Friday, February 29, 2008

Believe it or not -- Part 2

We left off with a pretty 'blanket statement' that atheists absolutely hate (there's enough relativism in that sentence to choke a horse!).

Here's what I said a lot of them and liberal thinking (sorry, 'progressives') think these days;

"Truth is Relative"

But before I even get to this, let me rope off a rabbit trial some of you might likely be headed down already. The thought that I am calling all liberals bad.

Liberal is not bad.

I consider myself a liberal thinker, but not a liberal when it comes to an 'anything goes mentality.' By liberal, I mean 'free thinking,' by liberal, the group I am referring to most often means, as I said, 'anything goes.' I'm talking about a careful, considerate approach to life (<-- insert sarcasm here) that can often be boiled down to, 'if it feels good, do it!' But these kinds of philosophers seldom extrapolate that line of thinking out to its natural, disastrous ends.

For example, a pedophile has a certain definition of what falls into the category of "if it feels good, do it," that I am absolutely positive most small children would not agree to.

Rabbit Trail Alert! Sorry to have to do this--especially to the average, savvy reader, but there are, unfortunately some out there that read for little sound bites they can twist and bend for their counterargument so it becomes necessary at times to use a piece of chalk and draw a picture for them. No, I'm not calling progressives and atheists pedophiles. I am merely exposing a serious flaw when some of their reasoning is played out all the way.

Got it? Good.

So, free thinking = good

anything goes = bad

Now, believe it or not, if you want the no boundaries lifestyle bad enough, it's eventually going to lead to the absurd notion that truth is relative every time.


Because all you have to do when you want to do something that isn't convenient or...hmm, what's that word I'm looking for, um...Oh! 'legal,' is to claim that the restriction (law, boundary) in question is true for YOU, but not for ME.

The argument is really nothing more than a way to live without boundaries. It's not built on truth or facts of any kind. How could it be? This philosophy says there are no absolutes. But a closer look reveals that the subscribers of this bankrupt way of thinking seldom live by it themselves.

In the area of absolutes, let's just deal with their least favorite, "moral absolutes." Why is this by far their least favorite? Because it interferes the most with their ,'anything goes' philosophy. They are far less likely to push the 'no absolutes' argument in areas of verifiable science, because, as I said, it's verifiable. In other words, all you have to do is open your eyes to see that there are scientific truths and absolutes. This is why, when the statement "there are no absolutes" is made, it is almost always in reference to moral absolutes.

It's a strange thing, really. I mean, I can't see the forces behind 'gravity,' but I can observe its undeniable effects and, therefore accept it as an absolute truth. However, it's existence does not hinge on whether or not I accept it. Therefore, we ought to accept certain undeniable moral truths based on their 'undeniable affects' even though morality is not something I can pick up and observe. The disastrous affects of denying absolute moral truth can most certainly be verifiably observed.

But that really would be a rabbit trail, so let me stick to the issue at hand--moral absolutes.

Here's what I want to do.

I'd like to hear from a few of my favorite atheist on this. Feel free to comment below on this whole idea of moral relativism.

- Does it exist (moral absolutes)?
- Is it the same for everyone? Amsolute?
- Is it different for everyone? Relative?
- If moral absolutes do exist, what are they?
- If they do not exist, what are the standards we live by?
- If they do not exist, but there are undeniable standards by which we all live, why listen to them?
- And anything else you'd like to add on this topic

I really want to address the questions you all raise rather then chasing down every path this discussion potentially leads down. So, feel free to comment over the next few days and I will comment back.


James F. Elliott said...

Here's a simple thought experiment to illustrate why you're incorrect in your analogy with gravity:

I cannot violate gravity, no matter how hard I try. I can, however, stab someone in the brain and, provided I have been careful enough to make sure reasonable doubt is presented or to avoid law enforcement all together, get away with it. For your analogy to be correct, I would have to be unable to violate moral absolutes. "Free will" is a red herring -- I do not have the free will to shrug off gravity in the same sense as I can a prohibition on murder. That the consequences of drifting off into space and the consequences of murder are both bad is not sufficient grounds for your comparison.

Let us explore murder further: Within our own society, murder in furtherance of one's avarice or rage is punished. Murder in self-defense, with one's own or another's life at stake, is not. Murder in the course of war is encouraged and commended. There is no blanket prohibition, and so there is no absolute condemnation. To take this line of reasoning further:

There are cultures that still practice murder in the name of honor, typically against women. You and I would likely agree that this is completely immoral. However, within that culture, it is not just moral but a key facet of enforcing morality. This is what is meant by "moral relativism." What is true for us is not true for them. We're still welcome to say they're wrong.

"But why?" you will ask. "What grounds do you have for judging them?" The same ones you have:

I'd like to hear from a few of my favorite atheist [sic] on this.

This is a canard. Atheism does not entail moral relativism because theism does not entail moral absolutism (i.e. The Euthyphro).

Take the history of your own faith as presented in one of its holy texts, the Old Testament. Yahweh hands out moral commandments, including a prohibition on murder. But, according to that same text, god lays down laws (in Leviticus, for example) that delineate when it is not only acceptable but necessary to commit murder for violation of other, lesser (at least in some traditions' interpretations) moral laws. This god then also exhorts and commands murder and genocide. The first absolute then, is conditional; if it is conditional, it is then not absolute, but relative to other points of conduct and perception.

Moral absolutes then, if they are to avoid being simply dictates from authority, and therefore subject to whimsical change, must exist independent of god. So, theism does not entail moral absolutism, if moral absolutism is to be taken, as you state, as a matter of inviolate fact. Moral absolutism must, if it is to be tied to theism, mean all-encompassing prohibitions -- but prohibitions -- laws of conduct -- are not laws of nature.

Judgment, ergo, becomes a matter of perception and valuation. Leading even a "relativist" able to say "I do not approve."

marconi said...

Please provide one example of a "moral absolute" dictated by the Bible.

rob's rants said...

One Moral absolute:

John 14:6 "Jesus said, 'I Am the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father except through Me.'"

There's one.

Jesus is claiming to be "the" Way, the "only" Way, and that "No one," absolutely 'no one' comes to God the Father any other way.

I didn't claim you'd like it, but Jesus leaves no wiggle room here.

I didn't claim you'd believe it, or that it was provable outside of placing your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. However, you wanted to know if there was even one example in the Bible.

There's one.

Need more?

B/C the list is endless.

rob's rants said...

Here's another, just because:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Romans 3:23 (this verse speaks to the moral absolute of total depravity -- no one (absolutely no one) has lived [humanly speaking -- Jesus is the one exception} without sinning.

And another:

"there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." Romans 3:11 (this verse speaks of trying to have spiritual understanding apart from God. God says, unless He gives it, you can't have it.')

This is actually a rather bizarre question as the Bible is chalk full of moral absolutes.

It's rather like asking for one mention of America in the American Constitution.

The Celtic Chimp said...


Are your examples moral issues? I don't really see them as such.

They may be issues of true or false but not really issue of right and wrong.

Do you think faith is a good thing?

by faith I mean the belief in something despite the absence of evidence. Do you think that it is a positive or negative thing?

You seem to be of the view that the bible is the word of God. If you are not of that view, then each of the examples given are nothing more than the saying or writing of mortal men in all their apparent fallibility.

If the bible is the word of God, why does it contain blatant contradictions?

The Celtic Chimp said...

Hi Ron,

To answer your questions from one Atheist's perspective.

Are there moral absolutes?
I'm not entirely sure what a moral absolute would actually be. In the sense I think you mean it, I would say there is not such a thing. What was moral to the best of people centuries ago might today be considered immoral by almost everyone today. Slavery for example. Taken for granted as a simple fact of life in the bible is considered abhorent to most people in modern society. In order for something to be a moral absolute, it would have to be considered immoral by everyone in the past, present and future guaranteed. I know of nothing which fits that description. The church of old burned people alive. I can't really think of a more obviously immoral action and this was undertaken apparently with God's blessing. So said the pastors, priests, popes etc. of the day. I doubt even the most fundamentalist, hardline fanatic would suggest that was a good idea now. (least I hope not). Do you believe that God decides what is moral?

Are absolutes the same for everyone?
They would have to be if they existed, otherwise they would not be absolutes.

Is it different for everyone
If this is just refering to morality in general then yes I would say so. Most people in a modern western society probably agree to a fair extent about what is moral and what is not. Murder for example is generally held to be immoral. However, any two people will most likely find some topic that they disagree on. Abortion for example is a great divider.

If they do not exist, what are the standards we live by
I think that morality is instinctual to some extent in people, though to greater or lesser extent depending on the person. Aside from that it is largely a result of social conditioning. Torture and intimidation are actually practiced by God in the bible. Most poeple today think those things are immoral. The laws in a country are a reasonable gauge of how most poeple view what is acceptable and what is not.

If they do not exist, but there are undeniable standards by which we all live, why listen to them? I have always found this a perplexing question. You are treating them (standards) as if they were rules. They are not rules in the hard and fast sense. Most people think it is immoral to cheat on your wife, but you can't be arrested for it. Most people simply don't want to hurt other people. They don't wish to fulfill their own wants by hurtful means. When you see a child in pain, do you need to consult a bible to feel bad about it? When you see a homeless person begging, to you give because you want to help them or because there was a rule somewhere that said you had to? Do you feel genuine empathy towards other people or not. If you do, you need no commandments, if you do not, you are a pitiless person who doesn't understand what morality even is. Commandments would come into use when people generally think a thing is ok but someone or some group wants to force them to behave as though it was not ok.

In most cases we obey rules for two reasons.
1)We agree with the rules and we want to obey them.
2)We fear punishment for disobeying the rules.
As atheists, we do not fear any punishments by God for acting in an immoral way. In general, we don't do bad things because we respect other people and don't want to do bad things. For the Atheist who does want to do bad things, we have laws and prisons. Same goes for Theists.

On a general note; where does this anthing goes idea come from? I have never in my life even heard of a person who thought that way. If it feels good do it is again an unqualified open statement. How this point of view would be more realistically phrased would be If it feels good and doesn't harm anyone, do it.

Consider this hypothetical for a minute. Lets assume that God exists and that he/she is the moral law giver. God actually decides what is moral and what is immoral. This means, that if God decided tomorrow that paedophilia was morally ok, paedophilia would actually be morally ok. Being the rebellious, heatheneous little Atheist that I am, I would tell God to get lost (though I would probably use more colourful language). I might well burn for it, but I just don't think it is ok. No-one, not even God, can convince me otherwise. If you were to witness such a decree by the almighty, would you stand up and say he was wrong? (please don't cop out of a stright answer by claiming God would not do that, then it wouldn't be God etc. etc. It is hypothetical.)

James F. Elliott said...

John 14:6 "Jesus said, 'I Am the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father except through Me.'"

That's an absolute, but it's not a moral one.

Moral values and ethics are used interchangeably. Is belief in god to be considered a moral value? My understanding is that the contention raised by conflating atheism with moral relativism is that belief in god is the source of moral values, not a value unto itself; otherwise, being both a value and the source of values engenders a contradiction. Is this contradiction considered axiomatic? Please explain further.

I think Celtic Chimp hits upon the problem here but draws the wrong conclusion: right or wrong (factual) is not the same as right and wrong (moral). One is discussing evidentiary truth, the other is discussing the basis for right behavior. We can't use them interchangeably to discuss morality.

James F. Elliott said...

Here's a complete aside question: Why does belief in god entail worship?

To take Chimp's hypothetical further: We are given god's new commandment to do previously considered heinous thing X. I do not wish to do thing X, still considering it heinous. Now that I believe in god (Chimp's hypothetical conceding evidence of existence), must I follow its desires? Does belief necessitate worship?

The Celtic Chimp said...


Why does belief in god entail worship?

Excellent question, always wondered about that myself.

right or wrong (factual) is not the same as right and wrong (moral).

I completely agree, I didn't realise I had interchanged them.

Jake & Elwood Blues said...

What makes evidentiary support of one particular viewpoint better than another?

Isn't almost every belief merely someone's opinion or (hopefully) well educated guess?

Speaking of education, I will further educate myself on rationalist philosophy and ask questions / revisit that particular topic at a (much) later date. Thank you Barefoot Bum for the slack that has been cut for me.

In my haste to post here and on my blog, as well as replies to you and your reader's posts, I admittedly take some "shortcuts". One of those is to "lump" people into 3 groups. In my sphere of influence the term secular has been used for mainstream society. It may be erroneously used in this way, but that is how some Christians refer to the nontheistic portion of society. And even that reference may not be the correct terminology either. Anyone have a better idea on how to categorize 3 groups of society better? (especially since I like the number 3 ; )

BB "You just told us everything we need to know about why you believe what you believe: You choose to believe it. It's a free country, you can choose to believe anything you want. What more needs to be said?"

Plenty! Partial assumption follows: Just like you would want “your group” to be ready answer questions from both internal (like thinking) and external (differing thinking) groups, so I too would want “my group” to be prepared. In fact I am commanded by His word to be ready1 Peter 3:15

BB “This is why I don't debate with theists: There's nothing intellectual to discuss. It's about choices, and choices are moral questions, not rational questions, which means the discussion — if there is any discussion at all — has to be judgmental."

IMHO, and as I have stated from the beginning, there is a difference between being close minded and being unreceptive to new ideas, hence the “grey area” references. Since you adhere to personal choice = no room for discussion then is that not in and of itself judgmental from the lexis you used? As a result of that train of thought is the “door for rational discussion” summarily closed from your side and not from mine?

I believe that it would be fitting to place this reply on The Barefoot Bum's blog Famulus Deus and Rob's rants

James F. Elliott said...

What makes evidentiary support of one particular viewpoint better than another?


In generalizing this comment to two different topics, I'm afraid that it loses coherence and relevance. Otherwise, it seems like you are arguing for lazy moral relativism from statement one (that quoted above).