On Victor Reppert's (VR) Dangerous Idea blog, he quotes some C. S. Lewis to show that atheists
can't call the universe evil unless it is a moral agent. In addition, those hot headed atheist critics of God should be commended for validating the theistic basis for morality and that their fervor is equal to how validated divine morality is.
VR never responded (link
), but an anonymous Catholic Christian defended God's good name by saying we don't know enough about him to know if he is evil or not. And he apparently thinks that all that atheist talk about morality for some reason always sounds theistic. He tried to deny that we have any idea what hell will be like. He's clueless about how to tell the creation we have from a perfect creation. Anon also complained that all the imperfect people he cares about wouldn't exist in a perfect world. Oh dear, there'd be better versions of them. Gasp!
Steve Lowell stepped up (link
) to actually engage the arguments where they were without Anon's implausible denial. He wants to see C. S. Lewis' original argument through to show that the hot criticism does validate Christian theistic morality if morality doesn't stand up apart from theism. We'll see how that goes.
Steve responded (link):
Hi Ben (aka War),
I'm not sure that you do "escape his [Lewis's] religion". You seem to be saying this because you think the moral standards which we endorse are not ones which God seems to follow ... and that if Christianity were true the moral standards we are endorsing are exactly the ones which He gave us.
Now this is simply a slightly different formulation of the problem of evil, and stands or falls with the arguments from evil generally. Now I'm not convinced by those arguments ... though perhaps they do offer some sort of non-conclusive evidence for atheism or for the falsehood of Christianity. But in a context where we take those evils seriously they also provide evidence for the real existence of a moral code which is deeply rooted in reality ... and if that means in God then we haven't really got anywhere at all with the problem of evil.
Your other comments are I assume an attempt to ground morality outside of God. There are several ways of going about this, but I haven't been convinced by any that I've seen. In your version of atheistic morality people will only have reason to act morally if the act in question will indeed contribute to their long-term happiness. But suppose the agent has only a few hours to live? There isn't a long term ... and the short-term pleasures are all that your account can say matters. (Unless, of course, we think there is life after death, but then you've not really succeeded in providing a genuinely atheistic morality.) But then it looks like you'd have no basis for condemning whatever a person on their deathbed might decide to do. Ultimately your account doesn't move us beyond subjectivism, it's just a rather more sophisticated subjectivism than one tends to see labeled as such in the textbooks.
You can just call me Ben, that's fine.I'm not sure that you do "escape his [Lewis's] religion". You seem to be saying this because you think the moral standards which we endorse are not ones which God seems to follow ... and that if Christianity were true the moral standards we are endorsing are exactly the ones which He gave us.
I would have used the word "basically" instead of "exactly," but yes that's what I mean. If we give so much slack that the term "good" is robbed of all coherent moral content in the final result, I think we are being taken advantage of. How can we "be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect" if all that means is not being bound by any rules? That completely backfires if there's not some reasonable correspondence. But in a context where we take those evils seriously they also provide evidence for the real existence of a moral code which is deeply rooted in reality ... and if that means in God then we haven't really got anywhere at all with the problem of evil.
True, ultimately if we followed that internal coherency disproof of Christianity to its logical conclusion, we'd still end up with a problem of evil for just about any other theism we could possibly imagine.
Although the one exception that I know of which might work would be that if there is an omnipotent evil deity in addition to the omnipotent good deity. In which case, the bottom line might be an apparently apathetic universe because neither deity can triumph over the other. I think Zoroastrianism is in that ballpark, but that's not what Christianity advocates at all. Jesus arbitrarily decides to allow and not to take care of a less powerful evil being for the scope of human history with apparently disastrous results. Is that really what happens when I level up to moral god-hood? I sure hope not.
BTW, I'm not really sure how you jump to the "moral code deeply rooted in reality." What does that even mean to have morality as part of the fabric of reality? We only confront it in our mental experience of ourselves and other persons. And we see that people with broken brains can be sociopaths who cannot be argued into moral positions. I don't really get why anyone infers some bizarre metaphysics to moral patterns since they are all very contingent on all the arbitrary psychological affairs humans are used to. This doesn't even have to be an argument per se as much as a, "I just don't understand why you go there." In your version of atheistic morality people will only have reason to act morally if the act in question will indeed contribute to their long-term happiness. But suppose the agent has only a few hours to live?
Well, you aren't being very practical. If someone has lived their entire life immorally, and then each of us has the chance to try to convince this person to have concern for the well being of other people in the last 6 hours of their life, can you guarantee your moral paradigm will necessarily triumph? At best, you can hope to scare the crap out of them with threats of eternal damnation waiting for them on the other side
if they don't go grand theft auto on everyone in their last 5 minutes. But what if they don't believe you? What then? Can you be sure they will have a moving religious experience of the very presence of God? Can you convince them that your invisible magic code truly does exist and should just be obeyed just because?
My point is all moral theories break down in extreme circumstances. It's like expecting a car to drive efficiently on the sun and trying to decide whether a Ford or a Chevy is better. The extreme example doesn't tell us which is better. Rather it should tell us that we cannot function properly in extreme circumstances. Morality is a fallible, dynamic lifestyle that can only work within reasonable bounds. And I think if Christians would put their own moral perspective in the same scenarios, they'd find equal impotency, if they are honest. No one can control other people, so the mere desire to have condemnation rights if you happen to fail, isn't a very good reason to jump to metaphysical conclusions.
However, even in the given scenario, people aren't blank slates and they will have feelings and concerns right up until the end. There would be some very normative things you could tell them which might be convincing. As one example, you might say: "Do you want your daughter to remember what a selfish messed up SOB you were on your way to dying?"
Or something like that, depending on the person. People care about legacies and most people aren't that crazy and anxious to do a whole lot of evil just because they can get away with it. The intellectual *ideal* is "stable long term happiness" but we also bump up against what is naturally going on for better or worse in people's minds that can be appealed to. I could be wrong, but I think most people want to be remembered well whether they get to watch from heaven or not. So people are a-rationally compelled to still do things that *would* make them happy if death didn't just so happen to rob them of the chance to enjoy the full benefits of their final choices. If we check the actual evidence of most atheists on their death beds, I think my understanding has predictive power and the typical Christian misunderstanding finds itself necessarily perplexed.
One more part! (okay, there's two)