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 (link
) 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. I think I did a fairly good job of showing him his errors, but he never got back to me.
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. Somehow the subjective passions of Christianity's critics proves that morality is embedded in the fabric of reality. Now, if this were poetry, I'd be pleased, but this apparently passes for epistemology. :S What we find here is the back and forth on what I would consider a sober evaluation of what morality is versus the magical conceptions of it.
I completely agree that there will always be people that we cannot persuade to behave "correctly" and that that is so regardless of what moral theory we adopt. The question is whether despite that your theory still allows you to say that the person does wrong. I don't think yours does.
The point that people with "broken brains" don't see moral truths does nothing to show that moral truths aren't "out there". People with broken brains might not be capable of seeing that 2+2=4 or apprehending basic empirical truths, but that doesn't make them any less objective.
You still seem to be pushing the argument from evil. I agree with you, and with Lewis by the way, that if "good" doesn't mean pretty much the same thing when applied to God as when applied to us, then we don't have a God worth calling "good". But the argument from evil against God isn't able to show that we don't ... at least not so far as I can see. I assume you've read your Plantinga?
Anyway, if the argument from evil doesn't decisively disprove the Christian God, but evil - being a moral category - gives us reason to think there is some higher source of the moral code then Lewis's argument, and his religion, remain very much intact. Your problem here seems to be that you think the argument from evil is successful - and that the moral argument for God is not. I disagree on both counts.
Now I haven't said much to convince you here but allow me to restate the dialectic. You were beginning by granting that atheism cannot ground a moral code and criticizing the Christian God for not living up to "His own" moral code. I merely pointed out that if you grant that atheism cannot ground a moral code then since the argument from evil isn't "a knock down argument" all you've really done is to decrease the psychological force of the problem of evil by making it hypothetical ... so you are no longer "hotly" criticizing divine justice. Therefore Lewis's argument as in VR's original post still stands.
Now this doesn't mean Lewis argument is right. Are you now conceding that IF morality cannot be grounded outside of God then Lewis is right? If so, the dialectic has shifted and the next question is whether that we can show that morality cannot be grounded outside of God. We evidently disagree about that, and there is plenty of discussion to be had along those lines ... but I'd just like to point out that it's a different discussion than the one we started with.
Steve,"You were beginning by granting that atheism cannot ground a moral code and criticizing the Christian God for not living up to "His own" moral code."
For the sake of argument I was setting aside trying to ground morality outside of theism. I'm assuming that's what you were saying, but I'm not sure.
I would consider that even if the human race simply has pulled its moral compass out of the infinite grab bag of all possible moral compasses, that we still have enough common ground as is, practically
speaking, as a species to talk objectively about how that plays out consistently. If we don't then the use of common conscience even across cultures can't be used by Lewis to prove any kind of external law. We're just not that different from each other even if we have subjective cultural and memetic layers on top. Maybe evolution cobbles together a race of brains that all have a random affinity for Star Wars. Well, that is *a* grounding outside of theism. It's not as deep and wide as you might like, but it is a basis nonetheless to the extent there actually *are* factual commonalities.
But I don't think we're even in that random a situation. If as omnipotent mad scientists we set up an infinite number of worlds with intelligent, conscious life forms similar to ourselves, and give each species a different moral compass from that infinite grab bag of all possible moral compasses, it seems pretty easy to infer what the results over time will likely be. Not everything is going to work. The moral compasses that point to concern for the well being of individuals and group members are likely going to persist, while the ones obsessed with circular squares and clown shoes probably won't do as well. Warlike species will wipe each other and themselves out eventually. Excessive individualism won't out compete group cooperation. And the general trend of what ultimately succeeds over time is likely going to look a lot like what we got or something very similar.
So when it comes to the toss up between a random divine moral essence that has not been field tested at all and only exists as is for no reason whatsoever, I have to scratch my head and wonder why something like the golden rule has something to do with the fabric of reality and not more to do with the evolution of mirror neurons. But when I think of its utility in the persistence of a self aware species, all of the sudden its apparent arbitrariness starts making a lot of sense. Reciprocation works.
If we ever meet aliens, I think we're going to find we have a lot in common with them for this very reason. And if we ever build moral A. I., it is going to make perfect sense to set their programming towards concern for their own maintenance and the general well being of those around them. Wouldn't it be nice to avoid all those apocalyptic robot movies? hehe"The question is whether despite that your theory still allows you to say that the person does wrong. I don't think yours does."
As I said above (which is why I started out with your later quote), we do have a basis outside of theism to judge. To the extent we have actual common ground (if all the facts are in and properly understood), we are pointing out the moral inconsistencies from that basis. When that common ground fails us in a literal sense (and not just from misunderstandings), typically that means the person's brain is actually damaged and in fact we don't need to judge them at that point. We pity them. We feel sorry for them. They are off the moral radar, like a zombie or a rock is.
And when we bump up against an issue where there really is no objective way to say what is better or worse for us (or that actually does differ from person to person or culture), then there's an error bar for subjectivism as well. But you find that kind of thing in the Bible as well.But the argument from evil against God isn't able to show that we don't ... at least not so far as I can see. I assume you've read your Plantinga?"
I've read chunks of Plantinga. If you care to point me in the direction of his argument on this issue, I'd like to read it."I merely pointed out that if you grant that atheism cannot ground a moral code then since the argument from evil isn't "a knock down argument" all you've really done is to decrease the psychological force of the problem of evil by making it hypothetical ... so you are no longer "hotly" criticizing divine justice. Therefore Lewis's argument as in VR's original post still stands."
hehe, if you honestly want to quibble over how "hotly" this criticism is, be my guest. Even if we pretend like humans have random moral values pulled out of the grab bag of all possible values, we still *really* believe in them because they *are* our values. We are innately valuers and really have no choice in the matter. We will value something. The instant a deity wants to take credit for that and then violate them is by definition going to generate the prerequisite hot criticism. "What!!?! This deity doesn't wear clown shoes or draw circular squares!!! WTF?"
Even if the human race is lost on our own island of subjectivism, we can still objectively from that basis label external agents as being congruent with our values, neutral or apathetic to our values, or against our values. If it is with us, we share, if it lives in peace, we live in peace, and if it is against, we go to war if we can. There's by definition no external rule or law we are violating in any of these actions. It would just be the wild jungle of values. I don't see how being picky about that situation changes anything if that's really the world we live in. Maybe every sentient alien species that shows up really will have some bizarre list of values completely incompatible with our own. I doubt it. Regardless, it doesn't justify making stuff up or believing things that other people might as well have just made up.
In reference to judging a God from the standpoint of something like universal human subjectivism (where all humans with functioning minds share a basic orientation to something they call "good"), an evil or amoral god might still exist. And we have the "right" to act accordingly, because there's nothing that's going to stop us. I'm not going to be a friend to a god that acts outside of any definition of "good" I can come across in the human world. I don't see how anyone could. It doesn't really matter, because human conscience was always in the loop of the Christian claims, and I think it's safe to say that when Christians aren't defending against the argument from evil, they do actually expect God to be "good" in some very ordinary ways. And they can't have it both ways and expect no one to notice. "Are you now conceding that IF morality cannot be grounded outside of God then Lewis is right?"
These are all hypothetical tangents for me, but I think there's also the possibility that there is no such thing as real morality and that whatever is going on in our heads is just a bunch of bull. If there is no moral law given, then there's no moral law giver either. So there's that option as well as the Zoroastrian good/evil dualistic gods. We'll just have to see where things go with my grounding of moral facts outside of theism.
There will be more...