Intelligent Design

Christopher’s Challenge

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Christopher Hitchens is nothing if not a straight-shooter. He calls it like he sees it, and not even a vicious attack could stop him from denouncing evil, racist ideologies that are still with us today. He is also a fearless and formidable debater. In recent years, he has declared himself an anti-theist, a term he defines as follows:

You could be an atheist and wish that the belief was true. You could; I know some people who do. An antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who’s very relieved that there’s no evidence for this proposition.

On Bastille Day in 2007, in response to an article entitled What Atheists Can’t Answer by op-ed columnist Michael Gerson in The Washington Post, Christopher Hitchens threw down the gauntlet to theists:

Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first – I have been asking it for some time – awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

Hitchens has repeated this challenge on numerous occasions since then. The first time I heard him issue this challenge, I thought: “He has a point.” Going through the Ten Commandments (a natural starting point for someone raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition), it seemed to me that the only ones that a nonbeliever couldn’t keep were the ones relating to the worship of God. But Christopher Hitchens might reasonably object that if religious belief only makes believers more ethical in the way they relate to God, then it has no practical moral value. Surely, if God exists, then the belief that God is real should also infuse a deeper meaning into our interactions with other people. For the belief that God is real is meant to transform the way in which we think about and act towards others. In that case, there should be ethical actions directed at other human beings that a believer can perform, and that a nonbeliever cannot.

Christopher Hitchens has been criticized before for failing to provide a secular justification for his moral beliefs, and for waffling on the subject of free will. I will not rehash those criticisms here. Instead I will throw the floor open, and invite submissions from readers in answer to the following question:

Can you name an ethical action directed at other human beings, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?

To help readers along, I’ll make my question more focused. Let’s call it “Christopher’s Challenge”:

Can you name an ethical action directed at Christopher Hitchens, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?

I’m deeply ashamed to say that it took me two whole weeks to think of the answer to this question, and then I kicked myself hard for not having thought of it sooner. But I confidently predict that someone reading this post will come up with the answer within 24 hours.

Answers, anyone?

Update on Professor Feser’s response to my post

(By the way, I would like to thank Professor Edward Feser for his lengthy and detailed reply to my post, and I would like to add that I deeply respect his passion for truth. Professor Feser and I have a somewhat different understanding of Thomist metaphysics and how it should be interpreted in the 21st century, and I would also disagree with his bold claim that even if scientists one day managed to synthesize a life-form from scratch in a lab, that life-form would not be an artifact. But in the meantime, I would like to draw readers’ attention to a remark Professor Feser made in his post, “Intelligent Design” theory and mechanism, on 10 April 2010:

Perhaps the biological world God creates works according to Darwinian principles; and perhaps not.

Those were incautious words, and I believe they betray a profound misunderstanding of what Aquinas wrote on the Creation. In a forthcoming post, I will demonstrate that Aquinas would never have accepted the Darwinian account of how evolution is supposed to work, even if he had known then what we know now. I will also show that according to Aquinas, certain life-forms cannot be generated from non-living matter by any kind of natural process, even in a universe sustained by God, and rife with final causes. Stay tuned!)

314 Replies to “Christopher’s Challenge

  1. 1
    Charlie says:

    For him:
    You can offer intercessory prayer for him.

    To him:
    You can reach out to him in true love of his soul love with the truth and with the knowledge necessary for his soul’s salvation.

  2. 2
    NZer says:

    The more I think about it, the more I just cannot place “atheism” and “foundation for ANY morality” in the same sentence. They just seem to be in different non-overlapping categories.

    Is-ought fallacy anyone?

  3. 3
    Charlie says:

    Hitchens begs the question when it is answered. When he is told what moral behaviour believers engage in, worshipping God, for instance, he just sniffs that he doesn’t regard that as a moral behaviour. Easy peezy.

  4. 4
    GilDodgen says:

    How about any action directed at concern for the fate of his soul? If it turns out that we do have immortal souls with their fate hanging in the balance, such an action would certainly be ethical, and could never be undertaken by a nonbeliever.

    The big question is not the one Hitchens asks. It is, On balance, what worldview has created the most charity, compassion, liberty, prosperity, and justice? I believe that a strong case can be made that it is Judeo-Christianity. The worldview that has produced the least of these — and, in fact, the most of their opposites — is explicitly atheistic Marxism.

  5. 5
    thejbomb says:

    I first encountered this question in “The Portable Atheist”. Honestly, I thought it was kind of vague. An ethical action as defined by Mr. Hitchens would certainly be different than an objective, transcendent description of ethics as derived from the Bible.

    And even in secular culture, there is a disagreement on whether the act itself is ethical irrespective of the outcome or if the act is ethical based only on the outcome.

    Motive of the act also can play a role.

    So I look forward to reading the various responses and how people make sense of all these different factors.

    My own take is this. In Matthew 5, Jesus declared that we (Christians) are “the light of the world”.

    Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:10, said that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

    So then, if we are the light, and we are the light because we can proclaim the light “through the gospel”, then speaking the gospel to Mr. Hitchens would be the action.

    The light of the gospel reveals the rift between our spiritual death in sin and the spiritual life to be found in Christ (there is probably disagreement on whether the “real” gospel can be proclaimed by an unbeliever – for now, I don’t think so. But, admittedly, it is a weakness in this argument).

    The fact that Mr. Hitchens will not come to understand this until he dies is why He would have a problem with defining an ethical action on these terms to begin with. Which, of course, is where I started out.

    BTW – Thanks for Uncommon Descent. It is a great help to me.

  6. 6
    JPCollado says:

    “Name one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been done by a nonbeliever.”

    There are a ton of examples. But he only wants one. That’ll be easy.

    Betsie ten Boom (sister of the famous Corrie ten Boom) in the concentration camp wishing goodwill to (and loving prayer for) the people who are tormenting her. This, of course, after having lost her home, elderly father and other family members to Nazi mistreatment, and suffering the ordeals of starvation, sickness, and a listfull of deprivations.

  7. 7
    JPCollado says:

    Name one ethical action…that could not have been done by a nonbeliever

    Another example: Maximilian Kolbe. The Catholic priest who offered his life to save that of another during one of the executions in Auschwitz.

    This is starting to get easy.

  8. 8
    Phaedros says:

    Hitchens is a hack plain and simple. There is no good case for the non-existence of god at all. The challenge he posits is impossible to answer because morality and ethics DID arise out of a religious context of one sort or another, especially the more enlightened ones, i.e. not the eye for an eye sort. It would be impossible for a “nonbeliever” of today who has grown up within society in some way or another to perform an ethical action that was not based on already existing ideas of ethics. In my opinion Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett should all be ignored, or at least not given any credence in regards to philosophical questions because they are so incredibly stupid when it comes to those questions.

  9. 9
    JPCollado says:

    Another example: The five American missionaries (McCully, Fleming, Saint, Youderian and Elliot) who sacrificed so much to reach the Ecuadorian Aucas in order to help them reach spiritual as well as physical wellbeing. Speared to death back in 1956, they had a gun, which they could have easily used to kill every single one of the attackers, but those who know the story know the reason.

    I could go on. But I think we get the picture.

    If anything, this shows the itsy bitsy world view that Hitchens has about humanity in general, and its soul in particular. Such is the sickly fruit of disbelief.

  10. 10
    tribune7 says:

    Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

    That’s sort of a trick question. Of course any ethical statement could be uttered any non-believer. The relevant one is why weren’t they.

    And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith?

    Again obviously not. But has any wicked statement/evil action been performed by someone faithfully and truly following the commands of Jesus?

  11. 11
    Phaedros says:

    Here’s a question, can one imagine a “nonbeliever” coming up with a radically new ethical solution or even a new ethic? I cannot because they would not have anything more to draw on than the mechanisms already in place in the material world.

  12. 12

    Greetings, vj:
    I’m very glad that you specified either an ethical statement or an ethical act, as I believe that the two are fundamentally different things. In my opinion (which, for what it’s worth, is mirrored in many ethical and religious creeds and statements) is that acts are what make a difference. No amount of making ethical “statements” makes any difference at all unless they are accompanied by and have the effect of causing those uttering or hearing them to perform ethical acts. By the same argument, no ethical “statements” are necessary if an ethical act is performed, and no amount of explanation can justify an unethical act.

    On that basis, it is even possible for someone to perform an ethical act when motivated by unethical beliefs, just as it is possible for someone to perform an unethical act when motivated by ethical beliefs. We have had some of this discussion before, in the thread on ethics and atheism.

    Indeed, it seems as this thread may very well turn out to be a rehash of the arguments made in that thread, with the exception of your specification that actions can matter as much as statements.

    On a personal note, I was once threatened with a beating by a “devout” Christian when I suggested that it was possible for someone who had never heard or read the Gospel to act in a genuinely ethical manner. He asserted very strongly (backed up with physical threats) that unless one were a believing Christian it would be impossible for that person to act ethically. Indeed, he asserted that virtually every action performed by a non-Christian would be ipso facto unethical (regardless of its outcome), as such actions would not have been motivated by “the spirit of Christ”.

    Lest anyone reading this think that this position is outside the pale, it is constructive to consider the results of many political polls on this and related subjects, virtually all of which find that Americans in general and Christians in particular believe that atheists cannot behave ethically because they are atheists, and therefore have no “absolute standard” of ethical behavior. The first corollary of this position is that atheists therefore should not be elected to public office, and indeed, should not be eligible for election to public office nor to vote in elections (a position taken by Gary North and other proponents of the Christian Reconstruction movement, among others), nor be allowed to be citizens of the American (i.e. Christian) republic.

    So, to answer vj’s query in the OP, one obvious action that a person could take would be to come to Christopher Hitchen’s aid in a circumstance similar to that described in the link vj provided in the OP. Indeed, coming to anyone’s aid under such circumstances would qualify, and I cannot see anyone arguing rationally that being an atheist or a Christian would be a necessary prerequisite for performing such an act.

    So that this thread might not necessarily simply plod back over already well-trodden ground, perhaps it might be interesting to ask whether an act must necessarily be altruistic (i.e. benefiting someone else at some cost to the individual performing it) to qualify as “ethical”. That is,

    “Is altruism necessarily ethical, and are ethical acts necessarily altruistic?

  13. 13

    P.S. Although it seems unnecessary (and even tedious) to repeat this, for those who have already jumped to various conclusions, I am not an atheist. See:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html

  14. 14

    In one of his books (I can’t remember which at the moment), Robert Heinlein recounted a news story from the late 19th century. According to the story, a man and wife were walking in a park, and during their walk they crossed a railroad track. The woman’s foot became wedged in the “frog” of the track, and her husband attempted to free her. A nearby man (a hobo in Heinlein’s account) also tried to help the man free her, as a train was approaching at high speed. They were unsuccessful, and all three were killed by the train.

    Heinlein asserted that the hobo was the most altruistic person in this story, as his act was as completely “selfless” as is possible to imagine under the circumstances.

    Now, consider this: Heinlein did not specify that the hobo was (or was not) religious, nor that his behavior was motivated by religious beliefs or ethical precepts. Would it have made any difference to the ethical import of this anecdote if he had so specified, or if he had specified that the hobo was an atheist? If so, how so, and if not, how does your answer apply to vj’s query in the OP?

  15. 15
    JPCollado says:

    Altruism has no place in a “competitive” cold world where survival is most fitting.

    What an idealistic quandary.

  16. 16

    In comment #11 Phaedros wrote:

    “…can one imagine a “nonbeliever” coming up with a radically new ethical solution…?”

    Yes; Oscar Schindler.

  17. 17

    There is no documentary evidence that Oscar Schindler was a “committed believer”. He was raised a Catholic, but joined the Nazi party 1939. Over the course of the war, he eventually saved the lives of 1,100 Jews who worked in his enamel-work factories. When asked why he did so, he replied

    “I knew the people who worked for me… When you know people, you have to behave toward them like human beings.”

    [Source: David M. Crowe (2004) Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind The List, Philadelphia, Westview Press.

  18. 18
    Sooner Emeritus says:

    There are strong similarities in the ethical teachings of Gautama Buddha and those of Jesus. The Buddha lived 400-500 years before Jesus did, and was atheistic. Palestine was anything but isolated from India before and during Jesus’ lifetime.

  19. 19
    Seversky says:

    1) We still have no resolution to the Euthyphro Dilemma.

    2) If Christians perform an ethical act only because they were told it was ethical by God, have they, in fact, acted ethically?

    3) If an atheist performs an act that, if performed by a Christian would be considered ethical, in what way would it be unethical for the atheist?

    4) If acts are only ethical if so designated by a God who does not provide any reasons for his determinations, in what way can those choices be considered rational? How can abiding by those choices be considered rational?

    5) If God’s ethical prescriptions are, so far as we can tell, arbitrary and if there is no logical way to derive such prescriptions from observations of the natural world, how else might we “ground” a system of ethics?

    6) If God can draw up a list of ethical commandments, what is to prevent us from doing the same?

    7) If we find that other, non-Christian cultures have developed independently ethical systems of their own which are similar to Christian ethics, how can it be argued that only Christianity can supply foundational ethics?

    8) Is there any rational basis for ethics other than utilitariansism?

  20. 20
    JPCollado says:

    Emeritus: “There are strong similarities in the ethical teachings of Gautama Buddha and those of Jesus”

    Buddha’s gospel version never offered love and prayer for the enemy, nor the ultimate sacrifice, the latter being antithethical to a worldview which strives to eek out every minute of one’s limited existence.

  21. 21
    JPCollado says:

    MacNeill: “There is no documentary evidence that Oscar Schindler was a “committed believer”.”

    Therefore Oscar was a non-believer? That’s a logical fallacy, and Arguments from Silence don’t add up to much.

    The question here was not so much on whether one is a practicing believer, however related that may be to the act or state of belief. The one thing that cannot be denied is that eventually one’s philosophy of life/death/justice/etc. will have some measure of influence throughout a person’s life and upon the kinds of decisions when presented with crises of the sort Schindler faced.

    There isn’t much inspiration derived from nihilism, but there is from the set of beliefs based on hope.

  22. 22
    bornagain77 says:

    Altruism & Selfless Love: Theistic and Naturalistic Perspectives
    http://www.vimeo.com/10809241

    as for sooner saying Buddhism is as good as Christianity I would to refer to this study of NDE’s for a thoroughly Buddhist culture:

    Near-Death Experiences in Thailand – Todd Murphy:
    Excerpt:The Light seems to be absent in Thai NDEs. So is the profound positive affect found in so many Western NDEs. The most common affect in our collection is negative. Unlike the negative affect in so many Western NDEs (cf. Greyson & Bush, 1992), that found in Thai NDEs (in all but case #11) has two recognizable causes. The first is fear of ‘going’. The second is horror and fear of hell. It is worth noting that although half of our collection include seeing hell (cases 2,6,7,9,10) and being forced to witness horrific tortures, not one includes the NDEer having been subjected to these torments themselves. http://www.shaktitechnology.com/thaindes.htm

  23. 23
    Dick says:

    If it is a reply to Hitchens’ original challenge (Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.) we’re after, then:

    “We have a moral obligation to care about others” should suffice.

    If atheism is true there are no moral obligations.

  24. 24
    bornagain77 says:

    Sooner:

    Is One True Religion Possible? William Lane Craig
    http://www.vimeo.com/9189570

  25. 25
  26. 26
    Graham says:

    To Dick #20,
    I am an atheist and I often donate money to victims of natural disasters (which are often far away from my home country). I dont do this because I feel any ‘obligation’, nor do I do it because I have been instructed by some old book, I do it because its the right thing to do.

  27. 27
    Phaedros says:

    Allen MacNeill

    “There is no documentary evidence that Oscar Schindler was a “committed believer”. He was raised a Catholic, but joined the Nazi party 1939. Over the course of the war, he eventually saved the lives of 1,100 Jews who worked in his enamel-work factories. When asked why he did so, he replied

    “I knew the people who worked for me… When you know people, you have to behave toward them like human beings.”

    This is not an example of a radically new ethic or ethical solution. This is pretty basic ethics flowing from the teachings of religious leaders such as the Buddha and Jesus Christ. To claim that Schindler was the first to ever think of something like this is ludicrous.

    Sooner Emeritus

    “There are strong similarities in the ethical teachings of Gautama Buddha and those of Jesus. The Buddha lived 400-500 years before Jesus did, and was atheistic. Palestine was anything but isolated from India before and during Jesus’ lifetime.”

    The atheism of Buddhism is much different than the atheism of Dawkins or your typical modern atheist. Modern atheists are materialistic atheists, Buddhism is far from materialistic. The Buddha taught that you could transcend the material realm, maya, which was illusion. That is nothing like the atheism of today. Not to mention that the Buddha actually made it possible for every other being to achieve enlightenment and become a Buddha itself. I guess you could say Buddhism is more akin to a transcendental idealism where everything is godlike, i.e. Buddha-like.

  28. 28
    Matteo says:

    Can you name an ethical action directed at other human beings, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?

    Why, precisely, would I want to limit ethical questions to what I owe other human beings when the greatest commandment of all concerns love of God? What good is completely, irrevocably blowing that one, but somehow (on the unlikely assumption–at least regarding Hitchens–that the atheist does not advocate the slaughter of inconvenient unborn human beings or the theft of his neighbor’s property via socialism) getting love of neighbor correct?

    Regarding what a believer can do for Hitchens that an unbeliever couldn’t: How about praying for his salvation?

    I’ve prayed for Dawkins, I’ve prayed for Hitchens. My assumption would be that should they find themselves in Paradise, they’ll find that they will have many believers to thank, but needing to thank their militant atheist compadres? Not so much.

  29. 29
    nullasalus says:

    What can a believer do that an atheist can’t?

    All manner of things. But I’ll give one in particular here: Care for someone’s spiritual, rather than material well-being. For a materialist atheist, there is no ‘spiritual’ well-being. There is no actual, real, fundamental and objective good to pursue whatsoever. There are, at best, shoddy stand-ins. Personal likes and dislikes. Cultural and conventional likes and dislikes.

    In other words, if the theist/non-materialist is correct, then they can do and pursue things – even with and toward others – that no consistent materialist atheist is capable of.

    (Incidentally, I specify ‘materialist’ atheist here precisely because A) That’s the most common type of atheist in these discussions, and B) To make them distinct from a non-materialist atheist – say, one who may insist that objective moral standards do exist, that spiritual goods do exist, while rejecting the existence of God. However, I’d also maintain that calling someone who believes in those things an ‘atheist’ is itself a claim open to serious argument. A pantheist or panentheist, example, is not really an atheist in an ultimate sense. And if classical theists are correct in God being identical to goodness itself, to believe in ‘goodness’ is to believe in God – and yes, that is another argument-laden topic.)

    I’d also throw out the following challenge, which I hope may illustrate another one of the problems with Hitchens’ challenge as I see it:

    “Name an ethical action directed at other human beings that a committed nihilist could not perform that a non-nihilist could.”

    Aside from the example I just gave, I think you’re going to find it hard to come up with an act a nihilist could not do that a non-nihilist could.

    But that leads to two possible results.

    A) One could take take nihilism as therefore not posing a problem for morality or ethics, which is a curious conclusion to say the least.

    or

    B) One could argue that while a nihilist may be hypothetically capable of all these (in essence, merely mechanical) acts, nevertheless nihilism is a problem for morality and ethics. Which would help to highlight another problem with this question in estimating a consistent materialist atheist’s relation to morality.

  30. 30
    Clive Hayden says:

    Sooner Emeritus

    There are strong similarities in the ethical teachings of Gautama Buddha and those of Jesus. The Buddha lived 400-500 years before Jesus did, and was atheistic. Palestine was anything but isolated from India before and during Jesus’ lifetime.

    Students of popular science, like Mr. Blatchford, are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism. This is generally believed, and I believed it myself until I read a book giving the reasons for it. The reasons were of two kinds: resemblances that meant nothing because they were common to all humanity, and resemblances which were not resemblances at all. The author solemnly explained that the two creeds were alike in things in which all creeds are alike, or else he described them as alike in some point in which they are quite obviously different. Thus, as a case of the first class, he said that both Christ and Buddha were called by the divine voice coming out of the sky, as if you would expect the divine voice to come out of the coal-cellar. Or, again, it was gravely urged that these two Eastern teachers, by a singular coincidence, both had to do with the washing of feet. You might as well say that it was a remarkable coincidence that they both had feet to wash. And the other class of similarities were those which simply were not similar. Thus this reconciler of the two religions draws earnest attention to the fact that at certain religious feasts the robe of the Lama is rent in pieces out of respect, and the remnants highly valued. But this is the reverse of a resemblance, for the garments of Christ were not rent in pieces out of respect, but out of derision; and the remnants were not highly valued except for what they would fetch in the rag shops. It is rather like alluding to the obvious connection between the two ceremonies of the sword: when it taps a man’s shoulder, and when it cuts off his head. It is not at all similar for the man. These scraps of puerile pedantry would indeed matter little if it were not also true that the alleged philosophical resemblances are also of these two kinds, either proving too much or not proving anything. That Buddhism approves of mercy or of self-restraint is not to say that it is specially like Christianity; it is only to say that it is not utterly unlike all human existence. Buddhists disapprove in theory of cruelty or excess because all sane human beings disapprove in theory of cruelty or excess. But to say that Buddhism and Christianity give the same philosophy of these things is simply false. All humanity does agree that we are in a net of sin. Most of humanity agrees that there is some way out. But as to what is the way out, I do not think that there are two institutions in the universe which contradict each other so flatly as Buddhism and Christianity.

    It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him. We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him.

    ~G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

  31. 31
    tyke says:

    Hitchens rejects praying for his soul as an ethical act. He doesn’t want anyone praying for his soul anyway — he thinks it’s a waste of time, and thus there is nothing ethical about it, especially if it is being done against his expressed wishes.

    As for being kind to those who are killing you or torturing you — Hitchens would merely point out that the ethical thing to do in such a situation would be to do everything in your power to stop them from doing it to you and anyone else–killing them if necessary. He argues (with some merit, I think) that there is nothing ethical about being nice to evil people who are in the process of committing terrible crimes on other.

    (I have watched enough of his debates to know how he responds to these types of answers to his challenge.)

    And in the rare cases where kind words and deeds might be useful for getting out of a terrible situation—like a kidnapping victim—there is nothing to stop an atheist from using such tactics either.

  32. 32
    howard says:

    There’s something that troubles me about Christopher Hitchens approach to this matter.
    Wanting us to ‘prove’ something about what he would define, no doubt, as the consequences of a particular malady (which he would prefer was ended quickly), but according to Christianity, God’s grace and mercy is bestowed on everyone – we all benefit from His goodness and we all are aware of certain things because of the way we have been fashioned – these truths clearly impact upon us, but Mr Hitchens, it seems, wishes us to look at such issues through a far narrower portal than we should. The reality is that God can work where He wishes amongst us, so to seek to label a particular deed or act can, in fact, amount to little more than a case of missing the wood from the trees.

    Let’s be honest, whatever example is given will no doubt be quickly dismissed by Christopher and Co – what is needed is a deep unsettling in our lives (of the kind incidentally encountered by his brother, Peter, as shown in his book, ‘The Rage Against God’)- that we are dealing with truths which we simply cannot escape. I hope that something of this nature truly troubles us as we view our troubling existence amidst this astonishing order.

  33. 33
    Spiny Norman says:

    @Allen_MacNeill @11:
    You covered two important factors in ethics (statements and actions) however I believe that both of these are subservient to the most important factor in ethics: intent.

    A person (atheist or theist) can make ethical statements and yet these statements could be lies (e.g. “We should all love one another” may be a true statement, yet the speaker may be lying in the sense that they do not believe the statement to be true). Such a person may also perform ethical acts (e.g. laying down their life for another person) and yet do so from false reasons (e.g. they may believe that they will be rescued at the last minute and thus win fame and fortune, and then find that this belief is false; thus they die for another, but for selfish reasons, however to onlookers it seems that they have behaved selflessly).

    I suspect that this is why Christ paid so much attention not to statements and behaviours (e.g. the Pharisees devotion to the law) but rather the intentions of the heart … something which only God knows.

  34. 34
    Spiny Norman says:

    For Christopher Hitchens (who is presumably not here to defend himself or answer questions):

    I must confess that I don’t understand the importance of his challenge. Having spent a lot of time talking with friends who are atheists, and some of them of the very strong variety, it seems to me that the question of atheists and ethics is not:

    “Can an atheist be good (i.e. think ethical thoughts; make ethical statements; perform ethical actions)”

    but rather:

    “Is an atheist justified in believing that they are thinking ethical thoughts, making ethical statments and performing ethical actions?”

    The answer to that latter question seems to hinge on what you think ethics is. In a materialist/mechanistic universe, there cannot be independently ethical thoughts/statements/acts; there can only be the movements of atoms in particular regions of space that correlate to what we call human brains, and so on. I don’t think atheists are justified in claiming for themselves ethical thoughts/statements/acts in such a universe.

    Such an ethics would be a nonsense, as it would be sans free will.

  35. 35
    EvilSnack says:

    I challenge Mr. Hitchens to demonstrate how the failure to meet his challenge proves anything about God.

    But to answer one part: No, no man, motivated by religious faith, has said or done wickedly, because every man believes that what is done according to his own religious faith is good.

    Now it is certainly true that some men have done out of religious faith things which other men regard as wicked; but this proves only that we disagree about religion and wickedness, and proves zilch about God.

    It is also true that some men, pretending to some religious faith, have done wickedly; but that is not at issue here.

  36. 36
    jexilem says:

    If Christianity was based on ethical actions, then this would be a valid question by Hitchens, but since it is not, and since he is lowering the standards of ethics based on atheism, then I don’t see the point of entertaining this question. All of the obvious answers in which Christians would suffer would be made irrelevant by Hitchens. I have never known or heard of an atheist that is ethical according to Christian standards, though possibe according to secular standards. But if I had to answer the question, it would be that the sphere of atheism reflects an image of dishonesty – intellectual, moral or both. Therefore, a claim of honesty, either moral or intellectual, by an atheist is a logical paradox.

  37. 37

    So far I have not seen any convincing answer to vj’s query (one that would be convincing to someone who had not already taken a position on the question anyway), so perhaps it would help to ask it another way:

    Is the fact that someone is an atheist or a Christian (or whatever kind of believer one would like to specify) relevant to deciding if someone’s actions and/or intentions are ethical or not? What if one could only observe the behavior, without knowing what the beliefs or intentions of the person performing the behavior were (as in the case of Heinlein’s hobo)?

  38. 38
    thejbomb says:

    In addition to Number 9, I think an argument could be made that one such ethical action would be the worship of God in spirit and truth.

    John Piper says it like this:
    “From a biblical standpoint studying and thinking and knowing are never ends in themselves; they always stand in the service of feeling and willing and doing. The mind is the servant of the heart. Knowledge exists for the sake of love. And all theology worth its salt produces doxology [worship].”

  39. 39
    Charlie says:

    Allen, VJ asked a very specific and useful question.

    It suddenly occurred to me that, especially in some faiths, only a believer (but not just any believer) can administer sacraments. A highly ethical action with highly ethical intent.

  40. 40
    deric davidson says:

    Believers subscribe to an absolute moral standard which cannot be compromised by personal views of moral behaviour.
    Non-believers by definition cannot believe in an absolute moral standard and would have to accept that their moral standard can only be what they think is right and wrong and not necssarily what others may think is right and wrong. Theirs can be a “relative” morality only.
    There may be for many atheists a coincidence of their standard with the absolute standard set by believers but they cannot believe theirs is an externally imposed absolute standard and therefore absolutely and uncompromisingly correct.
    On moral issues atheists can pick and choose and change if needs be believers cannot.

  41. 41
    Pan Narrans says:

    deric davidson writes (38):

    Non-believers by definition cannot believe in an absolute moral standard

    The Objectivists would disagree with you. I don’t find their philosophy as bullet proof as they do, but they do claim to have an absolute moral standard.

    This is a very interesting topic. I look forward to reading vjtorley’s answer to Hitchens. Thus far the answers all seem to rely on the assumption of theism. I suspect that Hitchens would not consider actions, such as prayer or last rites, toward what he considers to be a non-existent entity to qualify as either ethical or unethical.

  42. 42
    Charlie says:

    I suspect that Hitchens would not consider actions, such as prayer or last rites, toward what he considers to be a non-existent entity to qualify as either ethical or unethical.

    This is true. When W.L. Craig answered his challenge, saying it was trivially easy to do so, Hitchens just said he didn’t believe Craig was describing a moral action.
    He gets to pose the challenge and he gets to determine what counts as an answer … we see this pattern so often.

  43. 43
  44. 44
    jacobpressures says:

    Well I heard of a Jehovah’s Witness, who was in the Nazi concentration camps and was raped by two SS guards. After the holocaust she studied the bible with at least one of them and converted him. This has been repeated around the world by news agencies. She said it was very difficult for her. What atheist would do that?

    I think the question, “Can you name an ethical action directed at other human beings, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?” is framed wrong!

    This question makes implications that atheism and religiousity (or Christianity) produces equally moral people.

    As long as we are free moral agents, anyone can mimic an action. That doesn’t mean they have heart! They can do the exact same thing but with ulterior motives. Of course atheists can also have sincere, noble motives.

    THE REAL QUESTION IS, does being religious better PREDISPOSES a person to be ethical or moral?

    Many people, including Christians, if they felt that they could ultimately get away with something they would do it if there was enough pressure on them. However, the concious of the Christian will do the right thing because of spiritual obligation much more often than a non-believer especially when doing so is clearly at the person’s extreme disadvantage.

    Christians make sacrifices all the time that go against their core nature. This doesn’t mean that atheists don’t make sacrifices, it means that atheists under very excruciating circumstances will be less likely to STICK TO HIGH MORAL PRINCIPLES or values when the opportunity arises.

    When the question is reframed it is not so hard to see the difference!

  45. 45
    jacobpressures says:

    Christians are called or taught to respond to a HIGHER CALLING, HIGHER PRINCIPLES. They are taught to keep these principles mindful and to act on them.

    Atheism has no such predisposition to motivate their actions. When you aim high, you get better results. When you aim low, you get not so high results!

  46. 46
    jacobpressures says:

    Last comment to show why the question isn’t fairly expressed. All one needs is one positive action from an unbeliever to invalidate the argument that an atheist can’t do it.

    Lets say prayer! Suppose an atheist, sincerely worried about the plight of a daughter or loved one, prays, “If there is a God, please, please let nothing bad happen.” Who is to say that God can’t answer that prayer? And who is to say that the prayer was not sincere.

    I know the bible says that one must “believe that He is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” But suppose God dropped that requirement given the circumstances!

  47. 47
    tyke says:

    It suddenly occurred to me that, especially in some faiths, only a believer (but not just any believer) can administer sacraments. A highly ethical action with highly ethical intent.

    Again, Hitchens would reject it as an ethical act since it would be a meaningless one in the absence of a deity listening in on it.

    But it’s not as though non-believers never administer sacraments anyway–I am sure there are thousands of religious leaders who do so every week, having lost their faith but are either too afraid or too ashamed to admit it.

    Is the sacrament of less value just because unknown to the receiver, a doubter is administering it to them? The receiver is still accepting it in faith as much as the always do. You could even argue that the non-believer’s motives for continuing to administer the sacraments to their unsuspecting flock as ethical since it they would be continuing to look first to the needs of their congregants–perhaps while preparing the way for a successor to take over.

  48. 48
    Collin says:

    I don’t know if this counts, but I think it is illuminating.

    A friend of my dad had a 19 year old son who was going off the deep end. Into drugs and petty crime and risky sex. Their relationship was bad and the father felt like his son really mistreated him. He tried everything he could think of.

    Except pray. But one day he knelt and prayed for his son. He felt angry and wanted to just let his son go to hell. But as he prayed he felt different. A thought came into his mind that he should write letters to his son. His son wouldn’t talk to him anymore, but the father knew his address. So each week for about a year he wrote his son a letter, telling him that he loves him and that he hopes his son would come back.

    His son did come back and told his father that he believes that those letters saved his life.

    I believe that the father’s letters would not have happened without his praying for his son.

  49. 49
    olsonbj says:

    This is easy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
    Matthew 22:37 (HCSB)

    If a unbeliever were to state it the it would be lie. Lying is unethical!

    ~BJ

  50. 50
    Collin says:

    Is it a moral act to stop being an addict or an alcoholic? There are many people who have recovered from addiction by relying on teh 12-step programs which are religiously based. Many of them would agree that they would still be addicted without the help of their “Higher Power.”

  51. 51
    vjtorley says:

    Thank you, everyone. Well, my 24-hour bet certainly paid off. The best answers to “Christopher’s challenge” (Can you name an ethical action directed at Christopher Hitchens, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?) were the following:

    Charlie (#1):

    For him:
    You can offer intercessory prayer for him.

    To him:
    You can reach out to him in true love of his soul love with the truth and with the knowledge necessary for his soul’s salvation.

    GilDodgen (#4):

    How about any action directed at concern for the fate of his soul? If it turns out that we do have immortal souls with their fate hanging in the balance, such an action would certainly be ethical, and could never be undertaken by a nonbeliever.

    Matteo (#28):

    Regarding what a believer can do for Hitchens that an unbeliever couldn’t: How about praying for his salvation?

    nullasalus (#29):

    Care for someone’s spiritual, rather than material well-being. For a materialist atheist, there is no ’spiritual’ well-being.

    Those were the kinds of answers I had in mind. “Trying to save his soul” is how I would have put it myself.

    olsonbj (#44), you gave an interesting example of an ethical statement, but I’m afraid it wasn’t directed at Christopher Hitchens, as I stipulated.

    Some readers remarked that Christopher Hitchens wouldn’t appreciate anyone trying to save his soul, or praying for him.

    PanNarrans (#40) pointed out:

    Thus far the answers all seem to rely on the assumption of theism. I suspect that Hitchens would not consider actions, such as prayer or last rites, toward what he considers to be a non-existent entity to qualify as either ethical or unethical.

    In a similar vein, Tyke (#31) wrote:

    Hitchens rejects praying for his soul as an ethical act. He doesn’t want anyone praying for his soul anyway — he thinks it’s a waste of time, and thus there is nothing ethical about it, especially if it is being done against his expressed wishes.

    That’s true, but in issuing Christopher’s challenge, I didn’t stipulate “an ethical action directed at Christopher Hitchens that he would appreciate.” I simply stipulated: “an ethical action directed at Christopher Hitchens.” Obviously, if there are higher-level ethical actions that believers can perform and that non-believers cannot, and if believers point this fact out to non-believers, then the latter will question the ethical character of these actions. They would do that, wouldn’t they? If they didn’t, they’d be implicitly conceding that the actions in question were ethical, which would be tantamount to conceding that religious people can do good things that non-believers cannot. With that kind of concession, you wouldn’t last long as a skeptic.

    If, on the other hand, you let the non-believer define which acts count as “good,” then of course the believer cannot meet Christopher’s challenge.

    I’m sure Christopher Hitchens doesn’t want me to pray for him. But even if that’s true, I say: so what? Let’s take the case of the son in Collin’s moving story (#43). Initially, he may have bitterly resented the efforts of his father to get him to change his ways, but that does not in any way detract from the merit of his father’s actions. If anything, it adds to it: the father persevered in the face of his son’s indifference, and he never gave up.

    Lastly, why is trying to save someone’s soul a particularly noble endeavor? Because human beings don’t just live in the present moment, or even in the present age. Human beings are capable of knowing that they have a Creator who transcends space and time. Thus humans, too, have a transcendental aspect of their being. The best favor you can possibly do someone is to help them sort out that aspect of their being, before they die. After all, eternity is a one-way trip.

    Allen MacNeill, I’ll answer your interesting posts in a few hours, after I catch forty winks.

  52. 52
    tyke says:

    Is it ethical for a Muslim or a Mormon to pray for Hitchens’ soul too? If those prayers are asking for something which you believe would be condemning him to an eternity in Hell, I don’t see how that could be the case. Indeed, if a Muslim was doing all they could to get someone to become a convert to Islam, you would likely deem that to be deeply immoral.

    Thus this type of act can only begin to be considered as ethical if you qualify it by adding, “Assuming that we are right and the God we worship is the real God then…”.

  53. 53

    Thanks, vj, I’m looking forward to it!

  54. 54

    In comment #43 collin wrote:

    “…each week for about a year he wrote his son a letter, telling him that he loves him and that he hopes his son would come back.

    His son did come back and told his father that he believes that those letters saved his life.” [Emphasis added]

    What if the father had prayed for his son every week, but did nothing else; would the outcome have been the same? The son told his father that the letters saved his life.

    Collin also wrote:

    “I believe that the father’s letters would not have happened without his praying for his son.”

    For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the father would not have written the letters without also praying. Is this direct and unequivocal evidence for the assertion that the prayers were the cause of the son’s reclamation, or evidence that the letters were?

    Again, would the outcome have been the same if the father had prayed for his son, but had not written the letters, or had not communicated his love for his son in some way that the son could somehow (directly or indirectly) perceive?

    Would the outcome have been different if the father had sent the letters (assuming they contained the same verbal content), but had not also prayed?

    Finally, and again for the sake of argument:

    If I tell you that the sun comes up because I do a special dance every morning before dawn and then point to the empirical facts that I performed the dance this morning and the sun came up, would this qualify as evidence unequivocally supporting my assertion?

  55. 55
    Charlie says:

    Allen, are you being a jerk?
    You know full well it is not unequivocal evidence. It was not presented as such and Collin plainly said it was “illuminating”.
    Why are you like this when you claim to want to, and then often try so hard, to have civil and meaningful discussions?
    What possible difference do your questions make to you or to this discourse?

  56. 56
    Lenoxus says:

    Wow, I’m amazed to see the repeated answer “pray for his soul”. Not because of any logical problem with souls/afterlives in and of themselves, but for this very simple reason: any God who manages to survive the Problem of Evil is completely demolished by the Problem of Hell, something which “praying for his soul” absolutely requires to exist.

    #28 Matteo put it pretty starkly:

    I’ve prayed for Dawkins, I’ve prayed for Hitchens. My assumption would be that should they find themselves in Paradise, they’ll find that they will have many believers to thank, but needing to thank their militant atheist compadres? Not so much.

    Now what does it say about God that he changes his mind on whether to torture someone forever and ever (the default treatment of the deceased) based on the correctly-ritualized petitions of believers, whose thoughts he is always aware of anyway?

    “I’m sorry, Robert, but the prayer quota was insufficient for you to join us here. It’s a shame, because your Wiccan friends kept meditating with you in mind — whoops — and I know you were a decent person, but… you’re going to have to be tortured forever now. Hey, if you didn’t want the time, you shouldn’t have committed an infinite amount of evil.”

    Yes, some believers argue that Hell is not punishment for nonbelievers, but simply the destination they choose for themselves; theists will argue things like “You wouldn’t want to be in God’s presence anyway”. The whole notion of praying-for-souls completely contradicts that — apparently, atheists would in fact prefer Heaven, if genuinely given the choice.

    Or is it possible for Hitchens to find himself in Paradise and think, “Damn those prayers! If I’d known the options, this is not the one I’d have chosen!”

  57. 57
    Adel DiBagno says:

    Charlie @49:

    Tsk, tsk.

    What is civil about calling someone a jerk?

    How old are you?

  58. 58

    Charlie in comment #49:

    Who is calling whom a jerk, here? And who is being uncivil and casting aspersions on someone else’s character (as opposed to the logic of their arguments), and who is attempting to have a meaningful discussion of the logic behind vj torley’s query?

    To be specific, I asked a series of questions intended to “illuminate” the logic behind Collin’s story, very simple questions with what seemed to me to be reasonably obvious answers. We are talking about cause and effect, here, and making arguments about what constitutes ethics and altruism, and I asked some pointed questions intended to delineate the differences between certain assumptions about cause and effect, and the difference between intentions and actions in the domain of ethics.

    How is that “being a jerk” and how am I the person being “uncivil” not pursuing a “meaningful discussion”?

  59. 59
    bornagain77 says:

    Lenoxus,
    If you don’t believe in hell maybe you ought to take a look at these:

    The Physical Ashen Remains Of Sodom and Gomorrah – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwTVFk1HK3Y

    please note that the trace elements found in the sulfur balls make the sulfur burn much hotter than it normally would:

    further note:

    scientific evidence that we actually do live after death:

    The Day I Died – Part 4 of 6 – The NDE of Pam Reynolds – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4045560

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994599

    coast to coast – Blind since birth – Vicki’s NDE
    http://www.youtube.com/view_pl.....6E08E54010

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported being able to see during their NDEs. 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. In all, 15 of the 21 NDEers and 9 of the 10 OBEers could see during their experience while the remaining participants either claimed that they did not see or were not sure whether or not they had seen.

    scientific evidence that non-Judeo-Christian cultures have “hellish NDE’s:

    Near-Death Experiences in Thailand – Todd Murphy:
    Excerpt:The Light seems to be absent in Thai NDEs. So is the profound positive affect found in so many Western NDEs. The most common affect in our collection is negative. Unlike the negative affect in so many Western NDEs (cf. Greyson & Bush, 1992), that found in Thai NDEs (in all but case #11) has two recognizable causes. The first is fear of ‘going’. The second is horror and fear of hell. It is worth noting that although half of our collection include seeing hell (cases 2,6,7,9,10) and being forced to witness horrific tortures, not one includes the NDEer having been subjected to these torments themselves. http://www.shaktitechnology.com/thaindes.htm

    A militant atheist NDE:

    Former Atheist Howard Storm’s Hellish NDE – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF7AzxplsME

  60. 60
    zeroseven says:

    Very well put Lenoxus. I think that shows that there is absolutely nothing ethical about praying for someone. Particularly when that person has already made it clear that he regards the idea of heaven as something much worse than North Korea. There is nothing ethical about thinking you know someone’s mind better than they do themselves. Hitchens regards the whole Jesus sacrifice on the cross thing as one of the most unethical acts imaginable, and I would have to agree with him on that. I don’t believe it can ever be ethical to set aside your own judgment about right and wrong and submit yourself to a higher power to make that decision for you.

  61. 61
    bornagain77 says:

    further note Lenoxus:

    Dr Richard Kent M.D. speaks about his study of over 300 cases of near death experiences (Heaven and Hell) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_VcXLVvJVc

    Near death experiences are real – Medical doctors who have studied the phenomenon – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYEZOMb4VlE

  62. 62
    bornagain77 says:

    I almost forgot this one Lenoxus:

    Hell – A Warning!
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/.....a_warning/

  63. 63
    Collin says:

    Allen,

    I believe that the point was that the father had no loving feeling towards his son, but through prayer God softened his heart and gave him an idea that worked. I am not saying that the prayer or God, because of the prayer, did anything directly to the son. But I do not say that that did not happen either.

  64. 64
    Collin says:

    Allen,

    So the real point is that a non-believer would never have chosen the route of prayer and may have never had the inspiration to write his son those letters. Even if you don’t believe that God inspired him, it still partially refutes Hitchen’s argument, I think.

  65. 65
    zeroseven says:

    Hi Collin, this doesn’t refute Hitchen’s point at all as a non-believer could equally well have written those letters. And I have to say I think the non-believer would be more ethical in being able to express love for his son without having to pray for it.

  66. 66
    olsonbj says:

    Perhaps the second part then, “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands,”
    Matthew 22:39-40 (HCSB)

    It seems this also points out the ethical dilemma for the non-believer. If you love your neighbor what is it that love depends on. If you reject the law and the prophets the statement becomes illogical and possibly unethical.
    ~BJ

  67. 67
    vjtorley says:

    Jacobpressures,

    You’ve asked some very interesting questions. You wrote (#47):

    Suppose an atheist, sincerely worried about the plight of a daughter or loved one, prays, “If there is a God, please, please let nothing bad happen.” Who is to say that God can’t answer that prayer? And who is to say that the prayer was not sincere.

    I agree. But that action would have to be performed to someone who was at least open to the possibility of there being a God.

    You also wrote (#45):

    I think the question, “Can you name an ethical action directed at other human beings, that a believer could perform, and that a nonbeliever could not?” is framed wrong!

    …As long as we are free moral agents, anyone can mimic an action. That doesn’t mean they have heart! They can do the exact same thing but with ulterior motives. Of course atheists can also have sincere, noble motives.

    What do you call an action? If you mean “bodily movement,” then of course anyone can mimic a bodily movement. But now consider the action of making a promise. Suppose that two people – let’s call them A and B – mouth the same words, “I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” when borrowing $100 from a friend. A intends to do just that, while B has no intention of doing so. Are they performing the same action? I would say not. A is making a promise, while B is lying.

    In other words, the intention with which one performs an action is part-and-parcel of the action itself.

    Well, what about one’s motive? I don’t think a poor motive changes the character of an action. One might make a promise because one anticipates good consequences, or because one fears bad consequences, or simply because one wishes to live and act according to moral rules. But in all cases the action is the same, if the requisite intention is there. Motive is however relevant to the question of how meritorious the action is.

    I found your story of the Jehovah’s Witness woman very moving.

    Finally, I would agree with your comment (#45) that “atheists under very excruciating circumstances will be less likely to STICK TO HIGH MORAL PRINCIPLES or values when the opportunity arises,” as a statistical observation, although I hasten to add that I do know some very noble-minded atheists who are better people than I am. Incidentally, I don’t believe that atheists necessarily go to hell.

    I’ll be back in a few hours, and I’ll also respond to Lenoxus, zeroseven, Seversky and Allen MacNeill. I’m looking forward to a civil if spirited exchange of views.

  68. 68
    PaV says:

    Hitchen’s question:

    Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

    My response:

    Miraculously cure someone. Peter heals the lame man in the Acts of the Apostles. Saints have healed people throughout the centuries. Cures are obviously ethical, and a non-believer could not invoke the supernatural power needed to perform such a deed.

  69. 69
    zeroseven says:

    olsonbj,

    Hitchens also make the point that there is nothing ethical about loving your neighbour as yourself. Your neighbour might not deserve your love. I am not a war-monger like Hitchens, but I don’t believe it is ethical to love everyone. Nor for that matter is it possible. Forgive everyone, yes, but not love. You are better off to love yourself first because from that flows the ability to understand and accept others.

  70. 70
    steveO says:

    Here’s Christopher’s challenge wearing a red dress

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY7Hh5PzELo

  71. 71
    Charlie says:

    Hi Allen and VJTorley,
    My apologies for the rhetoric I used and for the ease with which it could, and likely would, poison the mood here.

    That said, Allen, let me follow up with my planned response, which you likely have predicted.

    First, I obviously did not call you a jerk.
    I asked a question meant to illuminate the nature of your comment to Collin, and, in fact, your work on this thread. As is so often the case, I was mainly highlighting the discrepancy between the standards you hold for yourself and that you expect others to meet.

    You actually have not addressed the OP, or the very accurate answers to that OP which were presented, which you merely called “unconvincing” (convincing of what?)
    Instead you decided to expound as you do and then try to change the question and direction of the thread.
    Graciously, your host has said he will answer your questions.
    And then, in defending your irrelevant series of questions to Collin, in which you misread, mocked and misrepresented him, you again tried to reframe what the question was. Yes, the questions you asked had very obvious answers – so obvious I asked what was the point in asking them and why were you not just, instead, understanding what Collin was saying.

    I was trying to illuminate, mostly to you, how you come across and how this does not always square with your demands for gentlemanly, scholarly, and respectful discourse.

    It’s pretty far off topic, so I will drop it here and now … on this thread, of course.

  72. 72
    Upright BiPed says:

    #70 🙂

  73. 73
    andrew says:

    I think there is another answer to Christopher’s Challenge. A Christian will sometimes do a good deed for someone else without ANYBODY ever finding out, but so that only God will know and reward the Christian for it. If Christopher had read the Sermon on the Mount, Mt.6, he would have known about this. Admittedly, this sort of good deed is hard to do, because we all like to be credited for it when we do something good, even if it is simply by someone else noticing. But our motive involves this kickback, thus compromising the true goodness of our action. But with this purest form of altruism, there is no way an atheist would do it. They are always braqging (on the internet) about how they give money to needy people in faraway countries.

  74. 74
    vjtorley says:

    Three questions relating to prayer have arisen on this post.

    (1) Is it wrong to pray for a non-believer, especially one who does not wish to be prayed for?
    (2) In general, is prayer meritorious?
    (3) Is prayer efficacious?

    We need to keep these questions separate.

    Lenoxus (#57)

    Wow, I’m amazed to see the repeated answer “pray for his soul”… for this very simple reason: any God who manages to survive the Problem of Evil is completely demolished by the Problem of Hell, something which “praying for his soul” absolutely requires to exist.

    Now what does it say about God that he changes his mind on whether to torture someone forever and ever (the default treatment of the deceased) based on the correctly-ritualized petitions of believers, whose thoughts he is always aware of anyway?

    Yes, some believers argue that Hell is not punishment for nonbelievers, but simply the destination they choose for themselves; theists will argue things like “You wouldn’t want to be in God’s presence anyway”. The whole notion of praying-for-souls completely contradicts that – apparently, atheists would in fact prefer Heaven, if genuinely given the choice.

    Or is it possible for Hitchens to find himself in Paradise and think, “Damn those prayers! If I’d known the options, this is not the one I’d have chosen!”

    Points in response to Lenoxus.

    (a) Apparently Lenoxus doesn’t understand the doctrine of the communion of saints. The idea is that we can all help each other in various ways, including intercessory prayer. In particular, the saints in Heaven can help us, by their prayers, for “the prayer of a just man availeth much” (James 5:16). Prayers have no magic power of their own; rather, God wants us to pray unceasingly for each other, so that when He helps someone in need, it is through and because of the intercessory prayer of someone else. That’s the way it should work.

    (b) Prayers are not “ritualized petitions” that magically bring about the right results (e.g. Heaven for sinners). Prayers for the salvation of sinners only work by bringing about a change in their hearts. Without this change of heart, no sinner can go to Heaven.

    (c) God is a respecter of human choices; He will not impose salvation upon us against our wishes. Nobody who dies hating God could possibly go to Heaven. Thus the probability of Christopher Hitchens finding himself in Paradise and thinking, “Damn those prayers!” is precisely zero. If he goes to Heaven (which he may well do), he will go there as someone whose heart is open to God.

    (d) Does anyone go to Hell simply because they were not prayed for? No. God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and does all He can to save us, before we make that final choice that determines our fate in the hereafter. “What’s the point of praying for atheists, then, if God is going to assist them anyway?” Short answer: (1) praying for them will help you get saved; (2) if you pray for them, they will be saved through your prayers, and acts like these strengthen the spiritual bonds between human beings; (3) in any case, there may be special graces that God only bestows if enough people pray, in addition to other graces that God bestows whether people pray or not. We don’t know how God has set up the scheme of things. All we know is that it’s fair, and good for us.

    (e) Regarding “torture in hell”: “fire” is not the dominant Biblical image of hell; rather, it is most often described as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – in other words, bitter regrets. Christian theologians have always taught that the greatest pain of hell is the eternal spiritual desolation caused by an individual’s self-imposed permanent separation from God.

    (f) God does not change His mind (see Malachi 3:6; James 1:18). Scriptural statements which apparently say the contrary (e.g. God regretting that He had made human beings, and sending the Flood as a punishment in Genesis 6) are written from a time-bound human perpsective. People sometimes change their behavior for the worse, and if they wilfully set their faces against Him, they will incur the consequences God has already arranged for sinners.

    (g) The question of whether someone would want to be in God’s presence depends on their state of mind. Obviously an anti-theist like Christopher Hitchens wouldn’t want to be in God’s presence, given his present state of mind. Someone who prays for Christopher Hitchens hopes that he will one day change his mind about God, and open his heart.

    (h) Would atheists prefer to be in Heaven or Hell? It depends on which atheists we are talking about, and what kind of hypotheticals we are formulating.

    For any atheist, it is true that they would prefer to be in Heaven if they believed in a loving God (which they currently don’t). It is also true that they will prefer to be in Heaven if they ever undergo a change of heart.

    Regarding “anti-theistic” atheists, it is also true that while they are opposed to the whole idea of God, they would definitely prefer to be in Hell.

    “Occam’s razor” atheists who are skeptical about religion but not anti-theistic are in a different category. These atheists would never prefer Hell to Heaven; they just don’t happen to believe in either. There are many reasons for unbelief. Some are morally culpable; some are not. Whatever the reasons, we should still pray for atheists.

    (i) We should not worry about good atheists being damned. God knows the secrets of the human heart. There are some unfortunate people who suffer from psychological blocks (for which they are not morally culpable) that prevent them from believing. We do not know what God does for these people in their final moments of a person’s life on Earth, but we know that God is able to remove the blocks, and let these people make a genuinely free choice.

    zeroseven (#61)

    Very well put Lenoxus. I think that shows that there is absolutely nothing ethical about praying for someone. Particularly when that person has already made it clear that he regards the idea of heaven as something much worse than North Korea. There is nothing ethical about thinking you know someone’s mind better than they do themselves.

    In response to zeroseven:

    There is nothing ethical about thinking you know someone’s mind better than they do themselves. Agreed. But sometimes you may know something that someone else doesn’t, and you may be able to see that that person’s ignorance is causing them a great deal of unhappiness, as it is leading them to make self-destructive personal choices. Under such circumstances, you should try to change that person’s mind, rather than just leaving them alone to stew in their own juice. That’s what a caring person would do.

    Finally, God knows our minds better than we do, and even if we adamantly insist that we don’t want Him, God will do all He can to persuade us otherwise, before we get to make our final choice for or against Him.

    I’d also like to comment on the following exchange:

    Collin (#65)

    So the real point is that a non-believer would never have chosen the route of prayer and may have never had the inspiration to write his son those letters.

    zeroseven (#66)

    Hi Collin, this doesn’t refute Hitchens’ point at all as a non-believer could equally well have written those letters. And I have to say I think the non-believer would be more ethical in being able to express love for his son without having to pray for it.

    Zeroseven made a valid point in saying that a non-believer could have written those letters, which would be meritorious. But he was wrong in assuming that the non-believing father would have accomplished just as much good by writing the letters, as the believing father would have by writing the letters and praying for his son.

    But is prayer efficacious?

    Allen MacNeill (#55)

    If I tell you that the sun comes up because I do a special dance every morning before dawn and then point to the empirical facts that I performed the dance this morning and the sun came up, would this qualify as evidence unequivocally supporting my assertion?

    No. Historically, Jews and Christians have never prayed for laws of nature to keep holding. Traditionally, they are construed more as promises, and their holding is seen as a sign of God’s constancy. God will not break His word.

    With intercessory prayer, it is another matter. God has made no promise; and we also have an obligation to our fellow human beings.

    A fair-minded person would conclude that there is good evidence that prayer works sometimes. I’ll say more about this anon.

  75. 75
    olsonbj says:

    Zeroseven: Your comments prove my point.
    ~BJ

  76. 76

    In comment #74 andrew wrote:

    “…with this purest form of altruism, there is no way an atheist would do it.”

    This is an assertion, with absolutely no supporting evidence or logical argument of any kind. Ergo, it is completely worthless to either side in a debate such as this. Why post it?

  77. 77

    In comment #74 andrew wrote:

    “A Christian will sometimes do a good deed for someone else without ANYBODY ever finding out, but so that only God will know and reward the Christian for it.”

    So, Christians perform altruistic acts because they are rewarded for doing so. What perverted definition of “altruistic” are you using, here? According to this formulation of Christian “altruism”, Christians occasionally perform anonymous “altruistic” acts because God will consequently reward them with the eternal lollipop. This kind of logic is why in another thread I proposed that Christian ethics are teleological, in that they are predicated on the performance of prescribed acts in order to be rewarded by being granted permanent admission into the heavenly amusement park.

    Furthermore, if one views the actions of saints from this perspective, how does one distinguish between them and a kid who pays admission to the funhouse and then lets his buddies in through the back door? This is precisely the kind of perverted “Christianity” that leads people like Christopher Hitchens to reject it, and it’s comments like #74 that simply reinforce their viewpoint.

  78. 78
    Charles says:

    I would elaborate on one point, and offer another response to Hitchens’ challenge.

    There is a false premise in Hitchens’ challenge, that Hitchens presumes an equivalence in the actions of the believer and non-believer, as if to say non-believers can mimic believers with equal sincerity and efficaciousness. As if to say the son who received the letters would have neither detected nor cared had those letters been written by an insincere disbelieving father; as if to say only the words on paper mattered and not the character of the hand which wrote them.

    I think it true as a general rule that most of us detest insincerity and would recognize an insincere out-of-character action in someone else with whom we were acquainted, and that no matter how ethical or moral the purpose of an act, the insincerity of the actor prejudices the action.

    While in Collin’s example we don’t know what the son knew of the father’s beliefs, we can assume the son believed the father’s love was real. The exact same letters written by a father who was unloving and indifferent would likely have had little effect on the son, as the father’s insincerity would have made the letters suspect, no matter what the wording. But those same letters from a Christ-believing father would have been in-character, credible to the son, and efficacious. If a non-believer forged the believing father’s letters, the forgery would be believable because the real father was believable, i.e. the forgery would have been in-character.

    There’s an old joke about prostitutes charging extra to be sincere, the point being the insincerity of non-believers matters, is recognizable, and can’t be compensated.

    As to a different response to Hitchens’ challenge, there is also “deliverance”.

    A true believer has the authority of Christ and that authority is recognized and obeyed by demons. If Hitchens (or someone else) had a demonic spirit a true believer could “cast out” the demon whereas a non-believer could not, and the subsequent absence of the demonic influence is evident to the subject as well as observers. I won’t get into the details of deliverence or exegete the various bible passages, other than to say it fits the challenge of being ethical, only possible by believers, not possible permanently by non-believers, and additionally has immediate before and after observable differences in the subject.

    It is not repeatable, like an experiment, and there are some caveats, however. There would need to be agreement the subject was truthful beforehand and actually influenced by a demonic spirit (“possessions” are infrequent and requires “discernment” of spirits by a gifted believer), such that the subject’s credibility would not be disputed afterwards. The believer doing the “casting out” needs to be gifted, experienced and discerning. Deliverence is not something that every and any believer should attempt. There is lastly the possiblity of “false deliverence” wherein the subject is freed momentarily but later on (days to weeks) becomes subject to different (and usually more) demonic influences. This happens for two reasons: 1) the subject themselves remains a non-believer and lacks the permanent protection of being in and under Jesus Christ or 2) the deliverer is actually a non-believing charleton and the deliverence is only a temporary deception intended to create confusion. A true deliverence is marked by no subsequent return of demonic influences, but the subject also needs to come under Christ’s authority and become a sincere believer.

    That said, true deliverences take place frequently around the world usually in private with little fanfare or publicity. Some have been written about with varying degrees of credibility. I have personally witnessed two, though I don’t expect my saying so to carry any weight here. My point, in addition to not discounting sincerity, is that deliverences are real and can be investigated beyond the hypotheticals proffered in this discussion and ought to be considered as meeting Hitchens’ challenge.

    (I’m away for the rest of today)

  79. 79

    Re vjtorley in comment #75:

    First, thank you for your courteous and reasoned responses. Although I sometimes disagree with your positions, I always appreciate the spirit in which you present them.

    As for your comments on the efficacy of prayer (including the prayers described in Collin’s comments), I have no doubt that prayer can have a salutary effect on the person doing the praying, and even on the person for whom the prayers are being offered (assuming that they know directly or indirectly that they are being prayed for). During my multiple surgeries in the summer of 2008 and the travails that followed that winter, I greatly appreciated the Ithaca Friends “holding me and my family in the light”, and believe that it may have done me good (and certainly did me no harm…how could it?).

    But that kind of intercessory prayer is fundamentally different from praying for someone who cannot possibly know that they are being prayed for, and who might find such efforts to be insulting if not downright evil. Praying that someone might renounce their atheism and therefore abandon their evil ways necessarily entails that the person doing the praying prejudges atheism as necessarily evil (a common assumption, apparently). This equation of atheism with evil is precisely the kind of vicious prejudice that reinforces, rather than reforms most atheists in their atheism.

    Or, to quote the eminent ethicist and theologian, John Prine,

    “Blow up your TV,
    Throw away your paper,
    Move to the country,
    Build you a home.

    Have a lot of children,
    Raise ’em on peaches,
    Let ’em find Jesus
    On their own.

    My wife and I have done all of these things (well, we gave away our TV…blowing it up seemed a little violent), and it’s worked out pretty well so far…

  80. 80

    Sorry, that last paragraph wasn’t John Prine’s – I neglected to close the blockquote.

  81. 81
    Mark Frank says:

    #75

    A fair-minded person would conclude that there is good evidence that prayer works sometimes. I’ll say more about this anon

    vjtorly I would be fascinated to hear about this – I fear it may turn out to be “fair-minded if you believe in God”.

  82. 82
  83. 83
  84. 84

    In comment #79, charles presents a very telling logical elision:

    “The exact same letters written by a father who was unloving and indifferent would likely have had little effect on the son, as the father’s insincerity would have made the letters suspect, no matter what the wording. But those same letters from a Christ-believing father would have been in-character, credible to the son, and efficacious.

    Here are the explicit premises:

    1) the father can be unloving and indifferent

    2) the father can be Christ-believing

    And here is a logical inference:

    3) the father cannot be both unloving and Christ-believing

    So far, so good. But implicit in inference #3 is this:

    4) a non-Christ-believing father can be unloving and indifferent

    And in my experience many Christians also assert:

    5) non-Christ-believing people are unloving and indifferent because they do not believe in Christ (i.e. they are atheists)

    and

    6) Christ-believing people must be loving and concerned because they believe in Christ (i.e. they are not atheists).

    From this flows the (flawed) logic that:

    7) Atheists are necessarily hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil people because they do not believe in Christ (Don’t think this is a fair characterization? Read some of Ann Coulter’s so-called “essays”.)

    Which is easily elided into:

    8) Anyone and everyone who does not believe in Christ must be hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil.

    What’s wrong (if anything) with this “logic”?

  85. 85

    Sorry; I did not mean to insert a “Joe Cool” emoticon into that last assertion; it was an unfortunate typo that was interpreted by the software as an emoticon.

  86. 86

    Which brings us around once again to the assertion that:

    Atheists (like Christopher Hitchens) cannot be moral because they are atheists, and the implied corollary that Christians are necessarily moral because they are Christians.

    Neither of these statements are necessarily valid, and can very easily be used to justify unethical treatment of atheists.

    Don’t think so? Consider the logical inversion:

    Christians (like Mother Theresa) cannot be moral because they are Christians, and the implied corollary that atheists are necessarily moral because they are atheists.

    Sound like something you might have read (written by Christopher Hitchens, perchance?) If the second assertion is false, the first must be as well.

    Ergo, what benefit (or harm) would come to Christopher Hitchens as the result of having a Christian pray for his conversion to Christianity, as compared with praying for his happiness and well-being?

    And, what benefit (or harm) would come to any Christian as the result of either praying or not praying for Christopher Hitchens’ conversion to Christianity, as compared with praying for his happiness and well-being?

  87. 87
    JPCollado says:

    I know of no examples of an atheist, eking out every last minute of his limited existence, ever sacrificing limb, creature comforts and/or life for a friend, a stranger, even an enemy.

    The dictum will forevermore remain true: altruism has no place in a “competitive” cold world where survival is most fitting.

  88. 88
    Collin says:

    Zero-seven,

    I think that the father would tell you that he would never have written the letters if he had not prayed. I don’t know if that is true or not, maybe he would have anyway. But I think the father would strongly disagree that he would have done that good deed without God. Of course, this does not directly refute Hitchen’s claim, but it does support the assertion that God leads to moral actions. Or at least that belief in and worship of God leads to moral action. This perhaps indirectly refutes Hitchens.

  89. 89
    Collin says:

    Allen,

    Here’s my humble attempt at a syllogism

    1. God acts in the world.
    2. God’s actions are always or at least 99% of the time, beneficial to human well-being.
    3. God is therefore a moral actor.
    4. Every moral actor contributes a unique moral/beneficial action in to the world that would not have been there otherwise.
    5. The loss of any moral actor decreases the amount of good/moral acts that occur in the world.
    6. If God were not in the world, there would be fewer moral actions.
    7. Therefore some moral actions depend on God’s acts and would not have been done if He did not exist.
    8. Therefore, at least some moral acts depend on God’s existence.

    Of course, there are a lot of assumptions in this syllogism, but I hope to point out that the most important question is not the one posed by Hitchens, but whether or not God exists (and then, if He does, what affect, if any, does He have on the world?).

  90. 90
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen_MacNeill,

    Which brings us around once again to the assertion that:

    Atheists (like Christopher Hitchens) cannot be moral because they are atheists, and the implied corollary that Christians are necessarily moral because they are Christians.

    Neither of these statements are necessarily valid, and can very easily be used to justify unethical treatment of atheists.

    “Men say, “How are we to act, what are we to teach our children, now that we are no longer Christians?” You see, gentlemen, how I would answer that question. You are deceived in thinking that the morality of your father was based on Christianity. On the contrary, Christianity presupposed it. That morality stands exactly where it did; its basis has not been withdrawn, for, in a sense, it never had a basis. The ultimate ethical injunctions have always been premises, never conclusions. Kant was perfectly right on that point at least, the imperative is categorical. Unless the ethical is assumed from the outset, no argument will bring you to it.”

    ~C.S. Lewis, On Ethics, Christian Reflections.

  91. 91
    Dick says:

    Graham (#26) writes: “I am an atheist and I often donate money to victims of natural disasters (which are often far away from my home country). I dont do this because I feel any ‘obligation’, nor do I do it because I have been instructed by some old book, I do it because its the right thing to do.”

    My question is, if atheism is true, what makes charity “the right thing to do?” Would someone be wrong who acted selfishly? If so, why?

    Moreover, if charity is “the right thing to do” isn’t that simply another way of saying that we have a moral obligation to do it?

    The challenge that Hitchens posed that lead to this thread is what could a theist say about morals that an atheist couldn’t. My answer is that a theist can say that we are obligated by God to care about the well-being of others. An atheist cannot say that there is any moral obligation to do anything, including charitable giving.

    Indeed, on atheism what would or could impose any obligation to be charitable?

  92. 92
    olsonbj says:

    To elaborate in responding to zeroseven (#70):
    Loving God and Loving others are the cornerstones of Christian ethics. So an unbeliever saying them would be either illogical, insincere, and/or unethical (as they would reject the “Law and the Prophets” and would be then lying while saying it)

    You indicated self-love as the core of your ethic. I am sorry that is the case. Surely you can think of cases (I can think of many) in which self-love is destructive to the person as well as to others. It certainly would be a poor standard generally to be used to determine ethics in my estimation. It is further complicated in that the self-love ethic then becomes an ethic “in the eye of the beholder” so to speak. Or so it seems to me.
    ~BJ

  93. 93
    Lenoxus says:

    olsonbj:

    Loving God and Loving others are the cornerstones of Christian ethics. So an unbeliever saying them would be either illogical, insincere, and/or unethical (as they would reject the “Law and the Prophets” and would be then lying while saying it)

    From this point on, I claim all courage. I claim it. Period.

    Any person who does not accept my new religious philosophy simply cannot be called courageous or heroic, because those things are the cornerstones of Lenoxusism. (So far, it’s just me, but I expect the faith to grow.)

    In seriousness, I don’t think any sentiment can be more condescending than some of the ones directed on this board not just towards atheists, but towards all non-Christians (a population which includes well over half of all people who have ever lived). Not just condescending to their ideologies or epistemologies, as we all can be sometimes (libertarianism is dumb, socialism is dumb, etc) but to the people. At least William Lane Craig, for instance, is generous enough to phrase his version of divine command theory such that non-Christians, in his view, are capable of genuine altruism. (He feels that God is the source of morality, but belief in God is not a necessary component of moral behavior.)

    And then you add insult to this insult by saying that this large swath of humanity is destined to spend an eternity feeling little but the pain of “remorse” for not having ascertained the correct theology during their short time on Earth.

    If a Hindu is genuinely penitent for his wrongs, but remains a Hindu at death, he is almost certainly damned, unless you want to radically diverge your theology from the Christian mainstream (for example, by saying the doors are locked on the inside). This is not justice.

  94. 94
    Clive Hayden says:

    vjtorley,

    I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but I think it worth repeating in the context of this blog:

    Take another case: the complicated question of charity, which some highly uncharitable idealists seem to think quite easy. Charity is a paradox, like modesty and courage. Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things–pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people. But if we ask ourselves (as we did in the case of pride) what a sensible pagan would feel about such a subject, we shall probably be beginning at the bottom of it. A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

    G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

  95. 95
    Graham says:

    To Dick #92.
    Im not picking on you, its just that you seem to be fairly typical.

    Regarding the word ‘obliged’, I dont want to play semantic games. If any of us see someone in trouble, we feel the need to help them. You can call this an ‘obligation’ or whatever you like. Even very small children bring home injured animals. Its unrelated to their faith or lack of, its a human thing. Even remote tribespeople (who have never had the boundless benefits of religion) show remarkably similar moral attitudes to us. Thats because its a human thing. Heck, even primates show moral/ethical behaviour and I pretty sure monkeys havent read the bible.

    You may feel that you cant act until instructed by some old book, but I have no problem.

  96. 96
    THEMAYAN says:

    I believe Martin Luther King is an example of a man who used a powerful and profoundly enlightened civil rights movement that was filled with fundamental religious doctrines, imagery and saying’s.

    We shall overcome, Almighty God, rainbow children, and speeches of mountain tops and promised lands. Maybe Hitchens can envision a bunch of atheist substituting spirituality, mass mediation and singing of superstitious inspiring songs, for good ole rational materialism reasoning instead, but I cant, my imagination is limited. Hitchens can also make a case that an atheist could have theoretically accomplished this task of bringing together a grassroots spirituality based movement strong enough to endure German Sheppard’s, fire hoses and beatings, but he will always have to utilize, would have, could have, maybe, arguments. The old saying is, the proof is in the pudding, not on hypotheticals.

  97. 97
    THEMAYAN says:

    A murderous and evil person can theoretically do anything that a saintly person can do. Is this Hitchens argument really as deep as were making it?

  98. 98
    vjtorley says:

    I see that people are waiting to see what I’ve dug up on intercessory prayer. So in answer to Mark Frank’s request, here’s what I’ve found so far. It certainly isn’t conclusive, but I’d say there exists tentative scientific evidence that intercessory prayer can help people, even when they don’t know they’re being prayed for.

    Here’s an overview by Christian apologist Rich Deem:
    Scientific Evidence for Answered Prayer and the Existence of God .

    Here’s a meta-study from 2007 that found that intercessory prayer yields positive results.
    A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer by D.R. Hodge. In Research on Social Work Practice 17:174-187. 2007. An interview with David Hodge can be found here: http://asunews.asu.edu/node/1545 and also here: http://www.physorg.com/news93105311.html .

    Extract:

    David R. Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at Arizona State University’s West campus, has conducted an exhaustive meta-analysis on the effects of intercessory prayer among people with psychological or medical problems.

    In other words, does God – or some other type of transcendent entity – answer prayer for healing?

    According to Hodge’s study, “A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer,” the answer is “Yes.”

    “There have been a number of studies on intercessory prayer, or prayer offered for the benefit of another person,” said Hodge, a leading expert on spirituality and religion. “Some have found positive results for prayer. Others have found no effect. Conducting a meta-analysis takes into account the entire body of empirical research on intercessory prayer. Using this procedure, we find that prayer offered on behalf of another yields positive results.”

    For a critical review, see:
    An Intercessory Prayer Hodge Podge by Steven Novella M.D. The only substantive criticism made by Novella was that Hodge’s meta-analysis of 17 published studies looking at the power of intercessory prayer included one study that is highly suspect – Daniel Wirth’s study, purporting to show that prayer works for IVF patients. OK – so maybe God doesn’t help IVF patients. I think I can live with that.

    A study often cited by religious skeptics is the STEP study of 2006, which concluded that intercessory prayer doesn’t work and may even have negative results, if the patient knows they are being prayed for:
    Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer . Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW Jr, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL. 2006. In American Heart Journal, 151:934-942. See here for a revised version of the manuscript, dated May 5, 2005.

    Critical comments by Rich Deem:

    A widely publicized study from 2006 failed to show the efficacy of intercessory prayer. However, the design of the latest study was somewhat unusual. The researchers used three patient groups. Two groups were advised of the study, but were not told whether they were in the prayer group or placebo group. The third group knew that they were being prayed for. The study was performed at six hospitals. Out of 3295 eligible patients, 1493 (45%) refused to participate, which is very high, although they did not explain the reasons for non-participation. The intercessors were composed of three groups. Two were Roman Catholic and one was a Protestant group (Silent Unity, Lee’s Summit, MO). Unlike in previous studies, the intercessors were not allowed to pray their own prayers. The prayers were given to them by the study coordinators to “standardize” the prayers. The discussion section of the paper suggested that at least some of the intercessors were dissatisfied with the canned nature of the prayers.

    An older study which is sometimes cited in the literature is the Byed study:
    Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Prayer Unit Population by Randolph C. Byrd M.D. In Southern Medical Journal Vol. 81, No. 7, July 1988.

    God in the CCU? A critique of the San Francisco hospital study on intercessory prayer and healing by Gary Posner M.D.

    A good skeptical critique of studies purporting to show the power of intercessory prayer can be found here . Personally, I don’t think it makes any new criticisms of the Hodge study that Novella doesn’t cover: namely, that the Wirth study is highly questionable. The article’s remarks on the misuse of statistics, however, are well worth reading.

    See also Marrying Miracles and Science: The Healing Power of Intention and Prayer . An interview with Larry Dossey, M.D.

    I’d also recommend this article, for its cautionary remarks about research bias, especially where physicians and social workers have strong opinions on both sides of the issue: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=210 .

    To sum up: I’d say that for the time being, we’re not going to see any solid evidence that intercessory prayer works. However, the tentative evidence that it works certainly warrants further research.

    However, there seems to be much better evidence from scientific studies that show a positive effect of religion on personal health and well-being. See the following article by Rich Deem:
    http://www.godandscience.org/a.....TF2i7BteSX

  99. 99
    vjtorley says:

    Allen MacNeill (#80):

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    Praying that someone might renounce their atheism and therefore abandon their evil ways necessarily entails that the person doing the praying prejudges atheism as necessarily evil (a common assumption, apparently).

    I greatly admire Warren Buffett, who is an atheist. The man gave away $20 billion of his personal wealth to help poor people. I certainly wouldn’t describe him as “evil.”

    I would, however, describe atheism as an intellectual error and a spiritual disease – especially the modern, materialistic variety, which tells people that their every thought, word and deed is determined by circumstances beyond their control. I think that these articles by former atheist Jennifer Fulwiler provide an excellent illustration of how spiritually damaging atheism can be:

    Life on Death Row and Finding Rest .

    If atheism is an intellectual error and a spiritual disease, then of course it is an evil. That does not make atheists evil. There is a big difference.

    People have all sorts of reasons for being atheists. I think believers should pray for them, without labeling them.

  100. 100
    bornagain77 says:

    vjtorley, thanks for the links to the prayer meta-studies:

    I was moved by the “Life On Death Row” article.

    here is a poem that is somewhat in a similar vein:

    Autumn Leaf’s Laughter – Video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4181846

  101. 101
    Collin says:

    Is it immoral to harm oneself? Is it good to help yourself?

  102. 102
    vjtorley says:

    Charles (#79) wrote about deliverance as an ethical action that only a believer could perform. I’d like to add exorcism to the list.

    Genuine demonic possession is rare, but real. As evidence, I’d like to cite the following description of an exorcism by a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College:

    Richard E. Gallagher, “Among the Many Counterfeits: A Case of Demonic Possession,” New Oxford Review 75, no. 3, (March 2008). First page available online at
    http://www.newoxfordreview.org.....-gallagher
    http://www.newoxfordreview.org.....-gallagher

    Here is an article discussing this highly unusual case:
    Testing Demonic Possession by Dr. James C. Patterson II, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and emergency psychiatrist.

    I should mention that for about 30 minutes, the possessed woman actually levitated about half a foot in the air.

  103. 103
    zeroseven says:

    Olsonbj @ 93

    Loving yourself does not exclude loving others (and loving yourself is a necessary precondition to loving others). I think the Catholic church for example would not be in the trouble it is in if the perpetrators of the crimes had a little more self-love.

    I prefer the golden rule to the biblical commandment to love your neighbours – ie don’t do anything to your neighbours that you would find abhorrent if done to yourself.

  104. 104
    Graham says:

    To vjtorley #103:

    Do you really believe the woman levitated ? Are you serious ?

    Extraordinary claims usually require similar evidence. Do you have such evidence ?

    I would suggest that if true, the whole world would be interested. Forget the demonic possesion stuff. Just the levitation thingy is enough to turn the entire science world upside down.

  105. 105
    andrew says:

    Allen MacNeill seemed to take such particular distaste to my little attempt to answer a question posed on this site that he had to write two posts in response. Maybe I hit on a sore spot. On a charitable reading of his posts, I’ll assume that I did not explain myself well enough. The more I think about it, the more I like my argument. It was perfectly decent. It was this:

    A Christian will sometimes do some good deed for someone else in such a way that nobody (not even the person benefited) will *ever* find out. An atheist would not do this sort of thing because, like other human beings, he will be sorely tempted to tell somebody, or to make sure he was noticed by somebody, somewhere. The reason why this good deed is not truly good is that it contains an element of self-promotion, self-aggrandisement and therefore, hypocrisy.

    Allen objected that this was simply an assertion. There are two responses to this. One, the reason why I think an atheist would not do such a thing is that I, as a Christian, find it very difficult to do such things, and I have a motive for doing them! Two, Allen, feel free to go ahead and prove me wrong instead of squealing about unsubstantiated assertions: I’ll bet you cannot give me an example from history of an atheist that fulfils the conditions in the paragraph above. I happen to think that my challenge is pretty-well impossible to answer, because if you were to find out about such a good deed, the atheist has already got his reward (see Mt. 6 again). In any case, I do not have to prove that there are no purple swans on Pluto – you have to prove that there are.

    Now, I am perfectly happy that my suggestion fulfils the criteria set out in Christopher’s challenge. A theist will do something good that an atheist will never do. Why? Because the atheist has absolutely no motive to act in such a way. Since UD has been going on about Aristotle of late, I find it puzzling why Allen should think that talk of final causes should be forbidden in such discussions.

  106. 106
    andrew says:

    Allen objected to the idea of people doing good things because of some motivation of reward. This objection strikes me as very queer.

    It is a simple enough moral principle: if people do some *work* they deserve to get paid for it.

    I personally object to having to pay for evolutionary biologists claiming to perform biological alchemy, even if they stumble upon the occasional scientific observation of interest, like the chemical alchemists of medieval times. I do not see why we should have to pay people claiming to weave gold threads for the emperor’s new clothes. But, I bet Allen feels otherwise: he claims he deserves to be paid for a day’s work. It’s the same principle: people who spend their lives working evil deserve their wages and those who try their hardest to continually work good (despite all the difficulties that life throws at them) deserve to get their pay at the end of the day, too. You’ll need to do some study in Romans 2, Allen, here. But the principle is pretty-well accepted by all working adults. It’s the same principle that demands restitution after somebody slams their car into the back of yours. There is *and there should be* a payback.

    Why anybody should be faulted for going through life expecting to be rewarded for going out of their way to do good, instead of living in complete self-interest, is beyond me. I don’t get your exasperation at the argument, Allen. It sounds more like an argument from emotion or outrage than anything else. I don’t think there is any logic or morality in the view.

    In any case, Jesus said nothing about heavenly rewards in the passage in Mt. 6, and in fact he said that the meek will inherit the earth (Mt. 5). Where Allen got the idea of heaven from is beyond me.
    Why Allen should take such an emotional reaction to the idea of heaven is also beyond me, calling it an ‘eternal lollipop’ and a ‘heavenly amusement park’. Why such bitterness, Allen?

  107. 107
    Graham says:

    To andrew #106

    I strongly object to your assertion. I am a non-believer, and I have done good deeds that no-one knows about. Many times. What you say is simply rubbish.

  108. 108

    In comment #105 andrew wrote:

    “I’ll bet you cannot give me an example from history of an atheist that fulfils the conditions in the paragraph above.”

    How can I possibly do this? the conditions you specified are:

    “A Christian will sometimes do some good deed for someone else in such a way that nobody (not even the person benefited) will *ever* find out.” [Emphasis added]

    If I take the word ever literally (which andrew seems to be asserting I must, by bracketing it with **s), then how can I possibly provide evidence that anyone, atheist or Christian, has ever done this? Either andrew does not understand basic logical argument, or he posted this comment in the full knowledge that his demand couldn’t possibly be met by anyone (except God, of course, Who knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake).

    And I can’t fulfill andrew’s logically unfulfillable conditions because I’m not an atheist (see http://evolutionlist.blogspot......stion.html ). So, I hereby assert that andrew’s demand was pointless as it was based on a logically contradictory requirement, and will not address it further.

    As to my argument that “heaven” qualifies as a reward for doing good things, does any Christian argue otherwise? What is the point of even mentioning heaven (or “paradise” or whatever you want to call “the eternal reward”) if it is not intended to function as a reward for good behavior? And if it is, then Christians are not altruists, they are simply doing what they do in order to obtain a payoff (or, as andrew might like to refer to it, their salary for a job completed on time and under budget).

    Have I trivialized the concept of heaven by referring to it as an “eternal lollipop” or the “amusement park in the sky”, or do Christians do this? After all, what distinguishes between heaven, lollipops, and amusement parks is not their quality as rewards but merely the degree to which they qualify as rewards.

    Or, to put it another way, should you do something because God will punch your ticket to ride, or should you do it because it’s the right thing to do? Asserting that God will “pay” a Christian for anonymously doing something good or right is to strongly imply that one would otherwise not do that thing. After all, we do our hobbies without getting paid, but we expect to get paid for doing our jobs (which are sufficiently onerous that we would not do them without getting paid).

    My point: justifying any act by rewarding it with an essentially infinite payoff, or abjuring any act by punishing it with an essentially infinite penalty is to convert what should be an ethical choice into a prudential choice grounded in the purest of self-interest.

  109. 109

    In comment #106 andrew wrote:

    “I personally object to having to pay for evolutionary biologists claiming to perform biological alchemy, even if they stumble upon the occasional scientific observation of interest, like the chemical alchemists of medieval times.”

    I personally object to religious organizations (including my own) not having to pay taxes on their income (like the rest of us do), even if they use that income to do “good things”. And, as a Friend, I strongly object to the government using my taxes to pursue wars of any kind, and especially aggressive wars against nations that have not done anything to harm (or even threaten) our national interests.

    Are either of my objections (or andrew’s objections in comment #106) relevant to the discussion in this thread? Of course not, so why make them? I made them to point out the lack of intellectual rigor in virtually all of andrew’s “arguments”.

    The question under discussion in this thread is whether atheists can do genuinely good things without believing in a deity (and, presumably, not therefore following the deity’s commands to do good things). I have already pointed out that, if a deity rewards or punishes doing good or bad things, then one’s behavior ceases being ethical or altruistic, and becomes merely prudent and self-interested.

    Furthermore, including reward and punishment in the question of ethics also implicitly includes questions of quantity: doing “better” things logically requires “higher” payoffs. While it is the case that some ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, include concepts of quantity (i.e. “doing the greatest good for the greatest number”), most people feel a little uncomfortable with linking the quality of “goodness” with some notion of quantity of “goodness”.

    This is especially the case for deontological ethics, which are neither consequentialist (i.e. not determined by effects or rewarded/punished by some “payoff”) nor quantitative: either an act is good/right or bad/wrong according to an absolute, universalizable standard.

    As far as rewards and punishments are concerned, the third major type of ethics (eudaemonian or “virtue” ethics), rather than depending on consequences or adherence to rules (with a concomitant promise of reward or threat of punishment) eudaemonian ethics are grounded in being virtuous: “virtue is its own reward”.

    Contrary to many of the comments in this thread, Christians do not have a monopoly on virtue. Consider the following:

    People in whom the Tao
    Acts without impediment
    Harm no other beings
    By their actions
    Yet they do not know themselves
    To be “kind”, to be “gentle”

    People in whom the Tao
    Acts without impediment
    Do not worry about their own interests
    And do not despise
    Others who do
    They do not struggle to make money
    And do not make a virtue of poverty

    They go their own way
    Without relying on others
    And do not pride themselves
    On walking alone
    While they do not follow the crowd
    They don’t complain of those who do.

    Rank and reward
    Make no appeal to them
    Disgrace and shame
    Do not deter them
    They are not always looking
    For “right” and “wrong”
    Always deciding “yes” or “no”

    The ancients said, therefore:

    People of Tao
    Remain unknown
    Perfect virtue
    Produces nothing

    “No-self”
    Is “True-self”
    And the greatest person
    Is nobody

    – Chuang Tzu [translated by Thomas Merton, with slight alterations by Allen MacNeill]

    Or consider this:

    The Way of Liberation is not limited
    The Way of Liberation has no boundaries
    Everyone and everything everywhere
    Resonates within it endlessly

    The Way of Liberation cannot be named
    The Way of Liberation cannot even be described
    It is always eternally ever-present
    But it cannot be bought or stolen

    The only entrance to the Way of Liberation
    Is through That Which Is
    Surrender to That Which Is
    And you shall be set free

  110. 110
    Mark Frank says:

    #99 vjtorley

    Thanks – that must have taken a lot of time. I agree with you when you write:

    I’d say that for the time being, we’re not going to see any solid evidence that intercessory prayer works.

    The key seems to be the Hodge meta-study. It covers 17 studies of which 6 showed a statistically significant benefit for intercessory prayer. Of these 6 one was dismissed as more or less a known fraud by Novella (Cha and Wirth, 2001). But the key response which you very honestly included was Peter Norvig. I am really suprised by your comment:

    Personally, I don’t think it makes any new criticisms of the Hodge study that Novella doesn’t cover: namely, that the Wirth study is highly questionable

    Norvig demolishes three more of the six studies: Byrd 1988, Harris et al 1999, and Leibovici 2001. The first two commit a number of design sins but most importantly they were guilty of data-mining. Leibovici was the “retrospective” study and was only intended as a joke in the first place! This leaves just two significantly studies out of 17 (Furlow and O’Quinn 2002 and Sicher et al 1998) both of which have extremely small sample sizes (21 and 20 respectively). Norvig did not address these, presumably because Dossey did think them worth mentioning and Norvig was responding to Dossey.

    You originally wrote:

    A fair-minded person would conclude that there is good evidence that prayer works sometimes.

    I am afraid this is only true if the fair-minded person is a bit naive about statistics and experimental design.

  111. 111
    Charlie says:

    Mirror neurons, selfish genes, kin selection, etc., does any theory not assert that altruism and moral behaviour are, at their ultimate level, are rewarded?
    Does this mean that they are not positing true altruism or morality? Could be, as so many materialists will assert.

  112. 112
    Charlie says:

    “The question under discussion in this thread is whether atheists can do genuinely good things without believing in a deity (and, presumably, not therefore following the deity’s commands to do good things).”
    You keep saying this is the point. I don’t see that this is the point. The point was to answer Christopher’s challenge.

    “I have already pointed out that, if a deity rewards or punishes doing good or bad things, then one’s behavior ceases being ethical or altruistic, and becomes merely prudent and self-interested.”
    What if physics and biology reward it?

  113. 113

    I find it interesting that Charlie would link mirror neurons, selfish genes, kin selection, etc. with altruism and moral behavior. These are all natural phenomena (i.e. phenomena that have a basis in observable, quantitative, and therefore natural processes). Ergo, using them to justify any ethical system is to commit what G. E. Moore has called the “naturalistic fallacy”. Or, to put it much more simply, “is” statements cannot be used to justify “ought” statements.

    So yes, if such phenomena work the way they appear to work, then they (like any ethical system grounded on reward or punishment) are not a valid foundation for ethics, neither for “materialists” nor for “theists”.

    Now that that’s out of the way, how about presenting an outline of an ethical system that is not grounded in a logical fallacy nor reducible to either unsupported assertion, arguments by analogy, or self-interest?

  114. 114

    Re charlie in comment #111:

    Here is Hitchens’ challenge, quoted directly from the OP:

    “…name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.”

    And here is how I reworded his statement in comment #108:

    “The question under discussion in this thread is whether atheists can do genuinely good things without believing in a deity (and, presumably, not therefore following the deity’s commands to do good things).”

    If you perceive that these two statements are not virtually logically equivalent, then please by all means point out how they are not.

  115. 115

    Also re charlie in comment #111:

    “What if physics and biology reward it?”

    Are you referring to the sciences of physics and biology, or to the objects and processes which those sciences seek to analyze?

    And, reward what, exactly? I can’t even figure out what this question is supposed to mean; it seems logically incoherent and obscure to the point of meaninglessness.

    Please clarify.

  116. 116
    jacobpressures says:

    Sorry to get off topic guys, but I’m reading Behe’s Edge of Evolution. He said there is very strong support for common descent. He also believes in common descent. So i thought i might find a different approach here and see the arguments for and against common descent. There’s no debate about this on the podcasts. I’m wondering what is Behe’s basis for stating this? What evidence is there against common descent other than the Cambrian Explosion?

    Can anyone point me in some direction? Thanks!

  117. 117

    The Cambrian explosion does not qualify as evidence against common descent. As many paleontological studies have pointed out, the various phyla of animals that appear in rocks dated to the Cambrian have ancestors that appear in rocks dated prior to that time [see, for example, Peterson, K., McPeek, M., and Evans, D. (2005) Tempo and mode of early animal evolution: Inferences from rocks, Hox, and molecular clocks. Paleobiology, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 36-55] What the Cambrian explosion does qualify as is a paradigmatic example of adaptive radiation resulting from the “invasion” of a new adaptive zone. There is now very good evidence from comparative genomics (as well as more evidence from comparative anatomy and paleontology) that the various phylogenetic lines that are so prominent in the Cambrian rocks are descended from ancestral lines that date back to the origin of multicellular eukaryotes over a billion years ago, and perhaps even further.

    Also, Dr. Behe is not the only prominent ID supporter who accepts the evidence for common descent. Dr. Dembski does as well, and has written as much several times in the recent past (thus rendering the name of this website not a little self-contradictory).

  118. 118
    Charlie says:

    Hi Allen, no I didn’t mean that the sciences of physics and biology reward so-called altruistic acts. I also do not mean that the physics and biology classes studied in school do, or that physics and biology textbooks do.
    I was talking about physics and biology.
    If doing good makes one feel good, then it has been rewarded. Same thing if doing so releases pleasant hormones. Or if it alleviates unpleasant sensations caused by mirror neurons. Or if it passed one’s genes into the next generation, or helped kin to pass their genes into the next generation.
    So all the theories of ethics and altruism that derive from such states of affairs would be, as you have said, not about ethics and altruism.
    You have brilliantly noted the fallacy of the is/ought as well. I wish I’d thought of that. So again, such theories can not actually be about morality – as I said already in 110.

    So again I ask, what theory of ethics does not ultimately rest on reward or punishment? Not theories relying on Nirvana or Enlightenment, obviously. So which ones?

  119. 119
    Charlie says:

    “…name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.”

    And here is how I reworded his statement in comment #108:

    “The question under discussion in this thread is whether atheists can do genuinely good things without believing in a deity (and, presumably, not therefore following the deity’s commands to do good things).”

    The two statements are not only not virtually identical but could scarcely be more different and reside in the same discussion.
    One presupposes that atheists can do good and seeks for one instance in which said good-doing atheist would be at a loss.

    Your example ignores this presupposition and dashes off to find offence where there is none. The Christopher challenge makes no mention of, nor relies upon all atheistic acts being inherently opposed to the good. In fact, the OP states that VJ required weeks to find one such act.
    You are harping on an interpretation of a theological point regarding man’s fallenness that has nothing to do with the question posed.

  120. 120
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill at 85:

    charles presents a very telling logical elision:

    An “elision is a deliberate act of omission, i.e. MacNeill accuses Charles of deliberately omitting some logic, which deliberate omission MacNeill deems to be “very telling” (ostensibly about Charles).

    But MacNeill has constructed a self-serving strawman:

    And here is a logical inference:
    3) the father cannot be both unloving and Christ-believing

    That would be MacNeill’s logical inference, as Charles knows as a general proposition that many fathers have been both believers and unloving. Believing in Christ does not make one sinless or perfect. Charles notes specifically about the father in question that he:

    felt angry and wanted to just let his son go to hell. But as he prayed he felt different. A thought came into his mind that he should write letters to his son. His son wouldn’t talk to him anymore, but the father knew his address. So each week for about a year he wrote his son a letter, telling him that he loves him and that he hopes his son would come back.

    Prayer (or its answer) mitigated the father’s anger and reinvigorated his pursuit of his son. So the facts demonstrate that MacNeill’s logical inference is neither logical nor true. The father hated his son’s behavior, but he loved his son, and he believed in prayer.

    MacNeill then stuffs a bit more of his own straw into his creation:

    And in my experience [that would MacNeill’s, not Charles’] many Christians also assert:
    5) non-Christ-believing people are unloving and indifferent because they do not believe in Christ (i.e. they are atheists)

    and has transitioned from his own specific experience of what many Christians assert about non-Christians to the unqualified proposition that “atheists are unloving and indifferent”

    and [further in MacNeill’s experience of what many Christians assert:]
    6) Christ-believing people must be loving and concerned because they believe in Christ (i.e. they are not atheists).

    Charles would point out (not that Charles’ actual opinion matters in such strawmen) that Christians likely assert they should be loving, they are commanded to be loving, but often are not actually, in practice, as loving as they should be. And Charles would further point out that loving the person is not the same as loving their behavior or actions. The father can love his son and yet hate his “drugs and petty crime and risky sex” behavior. This distinction between loving the person and hating their behavior seems to have eluded MacNeill.

    Yet our intrepid strawman philosopher continues:

    From this flows the (flawed) logic that:
    7) Atheists are necessarily hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil people because they do not believe in Christ (Don’t think this is a fair characterization? Read some of Ann Coulter’s so-called “essays”.)

    Note particularly MacNeill’s leaps from what Charles actually wrote to MacNeill’s experiences of what Christians assert to MacNeills final generalization that Athesists are necessarily hedonistic, etc., rather than what they can be as Charles would agree about Atheists (and Christians alike) too. Again those are MacNeill’s strawman constructive leaps, not Charles’ statements or thinking.

    Which is easily elided into:
    Anyone and everyone who does not believe in Christ must be hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil.

    MacNeill puts the finishing touch on his strawman with the gross generalization that not only are Atheists necessarily, but now anyone and everyone necessarily (except by implication Christians) are hedonistic, etc. A masterpiece of illogic, distortion, and projection.

    Let’s note for the record MacNeills “elisions”:
    – a Christian father can be unloving, though he should be loving.
    – a person can be loved, but their behavior can be hated.
    – non-believer’s can be loving
    – not all atheists, and certainly not any and every non-Christian, are hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil. Further neither must anyone so be.
    – Christians (initially) can be hedonistic, selfish, unethical, and ultimately evil, though true Christians progressively shed these behaviors in their pursuit of being more Christ-like.

    MacNeill closes with the rhetorical:

    What’s wrong (if anything) with this “logic”?

    To which the easier question might be “What is right with it”? It is so bad it’s not even wrong.

    Let us note also MacNeill’s umbrage against Collin in post at @ 59

    And who is being uncivil and casting aspersions on someone else’s character (as opposed to the logic of their arguments), and who is attempting to have a meaningful discussion of the logic behind vj torley’s query?

    Your problem, Mr. MacNeill, is you often don’t in fact address the logic of someone’s arguments, do you.

    No. You instead construct strawmen and cast aspersions on what (at bottom) is your logic projected onto others, and your attempts at meaningful discussion are few and far between. This is the most recent example of your frequent insincerity. Your motives, as all can see, are seldom (not never, but seldom) “meaningful discussion”, but usually antagonistic strawman polemics. You earlier constructed a strawman from Collin’s viewpoint in your post at 55, just as you attempted with mine. Collin never proffered “direct and unequivocal evidence for the assertion that the prayers were the cause of the son’s reclamation,” nor had anyone up to that point in the discussion similarly so stated. But you nonetheless saw fit to recast Collin’s suggestion as something it wasn’t and proceeded to attack that. And you took umbrage when Collin objected to your being “a jerk”. Collin’s only error was in not phrasing his objection as “Allen, why are making such jerky arguments?”

    Lastly, MacNeill complained that the father’s prayer wasn’t “direct and unequivocal evidence”. Indeed it wasn’t, but again, Collin never qualified it as such. By way of contrast I offered “deliverance” and vjtorley added “excorcism” (both with some qualifications) more along the lines of “direct and unequivocal evidence”.

    But if as MacNeill would seem have us infer, that any non-believer could have done what the father did and obtain the same results, then logically the only difference between what Collin suggested and what MacNeill argues, is the prayer, and prayer is about belief in the Christian God, and that prayer made the only difference, if MacNeill’s implications are correct. If there is no difference in the character or actions of the believer and non-believer, then prayer (and whomever answers it) is the only distinctive.

    A non-believer can’t logically pray to something he disbelieves. At the moment of prayer, at a minimum, the non-believer in fact is hoping (on blind faith) that somehow his prayer will be heard and answered. The only difference between the prayer of the hopeful non-believer and that of a Christian believer, is the Christian knows in whom his hope is placed and why. If the non-believer, OTOH, is not actually hoping for an answer or that any answer is the result of purely humanist purposes or chance, then that is the insincerity distinctive mentioned earlier. Such prayer is no different than praying to the dice at a Vegas crap table.

    So much for logic, but what of practical evidence? Attributing “direct and unequivocal evidence” to answered prayer is indeed difficult. But far less so with “deliverance” and “excorcism”.

    I did not mean to insert a “Joe Cool” emoticon into that last assertion; it was an unfortunate typo

    Of course, since it otherwise is obviously so out of character for you, isn’t it.

  121. 121
    Charlie says:

    By the way, Heaven is not a reward for being good and eternal life is not the result of good acts. Heaven is not a carrot, lollipop or any other such goodie attained by works.

  122. 122
    Charlie says:

    Good comment #120, Charles.

    One error is that you misremembered and it was not Collin who asked (not asserted) if MacNeill was being a jerk, but me, Charlie.

  123. 123
    Charles says:

    One error is that you misremembered and it was not Collin who asked (not asserted) if MacNeill was being a jerk, but me, Charlie.

    Indeed.

  124. 124
    tyke says:

    By the way, Heaven is not a reward for being good and eternal life is not the result of good acts. Heaven is not a carrot, lollipop or any other such goodie attained by works.

    That, of course, depends on who you talk to. Even if you don’t believe it is theologically sound, there are millions of people on this Earth who still believe it and thus one would have to assume that it will at least sometimes factor into their decision to commit an altruistic act.

    But I do agree that it is all but impossible to act completely selflessly given the obvious (and scientifically confirmed) fact that people get a kick out of doing charitable work, both psychologically and physiologically. So even the most anonymous of religious or atheistic charity-givers cannot completely isolate themselves from personally benefiting from their “selfless act.”

  125. 125
    Clive Hayden says:

    Mark Frank,

    I am afraid this is only true if the fair-minded person is a bit naive about statistics and experimental design.

    All attempts at a scientific study of the efficacy of prayer are misguided:

    The Efficacy of Prayer by C. S. Lewis

    Quote:

    “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical Proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained….

    Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature…

    Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: “You must not try experiments on God, your Master.” Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?

    I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.

    The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

    Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.

    We make requests of our fellow creatures as well as of God: we ask for the salt, we ask for a raise in pay, we ask a friend to feed the cat while we are on our holidays, we ask a woman to marry us. Sometimes we get what we ask for and sometimes not. But when we do, it is not nearly so easy as one might suppose to prove with scientific certainty a causal connection between the asking and the getting.

    Your neighbor may be a humane person who would not have let your cat starve even if you had forgotten to make any arrangement. Your employer is never so likely to grant your request for a raise as when he is aware that you could get better money from a rival firm and is quite possibly intending to secure you a raise in any case. As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already? Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.

    Thus in some measure the same doubt that hangs about the causal efficacy of our prayers to God hangs also about our prayers to man. Whatever we get we might have been going to get anyway. But only, as I say, in some measure. Our friend, boss, and wife may tell us that they acted because we asked; and we may know them so well as to feel sure, first that they are saying what they believe to be true, and secondly that they understand their own motives well enough to be right. But notice that when this happens our assurance has not been gained by the methods of science. We do not try the control experiment of refusing the raise or breaking off the engagement and then making our request again under fresh conditions. Our assurance is quite different in kind from scientific knowledge. It is born out of our personal relation to the other parties; not from knowing things about them but from knowing them.

    Our assurance—if we reach an assurance—that God always hears and some­times grants our prayers, and that apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only come in the same sort of way. There can be no question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide whether the successes are too numer­ous to be accounted for by chance. Those who best know a man best know whether, when he did what they asked, he did it because they asked. I think those who best know God will best know whether He sent me to the barber’s shop because the barber prayed.

    For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a ma­chine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctu­ary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

  126. 126
    vjtorley says:

    Allen MacNeill (#115)

    Thank you for your post. You write:

    Here is Hitchens’ challenge, quoted directly from the OP:

    “…name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.”

    And here is how I reworded his statement in comment #108:

    “The question under discussion in this thread is whether atheists can do genuinely good things without believing in a deity (and, presumably, not therefore following the deity’s commands to do good things).”

    If you perceive that these two statements are not virtually logically equivalent, then please by all means point out how they are not.

    Allen, if I may say so, there’s a fairly obvious non-equivalence between the two statements. The first statement implicitly acknowledges that a nonbeliever can perform ethical actions, and challenges the believer to nominate even one good action that he/she could perform and that a nonbeliever could not.

    The second statement addresses the question of whether belief in a deity is required to perform virtuous acts in general. It does not address the question of whether there is some particular ethical action that only believers can perform.

    On the question of whether Heaven is a reward: I would say that it’s rewarding, without being a reward as such.

    Here’s how I picture it. In order to get to Heaven, you have to lose your attachment to yourself, or “die to self” as St. Paul would say. (Sounds like a tall order!) Love is the best way – indeed, the only way – of truly dying to self. Love of others can enable you to you forget yourself; love of a Transcendent God goes one step further, as it takes you completely out of this world and the cares associated with it. Additionally, you lose your preoccupation with mortality by realizing that you have one foot in eternity. Part of you is not bounded by time.

    To get to Heaven, you have to be capable of loving God for his own sake, as well as showing unselfish love towards others.

    Having lost your attachment to self, you forget about self-gratification, and stop chasing after rewards. But you do not lose your personal identity. You are still a “self”; it’s just that you are no longer preoccupied with yourself.

    If you die in this state of non-attachment to self, with a heart that is open to the love of God and others, you are pleasantly surprised to encounter God on the other side. You will find the experience of Heaven delightful, and hence rewarding; but by this stage, you’re not chasing a reward, and you love God for who He is.

    Does that still strike you as selfish?

  127. 127
    PaV says:

    Apparently the subtlety of my response in[69] has been lost.

    In my response, I noted that St. Peter, as a believer, was able to invoke and utilize supernatural powers. The key word is this response is the word ‘supernatural’. If Hitchens asks what ethical statement or action “could not” be “done” by an atheist, then the response is: None! Why? Because each human being, each having a soul, have the same dynamic powers available to us whether we believe or don’t believe. These powers, or faculties, are intrinsic to each human, and is not dependent on our faith. Now justification by faith is another thing; but this, again, is in, and at, the supernatural plane. Hitchens seizes hold of this invariable nature of humankind to present his challenge. But, this challenge already takes for granted that the origin of human nature is purely materialistic. This kind of presupposition is all too familiar to us here at UD. TO challenge Hitchens in return, one would then ask such questions as: what is the origin of consciousness? What is the origin of reason itself? What is the origin of the ethical sense, or even the aesthetic sense for that matter?

    Well, I’m sure we could go round and round on that one. And, of course, no one will be able to dislodge Hitchens from his materialistic base.

    So, the really pertinent question is not what could a believer do that an atheist couldn’t, but what do believers do that atheists don’t do. That certainly puts you immediately in the realm of prayer, but I think more immediately of Mother Teresas of Calcutta: she picked up dying people out of the open sewers and cleaned them up and helped them die with dignity, knowing human love as they died. You see, any atheist COULD do this; but I sure don’t see any of them DOING it. This is sort of like the expression: the exception proves the rule. There’s lots of things they could do, and the fact that we don’t see them doing it says a lot about the difference between atheists and believers.

    As to what terribel things have been done in the name of religion, why not turn the tables on Hitchens: the Catholic Church could have put to death 60 million people like the atheist Mao Zedong did; but they only put 160 to death over three centuries during the Inquistion. Why doesn’t Hitchens answer for the incredible inhumanity demonstrated by atheists over the last few centuries? Dinesh D’Souza challenges Hitchens in this way, and Hitchens runs for cover.

  128. 128

    In comment #119 charlie asked:

    “…what theory of ethics does not ultimately rest on reward or punishment?”

    All deontological theories of ethics (such as those formulated by Kant and Rawls, among others), plus almost all eudaimonian/virtue theories of ethics are (as G. E. M. Anscombe pointed out a long time ago) non-consequentialist, and therefore do not ultimately rest on reward or punishment.

  129. 129

    Clive Hayden:

    Thank you for the quotation from Lewis in comment #126. It is because of arguments like this (most of them from Lewis) that I both appreciate his immense compassion and envy his extraordinary erudition (yes, it is a sin, but I try to avoid it).

  130. 130
    Mark Frank says:

    #126

    Clive

    All attempts at a scientific study of the efficacy of prayer are misguided

    I agree (but for different reasons from C.S. Lewis). I wonder what vjtorley and bornagain77 think?

  131. 131

    Re charles in comment #121:

    Thank you for your impassioned critique of my earlier comment. I freely admit that the arguments that I made were directed, not at the kind of Christians described in your comment (e.g. the kind of Christians with whom I meet on First Day at the Ithaca Friends Meeting), but rather at those who (like Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Garner Ted Armstrong, and the like) seem to delight in demonizing anyone who does not hew to exactly their interpretation of Christian gospel, and who condemn atheists as the most depraved and demonic of all.

    And, after reading charles’s response, I realize that my generalization of my experiences with the “demonizing” type of Christian is what could easily be referred to as “fundamental attribution error”. And so, I admit that I have in comment #85 committed precisely such an error and will attempt to be more careful in the future.

    I stand corrected.

  132. 132

    In comment #127 vjtorley wrote:

    “In order to get to Heaven, you have to lose your attachment to yourself, or “die to self” as St. Paul would say. (Sounds like a tall order!) Love is the best way – indeed, the only way – of truly dying to self. Love of others can enable you to you forget yourself; love of a Transcendent God goes one step further, as it takes you completely out of this world and the cares associated with it. Additionally, you lose your preoccupation with mortality by realizing that you have one foot in eternity. Part of you is not bounded by time.

    To get to Heaven, you have to be capable of loving God for his own sake, as well as showing unselfish love towards others.

    Having lost your attachment to self, you forget about self-gratification, and stop chasing after rewards. But you do not lose your personal identity. You are still a “self”; it’s just that you are no longer preoccupied with yourself.

    If you die in this state of non-attachment to self, with a heart that is open to the love of God and others, you are pleasantly surprised to encounter God on the other side. You will find the experience of Heaven delightful, and hence rewarding; but by this stage, you’re not chasing a reward, and you love God for who He is.

    Does that still strike you as selfish?”

    Not at all; indeed, it strikes me as being a succinct summary of the basic principles of Buddhism, as taught to me by my roshi many years ago (different words, of course, but the same spirit; after all, “the letter killeth but the spirit giveth live”).

  133. 133

    I’m curious how many people reading this thread know anyone who (like my best friend and her brother) were repeatedly beaten by their extremely devout Christian mother as a way to force them to go to church and recite fervently the lessons being forced upon them there, and who today have no contact with their mother because she believes them to be “fallen” and quite possibly “demonically possessed”?

  134. 134

    And I apologize for possibly derailing this thread with my question in comment #134, and beg forgiveness on the basis that perhaps it might at least partially illuminate why I committed the “fundamental attribution error” in comment #86 for which I apologized in comment #132.

  135. 135

    BTW, my best friend and her brother are also “anti-theists” like Christopher Hitchens, whom they revere as one of their champions in “fighting the good fight” (against people like their mother, I suspect).

  136. 136

    As for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Christopher Hitchens himself had quite a bit to say about her:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2090083/

  137. 137
    vjtorley says:

    Mark Frank (#111)

    Thank you for your post. I haven’t been able to access the original version of Hodge’s 2007 study; I was only able to view the abstract. Thus I am not sure exactly what the names of the 17 studies that the meta-study examined were.

    I noticed you mentioned Leibovici (2001). Are you sure his study was included in Hodge’s meta-study?

    Looking at Norvig’s article at http://norvig.com/prayer.html , it seems he didn’t have much to say on the Hodge meta-study, except for mentioning the flaws in the Cha/Wirth study:

    One serious problem with this meta-analysis is that it includes the discredited Cha/Wirth study. If removing that study eliminated 88% of the effect in Masters’ study, it seems likely that removing it from Hodge’s study would yield no significant difference on the remaining studies. But I don’t have access to the numbers so I can’t know that for sure.

    I acknowledge your legitimate concerns about data-mining with Harris and Byrd, which Norvig also mentioned. Still, he didn’t seem to think that invalidated the studies.

    “Trouble in the Library” by Wallace Sampson at http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=210 was one of the links I included in post #99 above, but I have to say the author’s tone is very hostile at times, and he seemed bent on doing a hatchet job on the Hodge study. Although he pointed to some flaws in the positive studies, I soon found myself wondering if the negative studies weren’t just as bad as the ones purporting to show a positive result, and I was dismayed that he used “background information on proponents” of intercessory prayer, to undermine studies he didn’t like.

    It seems that all meta-studies have their flaws, despite endeavoring to screen out bad studies. Hodge (2007) is one of the best of a bad bunch. Maybe it’s better to look at individual studies, which are “closer to the coalface” as it were.

    Clive’s post above is well worth pondering. Maybe Lewis had a good point after all, when criticizing the idea of prayer experiments. It will take a while to sort this one out, I think.

  138. 138
  139. 139

    In comment #128 PaV wrote:

    “As to what terribel things have been done in the name of religion, why not turn the tables on Hitchens: the Catholic Church could have put to death 60 million people like the atheist Mao Zedong did; but they only put 160 to death over three centuries during the Inquistion. Why doesn’t Hitchens answer for the incredible inhumanity demonstrated by atheists over the last few centuries?”

    Because he doesn’t have to. This is an obvious tu quoque argument, and therefore has no logical force whatsoever.

  140. 140

    Either that, or PaV is arguing that the only thing that matters in the commission of evil acts is the number of people harmed, not that fact that they have been deliberately harmed. In other words (and according to PaV’s logic), quantity matters, not quality, and so the actions of the Christian hierarchy during the inquisition were only 160/60 million (i.e. 0.00000267) as evil as those done by Mao Tse Tung. By such a standard, anyone reading this can go next door and murder their neighbor and rape her 4 children and in doing so commit only 0.00000008 as much evil as Mao Tse Tung.

  141. 141
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill:

    I stand corrected.

    I am surprised by your candor.

    how many people reading this thread know anyone who (like my best friend and her brother) were repeatedly beaten by their extremely devout Christian mother as a way to force them to go to church and recite fervently the lessons being forced upon them there

    It is difficult to take such a question seriously. On what planet are physical beatings for pedagogical purposes (not discipline) ever given any credence no matter what the religious background?

    Were the question about “an atheist biology teacher who repeatedly beat his children to help them learn evolution”, would anyone not dispute the atheist’s sanity instead of his Darwinism? Yet let an apparently unbalanced (ostensibly) “Christian” repeatedly beat her children to learn their bible, and it’s her Christianity that is emphasized instead of her insanity. Good grief! Aside from Islamic extremists (noted for their honor killings and terrorism) what religion legitimizes repeated beatings for failure to learn its religion? I doubt you suspect that even Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Garner Ted Armstrong, physically beat their children to force them to learn church teaching.

    “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is about corrective discipline, not bible study.

    Did you anticipate a series of anecdotes responding “Yeah, I know perfectly normal Christian people who beat their kids every time they forget a bible verse”?

    Does it not occur to you that, even if true, at best, your friends’ mother has mental issues that far outweigh any “Christian” characteristics, and your asking such an illdesigned loaded question has the appearance of yet more polemical insincerity?

  142. 142
    THEMAYAN says:

    Charles makes a good point, my grandmother was as old fashion and as fundamentalist as they got, if we behaved really badly, we might have gotten whacked in the behind with the fleshy part of the hand, but she was fiercely loyal and loving to her family and friends, and even offered help to her enemies, fed people offered shelter, but she never beat us for not wanting to go to church, and I never had any Christian friends that were beaten either.

    I’m not saying it never happened or happens, I’m just saying it was so uncommon in my upbringing that I never personally knew of friend who was beaten for not wanting to attend church. Again, Charles makes a point, maybe unfortunately your mother could be mentally ill, and perhaps you come from an unstable gene pool. I don’t mean to be rude or crude, I’m just trying to be consistent with your biological or materialist approach of viewing the world.

  143. 143
    JPCollado says:

    None of the non-theists will be able to do what Bruce Olson was able to accomplish. And that’s just scratching the surface.

  144. 144
    JPCollado says:

    37

    Allen_MacNeill:

    As for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Christopher Hitchens himself had quite a bit to say about her:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2090083/

    After reading that, now I know for sure that Mr. Hitchens is nothing but a hate-filled, callous and venemous bigot. Sometimes, there is no sense in debating people like that. This is possibly worse than dealing with stubborn closed-mindedness.

  145. 145
    Charlie says:

    Hi Allen,
    Contrasting deontological theories of ethics with consequentialism does not address the question.
    I didn’t ask about how the right is determined but in which theories people would follow that which is right but receive no reward.
    You’ve referenced Kant and deontology at the same time that you accuse Christianity of offering rewards for good behaviour (thus, the good they do isn’t really good) ignoring the fact that those self-same Christians believe in something akin to Kant’s deontological theory. Ergo, your reference does not answer the question, even to your own satisfaction.

    Just because the right is not determined by its consequences does not mean that those who do what is right are not being rewarded, or do not anticipate some kind of reward.
    Likewise, if you are going to make such things as “pleasing God”, “doing His will”, or entering into Eternal Life a reward that erases the morality of a behaviour then it still stands that you have yet to show a system which allows for moral behaviour with no rewards.
    In fact, Kant’s theory, he said was “practically helpful”, and following moral laws allows moral agents proper dignity. Ergo, they are rewarded.

  146. 146
    Mark Frank says:

    #138 vjtorley

    As an Open University student I have electronic access to most academic journals. Here is the list of studies in the Hodges metastudy that showed statistically significant benefit from prayer:

    Byrd (1988)

    Harris, Thoresen, McCullough, and Larson (1999)

    Furlow and O’Quinn
    (2002)

    Sicher, Targ, Moore, and Smith (1998)

    Leibovici (2001)

    Cha and Wirth

    You will see that one of these is indeed Leibovici and that Byrd and Harris are included in the list. Norvig did not explicitly mention them when discussing Hodge but they are the same studies.You say Norvig does not think the Byrd and Harris studies are invalidated but he does write of Byrd:

    “When we discount the results from overzealous data mining there are no significant differences left between the control and the prayer groups, but there are some promising pointers for future research ”

    and something similar applies to Harris. Over zealous data mining is a serious flaw.

    Do you still hold that:

    “A fair-minded person would conclude that there is good evidence that prayer works sometimes.”

    Or would you now concede that perhaps that was a mistake?

  147. 147
    Charlie says:

    I haven’t followed the prayer study chat here, and have never worried about whether or not God allows His actions to be scrutable to the scientific method, but in case you are not already discussing this info, here’s one link I saved some time ago.

    http://www.godandscience.org/a.....yLFfn0xy1Z

  148. 148
    Mark Frank says:

    #148

    Charlie

    The papers referred to in your link are the Hodge metastudy, Byrd, Harris and Leibovici – all discussed above.

    Mark

  149. 149

    Re Charles in comment #142:

    “It is difficult to take such a question seriously. On what planet are physical beatings for pedagogical purposes (not discipline) ever given any credence no matter what the religious background?”

    How old are you, Charles, and where did you go to elementary school? In the fourth grade (on this planet, BTW), I and my fellow students were regularly struck by our teacher as a method of reinforcing our learning of the multiplication tables. Yes, it was only a ruler whacked vigorously on our outstretched wrists, but it seems reasonable to categorize such behaviors as “physical beatings for pedagogical purposes”. Or is it only the severity of the “beating” that determines its character (or its efficacy)?

    The point to my question was not to insinuate that Christians necessarily beat their children to make them “better Christians”, the point was to give some insight into why I might possibly have a somewhat jaundiced view of how some Christians practice their “faith”. And yes, it is once again a failing of mine that I would characterize a belief system by the actions of one of its more unhinged (indeed, vicious) adherents. IN doing so, I have once again committed a “fundamental attribution error”, but one that seems extraordinarily common on both sides of this issue.

    Making assumptions about anyone on the basis of their association with any group (atheist, Christian, Muslim, or whatever) is the basis of the FAE, and is always fallacious (and often leads to extraordinary evil).

  150. 150

    Re Charlie in comment #146:

    Please note that I am not myself asserting that deontological ethics are necessarily non-consequentialist, I am merely reporting what the majority of students of ethics assert vis-a-vis that proposition.

    Indeed, I personally agree with you: it seems to me that all ethical systems are necessarily teleological and consequentialist, including eudaemonian/virtue ethics, despite G. E. M. Anscombe’s arguments to the contrary. This assessment also applies to all religiously grounded systems of ethics, including those in the Abrahamic tradition, which to me also rely fundamentally on the attainment of intended outcomes (and, of course, what matters is the attempt, not whether or not one actually attains the intended outcome).

  151. 151

    Once again, the answer to the question “what justifies your ethics” is the fundamental question. Are ethical prescriptions justified by their internal logical coherence, by their effects, by the quality of the character of those who profess them, or some combination of these? Or, alternatively, is the entire justification for a system of ethics to be found in the assertion “So-and-so said to do thus-and-such, therefore that’s the right thing to do”?

  152. 152

    At this point it also seems quite striking to me that vjtorley (a person whose discernment and judgment I respect) can only find one action that a believer could perform that a non-believer could not (i.e. intercessory prayer) and that there is no reliable empirical evidence that this action has detectable effects, it raises the question “What difference does it make if one is a believer or not?”

    It has been my experience that both believers and non-believers generally feel that their respective positions provide them with both emotional satisfaction and legitimate justifications for their actions and beliefs. If not, they sometimes “switch sides”, and after doing so sometimes find the satisfaction and justifications for their beliefs and actions that were previously lacking.

    It also seems to me that every person can (and indeed should) try to be the best, most ethical person they can be, an outcome devoutly to be wished (and productive of salutary outcomes), and not necessarily dependent on one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof.

    And finally, I myself need to be constantly aware of my tendency to jump to conclusions about the character and motivations of individuals on the basis of their associations.

    Given all of this, what does any of this have to do with intelligent design (or the lack thereof) in evolutionary biology?

  153. 153
    Merthin Builder says:

    Allen:

    And, after reading charles’s response, I realize that my generalization of my experiences with the “demonizing” type of Christian is what could easily be referred to as “fundamental attribution error”.

    A very small point: Does not the “fundamental attribution error” have a bit narrower definition in psychology than your use here? It refers to the universal tendency to over-value personality or dispositional-based explanations of others’ behavior (not group membership or stereotype) while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. This contrasts with one’s interpretation/justification of one’s own behavior, which tends to include more references to situational factors.

    Short version: when he behaves badly it’s because he’s a jerk. When I behave badly it is due to circumstances.

  154. 154
    olsonbj says:

    zeroseven @ 104
    I don’t believe that a person that loves themselves cannot love another. What I said was that self-love makes a poor foundation for ethics. I imagine that it was self-love that led many Catholics in the leadership to “protect” the mother church by covering up horrific crimes (not in line with Loving God or Loving others). Self-love does not naturally lead to a ethical act. I think that was the point I was trying to make. Where as loving others (young children in this case) would.
    ~BJ

    PS It also seem that Pedophile Priests are the new Reductio ad Hitlerum. Godwin’s Law for child abusing priests anyone?

  155. 155
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill:

    I and my fellow students were regularly struck by our teacher as a method of reinforcing our learning of the multiplication tables. Yes, it was only a ruler whacked vigorously on our outstretched wrists,

    vs.

    who (like my best friend and her brother) were repeatedly beaten by their extremely devout Christian mother as a way to force them to go to church and recite fervently the lessons being forced upon them there

    Hmmmm… whacked with a ruler on the wrists vs repeatedly beaten. Golly, Allen that is a tough one. I’ll take door number one.

    but it seems reasonable to categorize such behaviors as “physical beatings for pedagogical purposes”. Or is it only the severity of the “beating” that determines its character (or its efficacy)?

    Since you already reasonably categorize her beating her kids for pedagogical purposes as little different than your being whacked with a ruler, and since you already rhetorically conclude that severity might merely be efficacious, and since both behaviors are reasonably categorized as “physical beatings for pedagogical purposes”, and since you’ve personally experienced one example of same, then aside from characterizing the devout Christianity of ‘a mother who repeatedly beats her kids for failing to learn their bible lessons’, there really was little point to your “question”, was there.

    And yes, it is once again a failing of mine that I would characterize a belief system by the actions of one of its more unhinged (indeed, vicious) adherents. IN doing so, I have once again committed a “fundamental attribution error”

    Perhaps your philosophy professor should have beaten you repeatedly (for greater pedagogical efficacy, of course) as whatever method he did employ seems to have been lost on you.

    Your problem, Mr. Mac Neill, is not that you occasionally, generally “characterize a belief system by the actions of one of its more unhinged (indeed, vicious) adherents”, but rather it seems an error that you chronically, specifically commit only with the Christian belief system, isn’t it.

    Only after being pressed did you acknowledge the distinction of an ‘unhinged viciousness’ in the mother, an ‘unhinged viciousness’ which no doubt you failed to detect in your teacher.

    You didn’t pose the question “how many people reading this thread know anyone who (like myself and fellow students) were repeatedly whacked on the wrist with a ruler by a zealous Mathematician as a way to force them to go learn their multiplication tables”, did you. No. It was the “devout Christianity” of an unhinged vicious mother which you found titillating, didn’t you.

    You confuse the civility towards your posts with which you are generally treated here, with credulity for your motivations.

    Making assumptions about anyone on the basis of their association with any group (atheist, Christian, Muslim, or whatever) is the basis of the FAE, and is always fallacious (and often leads to extraordinary evil).

    Then if you don’t like how that’s been working out for you, you might try not doing it. Lead by example. Keep your own hands clean.

  156. 156
    olsonbj says:

    BTW the golden rule has a context:

    “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

    It turns out the Golden Rule is rooted in loving others.
    ~BJ

  157. 157

    Agreed.

    Furthermore, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, Charles…

  158. 158

    “…it seems an error that you chronically, specifically commit only with the Christian belief system, isn’t it.”

    No, Charles, it isn’t, but if it reinforces your prejudices, please continue to believe it.

    And Charles, when was the last time you saw anyone at this list freely admit they were wrong and affirm that they will try to do better in the future?

    Indeed, when was the last time you did so?

  159. 159

    Actually, I should exempt vjtorley from my comment in #159. vj has indeed freely admitted that he might be in error and affirm that he will try to do better in the future.

    In the interests of civility and reasoned debate, I will try my best to do the same.

  160. 160

    And so, back to my query in comment #153: Even if it could be unambiguously shown and universally agreed that people holding a specific ethical and/or religious belief system acted more (or less) ethically toward each other, toward strangers, etc., what conceivable relevance would this have on the validity of any scientific theory of the origin and evolution of life on Earth?

  161. 161
    Charlie says:

    Thank you for that response, Allen, on ethical systems and rewards. When you said that Christians are not acting ethically because there is some kind of reward (in essence that is pleasing God – my point, not yours) I pointed out that if you applied your criteria fairly then there actually is no such thing as ethics or morality.
    As you have now agreed with me that all systems wind up at some kind of attainment your critique of Christianity in particular doesn’t really hold and, again, by your standard there is no such thing as ethical behaviour at all.
    Of course I disagree with you, even though I’ve used this reductio to show where your critique ends up.

    You then ask what difference does belief make.
    First, it means one is possessed by truth and is in alignment/agreement with the Creator and sustainer of life.
    It means that he can accept and attain the promises and sacrifices made by God.
    … I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…

    Second, a survey of Western history might benefit such a query. Human rights, abolition, literacy, capitalism, hospitals, universities, the scientific method, ending infanticide (and sutee, and foot binding in China …) etc. are all differences that experts in the field have attributed in whole or in great part to belief. Contrary to your misinformed use of statistics a while back, you could also have alook at prison populations and recidivism.
    For all its blips and the atrocities, so well documented by the eye-rolling challenge-presenting Hitchens, Christianity has a pretty good track record on the world stage.

    Third, scientific study and empirical methods are not the sole source of truth. Surely you agree?

    For instance …
    Just last night one of my business acquaintances stopped me out of the blue to discuss Christianity. She has experienced a profound change in her life in the past year and surprised me with a long and passionate description of those changes and her new faith and understanding in and of Jesus.
    I was awed by the change and thanked her for sharing. Humbled, I then told her how encouraging that was to me because, unbeknownst to her, I and a friend have been praying during this past year for God to move in her life in just this way. She fought back tears and thanked me and said “so that explains the difference!”.
    Unequivocal proof? Empirically verifiable? Convincing to anyone but those of involved? No, these are not my claims. All you skeptics can write it off and make up your reasons just as I would if you told me. Just as I likely will if some of you give your secular versions of this story.
    But this happened yesterday, to me, hours after I prayed for such encouragement. When I reported this encouragement to my other friend via email he said he had felt compelled and made a similar independent prayer on my behalf. I was also praying yesterday morning that God would speak to this friend and communicate with him on this day.
    God has reached down in Grace and love, coinciding all these mundane little events, to save this acquaintance and to strengthen my faith and that of my friend.
    That makes a difference to me.

    All the best.

    p.s.
    Allen, it is true that I think you act like a jerk. I think you are often arrogant, hypocritical, moralizing and judgmental. Maybe I am unfair to keep trying to show you that mirror (especially when it is true that I share these and worse).
    But I also think you are kind, loyal, well-intentioned, good hearted and willing to learn (not that you need my opinion or won’t think it condescending).
    And so I hope you can appreciate my prayers for you. But I make intercession to God either way, in love.

  162. 162
    Charlie says:

    Wow. An hour’s worth of comments posted while I wrote that.
    Just so you know, Allen, it was written before your last exchange with Charles.
    To be honest, and for what little it might be worth, I see these things mostly as he has.

  163. 163
    Charlie says:

    re:161
    Maybe none.
    But then again, all truth is God’s truth and must be in accord.

  164. 164
    olsonbj says:

    Lenoxus @ 94
    I believe that you may have misunderstood my statement. I did not say that unbelivers could not love. I said that they cannot make the aforementioned statement in sincerity without being illogical or lying. I was responding to the second half of the challenge.
    ~BJ

  165. 165
    PaV says:

    Allen [140,141]:

    Hitchens has a two part argument. His first question is meant to equate atheistic ethical prowess with that of a believer’s. He does this by focusing on what an atheists “could” do. As I mentioned in [128], as a residuum of the nature we share, this is hypothetically true, and to refute him would be to begin asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I answered that it is not what atheist “can” do, but what we find them actually doing that distinguishes the ethical differences between believers and non-believers.

    In Hitchens’ second question, he moves exactly in this direction. IOW, he wants us to look at what believers have done. This is no longer a question of what a believer could do, or what an atheist could do, but what has actually happened. His point is that believers have actually done evil. My riposte is simply that the level of historically recorded evil committed by believers versus that committed by unbelievers is hugely one-sided. Your attempt to ridicule the distinction I made does not in the least detract from its force—because why else would such an intelligent and thoughtful man such as Dinesh D’Souza make the very same argument? If someone commits 500 murders does this represent the same level of malevolence as someone who murdered someone in a moment of passion? You see, numbers really do count. And that’s the point: why should believers be lectured on evil doing by someone who is defending the philosophical outlook of the worst perpretrators of evil the world has ever seen?

    Finally, it is not the position of believing Christians that once you begin believing in Jesus Christ that you will never more commit evil. The true difference between Christians and non-believers is that Christians are repentant of their sins, and non-believers are not (Who would they repent to?)

    As to what Christopher Hitchens has to say about Mother Teresa, he knows Mother Teresas about as well as a 4 year-old knows about Quantum Field Theory. Should Christopher Hitcens never repent of what he has said of Mother Teresa, I believe there is a special place in Hell reserved for him—and I don’t normally speak in these kinds of terms.

  166. 166
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill:

    No, Charles, it isn’t, but if it reinforces your prejudices, please continue to believe it.

    Well, you’re 0 for 2 with me on this thread alone.

    And Charles, when was the last time you saw anyone at this list freely admit they were wrong and affirm that they will try to do better in the future?

    Infrequently. Is that your defense? Are those possibly your ‘situational ethics’ operating? Two wrongs don’t make a right, but merit being ignored anyway?

    Indeed, when was the last time you did so?

    I’m a bit more methodical about my argumentation than you seem to be. Or perhaps you’ve chosen the subject matter and opponent poorly, in this instance.

    I seldom express a viewpoint, I’m usually content to lurk and learn from others. But when I do express a view, it has been carefully researched and nuanced so as to be as accurate and supportable as I know how. I try to anticipate the questions or pushback I might get and triple check to ensure I’ve done my homework correctly. When I don’t know something with confidence, I say so, usually before hand if not when asked. If I disagree with a viewpoint I see expressed, but I am unable to see my way through to proving my point of view, I remain silent. If I have an interest in some subject, but am uncertain of my own knowledge, then my participation is inquiry rather than assertion.

    When I ‘debate’ someone, I’m careful to copy and paste their exact words and then build my rebuttal on those words, so as to avoid misstating my opponents view. I try not to quote-mine or cherry-pick. If I can’t make my argument from their words, then I have no argument to make.

    Consequently, I don’t make many mistakes, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I made the same mistake twice, though I do occasionally make new mistakes and when I do, I admit them and seek a greater understanding of the correction, since that is the only way to not repeat my mistake.

    On other forums, I’ve made three mistakes in last few years that I clearly recall, wherein I made and defended assertions of mine that ultimately proved to be factually wrong, at which point I agreed I was wrong. I recall one other instance in which I admitted to an error, only to find out later I had been mislead by my opponent (whom I had presumed to be intellectually honest) who had misrepresented the factual details of some of their “evidence” and they exploited my inexperience in the subject matter.

    On this forum, the subject matter is usually outside my experience and I rarely assert or offer opinions. But todate, only you, Dave Scot and Miguel_de_Servet have disputed with me here, and todate only you have admitted error (Dave Scot closed a thread on which I was prevailing while Miguel_de_Servet opted for a fighting withdrawal).

    My point is, I hate being wrong so much that I do everything I can (in advance) to be right, and when that fails (as it has), I study the correction and ‘get right’ and don’t repeat that particular mistake.

    Admitting an error is de rigueur, but not repeating the error would have been commendable (albeit one is seldom commended for mistakes not made) and one’s reputation for engaging in truly meaningful, intellectually honest and reliably accurate discussion, would grow.

  167. 167
    StephenB says:

    —Allen MacNeill: “At this point it also seems quite striking to me that vjtorley (a person whose discernment and judgment I respect) can only find one action that a believer could perform that a non-believer could not (i.e. intercessory prayer) and that there is no reliable empirical evidence that this action has detectable effects, it raises the question “What difference does it make if one is a believer or not?”

    There are many other ethical practices that a Christian could execute that would normally be out of range for an atheist, including the act of loving one’s enemies, refraining from lust, fulfilling his moral obligation to worship the Creator, and pursuing his final end.

    The problem is not in identifying the moral obligations that atheists cannot fulfill but rather in finding atheists who will acknowledge them as moral obligations.

  168. 168
    StephenB says:

    That should read: There are many other ethical practices that a Christian could execute that would normally be out of range for an atheist, including the act of loving his enemies, refraining from lust, fulfilling his moral obligation to worship the Creator, and pursuing his final end.

    The problem is not in identifying the moral obligations that atheists cannot fulfill but rather in finding atheists who will acknowledge them as moral obligations.

  169. 169
    StephenB says:

    —Allen: “And so, back to my query in comment #153: Even if it could be unambiguously shown and universally agreed that people holding a specific ethical and/or religious belief system acted more (or less) ethically toward each other, toward strangers, etc., what conceivable relevance would this have on the validity of any scientific theory of the origin and evolution of life on Earth?”

    The problem with the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, or some of its more recent developments, is not that it directly promotes or encourages immorality. The problem is that, because of its definitively amoral foundation, it relativizes morality, and that relative morality always translates into immorality in the end.

  170. 170
    Charlie says:

    Hi Allen,
    After pontificating on ethics for days and over numerous comments why are you now pondering the appropriateness of this thread to this forum?

  171. 171

    In comment #170 stephenB wrote:

    “The problem with the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, or some of its more recent developments, is not that it directly promotes or encourages immorality. The problem is that, because of its definitively amoral foundation, it relativizes morality, and that relative morality always translates into immorality in the end.”

    No, stephenB, the science of evolutionary biology, like all of the natural sciences, has absolutely nothing to do with morality. Asserting otherwise is once again to commit the “naturalistic fallacy”.

    Or do you wish to argue otherwise? For example, would you like to argue that organic chemistry somehow “relativizes morality”, or that sedimentary geology, or meteorology, or perhaps Newtonian mechanics does so?

  172. 172

    Charlie, I don’t address you with the snide attitude with which you have addressed me in comment #171. Therefore, I will no longer respond to your comments at all. Good-bye.

  173. 173

    Re stephenB in comment #168:

    Why, precisely, would a non-Christian (or, more precisely, an atheist) be “incapable of the act of loving one’s enemies or refraining from lust”?

  174. 174

    And Charles, I will no longer respond to you either, for precisely the same reasons that I will no longer respond to Charlie. Good bye.

  175. 175
    StephenB says:

    —Allen: “Or do you wish to argue otherwise? For example, would you like to argue that organic chemistry somehow “relativizes morality”, or that sedimentary geology, or meteorology, or perhaps Newtonian mechanics does so?”

    If organic chemistry, sedimentary geology, or meterology presumed to explain the arrival of consciousness, intellect, and will, all of which are necessary for morality, and if they presumed to explain the arrival of morality itself, then, yes, they would be amoral. Fortunately, only MET and its dubious derivatives arrogate unto themselves that privilege.

    Also, do you have a response to @169.

  176. 176

    In comment #166 PaV wrote:

    “…why should believers be lectured on evil doing by someone who is defending the philosophical outlook of the worst perpetrators of evil the world has ever seen?”

    Personally, I believe that evil is evil, whether it is directed at one person or 30 million, and that how many people are affected by an evil act makes no fundamental ethical difference.

    I also believe that the same thing is true for good. Indeed, doing good for one person is how all good actions begin, and doing evil to one person is how all evil actions begin.

    It is always good to avoid the beginnings of evil.

  177. 177
    StephenB says:

    —Allen: “Why, precisely, would a non-Christian (or, more precisely, an atheist) be “incapable of the act of loving one’s enemies or refraining from lust”?”

    You left out the other two–worshipping the Creator and pursuing his final end. (There are other obligations, by the way. The list was not complete.)

    In any case, there are two answers to your question. First, an atheist would likely not accept the proposition that loving one’s enemies and refraining from lust are necessary for moraltiy. If there are any atheists who do accept that proposition, I tip my hat to them since they are stretching well beyond their world view.

    Second, both actions [loving (in a practical way, not just the avoidance of hating) enemies and refraining from lust] are impossible except for the grace of God which atheists obviously reject.

  178. 178

    In comment #176, stephenB wrote:

    “If organic chemistry, sedimentary geology, or meterology presumed to explain the arrival of consciousness, intellect, and will, all of which are necessary for morality…”

    If something (say nutritional biochemistry) is necessary for morality, does that mean that morality can be derived from that thing? After all, life itself is necessary for morality (non-living things cannot be moral), and carbohydrates are necessary for life, so does this mean that morality can somehow be derived from (and predicated on) the principles of nutritional biochemistry?

    Lots of things are necessary for morality and moral behavior, including all of the objects and processes studied by empirical scientists, but none of the principles formulated by such scientists are sufficient (or even relevant) to explain the origin of morality, much less its metaphysical justification. That is the whole point to the “naturalistic fallacy”.

    In comment #176, stephenB also wrote:

    “…if they presumed to explain the arrival of morality itself, then, yes, they would be amoral. Fortunately, only MET and its dubious derivatives arrogate unto themselves that privilege.”

    Please cite references in any textbook on modern evolutionary biology that states that evolutionary theory is presumed to explain the origin of morality.

    Yes, there are books written by evolutionary biologists for the popular press that do so, but none of these authors (to my knowledge) knows even the most basic principles of ethical philosophy. That doesn’t stop them from writing speculative hogwash about the evolution of morality, but that doesn’t mean that they are right, nor that they represent the current state of the science of evolutionary biology, as opposed to its applications to ethical philosophy, which indeed strike me as “dubious”.

  179. 179
    Charlie says:

    “Charlie, I don’t address you with the snide attitude with which you have addressed me in comment #171. ”

    Hmmm.

    And, reward what, exactly? I can’t even figure out what this question is supposed to mean; it seems logically incoherent and obscure to the point of meaninglessness.

    I’m sorry you’ve taken this tack … again.
    But you tend to when your errors have piled up on you.

  180. 180

    In comment #178 stephenB wrote:

    “You left out the other two–worshipping the Creator and pursuing his final end.”

    Indeed, I did (glad you noticed that). Had I included them I should be considered by any rational person to be a complete idiot, as atheists as atheists obviously cannot either worship a “Creator” nor pursue Its final end.

    But that wasn’t my point: stephenB asserted once again that atheists cannot “lov[e] (in a practical way, not just the avoidance of hating) enemies and refrain… from lust, because doing so are impossible except for the grace of God….” Simply asserting that this is the case is in no way support for that assertion. Why, precisely, are atheists incapable of genuinely loving their enemies or avoiding lust? And please, don’t just make another unsupported assertion; provide some evidence that this is a necessary conclusion about the behavior and motivations of all atheists that is necessarily derived from the fact that they are atheists.

    And, to make this a little more interesting, please indicate why Buddhists are fundamentallyincapable of loving their enemies or avoiding lust (Buddhism, of course, not being predicated on the existence of any deity).

  181. 181
    PaV says:

    Allen (177)

    Personally, I believe that evil is evil, whether it is directed at one person or 30 million, and that how many people are affected by an evil act makes no fundamental ethical difference.

    I also believe that the same thing is true for good. Indeed, doing good for one person is how all good actions begin, and doing evil to one person is how all evil actions begin.

    This strikes me as a rather wild and reckless statement/position.

    St. Augustine, a Manichean—those believing that there is a principle of good and a principle of evil, a sort of ‘spiritual’ dualism—wrestled with this in becoming a Christian. He finally posited that ‘evil’ is no more than the ‘absence of evil’.

    So, at least your statement is consistent: if you don’t think there are gradations of evil, then, likewise, you should not believe in gradations of good.

    What does this position look like? As I understand you, it looks like one can take one step in either direction—in the direction of the ‘good’, or that of ‘evil’ (which, per St. Augustine, of course, amounts to ‘not’ taking the step). And, thus, in this construction, there is no room for ‘better’ (or, worse). Strange. It is ‘good’ that Cornell University pays you a salary; but are you denying that it is better should they give you a raise? Be careful in answering, a Dean might be looking on! 😉

    (Gone for the day)

  182. 182
    Charlie says:

    Hitchens on coveting:

    Then it’s a swift wrap-up with a condemnation of adultery (from which humans actually can refrain) and a prohibition upon covetousness (from which they cannot). To insist that people not annex their neighbor’s cattle or wife “or anything that is his” might be reasonable, even if it does place the wife in the same category as the cattle, and presumably to that extent diminishes the offense of adultery. But to demand “don’t even think about it” is absurd and totalitarian, and furthermore inhibiting to the Protestant spirit of entrepreneurship and competition.

    Apply to “lust”.

  183. 183

    PaV in comment #182: Ethical good is fundamentally different from prudential good. The former has to do with what people “ought” to do, irrespective of what they want to do, whereas the latter is entirely limited to what they “want” to do and has nothing to do with what they “ought” to do.

    For example, I can (prudentially) say that “vanilla ice cream is good”, but my use of the word “good” in that statement does not in any way imply that “vanilla ice cream is ethically justifiable”.

    And so, from a purely self-interested standpoint (i.e. prudential “good”) I can easily state that it would be “good” (indeed, very “good”) for the Dean to increase my salary, but that would not in any way have any bearing on whether or not I should use the increase in my salary to do “good” to other people (by donating it to a charity, for example).

    The problem is that we use the same word – “good” – in two fundamentally different ways, which can only be distinguished from each other in context.

  184. 184

    Re Charles in comment #167:

    I wrote my comment #175 before I read your comment #167. Please forgive me for my intemperance.

    This reminds me of a story (one that I find applies especially to a Quaker like me):

    A person is getting a lift to work from a friend who is a Quaker. Another driver cuts her off, and she yells profanity at the offender and flips him off. The passenger says “My goodness, I thought you were a Quaker” and the driver replies “It’s because I’m prone to cussing and flipping people off that I need to be a Quaker”.

    If we were all “naturally good” then we wouldn’t need ethics or religion, would we?

  185. 185
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill:

    And Charles, I will no longer respond to you either, for precisely the same reasons [snide attitude] that I will no longer respond to Charlie. Good bye.

    Let the record reflect that Mr. MacNeill, having admitted herein at least twice of what he too kindly refers to his own “fundamental attribution errors”, to wit:

    after reading charles’s response, I realize that my generalization of my experiences with the “demonizing” type of Christian is what could easily be referred to as “fundamental attribution error”. And so, I admit that I have in comment #85 committed precisely such an error and will attempt to be more careful in the future.

    and (failing to be more careful in the future):

    And yes, it is once again a failing of mine that I would characterize a belief system by the actions of one of its more unhinged (indeed, vicious) adherents. IN doing so, I have once again committed a “fundamental attribution error”, but one that seems extraordinarily common on both sides of this issue.

    Mr. MacNeill, having previously juxtaposed “demonizing type of Christian” and “its more unhinged (indeed, vicious) adherents” against the views of others (and giving him a pass on his “joe cool” typo), now characterizes my factual candor in my answering his last questions, as my “snide attitude”.

    There, for all to witness, is the hypocritical umbrage of the insincere.

  186. 186
    Charles says:

    Allen_MacNeill:

    I wrote my comment #175 before I read your comment #167. Please forgive me for my intemperance.

    Alas, I posted my 186 before seeing your 185.

    All is forgiven, please forgive me for my “too quick trigger finger”.

  187. 187
    Charles says:

    Moderator:

    Perhaps the moderator would delete my #186? Please?

  188. 188

    It’s okay, Charles, I freely admit that my temper often gets the better of me (as witnessed by some – many? – of my comments in this thread), and so I can hardly blame anyone else for doing the same. It’s part of the problem with asynchronous communication, such as discussion boards like this. Imagine how much worse it might be if we were debating via pen&paper snail-mail. As a great admirer of the voluminous correspondence of the denizens of the 19th century, I am often amazed that anyone continued writing to anyone else. Perhaps this is why so many of the letters from that period strike us “moderns” as excessively obsequious.

    The slate is once again blank, and I will attempt to practice what I (long-windedly) preach.

    –Your most obedient and humble servant etc.,

  189. 189
    Spiny Norman says:

    At this point it also seems quite striking to me that vjtorley (a person whose discernment and judgment I respect) can only find one action that a believer could perform that a non-believer could not (i.e. intercessory prayer) and that there is no reliable empirical evidence that this action has detectable effects, it raises the question “What difference does it make if one is a believer or not?”

    Allen, et al, at the risk of repeating myself, I refer you again to my post #33 above.

    I put it to all of you that Hitchens challenge is, when all is said and done, irrelevant, because Christian ethics is made up of, at an absolute minimum (there may be more components?):

    1. intentions
    2. statements
    3. actions

    Hitchens challenge addresses a subset of Christian morality and he is guilty of a logical error in that he clearly thinks that if he can demonstrate that an atheist can replicate ALL of SOME PARTS of Christian ethics, then that atheist is conforming with ALL of THE ENTIRETY of Christian ethics.

    This is so transparently false (at least to how I see things) that I am frankly surprised that this thread has dragged on so long and taken the turns that it has.

    Since when has SOME of something been equivalent to ALL of something? Unless Hitchens is prepared to engage with INTENTIONS then I will pay him no more mind.

    There are numerous things that a Christian can “do” that an atheist cannot. One of them is have an intention to love and worship God with a pure heart. An atheist can never intend that because he rejects God.

    Why do y’all think that Jesus spent so much time castigating the Pharisees, not for their statements or their actions (their apparent conformance with the law) but because of the poverty of their hearts?

  190. 190

    One more comment on the question of the (biological) evolution of ethics. Lest anyone accuse me of misrepresenting sociobiology, it is indeed the case that there are several branches of evolutionary biology that propose mechanisms for the evolution of altruism. These include (but are not limited to) William D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection, Robert Trivers’ theory of reciprocal altruism, Robert Axelrod and William D. Hamilton’s theory of the evolution of cooperation, and George R. Price’s theory of group selection. And indeed, I think that these theories provide strong support for the idea that the tendency toward altruism among humans and other primates (and among social carnivores, cetaceans, herding ungulates, foraging groups of birds and fish, naked mole rats, and members of the Hymenoptera and Isoptera, along with various mutualistic symbioses) is the result of evolution by natural selection. Furthermore, there is abundant natural history evidence in support of these theories.

    But none of these theories nor the evidence supporting them can legitimately be used to formulate or especially to justify any system of ethics. They all describe how humans and other social animals are and say absolutely nothing about what we ought to be.

    For example, not all theories of ethics prescribe altruism as the basis for ethical behavior. Objectivism (the otological, epistomological, and ethical system formulated and advocated by Ayn Rand, a dedicated and outspoken atheist, capitalist, and anarchist libertarian) explicitly states that altruism is the root of all evil, and that all valid ethics are grounded in individual self-interest.

    We formulate, justify, promulgate, and eventually agree upon ethics using a fundamentally different logic than we use to empirically investigate the natural world. Confusing the two or (much, much worse) deliberately conflating the two is neither justified nor benign, and historically has resulted in the prosecution of very great evil.

  191. 191

    P.S. This is off-topic, but perhaps one of the moderators or commentators might be interested in a discussion on the topic of “swarm intelligence” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarm_intelligence ] and/or “self-organizing systems” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organization ] as these seem to be relevant to a discussion of the relationship between evolution, intelligence, and design/teleology. Just a thought…

  192. 192
    StephenB says:

    —-Allen: “If something (say nutritional biochemistry) is necessary for morality, does that mean that morality can be derived from that thing? After all, life itself is necessary for morality (non-living things cannot be moral), and carbohydrates are necessary for life, so does this mean that morality can somehow be derived from (and predicated on) the principles of nutritional biochemistry?”

    The point is that MET proposes that morality itself and all the human faculties that allow the individual to practice it, emerge from matter and cannot, therefore, be grounded in anything but matter. Thus, it rules out, in principle, any kind of apriori morality, which means that morality, under those circumstances, must be ever-emerging, ever-changing, and relative. If there is no such thing as human nature, then obviously there can be no unchanging morality proper to human nature.

    —“Please cite references in any textbook on modern evolutionary biology that states that evolutionary theory is presumed to explain the origin of morality.”

    —Yes, there are books written by evolutionary biologists for the popular press that do so, but none of these authors (to my knowledge) knows even the most basic principles of ethical philosophy. That doesn’t stop them from writing speculative hogwash about the evolution of morality, but that doesn’t mean that they are right, nor that they represent the current state of the science of evolutionary biology, as opposed to its applications to ethical philosophy, which indeed strike me as “dubious”.

    Pick either your first comment, which disputes my claim, or your second comment, which affirms it, and then we can go forward.

    —“Indeed, I did (glad you noticed that). Had I included them I should be considered by any rational person to be a complete idiot, as atheists as atheists obviously cannot either worship a “Creator” nor pursue Its final end.”

    There are some moral acts that atheists cannot perform. Isn’t that the point that you are contesting? IF God deserves to be worshipped, and IF man has a final end that he ought to pursue, then it should be obvious that atheists cannot execute morality in that context. Thus, the only way the atheist can claim to be as moral as the theist is by denying certain aspects of morality.

    —“But that wasn’t my point: stephenB asserted once again that atheists cannot “lov[e] (in a practical way, not just the avoidance of hating) enemies and refrain… from lust, because doing so are impossible except for the grace of God….” Simply asserting that this is the case is in no way support for that assertion. Why, precisely, are atheists incapable of genuinely loving their enemies or avoiding lust? And please, don’t just make another unsupported assertion; provide some evidence that this is a necessary conclusion about the behavior and motivations of all atheists that is necessarily derived from the fact that they are atheists.”

    Let’s just consider the vice of lust for now. First, the atheist must believe that lust is wrong. Do you know of any atheists who insist, without compromise, that chastity is a moral imperative and that lust is a moral failing? Second, the atheist must believe lust is wrong to the extent that he is willing to develop, through rigorous discipline, the self control necessary to avoid that failing. Do you know of any atheists who have expressly trained their will and bent it in the direction of sexual purity [not Puritanism]. It’s one thing to see the light; it is quite another thing to summon up the moral strength to follow it. How does the atheist train his will to prefer what it ought to prefer when he doesn’t even acknowledge that such a thing as a “will” exists?

    —“And, to make this a little more interesting, please indicate why Buddhists are fundamentallyincapable of loving their enemies or avoiding lust (Buddhism, of course, not being predicated on the existence of any deity).”

    I am putting atheists and Buddhists in separate categories. However, I tend to agree with you, if I understand your point correctly, that Buddhism is, in the final analysis, practical atheism. On the other hand, I suspect that Buddhists could love their enemies and refrain from lust inasmuch as they attempt to destroy important elements of their personality by extinguishing desire rather than using it for a worthwhile purpose. However, to the extent that they are successful, and I doubt that few are, they pay a heavy price by removing all passion, motivation and righteous anger. By rooting out the vice in exactly that way, [as opposed to retaining passion and redirecting it toward nobler ends] they also root out the potential to perform moral acts that require passion. There are three possibilities: Atheism, which typically allows the passions to run wild; Buddhism, which, in principle, seeks to kill the passions; and Christianity, which seeks to regulate passions and redirect them toward meaningful and moral ends. Can there be any doubt which of the three is most likely to produce consistently moral acts?

  193. 193
    zeroseven says:

    PaV @ 166,

    I think Hitchens knows Mother Theresa better than most people, having written a book about her, made a documentary, and been appointed by the Vatican to represent her as a devils advocate in her beatification hearings. There is a wealth of evidence that she deliberately denied proper medical attention to the poor victims of her ministrations and revelled in their poverty despite raising huge sums of money from very dodgy donors. Not to mention campaigning against contraception in an extremely poor and over-populated part of the world.

  194. 194
    nullasalus says:

    Allen MacNeill,

    At this point it also seems quite striking to me that vjtorley (a person whose discernment and judgment I respect) can only find one action that a believer could perform that a non-believer could not (i.e. intercessory prayer) and that there is no reliable empirical evidence that this action has detectable effects, it raises the question “What difference does it make if one is a believer or not?”

    First, I don’t think that’s a fair summary of VJ Torley’s view. He has focus primarily on intercessory prayer here, but his original finding was much broader than that. (It also seems he would disagree with you on the ’empirical findings’ in those cases, but he can speak for himself.)

    Second, I pointed out two things:

    1) That materialist atheists are utterly incapable of pursuing spiritual goods, or attempting to help others pursue spiritual goods. If there does exist a transcendent good, a consistent materialist atheist cannot intentionally pursue it, or intentionally assist others in pursuing it. At most they can perform acts* that are ‘happy coincidences’ with those pursuits.

    2) I also illustrated, to no answer, that Hitchens’ test is supremely flawed. Replace “atheist” in the question with “nihilist”. A nihilist can still perform (aside from what I mentioned in 1) all the ‘ethical actions’ an atheist could. That would leave you in the position of saying “What difference does it make if someone is a nihilist or not?” I consider that to expose a major flaw in this entire discussion.

    Hitchens’ question is employed as little more than an intellectual smokescreen. And I submit that only a fool would say ‘Because a nihilist is capable of performing any ‘ethical act’, whether or not a person is a nihilist doesn’t matter – and shouldn’t matter to religious people or people who believe in real spiritual goods, even when choosing to elect and empower leaders’.

  195. 195
    above says:

    It seems like christopher is a little confused as always.

    Although there have been some good responses to his question that put the matter to rest, the issue between atheists and believers as it pertains to ethics is not that atheists are incapable of being good/ethical. It would be a gross and disgusting generalization to say that one is an evil person incapable of doing good simply because he is an atheist.

    The deeper and insurmountable problem that the atheist is faced with is that his ideology/beliefs do not provide him with any objective standanrd of good and evil. Moral relativism doesn’t cut it either as it evidently becomes self-refuting as a foundation for ethics.

    Simply put, an atheist can be ethical by the standard of Theism for example just like a believer can. In fact, I would be the first to admit that I know atheists that act more like Christians for example, than some self-proclaimed “christians” do.

    But God forbid we find ourselves in an atheist universe, then neither the believer not the unbeliever can either be good or bad. They will just “be” drifting aimlessly into and out of oblivion…

  196. 196
    Charlie says:

    Allen says:

    Lest anyone accuse me of misrepresenting sociobiology, it is indeed the case that there are several branches of evolutionary biology that propose mechanisms for the evolution of altruism.

    Agreed.

    But none of these theories nor the evidence supporting them can legitimately be used to formulate or especially to justify any system of ethics. They all describe how humans and other social animals are and say absolutely nothing about what we ought to be.

    Agreed.

  197. 197
    PaV says:

    Allen [185]:

    If you don’t think your salary is “ethically” justified, then please tell your Dean.

  198. 198
    Seversky says:

    StephenB @ 169

    There are many other ethical practices that a Christian could execute that would normally be out of range for an atheist, including the act of loving his enemies, refraining from lust, fulfilling his moral obligation to worship the Creator, and pursuing his final end.

    I have never understood this concept of ‘worship’, let alone that we are under any “moral obligation” to undertake it. Are you really suggesting that God’s only purpose in creating us was to provide Himself with a congregation of fawning supplicants? Quite apart from the fact that such a need would undermine the proposition that He is a necessary entity, it would imply that we can add to His list of ultimate attributes, such as omniscience or omnipotence, that of omnivanity.

    The problem is not in identifying the moral obligations that atheists cannot fulfill but rather in finding atheists who will acknowledge them as moral obligations.

    No, the problem is finding believers who can provide any justification for asserting such obligations other than ‘God says so’.

  199. 199
    olsonbj says:

    Seversky:
    An unbeliever is neither obligated nor is their worship accepted. This due to the fact that one that does not love God nor acknowledge God’s existence cannot possibly sincerely praise God. So I do not expect that you would understand it. But since you posed the question and challenge I will do my best to describe it.

    The notion that God is Omnivanity makes absolutely no sense to me. Jesus died on a cross for your sin. How does that act (the central act of God toward human beings according to Christians) demonstrate vanity? In that respect worship is thankfulness and sacrifice not idolization. I think you may have those mixed up. I can say that Worship at least for me is much greater than God Said So. The heart of worship is loving God.
    Hope this helps you!
    ~BJ

  200. 200
    vjtorley says:

    Mark Frank (#147)

    You asked:

    Do you still hold that:

    “A fair-minded person would conclude that there is good evidence that prayer works sometimes.”

    Or would you now concede that perhaps that was a mistake?

    Thanks for the information on the Hodge meta-study.

    After reading your post, I am willing to concede that currently there is no satisfactory scientific evidence from randomized double-blind trials on groups of people that intercessory prayer works.

    However, I would like to say, in passing, that there is something strange about telling a hospital patient that he/she might be prayed for, as happened in some of the studies I cited. That qualifies as messing with someone’s mind, in my book. Better to tell them nothing at all, and see what happens when some are prayed for and others are not. Also, I wouldn’t try to control the format of the prayer.

    But as Clive pointed out earlier (#125) in his quote from C. S. Lewis, perhaps this whole approach to prayer may be misconceived. Who’s to say that God doesn’t step in to help people who are not prayed for, precisely because they have no-one interceding on their behalf?

    And yet I think it would be unwise to disparage intercessory prayer. Many of us know of incidents in our own lives where prayers seem to have worked. Many people can cite a case where God answered a need of theirs in a very personal and specific way. The specificity is hard to calculate mathematically; but it seems to make a deep impression on people from all walks of life.

    Many of us, too, have friends and relatives who were severely ill or in danger of death, but pulled through after people rallied around and prayed. So I won’t say God doesn’t intervene, but at the present time it would be hard to convince a scientist of that, unless he/she looked at miraculous cures (which we’ve discussed before).

    I just had an idea. What about longitudinal studies of people who have changed their religious beliefs during their lives? Has anyone looked at patterns of illness during the “believing” and “unbelieving” parts of their lives? That seems to merit study.

  201. 201
    vjtorley says:

    Allen MacNeill:

    You asked:

    At this point it also seems quite striking to me that vjtorley (a person whose discernment and judgment I respect) can only find one action that a believer could perform that a non-believer could not (i.e. intercessory prayer) and that there is no reliable empirical evidence that this action has detectable effects, it raises the question “What difference does it make if one is a believer or not?”

    Thank you for your kind words.

    There are two issues here:

    (1) Can a believer perform actions that help other people, which a non-believer cannot? and

    (2) Can the efficacy of these allegedly beneficial actions be demonstrated, in a scientific manner, at the present time?

    The answer to (2) might be “No” even the answer to (1) is an emphatic “Yes.”

    I am somewhat disappointed that you think praying is the only ethical action a believer can perform that a non-believer cannot. The answer that I originally gave for Christopher Hitchens was “trying to save his soul.” That doesn’t mean just talking. It might mean going all out to convert him, in debate, as Dinesh d’Souza has done. It might mean giving him practical assistance with any spiritual problems he is experiencing, as a wise pastor of souls could do. That could include actions as diverse as recommending a complete change of lifestyle and career to help him surmount his difficulties, and helping him to make this change by providing him with practical assistance.

    Goodness takes all sorts of forms. Care for someone’s soul is not limited to prayer.

  202. 202
    olsonbj says:

    At the risk of sounding like making excuses I would raise an objection to the empirical study of prayer. There is an underlying assumption that God would answer prayer offered for the express purpose of demonstrating it’s efficacy. This concept is completely foreign to the Biblical concept of Prayer which says that a prayer offered up by faith without pretense and or selfish motive (James 4:3). In addition God states in his word that he does not attend to prayer that is offered without reverence (Prov 1:28-29). In scientific study we are always testing the Null (ie that it is not true that…) God’s word says that prayer is answered when it is offered without doubt (James 1:6-7). Testing the null implies some level of skepticism and doubt. Given the Biblical preconditions of prayer I am not sure that prayer naturally lends itself to empirical study beyond personal experience of efficacy or in case studies.
    The longitudinal study seems interesting. I know that there is evidence that religious people are generally healthier and more satisfied with life http://trans.nih.gov/cehp/HBPdemo-religion.htm.

  203. 203
    Mark Frank says:

    #201

    I just had an idea. What about longitudinal studies of people who have changed their religious beliefs during their lives? Has anyone looked at patterns of illness during the “believing” and “unbelieving” parts of their lives? That seems to merit study.

    I would guess that any such study would show that “believing” is good for you (after allowing for bad health driving you to become religious). But it would nothing about the what caused the better health. Having a vocation in life, being optimistic, having a circle of good friends are all good for you – and they all tend to come with the religious territory.

  204. 204
    pelagius says:

    olsonbj:

    At the risk of sounding like making excuses I would raise an objection to the empirical study of prayer. There is an underlying assumption that God would answer prayer offered for the express purpose of demonstrating it’s efficacy.

    Not necessarily. You can use a statistical approach to test the efficacy of prayer in groups of people who are praying sincerely, without intending to test God.

    Francis Galton applied this approach as early as 1872, in his paper Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer:

    The efficacy of prayer may yet further be tested by inquiry into the proportion of deaths at the time of birth among the children of the praying and the non-praying classes. The solicitude of parents is so powerfully directed towards the safety of their expected offspring as to leave no room to doubt that pious parents pray fervently for it, especially as death before baptism is considered a most serious evil by many Christians. However, the distribution of still-births appears wholly unaffected by piety. The proportion, for instance, of the still-births published in the Record newspaper and in the Times was found by me, on an examination of a particular period, to bear an identical relation to the total number of deaths. This inquiry might easily be pursued by those who considered that more ample evidence was required.

    He also famously tested the longevity of royalty versus the rest of the population:

    An inquiry of a somewhat similar nature may be made into the longevity of persons whose lives are prayed for; also that of the praying classes generally; and in both those cases we can easily obtain statistical facts. The public prayer for the sovereign of every state, Protestant and Catholic, is and has been in the spirit of our own, “Grant her in health long to live.” Now, as a simple matter of fact, has this prayer any efficacy? There is a memoir by Dr. Guy, in the (Vol. XXII. p.355), in which he compares the mean age of sovereigns with that of other classes of persons. His results are expressed in the following table:

    [The table shows that the life expectancy of members of royal families is significantly less than that of clergy, doctors, lawyers, aristocrats, and other affluent members of society.]

    The sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence. The prayer has therefore no efficacy, unless the very questionable hypothesis be raised, that the conditions of royal life may naturally be yet more fatal, and that their influence is partly, though incompletely, neutralised by the effects of public prayers.

    My point is not to assess the validity of Galton’s study, but to point out that prayer can be studied without requiring people to pray or not pray according to some experimental protocol.

  205. 205
    pelagius says:

    A question for the believers on this thread:

    I realize that the Bible says that prayers are answered, but why would a good God do so? Shouldn’t he always do the right thing, regardless of whether someone asks him to?

  206. 206
    olsonbj says:

    I am sorry pelagius, but that study seems hopelessly confounded and makes too many assumptions to mean anything. What is more the absence of evidence is not the same as disproof. Especially in an ex post facto designed pseudo experiment. What is more clearly Galton was testing God it would seem to me.

    With regard to your other question I think prayer is more a method by which God draws us into greater intimacy with him. There is a spiritual danger to view God as some type of cosmic vending machine. God is Sovereign and acts according to His will. So in that sense when He acts he does the right thing. Which then leads to the Euthyphro dilemma. I could share my thoughts on this, but I am not sure this thread is the right place.

  207. 207
    PaulBurnett says:

    “pelagius” (206) asked: “I realize that the Bible says that prayers are answered, but why would a good God do so? Shouldn’t he always do the right thing, regardless of whether someone asks him to?

    This is one of the fundamental differences between God and governments: God deals with individuals, not statistical population masses. Your question is complicated because doing the right thing for an individual may not be the right thing for the family or the neighborhood or the species – and vice versa.

    Governments enact seatbelt and airbag laws, knowing that seatbelts and airbags may kill a few infants, but save far more adults. Governments enforce flu vaccination, knowing that Guillain-Barre Syndrome may kill a few people, but many more will be saved.

    And when we ask God for help, God will do what God wants, which may not be what we want. “Olsonbj” is right – God is not a vending machine.

  208. 208
    pelagius says:

    olsonbj:

    I am sorry pelagius, but that study seems hopelessly confounded and makes too many assumptions to mean anything.

    I guess you missed what I wrote:

    My point is not to assess the validity of Galton’s study, but to point out that prayer can be studied without requiring people to pray or not pray according to some experimental protocol.

    olsonbj:

    What is more the absence of evidence is not the same as disproof. Especially in an ex post facto designed pseudo experiment. What is more clearly Galton was testing God it would seem to me.

    Of course Galton was testing God (or whoever it is that supposedly answers prayers). That’s the point of the investigation.

    Surely you’re not suggesting that God refused to answer prayers for the health of royalty because he knew that Galton would come along and study it later!

    God is Sovereign and acts according to His will. So in that sense when He acts he does the right thing. Which then leads to the Euthyphro dilemma.

    It’s worse than that. Even if you ignore the Euthyphro dilemma, you still face the problem of a capricious and seemingly petty God. What sort of a God decides to heal Joe’s cancer just because Steve prays for him, but would have refused to heal him otherwise?

  209. 209
    Seversky says:

    olsonbj @ 200

    The notion that God is Omnivanity makes absolutely no sense to me. Jesus died on a cross for your sin. How does that act (the central act of God toward human beings according to Christians) demonstrate vanity? In that respect worship is thankfulness and sacrifice not idolization. I think you may have those mixed up. I can say that Worship at least for me is much greater than God Said So. The heart of worship is loving God.

    I accept that for many worship is as you describe it but I was responding to what, for me, was StephenB’s more authoritarian tone.

    The reference to “omnivanity” was intended to draw attention to the central question of God’s purpose in creating the Universe and humanity.

    God is proposed, in a philosophical sense, as the Christian version of the Uncaused First Cause, that which draws an uncrossable line across an otherwise infinite regress of cause and effect. To be uncaused He must be His own explanation, entirely self-sufficient, not contingent, not dependent in any way on anything outside Himself. If such a deity creates a Universe and living intelligent beings like ourselves within it, what could be His purpose? Why, in fact, would a self-sufficient, perfect and necessary being do any such a thing at all?

    Some believers have suggested that the answer lies in God’s desire to have a close and loving relationship with His creations. But that implies that God has a need which cannot be met by His internal resources which means that He cannot be considered a necessary being. He is contingent, to some extent, on something outside Himself. This, in turn, undermines the argument that God can be the Uncaused First Cause which is required to explain Creation.

    One alternative, albeit an unsatisfactory one, is that there was no purpose at all. There was no unfulfilled need to be met, not even a whim. The Universe erupted from God as lava erupts from a volcano. Of course, an obvious response to that suggestion would be to ask in what way it differs from the atheist or agnostic hypothesis of undirected causality. Does it make any meaningful difference?

    Jesus died on a cross for your sin.

    First, if we are God’s creation then sin, or at least our capacity for it, was part of that creation. The responsibility for any sinning, therefore is at least as much His as ours.

    Second, the significance of the Crucifixion is debatable. Jesus is supposed to be the Son of God. Whether that makes him an ordinary human being at that time or something more is unclear. There are stories in the Bible which describe him exercising superhuman powers. Again, it is unclear whether they are innate or some external power on which he can call at will.

    Whichever it is, he is aware of his status as the Son of God and the power available to him. Although he declines to exercise that power when tempted by Satan, that knowledge plus the certainty of everlasting life after death makes his death on the cross more of a gesture than anything else.

    To put it another way, Jesus undoubtedly showed courage in voluntarily enduring what must have been an agonizing death but he did so in the knowledge that he would be resurrected. Christians who sacrifice their lives for their faith or for others are also brave and deserve respect for what they endure. But they do so in the belief that death is but a passage to a better existence in which they could be re-united with those that have gone before and those that will pass on after.

    I would argue, therefore, contra StephenB and others, that atheists and agnostics are capable of behaving more ethically than believers. Christians who die in a good cause leave behind the physical part of their beings but their essence or soul is presumed to survive, either ascending to Heaven immediately or being raised come Judgement Day. Agnostics or atheists who sacrifice their lives for loved ones, on the other hand, do so without any expectation of life after death. Their act is the greater and more ethical because they give up everything, all that they have ever been or could have been. That, to my mind, makes such a sacrifice greater than that of Christ on the cross.

  210. 210
    Toronto says:

    Seversky @208, StephenB,

    Agnostics or atheists who sacrifice their lives for loved ones, on the other hand, do so without any expectation of life after death. Their act is the greater and more ethical because they give up everything, all that they have ever been or could have been. That, to my mind, makes such a sacrifice greater than that of Christ on the cross.

    Well said.

    What is your response StephenB?

  211. 211
    Phaedros says:

    Seversky-

    Is there an after life or isn’t there? You’re saying that Jesus knew that there was so his sacrifice was less significant somehow. So if he knew there was an afterlife then there is one, which makes the atheistic position wrong. If there isn’t an afterlife and Jesus was wrong then his sacrifice was just as “great” as an atheist’s would be. Which is it?

  212. 212
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky, If God would not have died on the cross for our behalf we would forever be separated from God:

    ;;;;;;;;;;;;

    I find it extremely interesting that quantum mechanics tells us that instantaneous quantum wave collapse to its “uncertain” 3-D state is centered on each individual observer in the universe, whereas, 4-D space-time cosmology tells us each 3-D point in the universe is central to the expansion of the universe. Why should the expansion of the universe, or the quantum wave collapse of the entire universe, even care that I exist? Though these are very unexpected findings from materialistic/atheistic presuppositions, from Theistic presuppositions, of a higher dimensional being creating this universe, it finds resonance:

    Psalm 33:13-15
    The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men.
    From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth;
    He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

    This is obviously a very interesting congruence in science between the very large (relativity) and the very small (quantum mechanics). A congruence they seem to be having a extremely difficult time “unifying” mathematically (Einstein, Penrose).

    The Physics Of The Large And Small: What Is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: This, (the unification of General Relativity and the laws of Quantum Mechanics), would also have practical advantages in the application of quantum ideas to subjects like biology – in which one does not have the clean distinction between a quantum system and its classical measuring apparatus that our present formalism requires. In my opinion, moreover, this revolution is needed if we are ever to make significant headway towards a genuine scientific understanding of the mysterious but very fundamental phenomena of conscious mentality.
    http://www.pul.it/irafs/CD%20I.....enrose.pdf

    Yet, this “unification” that mathematicians are having such a difficult time with, between what is in essence the “infinite world of Quantum Mechanics” and the “finite world of the space-time of General Relativity” seems to be directly related to what Jesus apparently joined together with His resurrection, i.e. related to the unification of infinite God with finite man:

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3993426/

    The End Of Christianity – Finding a Good God in an Evil World – Pg.31 – William Dembski
    Excerpt: “In mathematics there are two ways to go to infinity. One is to grow large without measure. The other is to form a fraction in which the denominator goes to zero. The Cross is a path of humility in which the infinite God becomes finite and then contracts to zero, only to resurrect and thereby unite a finite humanity within a newfound infinity.” http://www.designinference.com.....of_xty.pdf

    “Miracles do not happen in contradiction to nature, but only in contradiction to that which is known to us of nature.”
    St. Augustine

    Thus, much contrary to the mediocrity of earth, and of humans, brought about by the heliocentric discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus, the findings of modern science are very comforting to Theistic postulations in general, and even lends strong support of plausibility to the main tenet of Christianity which holds Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God.

    Matthew 28:18
    And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and upon earth.”

    Thus Seversky, it seems regardless of whatever gripes you may have as to the philosophical aesthetics of the whole situation with Christianity, the fact is that the scientific evidence is very favorable to something “universally” powerful happening in the tomb of Christ.

  213. 213
    Toronto says:

    Phaedros @212,

    If there isn’t an afterlife and Jesus was wrong then his sacrifice was just as “great” as an atheist’s would be.

    Exactly.

    The best Jesus could do is to match the degree of self-sacrifice of an atheist.

    If however, there is an after-life that he knew about, then his sacrifice does not reach the level of an atheist.

    Any sacrifice I might make is based on my belief that there is no after-life, so my sacrifice is greater than someone who does believe in an after-life.

  214. 214
    Phaedros says:

    bornagain77-

    People like Seversky get away with denying historical fact for some reason that I cannot fathom. Perhaps it is only because the life of Jesus is so detrimental to their case and worldview that they must deny it in any way possible. I just heard a talk on the reliability of the Bible. Did you know that we have far less copies of Plato’s works and Aristotle and Tacitus, and from much later dates than when they lived (up to 1000 years), than we do of the New Testament and Old? In addition, some of these copies are from the time that the events took place.

  215. 215
    bornagain77 says:

    Phaedros, Yes I did know that, in fact I’ve heard it said by one theologian that the historical evidence is so overwhelming for Christ’s existence, from his impact on world history, that he was convinced that there was more evidence for Christ than there was evidence that George Washington had existed from his impact on world history.

  216. 216
    olsonbj says:

    Seversky @ 210

    If the first cause is infinite that is beyond our ability to comprehend it then I would imagine there are many things that we do not understand fully (who can know the mind of God?). The lack of understanding for why does not preclude the answer to the question of what. What were we created for is to Love God and Love others. It is hard for me to imagine the agony Jesus Endured. The full weight of humanities sin was laid on Him. That seems to me a fate worse than death. So I would disagree with the notion that nihilism holds ethical high ground to what Jesus sacrificed. It does not compute in my mind. In fact giving one’s life to accomplish some temporal good in exchange for nothingness seems completely immoral and a waste (but maybe that is just my perspective). Another thing that does not make sense to me is varying degrees of ethical. It seems to me it either is or is not. Unless you are proposing relativism or situational ethics as a foundation for ethics.

    Pelagius @ 209
    You seem to miss my point. A study that is methodologically flawed does not demonstrate an acceptable protocol. And No I am not proposing that God did not answer the prayers, but He may have prevented the newspaper editor from publishing names (or any number of other explanations; further demonstrating design flaws in the study). It also says nothing about the number of Christian parents whose babies did not die which seems to be the question at hand if you want to know the efficacy of prayer (and is why I object to his assumptions).

    I am not sure that “God save the Queen” would qualify as a prayer in the biblical sense. So I am not sure that gets to the question either.

    I did not say that God decides who to heal based on who prays for them. How did you draw that conclusion from what I have posted? God acts according to his sovereignty, which includes giving grace to the humble.

  217. 217
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky,

    Doctor Who: Your Own Personal Jesus
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Luup3qublm0

  218. 218
    Charles says:

    Seversky:

    Agnostics or atheists who sacrifice their lives for loved ones, on the other hand, do so without any expectation of life after death. Their act is the greater and more ethical because they give up everything, all that they have ever been or could have been.

    But in fact atheists don’t give up everything, because they are not “living sacrifices”. They don’t generally give charitably of either their time or money as much as do Christians. Atheists don’t setup hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and orphanages, or donate money, etc., rather they fund abortion clinics and transit advertisements proclaiming “there is no God”. Upon death, both atheists and Christians alike relinquish their life, yes, but prior to death Christians have on average relinquished more both quantitatively and qualitatively than atheists.

    That atheists live and die without expectation of ‘life after death’ is not a sacrifice ethical or otherwise, because it is not something they “give up” because they don’t believe they ever had it to give up. You can not claim having an ethic for not receiving something that does not exist. Further, atheists die without expectation of ‘punishment after death’ as well, but in this case they believe they are getting away without ‘paying’ something. They believe whatever they ignore, commit or accummulate during life is without cost or penalty after death. Believing they’ve evaded punishment (for unseen or uncharged wrongs during life) is an additional negative ethic which applies to atheists.

    Believing Christians, OTOH, do give up (to varying degrees) worldly trappings and time during their lives, as well as their giving up their life upon death, because it is the Christians, not atheists, who setup hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and orphanages, and donate money, etc.

    That, to my mind, makes such a sacrifice greater than that of Christ on the cross.

    But when you wrote

    “that knowledge plus the certainty of everlasting life after death makes his death on the cross more of a gesture than anything else … To put it another way, Jesus undoubtedly showed courage in voluntarily enduring what must have been an agonizing death but he did so in the knowledge that he would be resurrected.”

    that “gesture” as you so glibly put it was multiplied by all the sins of all mankind for all time. It was not just His singular pain of torture and death, rather it was the punishment due all the sins of all mankind for all time that was multiplied upon Him alone. It was a punishment that has mental and spiritual dimensions as well as physical. And he did have the foreknowledge of His resurrection, yes, but He also had the foreknowledge of that multiplied punishment.

    Lastly, when the Son of God was incarnated into the physical body of Jesus Christ, it was permanent. He gave up for all eternity all the benefits of an infinite spiritual being and accepted a lesser existence as a finite physical human being. He did so for the sole purpose of becoming a substitute sacrifice for humanity.

    Doing good without expection of eternal reward is arguably “ethical”, but acting indifferently or doing worse without expectation of eternal punishment is arguably unethical and, as evidenced by the relative scarcity of their charitable acts, atheists as a group are indifferent or worse more often than not. No atheist (or Christian) ever gave up more than his own singular physical life, whereas Jesus gave up a higher form of spiritual existence in exchange for a human physical form (and did so permanently) as well as endured the multiplied punishment due all humanity.

  219. 219
    Clive Hayden says:

    Toronto,

    Any sacrifice I might make is based on my belief that there is no after-life, so my sacrifice is greater than someone who does believe in an after-life.

    It’s not greater, for you’re saying that you’d offer a key to a door you believed doesn’t exist. There’s nothing great about that. But if someone else knows that their sacrifice can provide a real key to a door that they know exists, the door to the afterlife, then their sacrifice is greater, yours is just futile.

  220. 220
    Toronto says:

    Clive Hayden @220,
    If I sacrifice my life for yours I believe my existence will completely end. Jesus believed he would have some form of existence after his sacrifice.

    I give up all existence but Jesus only gives up one form of existence.

    I’m not offering a key to anything, I’m simply giving up 100% of my life so that yours is saved.

    Jesus didn’t give up 100%, I the atheist did.

  221. 221
    vjtorley says:

    There is a story about a traveler in the Middle Ages, who visited a city where many stone cutters were working. Approaching several, he asked the same question:

    “What are you doing?”

    The first stonecutter he met replied, “I’m cutting stone. It’s dull work, but it pays the bills.”

    A second stonecutter responded, “I’m the best stone cutter in the land. Look at the smoothness of this stone, how perfect the edges are.”

    A third pointed to a foundation several yards away, and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

    There are many morals one might get from this story, but one moral I’d like to point out is that sometimes we need to take a long-range view of our actions, in order to appreciate their true significance.

    Humans are the only animals that are capable of planning over a life-time. We even plan our own funerals. Whole industries are built around this capacity for long-range planning – insurance being an obvious example. We can plan ahead like this because we are rational animals.

    If you look at the bodily activities we perform, you would have a hear time finding anything that another animal could not do as well or better. Indeed, you might doubt that there was anything unique to humans at all. Jumping, running, walking, swimming – there are animals that can excel us in all of these. But that would be missing the big picture. Only we can make life-time plans.

    If the religious view of life is correct, then we can not only make plans for the long-term future, but we can also plan for our eternal future as well. And it stands to reason that a fair proportion of the actions undertaken by a believer would fall into that category.

    One doesn’t just plan for one’s own future; one plans for the future of others as well. So one would expect that many of the actions believers would perform fall into the category of actions aimed at benefiting the eternal future of some other person.

    Taking your child to church, or giving your child a religious education, certainly constitute such acts. But there are many other actions we perform on others’ behalf that are imbued with “eternalistic” thinking. And so I conclude that the number of ethical actions performed by a believer that would benefit others would be quite substantial.

  222. 222
    Charlie says:

    Good conversation.
    VJTorley,
    Your point about benefiting the eternal future of a person or people is a good one. When we were talking about moral duties I was going to add that; we are required to be the salt of the Earth. Christians are to keep the meat from spoiling. Overwhelming responsibility.

  223. 223
    StephenB says:

    I wrote: “There are many other ethical practices that a Christian could execute that would normally be out of range for an atheist, including the act of loving his enemies, refraining from lust, fulfilling his moral obligation to worship the Creator, and pursuing his final end.”

    —seversky: “I have never understood this concept of ‘worship’, let alone that we are under any “moral obligation” to undertake it.”

    When all else fails, consult a dictionary: Worship = extravagent respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem. If you can’t imagine anyone deserving that kind of response, then perhaps it is because you cannot conceive of anyone or anything being nobler than you are.

    —“Quite apart from the fact that such a need would undermine the proposition that He is a necessary entity, it would imply that we can add to His list of ultimate attributes, such as omniscience or omnipotence, that of omnivanity.”

    If the Creator of the universe has a “need,” then such an entity would not deserve to be worshipped. Again, you seem unable to conceive of an entity generous enough and good enough to create for the creature’s sake, not for the Creators’s sake.

    The problem is not in identifying the moral obligations that atheists cannot fulfill but rather in finding atheists who will acknowledge them as moral obligations.

    —“No, the problem is finding believers who can provide any justification for asserting such obligations other than ‘God says so’

    Once again, you have lost track of the argument. I said IF God DESERVES to be worshipped, then atheists, who refuse to acknowledge the point cannot perform that moral act. IF God does NOT deserve to be worshipped, then atheists can be just as moral as theists in that context. Both statements are obviously true, but you missed their significance because you ideology has prevented you from following a simple hypothetical statement.

  224. 224
    StephenB says:

    —Toronto: “What is your response StephenB?”

    Response to what? I didn’t say atheists are incapable of giving up their lives for loved ones. Rather than ask me to defend points that I did not make, why not address the points that I did make?

  225. 225
    Toronto says:

    StephenB @169,

    That should read: There are many other ethical practices that a Christian could execute that would normally be out of range for an atheist, including the act of loving his enemies, refraining from lust, fulfilling his moral obligation to worship the Creator, and pursuing his final end.

    An atheist is “pursuing his final end” when he gives his life for another because for an atheist, there is no existence after this one. A Christian making the decision of self sacrifice believes that there is another existence, which basically means no “final end” at all.

    This means a Christian is incapable of giving up his existence for anyone because his existence doesn’t end when his Earthly life does.

    Your point was that an atheist couldn’t do certain things a Christian could yet here we have a case where a Christian, by believing in an after-life, cannot perform an act an atheist could, namely self-sacrifice.

  226. 226
    Clive Hayden says:

    Toronto,

    Jesus didn’t give up 100%, I the atheist did.

    No, you didn’t. You’re still alive aren’t you?

  227. 227
    Toronto says:

    Clive Hayden @227,
    Why do you treat me with such disrespect?

    Show me a time where I have ever responded like you just have and pretended I didn’t know what someone meant.

  228. 228
    Clive Hayden says:

    Toronto,

    You said: Jesus didn’t give up 100%, I the atheist did.

    Put your money where your mouth is if you want to even begin a comparison to Jesus.

  229. 229
    Toronto says:

    You and StephenB have great comprehension abilities.

    While I have a Gr.10 education and might feel I have a poetic license to mangle tenses sometimes, there is nothing I could write you couldn’t understand.

    You know what I meant regardless of any garbled syntax that may have resulted from my less than perfect grasp of grammar.

    You can wiggle off the hook by attacking my grammar but why can’t you address what I meant?

  230. 230
    StephenB says:

    —Toronto; “An atheist is “pursuing his final end” when he gives his life for another because for an atheist, there is no existence after this one. A Christian making the decision of self sacrifice believes that there is another existence, which basically means no “final end” at all.”

    You are confusing “end of life” with “final end.” They are not the same thing at all. The final end of a thing is that for which it was made. Neither Christians nor atheists were made to die, so dying, though it represents the end of their life, is not the thing for which they were made. If a human was made to pursue some final destiny beyond earthly existence or realize some purpose or ideal, then to the extent that he is aware of that purpose, it is moral to pursue that end and immoral not to pursue it. Obviously, the atheist cannot pursue that end because he insists that such things are illusions. In that context, he cannot, therefore, perform the moral act. That doesn’t mean he can’t perform other moral acts.

    —“This means a Christian is incapable of giving up his existence for anyone because his existence doesn’t end when his Earthly life does.”

    I believe that I have already stated, more than once, that I do not include giving up one’s life for a loved one to be beyond the range of atheistic morality, though it is clearly a stretch and probably quite rare.

    —-“Your point was that an atheist couldn’t do certain things a Christian could yet here we have a case where a Christian, by believing in an after-life, cannot perform an act an atheist could, namely self-sacrifice,”

    I didn’t say that an atheist can perform “no” moral acts that a Christian can perform, I said that there are “some” moral acts that a Christian can perform that an atheist cannot perform. Please meditate on the difference. Again, here are four good examples: [A] pursuing the end for which one was made [B] giving God due worship, [C] refraining from lust, and [D] loving one’s enemies in a practical way.

  231. 231
    Spiny Norman says:

    I’m rather amused by this idea of atheists (and, I assume, materialists) sacrificing their life for another. What, pray, would be the point? Given their worldview, which seems to require of them little more than the passing on of their genes to the next generation, isn’t it more reasonable to suggest instead that any atheist wishing to sacrifice their life for another is not noble, but rather mentally ill or deficient in some way?

    They want to borrow from a Christian worldview, which says that self-sacrifice is noble, and then shoehorn that into their own worldview without justifying the very notion that self-sacrifice is a worthy trait!

    Sorry, no morality loans allowed here. Justify your self-sacrifice only from your own worldview; don’t steal from mine.

    I put it to you that an atheist cannot perform an act of self-sacrifice AND be justified in doing so at the same time, without borrowing from the theistic worldview.

  232. 232
    Phaedros says:

    Thank you Spiny Norman that is exactly the point. They ask what it is an atheist can or cannot do that a theist could while at the same time presupposing a theistic framework.

  233. 233
    Spiny Norman says:

    Indeed … and if you want to have even more fun showing how silly Hitchens’ challenge is, lets rewrite it like this:

    “… name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a ROBOT.”

  234. 234
    Seversky says:

    Phaedros @ 212

    Is there an after life or isn’t there? You’re saying that Jesus knew that there was so his sacrifice was less significant somehow. So if he knew there was an afterlife then there is one, which makes the atheistic position wrong. If there isn’t an afterlife and Jesus was wrong then his sacrifice was just as “great” as an atheist’s would be. Which is it?

    I am simply taking the Biblical account at its word. In that story, the Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified believed he was the Messiah, the Son of God and would be resurrected after his death and be taken up to heaven where he would dwell for all eternity. If that were true then Jesus’s sacrifice was less ethical than that of an atheist who has no such expectation of life after death.

    None of this tells us whether there is, in fact, life after death. It would be nice if there were but I see no reason to believe it.

  235. 235
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky states:

    “None of this tells us whether there is, in fact, life after death. It would be nice if there were but I see no reason to believe it.”

    well here are a few reasons to believe then:

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Wigner

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994585/

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08.....lives.html

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience – Pim Lommel – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994599/

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their NDEs. 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth.
    http://findarticles.com/p/arti....._65076875/

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether. http://books.google.com/books?.....8;lpg=PT28

    “As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Eccles

    “Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
    Heinrich Heine – in the year 1834

    Genesis 2:7
    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    The Day I Died – Part 4 of 6 – The NDE of Pam Reynolds – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4045560

    Of related interest on the “spiritual” aspect of man:
    http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc8z67wz_4d8hc876j

  236. 236
    Spiny Norman says:

    Seversky, you’re making what I consider to be a serious error here. You’re trying to assign different levels of moral value based on comparisons of persons. That’s not how Christian morality works; at least, not as I understand it. Christian morality is based on what God requires of individual persons, not an arbitrary comparison based on what one person thinks about the value of another person’s statements or actions.

    So when you try to assess the moral praiseworthiness or otherwise of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, its futile to be comparing it to some hypothetical other person who might be in the same situation. All that you need to do is look at what alternatives Jesus had. He could save his life, or offer it up. He did his duty, and there is moral praiseworthiness in doing one’s duty (at least if you hold to a Christian worldview).

    To suggest that one person person is “more moral” than another might appeal to your sense of mathematics, but I am not convinced it scores you any points with God (or with me for that matter). What counts is what decisions you make, what statements you make and what actions you take, based on your individual circumstances and what you know of what God requires of you.

  237. 237
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky there is a spiritual quality to our lives that permeates every facet of the human experience. this is a clear and plain truth that many people readily grasp, but which to me quite a while to get hold of after I had learned Christ was real. I wrote this following poem kind of in response to my gradual awakening to the spiritual aspect of our lives:

    There Is More – Inspirational Poem – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4102086

    There Is More
    Once I saw a very old Godly man who, being very near death, had
    Become deaf, blind and invalid; Yet somehow he glowed happily
    Then it occurred to me…
    There is more to see than the light we see with our eyes
    There is more to behold than to watch setting skies
    There is more to hear than to hear a sound
    There is more to stand on than to stand on the ground
    There is more to feel than what we can touch with our skin
    There is more to all things, things that come from deeper within
    Then I saw a miserly old rich man who had angrily driven away his family
    Now he was in a coma, in his mansion, with no one around who loved him
    Then it occurred to me…
    There is more to the hurt of a word than to sticks and stones
    There is more to people than just skin and bones
    There is more to a home than bricks, steel, and lumber
    There is more to waking up than rising from slumber
    There is more to riches than having gold piled high
    There is more to living than just being alive
    Then I saw a Godly young woman full of compassion
    Working with homeless people helping them get off the street
    Then it occurred to me…
    There is more to loving than the warmth of feeling good
    There is more to understanding than a fact being understood
    There is more to work with than the tools of our crafts
    There is more to cleaning up than taking a bath
    There is more to freedom than having no prison walls
    There is more to poverty than having no stuff at all
    Then I saw a bitter old man who angrily didn’t believe in
    Miracles at all and thinks that this cold world is all there is
    Then it occurred to me…
    There is more to being dead than a body in a tomb
    There is more to being born than coming out of a womb
    There is more to heaven than all the stars above
    There is more to Jesus Christ than a distant example of God’s love
    There is more to learning than books teach us in schools
    And there is more to walking with God than keeping TEN rules
    Then I got home at the end of the day
    Went into my room and quietly prayed
    Lord, If there is more than a lesson to my heart You could teach
    Would You teach me to see spiritually to add depth to my reach
    And Lord, If there is more than a gift to this world You might give
    Would You give the miracle that in all hearts Your light would live

  238. 238
    Seversky says:

    Spiny Norman @ 231

    Sorry, no morality loans allowed here. Justify your self-sacrifice only from your own worldview; don’t steal from mine.

    Parents do not pause to consider whether their act is justified before sacrificing their life to save their child. Soldiers do not stop to consider whether an act of heroism is justified when sacrificing their lives for their comrades. They act out of love and it is love which is the underpinning of morality This applies to both believers and atheists. Believers do not have a monopoly on love.

    I put it to you that an atheist cannot perform an act of self-sacrifice AND be justified in doing so at the same time, without borrowing from the theistic worldview.

    I put it to you that Christians who perform an act under the belief that if they do it they will be rewarded with eternal life and if they don’t they will be punished with eternal damnation are not behaving morally. They are acting under coercion and a coerced act cannot be truly moral.

    231

    Spiny Norman

    04/25/2010

    4:10 pm

    I’m rather amused by this idea of atheists (and, I assume, materialists) sacrificing their life for another. What, pray, would be the point? Given their worldview, which seems to require of them little more than the passing on of their genes to the next generation, isn’t it more reasonable to suggest instead that any atheist wishing to sacrifice their life for another is not noble, but rather mentally ill or deficient in some way?

    They want to borrow from a Christian worldview, which says that self-sacrifice is noble, and then shoehorn that into their own worldview without justifying the very notion that self-sacrifice is a worthy trait!

    Sorry, no morality loans allowed here. Justify your self-sacrifice only from your own worldview; don’t steal from mine.

    I put it to you that an atheist cannot perform an act of self-sacrifice AND be justified in doing so at the same time, without borrowing from the theistic worldview.

  239. 239
    Spiny Norman says:

    Seversky, what’s required here is for an atheist/materialist to provide justification for your statement (which I agree with) that “Love … is the underpinning of morality”.

    Don’t borrow from the Christian worldview, which justifies the statement by pointing out that “God is love; therefore love is the underpinning of morality”.

    Justify it using the language of science. Energy, matter, electrons, protons, use anything you like. Show the links which lead you to “Love is the underpinning of morality”.

    If you cannot, then you are like most atheists I know; they borrow freely whatever bits they like from Christian morality and provide no justification for doing so.

    Your statement about coercion I agree with. However, perhaps unwittingly, your comment serves to demonstrate the silliness of Hitchens’ challenge. He asked for examples of STATMENTS and ACTIONS; he ignored INTENTIONS (or MOTIVATIONS) as being an essential factor in what makes something right or wrong. And that is why his challenge is wasting our time here.

  240. 240
    pelagius says:

    Spiny Norman:

    They want to borrow from a Christian worldview, which says that self-sacrifice is noble, and then shoehorn that into their own worldview without justifying the very notion that self-sacrifice is a worthy trait!

    Sorry, no morality loans allowed here. Justify your self-sacrifice only from your own worldview; don’t steal from mine.

    Norman,

    People were sacrificing themselves for others long before the Christian worldview even existed. To claim that atheists are “stealing” this idea is ludicrous.

    And how do you, as a Christian, justify the idea that self-sacrifice can be noble?

  241. 241
    Charles says:

    Seversky:

    I put it to you that Christians who perform an act under the belief that if they do it they will be rewarded with eternal life…

    Wrong.

    There is no “act” which Christians or anyone can “do” which will gain them eternal life. Salvation is not by works, but by belief (a sincere intellectual acceptance that Jesus is Lord and paid for their sins, accompanied by actual repentance) in Jesus Christ, not some action. Performing (or not) any act has no salvific efficacy.

    and if they don’t they will be punished with eternal damnation…

    Again wrong.

    For a sincere believer, all punishment for ommissions and commissions past and present has been born by Jesus. Believers will not be punished with damnation for not doing some act.

    … are not behaving morally. They are acting under coercion and a coerced act cannot be truly moral.

    And badly wrong.

    No one is under coercion, not atheists nor Christians. There maybe real-world consequences for some act (such as getting prosecuted under a law or going banckrupt) but God is not forcing or coercing any actions. All acts or not are free will choices. God wants followers who willingly obey out of love and recognition of God’s way being the best way. Only then are the acts (or avoidance of sinful acts) truly moral.

    God is not pleased without faith in Him and His guidance, i.e., without faith in God and His laws, God does not view an act as morally good. If a non-believer feeds or clothes a stranger because they want the charitable tax deduction rather than because Jesus said “to the extent you did it for them you do it me”, God does not view that as a moral act to the non-believer’s credit. If a non-believing thief avoids murdering his victims because he values life, God does not view that as a moral act in obedience to His law to not murder. Whether acting or not acting, without faith/obedience in God as the underlying motivation, God does not view it as “moral”. Society might, but God doesn’t. God prefers that you neither murder nor steal, etc., but when judgment day comes, a defense of “So what if I never believed in Jesus, I never murdered or stole… etc.,” the verdict will be “guilty by reason of not accepting Jesus”, regardless of what else you didn’t (or did) do.

    You may “invent” your own morality to suit yourself for whatever purpose, at your own risk, but you do not get to re-invent what constitutes Christian morality as defined in the Bible. If you’re going to argue what is moral for Christians, you need to seriously update your understanding of what the Bible teaches.

  242. 242
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky a fitting song to the Key question of the topic,,, what’s my motivation?:

    Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wZ3ZG_Wams

  243. 243
    bornagain77 says:

    Seversky here is a song that fits the theme that there is much more meaning within life than materialists can ever hope to explain and still remain logically coherent:

    Switchfoot – Meant To Live
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipf0wg0tCQc

  244. 244
    THEMAYAN says:

    Every day an atheist puts groceries in front of a poor old christian woman’s door step, and every day until the day she dies, she praises God when she finds them while the man laughs to himself while hearing these ridicules utterances. On the last day, the man hears the women praising God and say’s, it wasn’t your god that provided you all these years. It was I, and I am an atheist, who doesn’t believe in your god!! So what do you have to say now!! She said, Praise God Almighty for providing me with all this sustenance all these years, and it was nice to see how you got the Devil to flip the bill.

  245. 245
    olsonbj says:

    Seversky: Under what conditions do you have levels of morality? The only systems which this makes sense would Philosophical relativism or situational ethics. Are a follower of either of these or some other moral code that allows for degrees of ethical behavior?
    ~BJ

  246. 246
    above says:

    bornagain comment #22:

    I saw the video on Altruism & Selfless Love: Theistic and Naturalistic Perspectives.

    Very intersting. Two points I would like to comment on. I think the Christian speaker conceeds too much and even his methodology appears to be naturalistic. The second point is, from what both speakers say is that evidently, the development, evolution of morality would be inevitable in any living culture in some form or another. That would be a defeating point against the non-teleological, random approach of naturalism.

    Do you agree?

  247. 247
    bornagain77 says:

    Above are you talking about this one?:

    http://www.vimeo.com/10809241

    Well above, I haven’t watch that particular video on veritas, but one lesson evolutionists have taught me well is that there is a heck of a lot of deception out there in the world, even to a certain extent on veritas, and that it is very, very, wise to thoroughly, and prayerfully check, anything anyone tries to sell you as the unambiguous truth. Especially if this proposed unambiguous truth is ultimately based on the materialistic/atheistic philosophy. I can’t count the number of times, after thoroughly checking a matter out, I’ve caught people of the atheistic persuasion trying to deceive me. Shoot there was one guy I kind of used as a reverse compass for a while to get closer to the truth, he was so bad at trying to deceive me away from Christ.

  248. 248
    bornagain77 says:

    above you ask;

    second point is, from what both speakers say is that evidently, the development, evolution of morality would be inevitable in any living culture in some form or another. That would be a defeating point against the non-teleological, random approach of naturalism.”

    Above, like I said I did not watch the video, but I can assure you that if they gave any leeway to neo_Darwinism whatsoever, I would find substantial fault with it in that I find no evidence for it to be true in the least bit.

  249. 249
    Seversky says:

    Spiny Norman @ 240

    Don’t borrow from the Christian worldview, which justifies the statement by pointing out that “God is love; therefore love is the underpinning of morality”.

    “God is love” may be poetic but it is incoherent. And for Christians, God is a lot more than a property or an emotion.

    Also, it is reasonable to assume that love has existed in all human cultures, including those that had never heard of Jesus Christ or the Christian God. If anything, therefore, it is the Christianity that has expropriated love for itself by claiming its God to be the only source.

    Justify it using the language of science. Energy, matter, electrons, protons, use anything you like. Show the links which lead you to “Love is the underpinning of morality”.

    Do you want a rational justification of the claim that love is the foundation of all morality or a materialistic explanation of how love is a property of the physical human brain whose causal ancestry can be traced right back to primordial hydrogen? They are two different things.

    If you cannot, then you are like most atheists I know; they borrow freely whatever bits they like from Christian morality and provide no justification for doing so.

    Christians have no patent on morality so atheists are free to draw on whatever sources are available. Besides, at least atheists try to work out a viable morality for themselves. The justification for their morality doesn’t reduce to ‘because God said so’.

  250. 250
    Seversky says:

    Charles @ 242

    There is no “act” which Christians or anyone can “do” which will gain them eternal life. Salvation is not by works, but by belief (a sincere intellectual acceptance that Jesus is Lord and paid for their sins, accompanied by actual repentance) in Jesus Christ, not some action. Performing (or not) any act has no salvific efficacy.

    According to your interpretation of Christianity, perhaps. But there are other Christians, no doubt equally devout, who take a different view.

    As an agnostic and atheist, I find both views incoherent. I also find it ironic that, over the centuries, many highly-intelligent scholars have spent untold hours writing uncounted millions of words rationalizing, explaining and justifying their beliefs when all that really counts, apparently, is blind faith and obedience.

    For a sincere believer, all punishment for ommissions and commissions past and present has been born by Jesus. Believers will not be punished with damnation for not doing some act.

    So, as long as we believe, we can all sin away quite happily, secure in the knowledge that the price has already been paid?

    No one is under coercion, not atheists nor Christians.

    So the promise of eternal life in heaven and the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation are just a bit of public relations hyperbole?

    God wants followers who willingly obey out of love and recognition of God’s way being the best way.

    So again we have this perfect, necessary, Uncaused First Cause of a God who wants something – something He can’t find within himself? That looks to me like a bit of a contradiction.

  251. 251
    Seversky says:

    olsonbj @ 246

    Under what conditions do you have levels of morality? The only systems which this makes sense would Philosophical relativism or situational ethics. Are a follower of either of these or some other moral code that allows for degrees of ethical behavior?

    Two people each contribute $100.00 to a charity for the homeless. One is a millionaire. For the other, that is all the money he or she has. We can assume that both are equally sincere in their desire to help the homeless. Would you say that both acts are morally equivalent?

  252. 252
    pelagius says:

    Seversky asks:

    Two people each contribute $100.00 to a charity for the homeless. One is a millionaire. For the other, that is all the money he or she has. We can assume that both are equally sincere in their desire to help the homeless. Would you say that both acts are morally equivalent?

    The Gospels back up Seversky, in the famous story of the widow and her two mites:

    And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.

    Luke 21:1-4, KJV

  253. 253
    Charles says:

    Seversky:

    [There is no “act” which Christians or anyone can “do” which will gain them eternal life.] According to your interpretation of Christianity, perhaps. But there are other Christians, no doubt equally devout, who take a different view.

    No, according to scripture:

    Rom 6:23 NASB For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Eph 2:8-9 NASB For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    There is no “act” which Christians or anyone can “do” which will gain them eternal life. It is a “free gift”, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (in how hard they “worked” for their savation and why they are “owed” it).

    But there are other Christians, no doubt equally devout, who take a different view.

    Being devout doesn’t change what the bible actually says.

    So, as long as we believe, we can all sin away quite happily, secure in the knowledge that the price has already been paid?

    If you’re happily sinning away, then you lack repentance and your profession of faith was likely false, and you aren’t really a believer. But yes, the price has been paid. The only question is whether one who “happily sins away” is in the book of life. What saith scripture?

    Rom 7:14-15, 19 NASB For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. … 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

    Paul (who is the model of a true believer) sins and hates doing it, he does not want to practice evil. True believers still sin, yes, but not “happily”. They want to change, to stop sinning. They regret the sin they have done and still do.

    So the promise of eternal life in heaven and the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation are just a bit of public relations hyperbole?

    There is no “threat of eternal hellfire and damnation ” for believers. Jesus paid the price, and since Jesus paid the price, there is no threat of anything, no coercion for believers. And if the reward of eternal life doesn’t appeal to non-believers, and since they don’t believe in the alternative threat, then there is no coercion for them either, is there. And since many people turn down the free gift of salvation, clearly they weren’t coerced either, were they.

    So again we have this perfect, necessary, Uncaused First Cause of a God who wants something – something He can’t find within himself?

    In a sense, yes. God is love. God wants to express love and true love is not expressed towards inanimate objects. Love is expressed towards beings that can receive and comprehend love. God created mankind as an object, a target if you will, to receive His love.

    That looks to me like a bit of a contradiction.

    To receive and comprehend love requires free will. Robots, puppets or Steppford wives can’t know love, let alone return it freely. God is not like a fanciful child that pretends to love her inanimate dolls and they in return. So we were created to be loved and with free will to know love, and return love, both to each other and to God. But having free will means being able to reject the one who loves you.

    God loves you, but you are free to reject His love. There is no contradiction.

  254. 254
    olsonbj says:

    Seversky @ 252

    I understand now that sacrifice and ethical are somehow connected in your belief system. That is the greater the sacrifice the more ethical. The less the sacrifice less ethical. So if the Millionaire gave nothing would that make him unethical?

    What makes sacrifice ethical in your opinion?

    If a person make 50K a year and gives $100 to a charity is that person more ethical than a person who makes 55K a year and does the same?

    Is Ethics measured by your performance relative to others with different social statuses?

    I am not trying to be argumentative here really, but the more I think about what you say about ethics the less sense it makes to me. Help!?

    ~BJ

  255. 255
    above says:

    Seversky said:

    “Christians have no patent on morality so atheists are free to draw on whatever sources are available. Besides, at least atheists try to work out a viable morality for themselves. The justification for their morality doesn’t reduce to ‘because God said so’.”

    I’m sorry seversky but that is a caricature. I don’t think anyone here is saying that an atheist cannot act morally. What the argument from morality implies is that the atheist has no standard upon which he can place his morals apart from the relativistic.

    What exatly is your objective standard for ethics as an atheist if I may ask?

  256. 256
    Mark Frank says:

    #256

    What exatly is your objective standard for ethics as an atheist if I may ask?

    As I have a spare moment may I jump in here. I am atheist and I don’t feel the need for an objective standard for ethics – subjective standards with a lot of common agreement are very powerful and significant.

    But let me ask you as a theist. What exactly is your objective standard for ethics and why do you try to conform to it?

  257. 257
    olsonbj says:

    Pelagius @253
    Actually the Gospels do not back up Seversky’s position. Christ said that she had given more than the others not that she was more ethical. Her sacrifice was greater to be sure, but the act itself did not make her a better person ethically, nor do the scriptures teach that.

    Mark Frank @257
    I have already said that loving God and loving others is the standard. I do this because it is apparently good, effectively good, and because of the relationship I have with God it is intrinsically good as well.

    Tell me this: Are your ethics situational or relativistic?

  258. 258
    pelagius says:

    olsonbj,

    So to you, the widow who gave all she had is ethically equivalent to a billionaire who gives a penny?

  259. 259
    StephenB says:

    According to Scripture, what we do or refuse to do DOES affect our salvation. It is not enough to just believe and join the team; one must cooperate with God’s grace and become transformed:

    Matthew, Chapter 25:

    —“And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:

    And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

    Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

    Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

    And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.”

    Matthew, Chapter 7:

    —“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

  260. 260
    Mark Frank says:

    Olsonb @258


    I have already said that loving God and loving others is the standard. I do this because it is apparently good, effectively good, and because of the relationship I have with God it is intrinsically good as well.

    But why do what is good?

    Tell me this: Are your ethics situational or relativistic?

    Neither – but something akin to situational.

  261. 261
    above says:

    @ Mark #257

    Olsonbj’s response pretty much covers it.

    You say subjective standards with a lot of agreement is good enough for you. Fair enough. Here’s my two objections:

    1. It is evident that while you do acknowledge that your standards are subjective, you nevertheless seek out a phenomenally objective standard that is facilitated by what you call common agreement. That in it and of itself shows the necessity for objective standards. Simply put, the need for law (objective standard) is inescapable.

    2. What happens when the consensus of a country/group establishes standards that are inhuman? The moral relativist is in no position to address that. That is the other unsolved and insurmountable problem of atheism.

  262. 262
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    It is not enough to just believe and join the team; one must cooperate with God’s grace and become transformed

    Cooperating with God’s grace and being transformed are subsequent to believing. But as you acknowledge, believing is how you “join the team”, believeing is how you “join the fold” of sheep, and as they are “transformed”, sheep do acts of kindness, but goats are separted from sheep.

    And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left…. [etc.]

    Nowhere in that parable is it taught that goats become sheep (i.e. that disbelievers become saved) by what they do. Rather the parable teaches that sheep will be separated from goats (i.e. the saved will be separated from he unsaved) and the sheep were rewarded for the kindness they showed others whereas the goats were punished for not showing kindness. (Some argue this passage teaches varying degrees of torment in hell. I myself am unsure the parable can be stretched that far.) But the parable is silent on how or why ‘sheep are sheep’ and ‘goats are goats’, the parable only teaches how they behave differently and how that behavior is personally experienced by the Lord.

    But the parable does not teach that a goat becomes a sheep by doing kind acts.

    —“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Precisely the point. What the “evildoers” did (prophecy, drive out demons, etc. in the Lord’s name no less) none of those acts even in His name was sufficient to merit being known by the Lord. Nothing they did, even though superficially they were doing acts in the Lord’s name, would earn them salvation. They were still known by Him as “doing evil” and whatever they were doing, even in His name, it didn’t save them.

    According to Scripture, what we do or refuse to do DOES affect our salvation.

    The only refusal that affects your salavation is to refuse its free offer, to refuse to believe.

    Salvation is by believing in the Lord Jesus, not by acts of kindness or even acts in His name.

    Luk 7:50 NASB And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

    Luk 8:12 NASB “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.

    Joh 10:9 NASB “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

    Rom 10:9-11 NASB that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

  263. 263
    StephenB says:

    —Mark Frank: “I am atheist and I don’t feel the need for an objective standard for ethics – subjective standards with a lot of common agreement are very powerful and significant.”

    It was not for your needs and feelings that the objective standard was established but rather for the needs and feelings of those with whom you come into contact who will be either helped or harmed by your actions.

  264. 264
    StephenB says:

    —Charles: “The only refusal that affects your salavation is to refuse its free offer, to refuse to believe.”

    The refusal to follow God’s laws is distinct from the refusal to believe. Both are necessary for salvation.

    —“Salvation is by believing in the Lord Jesus, not by acts of kindness or even acts in His name.”

    Salvation is by believing AND by acts of kindness in his name, as is evident from the passages I have already cited. The requisite acts of kindness are not possible without God’s help, granted, but that does not mean that they are not necessary. Matthew 7, Matthew 25, James 2 were written for Christians who think that they can make a profession of faith and then go on their merry way doing anything they like. There is only one place in Scripture where the words “Saved by faith alone” are used, and on the one occassion that phrase is preceded by the word “NOT.”

  265. 265
    Mark Frank says:

    #261 above


    1. It is evident that while you do acknowledge that your standards are subjective, you nevertheless seek out a phenomenally objective standard that is facilitated by what you call common agreement. That in it and of itself shows the necessity for objective standards. Simply put, the need for law (objective standard) is inescapable.

    Sorry it is not all evident to me that I am seeking an objective standard.


    2. What happens when the consensus of a country/group establishes standards that are inhuman? The moral relativist is in no position to address that. That is the other unsolved and insurmountable problem of atheism.

    What happens when a religious belief establishes a standard that is inhuman e.g. stoning people to death for adultery?

    Interesting that you should use the word “inhuman”. That is my position. Our ethical views have their origin in common, strongly held, but in the end subjective views of how we and others should behave. It is part of our nature as human beings. That is why I do good things (when not tempted to do otherwise by rival motives). Why do you do good things?

  266. 266
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    Matthew 7, Matthew 25, James 2 were written for Christians who think that they can make a profession of faith and then go on their merry way doing anything they like.

    As I alluded above, Christians who go on their merry way doing anything they like (“happily sinning” to borrow Seversky’s words), likely made a false profession of faith and aren’t saved (they weren’t sincere, they would be the “goats” or “evil doers” in the parables you’ve cited), whereas Christians who make sincere professioins of faith, actually are saved, and their works demonstrate the evidence of their faith. No works, no pre-requisite faith, no salvation (see James).

    The refusal to follow God’s laws is distinct from the refusal to believe. Both are necessary for salvation.

    Salvation is by believing AND by acts of kindness in his name, as is evident from the passages I have already cited.

    There is only one place in Scripture where the words “Saved by faith alone” are used, and on the one occassion that phrase is preceded by the word “NOT.”

    Ok, What acts of Kindness and which of God’s laws, did the the criminal on the cross (Luk 23:39-43) do to get saved? What “alone” did the criminal exhibit?

    That is not a rhetorical question. I want to see your answer as to how salvation of the criminal on the cross was by his acts of kindness or following God’s laws (including the laws he broke which put him on the cross).

  267. 267
    HouseStreetRoom says:

    StephenB,

    I agree that “requisite acts of kindness are not possible without God’s help.”

    But when you state here: “Christians who think that they can make a profession of faith and then go on their merry way doing anything they like.”

    I don’t think this is what Charles is saying.

    I would say that acts of kindness, or any works for that matter, are the fruit of a current, abiding relationship in Christ. This is to say that the relationship is what is requisite here, and if one truly (that is, in a sinless state) continues in that relationship, then charity, acts of kindness, holiness, and other Godly characteristics will stem naturally from that relationship.

    If some sort of physical act were necessary here, and not just a current relationship through faith, then what becomes of the new convert who, though sinless, never gets a chance (in a temporal manner) to live a life of kindness and/or works. In summary the only “act” necessary – for salvation – after becoming a Christian, is to continue in a life free from sin which means keeping Christ’s law.

  268. 268
    Charles says:

    HouseStreetRoom:

    I would agree with the essence of what you are saying. I would only quibble, semantically, with your choice of word “sinless”, when I think what you meant was “blameless”:

    This is to say that the relationship is what is requisite here, and if one truly (that is, in a sinless blameless state) continues in that relationship, then charity, acts of kindness, holiness, and other Godly characteristics will stem naturally from that relationship.

    If some sort of physical act were necessary here, and not just a current relationship through faith, then what becomes of the new convert who, though sinless blameless, never gets a chance (in a temporal manner) to live a life of kindness and/or works.

    We remain sinful people. Even Paul was not sinless, he kept “doing that which he did not want to do”, but Paul and all sincere Christians are “blameless” even though they still sin on occasion. The “blame” for our sin was transferred to Jesus; we accept that Jesus took the punishment (the “blame”) that was due us for the sin we previously committed and even will in the future.

    But agreed that as a consequence of that relationship with Jesus, we desire and strive to be sinless; we sin less and less and do kindness and good works more and more, and with God’s help we progress towards that goal, imperfectly with occasional sin, but progressively without blame.

    All: I’ve some other priorities now, I’ll check back tonight.

  269. 269
    StephenB says:

    —Charles: “That is not a rhetorical question. I want to see your answer as to how salvation of the criminal on the cross was by his acts of kindness or following God’s laws (including the laws he broke which put him on the cross).”

    He acted on the grace of God by changing his attitude, displayed no bitterness toward his enemies, rebuked the other thief for his uncharitable attitude toward Christ, pointed out the Christ’s punishment was unjust, acknowledged his own guilt, repented of his sins, declared that he deserved his sentence, and asked to be included in the kingdom of God. By acting on God’s grace [not just by believing] he was saved. Without God’s grace, he could not have performed those superhuman acts of kindness, and they were superhuman in the midst of such incredible suffering. No one can do that on their own strength.

    My only purpose for raising the issue in the first place was to defend the general theme that objective morality is real. I just don’t think it is a good strategy to raise the “once-saved-always-saved” argument or declare that Christians who perform an act of faith are forever afterwards exempt from the consequences of following that morality, especially after declaring that objective morality is binding to all men in all places and in all circumstances. There are other times and places to raise issues about which conditions are necessary for salvation.

  270. 270
    above says:

    @Mark

    “Sorry it is not all evident to me that I am seeking an objective standard.”

    Simply put, you’re emulating objective standards by seeking consensus. The only need for consensus is to create phenomenally, an objective standard. The consensus, which manifests in the legal system is a perfect example of that.

    “What happens when a religious belief establishes a standard that is inhuman e.g. stoning people to death for adultery?”

    I personally am appalled by such “standards”. I have no problem openly condemning them.

    “Interesting that you should use the word “inhuman”.

    I use the term inhuman because I believe in man’s central role in the creation. Why do you hold that view? According to the atheist/materialist doctrine, mankind is the random by-product of “nature”.

    But you still have not answered my objection as to how the relativist would go about addressing the issue of another group consensus that may be considered cruel, inhuman, evil and so on.

    I think your question as to why, was already answered by olson as I noted earlier. Here:
    “I do this because it is apparently good, effectively good, and because of the relationship I have with God it is intrinsically good as well.”

  271. 271
    StephenB says:

    —House Street Room: “I would say that acts of kindness, or any works for that matter, are the fruit of a current, abiding relationship in Christ. This is to say that the relationship is what is requisite here, and if one truly (that is, in a sinless state) continues in that relationship, then charity, acts of kindness, holiness, and other Godly characteristics will stem naturally from that relationship.”

    One must maintain that relationship, meaning that he cannot be saved on the strength of having once enjoyed it or having accepting it at a moment in time. To maintain that relationship, one must perform various types of acts–prayer, good works, refraining from serious sin, etc.

    —“If some sort of physical act were necessary here, and not just a current relationship through faith, then what becomes of the new convert who, though sinless, never gets a chance (in a temporal manner) to live a life of kindness and/or works. In summary the only “act” necessary – for salvation – after becoming a Christian, is to continue in a life free from sin which means keeping Christ’s law.”

    One is not held responsible for what one cannot do. So, if one has no opportunity to perform good works, then salvation would not be withheld. I agree with your last statement in principle, except I don’t think the thousands [millions?] of acts that would define such a relationship can be characterized as one act. Can one maintain a relationship with one’s spouse, brother, sister, or friend with one act?

    People can change, resolutions can fade, convictions can wane, and Christians can decide to stop following the grace of God and lose the relationship by default [With the rich young man, it happened quickly; with Judas, it happened slowly]. Thus, faithfulness is something that must be renewed daily and maintained until the end of life. There are no spiritual planes: We are all either becoming better or worse; no one stays the same.

  272. 272
    olsonbj says:

    Mark Frank @260
    Mark says:
    But why do what is good?
    Indeed Why do what is good? I think I have already answered that question in my last several posts. The quote you used I think sums it up nicely. I am not sure what else you were looking for. Perhaps you could expand your question a bit.
    How do you answer “why do good?” In other words how does one determine situational good as a groundwork for their moral code and then be motivated to do it?
    Is it a feeling you have? Is it a rationalization?

  273. 273
    olsonbj says:

    One more question: If it is in our nature to do good then why have laws?
    ~BJ

  274. 274
    StephenB says:

    —above: “What happens when the consensus of a country/group establishes standards that are inhuman? The moral relativist is in no position to address that. That is the other unsolved and insurmountable problem of atheism.

    —Mark Frank: “What happens when a religious belief establishes a standard that is inhuman e.g. stoning people to death for adultery?”

    To answer a question with a question constitutes an evasion.

    The question can also take on another form: What happens when Moral relativist A conceives a morality different from Moral Relativist B, or Moral Relativist C, and so on. By what standard do you adjudicate the differences?
    How do you maintain a well-ordered society with everyone arrogating to himself his own standard of justice?

  275. 275
    Mark Frank says:

    #271 above
    “ The only need for consensus is to create phenomenally, an objective standard.”

    Not at all. There are masses of examples of the need for consensus when the issue is subjective. Each member of the family may have different subjective views about which TV programme to watch but it is necessary to have a consensus about which one to play (assuming one TV).

    “I personally am appalled by such “standards”. I have no problem openly condemning them.”

    Likewise I am personally appalled by communism under Stalin and have no problem condemning him – even though this is based on my subjective opinion I know that it is shared by so many people I am confident in my condemnation.

    “But you still have not answered my objection as to how the relativist would go about addressing the issue of another group consensus that may be considered cruel, inhuman, evil and so on.”

    See above. I would be (subjectively) appalled and try to change that group’s views.

    “I think your question as to why, was already answered by olson as I noted earlier. Here:
    “I do this because it is apparently good, effectively good, and because of the relationship I have with God it is intrinsically good as well.””

    The question I am asking is “why do good”. To answer “because it is good” is clearly circularly. Why not do bad?

  276. 276
    Mark Frank says:

    #273 and #274

    Olsenb

    Indeed Why do what is good? I think I have already answered that question in my last several posts. The quote you used I think sums it up nicely. I am not sure what else you were looking for. Perhaps you could expand your question a bit.

    It is a deceptively simple question which no objective account of morality can answer. To answer on the lines of “because it leads to, or is related to, something else which is good” is to move the question to another object. (Kant tried to answer it by saying it is irrational to want to do something which you don’t want everyone to do – but he never really explained why that was irrational). Why do we want to do what is good? Is it because of reward of some kind (which then no longer makes it good) or just because it is human nature to like doing good things (which is my answer). For me, people like doing good to other people because they evolved that desire – just as they evolved a desire to eat sweet things.

    One more question: If it is in our nature to do good then why have laws?

    Because human nature comprises many different desires which may conflict with each other in the same person and may be stronger in some people than others. I want to save the lives of starving children all over the world (a moral desire) but I also want to eat, live in a warm house, drive a car and use a computer (amoral desires). I could do more of the former by doing less of the latter i.e. give more money away. I settle for a compromise. There are other people whose desire for wealth quite overpowers their feelings of compassion. There may even be total psychopaths that have no feelings for others at all – but I think they are very rare and rightly labelled “inhuman”.

  277. 277
    Clive Hayden says:

    Charles,

    As I alluded above, Christians who go on their merry way doing anything they like (”happily sinning” to borrow Seversky’s words), likely made a false profession of faith and aren’t saved (they weren’t sincere, they would be the “goats” or “evil doers” in the parables you’ve cited), whereas Christians who make sincere professioins of faith, actually are saved, and their works demonstrate the evidence of their faith. No works, no pre-requisite faith, no salvation (see James).

    Christians don’t sin after they’ve been saved? Sure they do. Whether they do it happily or not, doesn’t seem to me to be the point. Some sins, that us Christians do, we do happily sometimes, maybe only for the moment, and later regret, and sometimes we do not do them happily and sometimes we do not, later, have any regret. None of these degrees of happiness or sin have any bearing on whether we actually accept the Atonement, and whether we are actually saved. Works are not necessary for salvation whatsoever. A Christian should have good fruits, absolutely, but they will also sin and have bad works, and all will be tried by fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and some will burn up, and some will withstand the fire, BUT, the person will be saved through faith.

  278. 278
    HouseStreetRoom says:

    Charles,

    That is a fair quibble. Thank you for your response.

    StephenB,

    I’m finding little to disagree with @272. It is certainly true that acts such as prayer and refraining from sin are necessary to maintain a lasting relationship. I suppose my concern was that the concept of a “work,” in the sense of a benevolent act, can be misconstrued to establish some sort of quota necessitating salvation (donating to charity, mission work, whatever). Such benevolent works seem to me to be the byproduct of a relationship through faith motivated by God’s charity. That is, they are not quantifiable actions one must perform to earn salvation. Earlier you mentioned the “once-saved-always saved” position, and it is not something I’d ever advocate, and personally one I abhor as it utterly contradicts scripture.

    StephenB: “Thus, faithfulness is something that must be renewed daily and maintained until the end of life. There are no spiritual planes: We are all either becoming better or worse; no one stays the same.”

    Amen to that.

    You’re far more eloquent than I in all things; thanks for your response and I apologize for the interruption.

  279. 279
    Charles says:

    Clive Hayden:

    Christians don’t sin after they’ve been saved? Sure they do. Whether they do it happily or not, doesn’t seem to me to be the point.

    I fail to see how you could infer such from my words you did quote.

    Somewhere you have misread my post(s). I have said a few times on this very thread that Christians do sin. My point to Seversky was that “happily” sinning suggests a lack of repentance which makes their condition suspect. And above I cited Paul’s “I do what I don’t want to do” as an example of sinning, not “happily”, but with remorse.

    Works are not necessary for salvation whatsoever.

    Agreed. StephenB kindly take note.

  280. 280
    above says:

    @mark

    “Not at all… etc”

    You say not at all and then demonstrate the exact thing I was telling you. It is precisely due to the fact that one cannot live with moral subjectivity that we need objective law, hence the legal system. I don’t know how to explain this any simpler.

    “would be (subjectively) appalled and try to change that group’s views”
    But that is precisely the problem. The moment you concede moral relativism is the moment you undermine ethical standards in their entirety. Stalin and his supporters may just as well say, you got your morals we got ours and there is nothing you can say or do about it. And the sad thing is, they are absolutely justified to hold that view given moral relativism.

    Olson’s response covers the notion of good in terms of it being apparent, effective and its intrinsic worth. To persist asking why, why, why is akin to trying to impose some infinite regression.

    One last thing, I still haven’t seen a response to one of the fatal flaws of atheism/materialism that I mentioned earlier. Here it is one more time:

    I use the term inhuman because I believe in man’s central role in the creation. Why do you hold that view? According to the atheist/materialist doctrine, mankind is the random by-product of “nature”.
    In other words, Atheism/materialism in effect, dehumanizes mankind.

  281. 281
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    He acted on the grace of God by changing his attitude, displayed no bitterness toward his enemies, rebuked the other thief for his uncharitable attitude toward Christ, pointed out the Christ’s punishment was unjust, acknowledged his own guilt, repented of his sins, declared that he deserved his sentence, and asked to be included in the kingdom of God.

    Those are all intellectual agreements, including his verbal admittance of guilt and desire to be remembered by Jesus. We can assume he changed his attitude (a mental predisposition) which means he “repented”, but that is likewise an intellectual agreement. Otherwise, none of those are remotely comparable acts of kindness as demonstrated in the parables you cited. The criminal gave no one water, nor food, nor clothing, nor visted anyone in prison, nor did any miracles, prophecying or driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Nor did the criminal demonstrate following any of God’s law, save arguably having no other God. He wasn’t even baptized, a physical act which Jesus did command.

    By acting on God’s grace [not just by believing] he was saved.

    Yes, God extended grace toward the criminal on the cross, but you have now moved the goalposts from tangible acts of kindness toward the less fortunate and following God’s laws, to intangible intellectual and verbal agreement (which are hardly comparable). Yes, we are to understand and accept God grace, but understanding and agreeing are intellectual. That is not the kind of physical “act” of kindness towards the less fortunate at issue in Mat 7. The acts of Mat 25 are irrelevant in comparison to the criminal on the cross because he didn’t do any of those acts either, but regardless, Jesus did not recognize those acts as salvific; those acts were neither evidence of faith nor part of salvation as Jesus specifically said he never knew those actors.

    You cited Mat 7, 25 and James 2 and you argued for the necessity of comparable acts or works, none of which were done by the criminal on the cross. The only thing which saved him in his last hour of life (imobilized as he was) was his intellectual belief in Jesus (or his “looking to Jesus who was lifted up”, but looking isn’t a comparable physical “act” either), accompanied by his verbal request to be remembered by Jesus and verbal admission of his own guilt and Jesus’ innocence. None of those are remotely comparable to the physical acts you cited in Mat 7, 25 and James 2.

    I just don’t think it is a good strategy to raise the “once-saved-always-saved” argument or declare that Christians who perform an act of faith are forever afterwards exempt from the consequences of following that morality, especially after declaring that objective morality is binding to all men in all places and in all circumstances.

    However, incorrectly exegeting or explicating scripture is always a bad strategy.

    Jesus will finish a good work he has begun (Php 1:6), and if a sincere belief in Jesus was made and professed, then ostensibly Jesus began the good work in that believer and will finish it, and nothing can snatch them from His hand (Joh 10:28-29). So again, the only way that does not happen is if it was not begun, ostensibly because the faith, the belief, was never sincere in the first place. But we are unable to know the true condition of someone’s ‘heart’ let alone recognize God’s process of sanctification. We are all different and in need of different transformations with different priorities as God deems fit. All we can do is judge whatever external fruit there may be and compare statements and actions against scripture.

    But people who sincerely express faith (as did the criminal on the cross), people who sincerely believe and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, in them Jesus will have begun a good work and He will finish it, nothing can snatch them from His hand, and they are in fact forever after exempt from the eternal consequences of immorality, provided they were sincere and honest to begin with. Further, above I also said in #242 to Seversky “There maybe real-world consequences for some act (such as getting prosecuted under a law or going banckrupt) but God is not forcing or coercing any actions.”

    There are other times and places to raise issues about which conditions are necessary for salvation.

    But there is no time at which to add conditions which scripture doesn’t:

    Joh 3:14-18 NASB “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    That will suffice for me.

    StephenB, you may have the last word.

  282. 282
    above says:

    So in effect, the concept of something being inhuman is nullified.

  283. 283
    Clive Hayden says:

    Charles,

    What I’m saying is that works are not a litmus test of salvation. Repent and be saved, not be saved and then repent. If you study that word repent, it means to turn away from one’s sin in order to know that you need salvation in the first place. Otherwise, if there is no disregarding or turning away from sin, there will be no turning to salvation. You have to realize you’re sick before you realize you need a doctor. To me, repentance is a matter of realizing what sin is, and then realizing that one needs salvation from their sins. After that, yes, we still sin as Christians, whether we do it happily or not when we sin, whether we have any remorse later, is not any test of our salvation. It can be a test of our fruitfulness, sure, but nothing more.

  284. 284
    Charles says:

    Clive Hayden:

    What I’m saying is that works are not a litmus test of salvation.

    The presence of works, agreed, is not indicative (Mat 7:21-23 speaks to that). But the absence of works is indicative (Jam 2:17-18 speaks to that).

    Repent and be saved, not be saved and then repent.

    I would qibble and say ‘repent and be saved and then repent some more’ as the fuller extent of sin is progressively revealed.

    After that, yes, we still sin as Christians, whether we do it happily or not when we sin, whether we have any remorse later, is not any test of our salvation. It can be a test of our fruitfulness, sure, but nothing more

    Remorse, I would argue is not a test of fruitfulness (fruit is the evidence of fruitfulness) but remorse, or lack thereof, is indicative of being sensitive to God’s law and to the conscience God has imbued in us. The presence of remorse, is indicative of faith (Rom 7 speaks to that). But the absence of remorse is also indicative of a lack of belief (Mat 21:32 speaks to that). Given that remorse is an act of conscience, one might also refer to Rom 2:14-16 where the conscience is an indication of the Law written on hearts, and to 1Ti 1:19 and 1Ti 4:2 regarding the consequences of rejecting and searing one’s conscience, and implicitly a lack of remorse (i.e. “happily” sinning away) might be due to a seared conscience.

    That last point being, the absence of remorse, in an individual “happily” sinning away, is most definitely an indication of something wrong. But it is difficult to juxatapose, in the same individual, salvation and the seal of the holy spirit, and Jesus commencing a good work, with “happily” sinning away without remorse.

    Where is the repentance without remorse? Do you not see a contradiction?

    Lest there be some confusion, if someone has become trapped in some sin (say, pornography for example) even though they may sin chronically there ought to be some remorse. They ought to be admitting to themselves “This is a problem. I ought not to be looking at this stuff. I’m a Christian for crying out loud. Jesus hung on the cross for me because of what I’m doing. I ought to be overcoming it, not yielding to it.”

    Make no mistake, if there is no such remorse or regret for the ongoing commission of sin, if instead the sinner feels free to “happily” sin away, that is a big question mark. But if they were serious about overcoming, about the pain it causes Jesus, they’d go get Christian counseling and make some changes to deal with it. They’d express “repentance”, a change of attitude about what they are doing.

    Only Jesus knows someone’s heart, but we can get indications from remorse or its absence, just like fruit.

  285. 285
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    I have erroneously transposed two cites. They should read as follows:

    That is not the kind of physical “act” of kindness towards the less fortunate at issue in Mat 7 25. The acts of Mat 25 7 are irrelevant in comparison to the criminal on the cross because he didn’t do any of those acts either,

  286. 286
    StephenB says:

    —Charles: “However, incorrectly exegeting or explicating scripture is always a bad strategy.”

    Yes, that is exactly what the fuss is all about. What exactly constitutes good exegesis? It all gets down to those infernal words that keep cropping up in these kinds discussions, “necessary” and “sufficient.” We all know that we are “saved by faith.” The question is whether or not we are saved by faith ALONE.

    In keeping with that point, I could fill several pages with Biblical quotes [I am not exaggerating] to support my position that faith alone is not sufficient for salvation. On the other hand, there are only about a handful of passages that can be interpreted the other way, which is why I am more than familiar with them. If it was another kind of forum, I would explain why those passages must be understood in the proper context in order to be properly interpreted. As it stands, though, I think it would be unnecessarily contentious to continue along those lines.

    I remained silent when the point was raised the first time, because it is basically a sectarian issue and potentially divisive. When happened a second time, though, it seemed unwise to simply let the matter sit without at least pointing out that all of Christianity held my view for sixteen hundred years, that over a billion Christians still do, and that there are plenty of Scriptural passages to confirm it.

  287. 287
    Seversky says:

    above @ 262

    1. It is evident that while you do acknowledge that your standards are subjective, you nevertheless seek out a phenomenally objective standard that is facilitated by what you call common agreement. That in it and of itself shows the necessity for objective standards. Simply put, the need for law (objective standard) is inescapable.

    Before we go any further I think there is a need to clarify what I mean by “objective”.

    For me, it refers to anything that exists independently outside the subjective mind, that continues to exist whether or not it is being thought about by an intelligent agent such as ourselves.

    If some catastrophe wiped the human race from the face of this planet but left everything else untouched, what is objective is what aliens would find if they visited Earth some time later. They would find the artefacts like the buildings, the machines, all the technology. What they would not find lying around the place is our morality or ethics. That would have disappeared along with us because it has existence only in our minds. Sure, the aliens might find books about morality but they are just means of describing and recording our thoughts on the matter. They are not morality itself.

    This is why I argue that the very notion of objective morality is incoherent. Based on my understanding of “objective” it is nonsensical. Even a God-given morality is just the product of another mind, albeit that of God. It has no existence if God does not think about it.

    If we look at morality as a scientist might, just studying what we can observe of it without making any assumptions about its origins, then what we see are sets of guidelines or rules which serve to regulate the behavior of human beings towards each other. What I see operating in human societies is what I would call a collective morality based on the interests and needs that are common to all human beings. And, in my view, that consensus is a better and firmer grounding for any morality than edicts handed down from on high on tablets of stone, either physically or metaphorically.

    2. What happens when the consensus of a country/group establishes standards that are inhuman? The moral relativist is in no position to address that. That is the other unsolved and insurmountable problem of atheism.

    The problem is neither insurmountable nor insoluble,in fact, it’s not much of a problem at all.

    How many human societies can you think of which voluntarily imposed inhuman standards on themselves? What happens more often is that one group of humans decides, for whatever reasons, be they religious or political, that they are justified in treating other groups of humans or the rest of humanity badly. If they gain control of a society, as we have seen in the cases of Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, they can do a lot of harm.
    Eventually, however, they are either overthrown or become acceptable by moderating their stance. Either way they do not last long.

    above @ 281

    I use the term inhuman because I believe in man’s central role in the creation. Why do you hold that view? According to the atheist/materialist doctrine, mankind is the random by-product of “nature”.
    In other words, Atheism/materialism in effect, dehumanizes mankind

    Nonsense. Atheists simply recognize and accept humanity for what it is, warts and all. They have no need for fanciful notions about being the center-piece of creation to make them feel good.

  288. 288
    THEMAYAN says:

    “Christians have no patent on morality so atheists are free to draw on whatever sources are available. Besides, at least atheists try to work out a viable morality for themselves. The justification for their morality doesn’t reduce to ‘because God said so”

    Severski: You are correct, Christianity has no patent on morality, however morality is historically a religious concept with roots in metaphysical or philosophical tenants or doctrines. This is generally a belief in a higher metaphysical power or order.

    Naturalism when taken to its final logical conclusion can view morality as nothing more than an individuals subjective perception and something that does not exist objectively. There is no goal post when trying to define morality, since it is always determined in human experience by a democratic or majority consensus.

    The next question is, whose consensus? Hitlers Germany, Stalin’s Russia, The Taliban, the Mujaheddin, early American slave traders, or The Aztecs? How do we quantify morality and who should be the judge?

  289. 289
    StephenB says:

    House Street Room, thank you for your comments. I certainly agree that the idea of quotas makes no sense at all. After this last comment, will say no more.

    In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and James, a questioner asks Jesus the very same question we have been discussing: “What must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus answers very clearly that we must keep the commandments, lists them, and includes the most important one of loving neighbor as self.

    Is that all there is to it? No, not at all. Other places he indicates that one must “believe and be baptized?” Is that all there is to it? No. Other places, he states that we must have a relationship with him. That is the point. None of these single sets of passages are meant to cover all the elements of salvation, which include, faith [vitally important because nothing else happens without it], baptism [turning around and entering into a new life of the spirit], a relationship [without him we can do nothing (or be saved)], and works [we must keep the commandments and perform good works]. None of these elements can be left out. Why? Because the savior explicitly made the point that all four are absolutely necessary.

    Does God ever make any exceptions? I have no doubt that he does, but it is not my place to say how and when. God is not, after all, bound by his own laws. I am persuaded, for example, that if someone has never heard of Jesus Christ or never had the opportunity to be baptized, that person can, nevertheless, be saved, because I don’t think God would hold anyone accountable for those things over which he/she has no control. In such cases, I think God will do the baptizing and judge the person on the extent to which he follows the light which he has been given.

    At the moment, however, we are speaking of the norm. Once we are baptized and believe, we must enter into a relationship with the savior. That means we must pray daily to acquire the wisdom and strength to keep the commandments, which is an impossible task without his help. Anyone who does not pray does not have a relationship with God, cannot keep his commandments, and, most important, cannot love in the spirit of truth. [“They will say, Lord, Lord, but I will say, “I never knew you”].

  290. 290
    Mark Frank says:

    #281 above

    “Not at all… etc”
    You say not at all and then demonstrate the exact thing I was telling you. It is precisely due to the fact that one cannot live with moral subjectivity that we need objective law, hence the legal system. I don’t know how to explain this any simpler.

    I fully accept that we need an objective law i.e. a legal system and that one reason for that is that morality is subjective. But I thought you were talking about the nature of morality itself – not the need for a legal system. You may need an objective way of deciding which TV programme to watch – but it doesn’t make one’s preference for a particular programme objective.

    “would be (subjectively) appalled and try to change that group’s views”

    But that is precisely the problem. The moment you concede moral relativism is the moment you undermine ethical standards in their entirety.

    The majority of humans have much the same basic morals – so these are the basis of ethical standards which continue despite the fact there is no other basis for them.

    Stalin and his supporters may just as well say, you got your morals we got ours and there is nothing you can say or do about it. And the sad thing is, they are absolutely justified to hold that view given moral relativism.

    Stalin was all powerful in his country so there wasn’t anything much that anyone who disagreed could do about it. There is plenty I can say about it – I just have – I think it is deeply wrong to murder people and imprison without trial. His practices are not justified. They conflict with what most people would hold to be right.

    Olson’s response covers the notion of good in terms of it being apparent, effective and its intrinsic worth. To persist asking why, why, why is akin to trying to impose some infinite regression.

    I am not imposing an infinite regression. I am simply pointing it out. I asked “why do good”. To reply because “X is good” where X is anything you choose clearly does not answer the question.

    One last thing, I still haven’t seen a response to one of the fatal flaws of atheism/materialism that I mentioned earlier. Here it is one more time:
    I use the term inhuman because I believe in man’s central role in the creation. Why do you hold that view? According to the atheist/materialist doctrine, mankind is the random by-product of “nature”.
    In other words, Atheism/materialism in effect, dehumanizes mankind

    I agree that man is a product of natural causes. I hold that it is part of the nature of our human species to have compassion, duty, etc. Where is the contradiction?

  291. 291
    olsonbj says:

    I should like to expand my statement of I love God and others because it is effectively good, apparently good, and intrinsically good.

    Effectively good relates to the utility of some act (i.e. it works). The effect itself is not subjective but rather objective. I can see it and so can others. Now the judgment of that act is certainly subjective, but judgment is not that act itself, but rather an event that occurs in someones brain.

    Apparently good is subjective and psychological. This is based on a person’s perception. If I perform and act that has utility (effectively good) and a person comes along and observes it and says “that’s good” that would be apparently good.

    My relationship with God allows for me to do things that are intrinsically good. It is tied to obedience to His will and desire for my life. When I act according to this then it is intrinsically good. The only intrinsically good act that a unbeliever can do is to consider the gift of a relationship with God. All other acts of goodness would fall into either apparently good or effectively good.

    One other problem with discussing the nature of ethics in terms of good is that the English Language sucks for these type of discussions. I have talked about three facets of goodness. In the bible alone there are 8 words in Greek and 11 words in Hebrew that translate to English as good. Stated another way: “Good” in English is an oversimplification of a concept that is multifaceted and we could not fill blogs in our life time understanding it’s depths. Unless you just limit yourself to effectively or apparently good. Both of which fall apart as a foundation for ethics (in my opinion).
    ~BJ

  292. 292
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    The question is whether or not we are saved by faith ALONE.

    In keeping with that point, I could fill several pages with Biblical quotes [I am not exaggerating] to support my position that faith alone is not sufficient for salvation. On the other hand, there are only about a handful of passages that can be interpreted the other way, which is why I am more than familiar with them.

    You seem to be espousing the Catholic viewpoint, with which I have some familiarity. But I’m willing to consider arguments I’ve not yet seen. By my count (having now checked again my own ‘bible study’ on this issue) the unique passages (about 28) which attest to salvation by faith, versus passages (about 13) seemingly attesting to salvation by faith plus some kind of work, are about 2 to 1, with a couple passages identifying disqualifiers for eternal life (one being Mat 7:21-23).

    So I’m perplexed by your assertion there being only a handful that can be interpreted in opposition to your view.

    By my study the ratio is reversed (perhaps that’s an error or a matter of semantics). But rather than further hijack this thread, I’m hoping that somewhere out there in the internet is an apologetic which reflects the “several pages with Biblical quotes to support my position” with refutations of the “handful of passages that can be interpreted the other way”. If you know of something like that, could you kindly post a link(s) to it/them, for my later study and edification, please?

  293. 293
    above says:

    @seversky
    The first part of your post was sheer question begging. You seem to define something as “objective” if and only if it adheres to your materialistic beliefs. I’m not buying that, sorry. You spend so much time going on about it but all you practically did was repeat the debunked mantra of the materialist. I could even go on a tangent and explain how your approach would even undermine science as a human endeavor, which presupposes ethical standards as well, but that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that what you presented is both incoherent and irrelevant to the question of ethical standards.

    Also, the problem is both insurmountable and insoluble for the atheist as I said and you have offered no logical response to it. Saying or wishing they (Nazis, Stalin etc) will not last long is simply evasive. But then again, that’s all you can do as a relativist. That is precisely my point. The case becomes even worse for you if said inhuman actions helped the group to survive/thrive. How do you condemn that given the neo-darwinist dogma? Not all the biology in the world will get you out of that problem.

    “Atheists simply recognize and accept humanity for what it is, warts and all. They have no need for fanciful notions about being the center-piece of creation to make them feel good”

    Yes, I have heard atheist views on humanity such as those of peter atkins, who claims that mankind is “just a bit of slime on a planet”. The same man also claims that science shows us that there can be no moral distinction between the administering of poison and one that the body generates itself. Such is the predicament of the materialist.

    You failed to explain why your beliefs do not dehumanize mankind and how in light of that you may speak of inhuman acts and condemn any action directed at the detriment of human life. It seems that you refuse engage with any of my objections to moral relativism.

  294. 294
    StephenB says:

    Charles, you have been a good sport. Yes, my position is the Catholic position, and yes, I could provide numerous passages to support my position, but I promised to wind down [actually, I said I would stop] so I will. Everyone agrees that we are “saved by faith,” for which there are, as you suggest, a couple of dozen references. There are only a handful of passages, however, that could, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, be interpreted to meaning that we are saved by “faith alone.”

    Further, no one, least of all an informed Catholic, believes that we are “saved by works.” Works apart from faith in Christ are of no avail whatsoever. [The heresy of pelagianism] That is a perennial strawman and when anyone uses that language, it is clear that they have not sufficiently considered those two words again, “necessary” and “sufficient.” To say that we are saved by faith is not to say that faith is sufficient. To say that works are necessary is not to say that works are sufficient.

    Here is an analogy: If someone wants to save his eartly life, he must eat solid food and breathe clean air. If he doesn’t eat, he will die; if he does eat, he will live. If he is starving, he will be saved by the food. Does that mean, therefore, that he doesn’t need air?

    Similarly, If oxygen is removed from his environment, he will start to die. If he is given air, he will live. Does that mean he doesn’t need food?

    [That, by the way, is what the Bible means when it teaches that faith brings us eternal life. It is distinguishing between belief and not belief (oxygen vs. no oxygen), not between faith and works (oxygen vs. food)].

    Which is more important? Food or oxygen. While both are necessary, oxygen is the more urgent concern because without it, one cannot live long enough to eat. Which is more important, faith or works? Obviously, faith matters most because without it one cannot perform one good work.

  295. 295
    above says:

    @Mark
    “I fully accept that we need an objective law i.e. a legal system and that one reason for that is that morality is subjective. But I thought you were talking about the nature of morality itself – not the need for a legal system.”

    But that is precisely the point I am trying to make. You cannot unwarrantedly divorce objectivity from ethics. That is the nature of ethics.

    “The majority of humans have much the same basic morals – so these are the basis of ethical standards which continue despite the fact there is no other basis for them.”

    Now you seem to be arguing there is an underlying objective, albeit imperfect, moral sense pervading humanity. And I do agree to some extend. You can’t have it both ways though.

    “Stalin was all powerful in his country so there wasn’t anything much that anyone who disagreed could do about it. There is plenty I can say about it – I just have – I think it is deeply wrong to murder people and imprison without trial. His practices are not justified. They conflict with what most people would hold to be right”

    Mark, I hope you don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that you as an atheist are an immoral person or cannot act morally. What I am saying is that moral relativism is inept in dealing with such atrocities. If the culprit (e.g. stalin) is a moral relativist too then his opinion under that system of belief is just as valid as anyone else’s including yours. To speak of consensus goes back once again to the attempt of moral objectification I mentioned earlier. The paramount need for objective standards and a law.

    “I agree that man is a product of natural causes. I hold that it is part of the nature of our human species to have compassion, duty, etc. Where is the contradiction?”

    But hate, anger, murder, xenophobia, intolerance, even rape (allegedly) is part also part of ”human nature”. If that’s your definition of humane, then murder is no more inhuman than empathy… they are both human characteristics.
    My objection however is a deeper one and still have not seem a valid reason as to why materialism does not dehumanize mankind.

  296. 296
    Charles says:

    StephenB:

    and yes, I could provide numerous passages to support my position, but I promised to wind down [actually, I said I would stop] so I will.

    I’m not asking to continue. If you have links, kindly post them, that will be the end of it. If you don’t know of any, just say so, that too will be the end of it, without prejudice.

    I’m just looking for background that supports your assertion if by chance it already exists (I assume Catholic apologists have already addresed your viewpoint, approximately if not exactly, and you would be the better judge of that) without continuing here.

  297. 297
    StephenB says:

    —Charles: “If you know of something like that, could you kindly post a link(s) to it/them, for my later study and edification, please?”

    OK. I guess that’s fair. [Lifted from Catholic/Scripture.com–edited, in part, by me].

    Neh. 13:14, Psalm 11:7,28:4, Isa. 3:10, 59:18, Jer. 25:14, 50:29, Ezek. 9:10, 11:21, 36:19, Hos. 4:9, 9:15, 12:2, Sir. 16:12,14 Sir. 35:19; Luke 23:41; John 3:19-21, Rom. 8:13, 2 Tim 4:14, Titus 3:8,14, Rev. 22:12 – 1 Cor. 3:15

    Matt. 7:1-3 – we are not judged just by faith, but actually how we judge others.

    Matt. 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13 – Jesus taught that we must endure to the very end to be saved. [Not get saved at a moment in time]

    Matt. 16:27 – Jesus says He will repay every man for what he has done (works).

    Matt. 25:31-46 – Jesus’ teaching on the separation of the sheep from the goats [works done during our life]

    Matt. 25:40,45 – Jesus says “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to Me.” Our eternal destiny is tied up with our works.

    Mark 10:21 – Jesus likens the giving to the poor as building up treasure in heaven.

    Luke 12:43-48 – We are judged based upon what we know and then do, not just upon what we know.

    Luke 14:14 – Jesus says we are repaid for the works we have done at the resurrection of the just. Our works lead to salvation.

    Luke 23:41 – I have already written about the good thief’s works.

    Rom. 2:6-10, 13 – God will judge every man according to his works. Our salvation depends on how we cooperate with God’s grace.

    2 Cor. 5:10 – at the last judgment, we are judged according to what we have done in the body, not how much faith we had.

    2 Cor. 9:6 – Paul likens sowing and weaping in connection with God’s judgment.

    2 Cor. 11:15 – our final end will be determined by our deeds. Our works are necessary to both our justification and salvation.

    Gal. 6:7-9 – whatever a man sows, he will reap. Paul warns the Galatians not to grow weary in doing good works, for in due season they will reap (the rewards of eternal life).

    Eph. 6:8 – whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord.

    Col. 3:24-25 – we will receive due payment according to what we have done. Even so, such payment is a free unmerited gift from God borne from His boundless mercy.

    1 Tim. 6:18-19 – the rich are to be rich in good deeds so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed, that is, eternal life.

    2 Tim. 4:14 – Alexander the coppersmith did Paul great harm, and Paul says the Lord will requite him for his deeds.

    Heb. 6:10 – God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake. God rewards our works on earth and in heaven.

    Heb. 12:14 – without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Holiness requires works of self-denial and charity, and does not come about simply by a profession of faith.

    1 Peter 1:17 – God judges us impartially according to our deeds. We participate in applying the grace Jesus won for us at Calvary in our daily lives.

    Rev. 2:5 – Jesus tells the Ephesians they have fallen from love they used to have, and orders them to do good works. He is not satisfied with their faith alone. They need to do more than accept Him as personal Lord and Savior.

    Rev. 2:10 – Jesus tells the church in Smyrna to be faithful unto death, and He will give them the crown of life. This is the faith of obedience to His commandments.

    Rev. 2:19 – Jesus judges the works of the Thyatirans, and despises their tolerance of Jezebel, calling them to repentance.

    Rev. 2:23 – Jesus tells us He will give to each of us as our works deserve. He crowns His own gifts by rewarding our good works.

    Rev. 2:26 – Jesus says he who conquers and keeps my works until the end will be rewarded in heaven. Jesus thus instructs us to keep his works to the very end. This is not necessary if we are “once saved, always saved.”

    Rev. 3:2-5,8,15 – Jesus is judging our works from heaven, and these works bear upon our eternal salvation. If we conquer sin through faith and works, He will not blot our names out of the book of life. This means that works bear upon our salvation. Our “works” do not just deal with level of reward we will receive, but whether we will in fact be saved.

    Rev. 3:15 – Jesus says, “I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. Because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Jesus is condemning indifferentism, which is often based on our works.

    Rev. 14:13 – we are judged by the Lord by our works – “for their deeds follow them!” Our faith during our life is completed and judged by our works.

    Rev. 20:12 – “the dead are judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.”

    Rev. 22:12 – Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

    Sirach 16:12,14 – we are judged according to our deeds, and will receive in accordance with our deeds.

  298. 298
    allanius says:

    Christopher Hitchens’ vicious attacks on Mother Theresa are unethical—dishonest, tendentious, slanderous, self-aggrandizing. It would seem, then, that self-restraint is one ethical action recommended to Christians that he, self-appointed exemplar of atheism, is incapable of exhibiting.

  299. 299
    tgpeeler says:

    I’m late to the dance as usual but this is interesting and still active so I’ll throw my two cents in.

    “Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.”

    Hitchens may be a lot of things but a serious thinker is not one of them. The real question that needs to be asked and answered is this: Is Jesus Christ who He claimed to be (John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the light, no man comes to the Father except through me.) or not? These are reasonable questions and the answer to one of them is true and to the other, false. He either IS or he IS NOT. The law of non-contradiction applies to opposing (not different) truth claims so it is perfectly reasonable to pose this question.

    If He is then there are serious consequences for ignoring Him and in light of the truth of His claim, Hitchen’s question is irrelevant. So what if he is the most ethical person who ever lived? That’s not good enough. Being ethical is NOT THE WAY.

    If Jesus was not who he claimed to be then he wasn’t and we can safely ignore him. In that light, maybe Hitchens has an interesting question but it wouldn’t be relevant to Christianity since if the claim of Jesus is false then Christianity fails. See 1 Corinthians 15.

    What I have taken far too long to say is this: Hitchens’ first challenge, for Christians, is simply irrelevant with one exception. That exception is the ethical (by definition if we say that being obedient to God is an ethical act) act of believing the gospel. An unbeliever could not commit that ethical act (believe) and remain an unbeliever. It’s a matter of logic, with which Hitchens only has a passing acquaintance. How anybody takes this guy seriously is beyond me. I’d love to debate him.

  300. 300
    tgpeeler says:

    I see that Seversky (288) is still utterly confused about ethics and Christianity. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many irrelevant and contradictory claims in one place.
    BTW are you ever going to respond to my last post on the “Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature” thread? I changed my argument a little just for you so I’m kind of interested in your response.

  301. 301
    Charlie says:

    Good comment, TGP.
    I would hate to debate Hitchens. His eye-rolling, arm-crossing, extemporaneous ranting fillibusters devour the clock, play to the faithful, and leave dozens of fallacies to be unpacked with every passing minute.
    It would be a nightmare for me.

  302. 302
    tgpeeler says:

    You are right. I assume that it would be rational. Big mistake. 🙂

  303. 303
    Clive Hayden says:

    Seversky,

    This is why I argue that the very notion of objective morality is incoherent. Based on my understanding of “objective” it is nonsensical.

    Your understanding of “objective” is nonsensical. Math is objective, it doesn’t have to physically exist in order to be objective. Same with morality. Surely your definition of objectivity is not physicality, right?

  304. 304
    Mark Frank says:

    #296 above

    But that is precisely the point I am trying to make. You cannot unwarrantedly divorce objectivity from ethics. That is the nature of ethics.

    “cannot divorce” is vague. It may well be true that as a matter of psychology and sociology societies need to agree objective rules for ethical behaviour. But that is different from the logical question as to whether there is an objective justification for those rules – which after all vary from one society to another. You have so far presented no evidence for such a justification – all you have done is assert that such a justification must exist or the rules would fail. I dispute that – as the rules can be based on aspects of human nature such as compassion.

    Now you seem to be arguing there is an underlying objective, albeit imperfect, moral sense pervading humanity. And I do agree to some extend. You can’t have it both ways though.
    I am saying there is a common moral sense pervading humanity. It is no more objective than the common human liking for sweet foods.


    Mark, I hope you don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that you as an atheist are an immoral person or cannot act morally.

    Don’t worry I understand. It is an intriguing aspect of metaethics debate that while the participants disagree wildly as to what ethical statements mean – they usually agree on how people should behave in specific situations.

    What I am saying is that moral relativism is inept in dealing with such atrocities. If the culprit (e.g. stalin) is a moral relativist too then his opinion under that system of belief is just as valid as anyone else’s including yours.

    Is a theist better equipped to deal with Stalin? How could a theist demonstrate to him that his behaviour was wrong? It is no good invoking God. As an atheist I could try appealing to whatever compassion he had. I could point out that people are dying and suffering. If he thinks that is irrelevant then to that extent he is inhuman.

    To speak of consensus goes back once again to the attempt of moral objectification I mentioned earlier. The paramount need for objective standards and a law.

    See above in many places seeking consensus does not imply an objective foundation for that consensus. I cannot understand why you just ignore the counterexamples that I offer. We might seek a consensus on which is our favourite colour!


    But hate, anger, murder, xenophobia, intolerance, even rape (allegedly) is part also part of ”human nature”. If that’s your definition of humane, then murder is no more inhuman than empathy… they are both human characteristics.

    This is the most interesting question about morality for me. Some aspects of human nature are moral. Others are not. How do we characterize the moral ones? They are those aspects that are directed to accepting pain or discomfort personally for the benefit of others. But it may be fruitless to seek a precise definition – see Wittgenstein on family resemblances.

    My objection however is a deeper one and still have not seem a valid reason as to why materialism does not dehumanize mankind.

    This objection is so deep that I cannot fathom it! Materialism explains all the features of mankind that I recognise as human.

  305. 305
    StephenB says:

    —Mark Frank: “Is a theist better equipped to deal with Stalin?”

    Yes, a theist can argue on behalf of an objective and universal moral law that binds everyone, including him.

    —-How could a theist demonstrate to him that his behaviour was wrong?”

    Privately, he already knew his behavior is wrong. He just didn’t care. Of course, in that context, he was like all materialists, atheists, and moral relativists: he publicly disavowed that which he privately knew to be true. Thus, like all moral relativists, he would have been impervious to reason’s arguments, having already rejected reason itself.

    —“It is no good invoking God. As an atheist I could try appealing to whatever compassion he had.”

    Even if he was open to reasoned arguments, You could not convince him that compassion is worthwhile because, in your worldview, the moral law that demands compassion is not binding for all people at all times in all places. As a moral relativist, he could simply say, “that’s fine for you, but I have a different morality.”

    —“I could point out that people are dying and suffering. If he thinks that is irrelevant then to that extent he is inhuman.”

    What you mean is that you “feel” that he is inhuman. You can’t really say that he “is” inhuman because you reject the objective moral standard by which a person’s humanity may be judged.

  306. 306
    Seversky says:

    tgpeeler @ 301

    BTW are you ever going to respond to my last post on the “Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature” thread? I changed my argument a little just for you so I’m kind of interested in your response.

    My apologies. I forgot to check that thread until now. I will comment in the next day or two.

  307. 307
    Seversky says:

    Clive Hayden @ 304

    Your understanding of “objective” is nonsensical. Math is objective, it doesn’t have to physically exist in order to be objective. Same with morality. Surely your definition of objectivity is not physicality, right?

    In my view, that is a poor analogy.

    We observe that we can group objects in the external world into groups of two, for example. We observe we can put two groups of two together and create a single group of four. We can then separate that group of four into two groups of two again, and so on. Those relationships are objective properties of the natural world. They hold, regardless of the objects being grouped or the observer doing the grouping.

    Mathematics is the formal language we have created to describe and model those properties. The symbols employed by the language are subjective and arbitrary. For example, the quantity of three can be represented variously by ‘3’ or ‘III’ or ’11’ or ’51’ or ‘0011 0011’. And the use of the numeral ‘3’ to represent the quantity three is arbitrary. There is no reason other than convention why we could not use ‘5’ or ‘7’ if we chose.

    Morality does not deal with properties or relationships of objective reality in that way. It deals primarily with the way human beings behave towards one another. Nor it is a descriptive language like mathematics but rather a set of prescriptive statements or guidelines or injunctions which are based in how people think they ought to behave for a variety of reason.

    The various religions of the world include moral codes amongst their beliefs and their followers usually hold that their particular codes take precedence over all others. This will be disputed by the followers of other faiths. Non-believers will regard all that as an unwarranted attempt to preempt morality for themselves.

  308. 308
    Clive Hayden says:

    Seversky,

    Mathematics is the formal language we have created to describe and model those properties.

    Show me the physical representation of zero, or the square root of two. Besides, you’re avoiding my question of why mathematics isn’t objective (by your definition of objectivity) since it doesn’t exist physically. Surely you don’t mean that mathematics is subjective since it isn’t physical?

  309. 309
    above says:

    @Mark

    “cannot divorce” …. [shortened to save space]. I dispute that – as the rules can be based on aspects of human nature such as compassion.”

    Yes, they would fail. There is no doubt about that. You simply want to take one aspect of human nature (if there really is such a thing and it’s not merely a term is used instrumentally) and then you try to “objectify” it in order to try and justify your morality. It’s the same issue I mentioned earlier about the legal system. You cannot escape it. (The use of compassion in this context is also questionable).

    It is an intriguing aspect of metaethics debate that while the participants disagree wildly as to what ethical statements mean – they usually agree on how people should behave in specific situations.”

    But again, that points to an underlying objectivity in ethics then. Surely an imperfect one, as we are imperfect beings ourselves. And we are back to the legal system and its necessity again. Something tells me though that you and I have a completely different approach to objectivity.

    “Is a theist better equipped to deal with Stalin? How could a theist demonstrate to him that his behaviour was wrong? It is no good invoking God. As an atheist I could try appealing to whatever compassion he had. I could point out that people are dying and suffering. If he thinks that is irrelevant then to that extent he is inhuman.”

    I don’t see the logic in your objection. I’m sorry. It’s also not about demonstrating anything to stalin. It’s about the foundation of ethics, and whether said foundation evidently refutes itself as in the case of moral relativism. What a Theistic reality provides is normative order that is ontologically real with the opposite being true for atheism. Now let’s assume we’re in a court of law and stalin is defending himself. The crime is murder of millions. Under moral relativism he can argue that since it’s not an evil act according to his relativistic standards he did nothing wrong. He will simply claim, that his nature is such that he was compelled to follow his hate, anger desire for power etc. So where does that leave our judge? With his hands tied behind his back. What is he to do? Impose his own relativistic morals on stalin? That won’t do given moral relativism. stalin can simply say, “you have your morals, I have mine” and go on his way. In a Theistic world however, stalin will never be able to fabricate such argumentation because ethics is not merely a matter of human personal preference. Neither will the argument be taken into account simply because moral relativism is considered false and repugnant. I think Dostoyevsky crystallized the fatal flaw of moral relativism in his famous quote “everything is permitted”.

    “See above in many places seeking consensus does not imply an objective foundation for that consensus. I cannot understand why you just ignore the counterexamples that I offer. We might seek a consensus on which is our favourite colour!”

    And that favourite colour will evidently be the representative colour for the entire group, thus objectifying it. One colour for many people, is significantly different than many colours for many people. I don’t think the colour example is a good one for this discussion though.

    “This is the most interesting question about morality for me. Some aspects of human nature are moral. Others are not. How do we characterize the moral ones? They are those aspects that are directed to accepting pain or discomfort personally for the benefit of others.”

    But again Mark, you see, that definition is also arbitrary and even worse, can be used to justify all sorts of atrocities. A person can go to war, kill others and die in order to benefit his countrymen. Is that ethically sound? Of course not. To say otherwise would be an attempt to rationalize war. That is the root of nationalism. That is the source of some 200 million deaths in the 20th century.

    “This objection is so deep that I cannot fathom it! Materialism explains all the features of mankind that I recognise as human”

    This I fundamentally disagree with and it’s one of several reasons why I reject materialism. But we can agree to disagree I suppose.

    The point is as a said before, if mankind is a random by-product of purposeless processes then he is no different, existentially speaking, than any other random collocation of atoms. Hence why materialism dehumanizes mankind. It’s a harsh reality, but that’s what it entails. The quote I provided in a previous post from peter atkins is testament to this materialistic outlook.

  310. 310
    bornagain77 says:

    Above:

    Ultimate Worth of a human to God?,,, The cross endured, an infinite ransom of love paid for redemption,, priceless eternity bought!!!

    The ultimate worth of a human to a materialist?… less than one dollar!

    “The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils has calculated the chemical and mineral composition of the human body, which breaks down as follows:

    65% Oxygen
    18% Carbon
    10% Hydrogen
    3% Nitrogen
    1.5% Calcium
    1% Phosphorous
    0.35% Potassium
    0.25% Sulfur
    0.15% Sodium
    0.15% Chlorine
    0.05% Magnesium
    0.0004% Iron
    0.00004% Iodine

    Additionally, it was discovered that our bodies contain trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminum, and arsenic. Together, all of the above amounts to less than one dollar!”

  311. 311
    Phaedros says:

    Can a materialist come to the conclusion that, as Dr. William Craig says, a human has more value than all of the universe itself on purely its own terms? Can a materialist/unbeliever talk about the inner cosmos of a human being? Can an materialist/unbeliever conclude that people should be treated as ends and not means on its own terms?

  312. 312
    bornagain77 says:

    Phaedros very well put. Reminds me of this line from O Holy Night and this song from Sara Groves:

    “‘Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth.”

    Sara Groves Ultimate Gift Track
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcqFZV8UJMs

  313. 313
    Mark Frank says:

    above #310

    . Something tells me though that you and I have a completely different approach to objectivity.

    This made me smile. These metaethics debates always end up trying to define what we mean by “objective”. See that Seversky is having almost the same dispute with Clive.

    So let’s get a bit more down to earth and return to the hypothetical case of Stalin in court. Sure we can find him guilty either using my approach of “the vast majority of humanity find your actions horrific” or your approach of “God wrote the rules and you broke them”. The hypothetical judge could use either approach. And in either case Stalin could say – you may have convicted me according to your code but I am right according to my moral code.

    I have a different question? How do you convince him he should have acted differently?

  314. 314
    Mark Frank says:

    #312 Phaedros

    Can a materialist come to the conclusion that, as Dr. William Craig says, a human has more value than all of the universe itself on purely its own terms?

    It is unlikely but there may be a materialist somewhere who places such a high value on human beings. There is no inherent contradiction.

    Can a materialist/unbeliever talk about the inner cosmos of a human being?

    Again there may one somewhere but it is unlikely. This seems to me to be greatly to the advantage of the materialist/unbeliever who has avoided such mumbo-jumbo.

    Can an materialist/unbeliever conclude that people should be treated as ends and not means on its own terms?

    Easily. I believe this. Although Kant was a Christian his ethics were not based on religion and he came to exactly this conclusion.

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