
You have not proved at all that murder or torture is objectively wrong, you are just more and more guilty of fallacies, namely an appeal to emotion and an argument from adverse consequences. Everything related to behavior and morality is subjective and no one has ever made an argument that refutes this point without trying to insert a god they can't prove exists. And even if your god did exist, like we've discussed, this god would need to be defined so I can dismantle him for you as well. You never answered my question about the bible, btw.
Your points about special pleading and same sex marriage completely miss the mark. Please point out how I am guilty of special pleading by insisting we are all responsible for our own actions and don't answer to a made-up deity. And you never state why I shouldn't care. I know why we should care, but you never state why. Please complete at least one thought in your responses.
Your strawman fallacies are beginning to show as well, lumping all atheists into your narrow view of them and then knocking them down. Empathy is one of the most valuable attributes we have as a race and those who can't recognize that are the truly close-minded. No special pleading there.
While I appreciate how busy you might be at work, I notice you cherry-pick only that which you are comfortable answering. Why is that? Many followers of Christianity choose to cherry-pick the bible and its tenants so this behavior isn't surprising.
Hope work is going well.
HIM: You never answered my question about debating WLC. I think I know why, it's because you would get your ass kicked in a debate against him. You are making all atheist look bad with your weak arguments. Anyway, I apologize for being rude, I am not normally like that. I think you guys do a fine job and do so in a professional manner. I will recommend all of my friends to listen to your podcast. I am not at all being sarcastic. Good luck to you, and have a great day.
At this point I replied to him and sent it off, only to find out he had eliminated his email address. He really didn't like me tearing apart his hero and it got to him just when I thought the exchange was going to end. He didn't answer quite a few questions I posed to him and I'm not sure if that's because he just didn't have time, he was upset by what I had said or that he just didn't want to have to think about those things. I see it all of the time when talking to theists who really haven't given any critical thinking to their worldview. Maybe he will reach out to me again someday, with a different email address I'm sure.