Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Rebuttal: Part Three

For this to make sense, please check out my post exchange with Dr. Luke Conway here and here. You might as well check my Rebuttal, Part One and Rebuttal, Part Two also.

I’ve covered the moral argument for God multiple times on this blog and consider it the worst argument in the long, sad history of apologetic arguments. The only way I can address this again and remain sane is if I break up Dr. Conway’s post and address it in segments. The bold bits are the words of The Apologetic Professor. Here it goes.

Theism provides a more coherent view of morality than atheism.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. It. Does. Not.

If you are an atheist, you believe in a universe that has absolutely no moral will.

This part is true. I believe the universe has no will, moral or otherwise.

The materialist must assume that I have a moral will for the same set of reasons that I have blue eyes or a love of the Indigo Girls, or that the sky appears blue or rocks are solid substances – they are the result of a long chain of purely physical events guided by physical laws or chance or what-have-you. I presume none of you believe that, at the Big Bang (or whatever), the atoms there assembled in the way they did so that someday they could produce the thought I should not kill my neighbor for fun inside my head. Such a thought exists because of chance physical processes.

This harkens back to Rebuttal, Part Two talking about instincts. It could be said that we have a moral instinct brought to us by the very same long chain of physical event that which Dr. Conway takes issue. Think of aspects of morality as adaptions that are selected for survival. The survival of the altruistic can be simplified to a generational game theory. Like the famous prisoner’s dilemma, two socially interacting creatures share a larger net gain by cooperating, even at the cost of personal loss by not defecting and claiming an individually larger gain for themselves. This defection could get the creature killed or made an outcast--taking it out of the gene pool either way. In addition, by leaving the increased gain on the table by continuously acting selfishly ends with the result of less resources than those held by cooperating creatures.

This is an example of how everything from instinctual sharing to general empathy could have evolved. I also find it difficult how one couldn’t see that cooperation is the best policy from the experience of just a single lifetime. This is, in part, what apologists argue when morality comes up.

Now, if the professor is saying that thought in general couldn’t have evolved through “a long chain of purely physical events,” that is a actually a better argument than saying moral thought specifically could not. Still, that is an entirely different debate. I’d like to know that he admits the moral argument is bunk before delving into cognitive sciences.

The atheist universe isn’t an immoral universe, as some have claimed. It’s an amoral universe. Morality isn’t bad in the atheist universe; morality doesn’t exist in the atheist universe. Morality has no meaning in that world.

Dr. Conway, I don’t think morality means what you think it means. Seriously, this is a fundamental conflict of definitions that is an insurmountable hurdle in every atheist/theist debate I’ve ever had. Morality as defined by God’s nature is invalid in my book and morality as defined by human culture is invalid in theirs.

Pretty much every atheist I know actually believes in morality (including all of the “new” atheists, e.g., Dawkins, Harris, etc.). And they don’t just believe in it in a “well, that’s nice” kind of way; they don’t believe that it’s wrong to kill people for fun is just a chance-y neuronal deal and they’d be fine if it had turned out the other way around. No; they really believe in it – like it matters that it turned out this way. In fact, they believe in it so much that they often use moral arguments against theism, as a reason to get rid of it.

Yeah, for two reasons. One, most of us have a high degree of empathy--a trait selected for survival (see above.) And two, because morality works. What’s the alternative? Killing fellow humans on sight? Most of us are intelligent beings who can see that would result in living in fear and constant danger. The Golden Rule is the best thing in the bible, yet pre-dates it. If you see moral acts as those that benefit others and immoral acts as those that harm others--pair that with reasoning to weigh the scales of a given situation fairly and our desire to be benefited and avoid harm, ta-da! Morality. I really don’t see why this is so hard. Yes, it allows for some things to be morally ambiguous, which it distasteful, but some things are morally ambiguous. That’s why we are constantly debating things like capital punishment and abortion. It’s objectively clear that at least some moral issues have no objectively clear answer. Saying that you believe you are right on a divided issue is fine, but saying that you are absolutely right because it was written in a book in another language from a less civilized culture over a thousand years ago is crazy. Doesn’t it sound crazy? I think it’s crazy.

My philosophy says that God built morality into the fabric of the universe.

Do rocks have morality then? Do tornadoes strive to be nice? Or is this only evident in intelligent, social beings who have a vested interest to act civil, all things being equal?

Theists attempt to show that morality without God is arbitrary. On the contrary, I can think of multiple reasons why any given moral choice is right or wrong. To apologists I ask, does God have reasons for what is right and what is wrong? Is there a reason His nature is how it is? If so, let’s say we can come to the same reasoning and cut out the middle god. If not, then it’s the theist's morality that is arbitrary. Even if the Christian God exists, we face the exact same pointless morals...except, y’know, my perceived source of morality doesn’t occasionally commit genocide.


  1. I like the example of killing someone as an obvious example of morality that does not have to come from the bible. Also this is something that can get proved simply does not come from the bible, if we consider native Americans for example. Before the Christian white man came to America they were thriving and also not killing each other in their tribes all the time. They clearly realized as many other non-christian cultures have realized that killing everyone is not beneficial for self survival.

    1. That's true. I think that "morality is revealed through the bible" can be taken down with your example, but apologists also use "morality is within us and/or the universe as given by God." Which tactic they use depends on the argument against them.

  2. What I find funny is that over on his website, he hasn't said a thing, nor responded to your post in 9 days, nor has he dealt with any of your rebuttals. I'd say I was surprised, but come on, I'm not. Once you start spelling out in detail what's wrong with his arguments, a typical theist will go "oh crap, they're on to me!" and run away. I predict he'll declare victory on his blog when you're not paying attention.

    1. He responded to the comments of his post and emailed me to say that he will work on a rebuttal to my article. Dr. Conway might just be more busy then us--his certainly doesn't post as often. I'm sure he'll address the goings on here eventually.

    2. I suppose he deserves the benefit of the doubt in that case. I decided that I had so much to say in response to his post that I had to do my own article on it. It came in just under 7000 words. I don't know when to stop. :)

      It'll probably go up next week sometime, I'm quite far ahead and it'll give him a chance to post again.

    3. If he's a professor at a college/university, he's probably neck-deep in finals and reports and all manner of fun end-of-semester shenanigans.

      You know, similar to the end-of-semester shenanigans I should really be studying for right now.

  3. I like the way you ended that. It's a point I like to circle back to as well. Does morality exist independent of God? Is it right or wrong because it is inherently right or wrong, or is it just that God has defined it as right or wrong? Is God subject to morality, or is morality subject to God?

    'nough preaching to the choir... I think Dr. Conway has been very generous with his time and has done fairly well in making his points, but I'd also say that you've done a pretty good job in your rebuttal. I look forward to seeing the Dr.'s reply when he gets the opportunity.