Monday, April 23, 2007

Jim Benton on Morality

Earlier this evening, I happened to look over on the DebunkingAtheism website and saw that Jim Benton has written a little piece responding to some of my comments in this post.

Benton said:

A moderately sophisticated version of biological or cosmological Creationism such as Intelligent Design only demonstrates the existence of a Deistic God. It can't prove that the Creator-God is, in fact, Theistic.
Surely Benton knows that “Deist” is only the Latinized form of the Greek “Theist.” In point of fact, it is definitional: it is impossible to have a non-Theistic God.

I’ll assume what Benton means here is that ID can be used to prove a completely impersonal God, as opposed to the personal God of Christianity. And as far as that goes, I’d agree. This is why teaching ID isn’t equivalent to teaching religion, and further evidence why there’s no reason the courts shouldn’t allow ID to be taught in schools due to the separation of church and state excuse.

Benton said:
Remember that all our current Gods were conceived when the Universe was considered to consist of the Earth -- in reality a small part of it -- and some 'lights in the skies.'
Remember that Benton simply begs the question that all “Gods” were “conceived” instead of an actual God revealing Himself to a certain group of people on Earth at a specific point in time.

Benton said:
In this context, it was reasonable to see Man as the high point of, and the reason for, Creation.
So? That’s not the context that Christian theism holds to. That’s only the concept that Benton’s position holds to.

Benton said:
In a Universe consisting of a billion galaxies each with a billion stars, a much stronger argument -- or ego -- is needed to see Man as its center and reason for existence.
Again, this isn’t the Christian position, which does not view “Man” as “its center and reason for existence.” Rather, Christianity views GOD as the center and reason for the existence of the universe. We are theocentric, not anthropocentric. Hence:

What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? (Job 7:17-18)

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4)
Benton said:
But moral Creationism is different. Were it to be provable -- as unlikely as this appears -- it would be an absolute refutation of the claims of Christianity -- at least in its literalist-evangelical form.
Given that thus far you haven’t even accurately represented the Christian position, your claim doesn’t frighten me.

Benton said:
But, of course, the best place to find expressions of this is from Paul Manata and the TRIABLOGUE crew, whose portrayal of 'strong Christianity' accomplishes a level of self-debunking that matches anything we say here.
As an aside, when you say “accomplishes a level of self-debunking that matches anything we say here” are you acknowledging you self-debunk?

In any case, I wonder why you say “the best place to find expressions of this is from Paul Manata” and yet the only quotes you give are from me? That might make Paul jealous :-P

After my quotes (which you can read in the post or in their original context) Benton (who unfortunately didn’t use paragraphs and seemed to switch thoughts in mid-sentence throughout) said:
Let's try and summarize the argument they make:1) The Creator of the Universe included within it, or within humanity, a certain universal and absolute morality, and that when someone speaks of something as 'moral' or 'immoral' he is recognizing this inherent 'moral standard.' Thus it is only by way of this standard that it is possible for an action to be judged 'good' or 'evil.
No, that’s not how it starts. It starts like this: Atheism has nothing qua atheism that allows anyone to speak of anything as “moral” or “immoral.”

This is a negative argument. I am simply denying that atheists have a basis for their morality. You could easily prove my position wrong by…what’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh yes: by demonstrating a basis for atheistic morality.

Given that Benton hasn’t even understood my argument in the first place, most of his summary amazingly enough has nothing to do with what I’ve said. I wonder why he even bothered to list my quotes.

In any case, although it’s irrelevant to my own arguments, I’ll look at some of the other things he said in his “summary” of my position.

Benton continued:
2) That this Creator is identical with the 'Abrahamic' God.
Again, my argument is a negative argument against atheism. I’m not advancing an air-tight argument for Christianity. I don’t need to in this instance. My sole objective is to demonstrate that atheists have to jettison atheism in order to have morality.

They can do this with any deity they please, but they cannot remain atheists.

Benton said:
3) That this God is the 'author' (or 'inspirer') of the Old and New Testaments.
Again, not addressing my argument. But let’s play along and pretend it did.

Benton said:
But there are logical consequences to these statements: A) If this God is both the creator of the 'moral standard' and the Bible, he cannot contradict himself in these two 'authorial creations.
How do you know that God cannot contradict Himself? You seem to be imposing a morality on God rather than getting the morality from God. That I happen to agree that God doesn’t contradict Himself is irrelevant to this point—how do YOU know that God cannot contradict Himself? You’ve not established this in your argument.

Instead, you seem to be taking the Christian conclusion as your presupposition. Which is fine insofar as that goes; but that does mean that you have to be consistent with the entirety of the Christian presupposition instead of your current “pick and choose” method, which violates this Christian presupposition (meaning that your refutations of it are external additions to it, not due to internal inconsistencies).

In short, either presuppose it correctly or demonstrate it externally without any reference to the Christian presuppositions involved.

Benton said:
'B) Even if we argue that the Old Testament and 'time of the Jews' was a way of preparing the world -- by growing ideas of monotheism, social justice,' personal responsibility, and a direct relationship with God -- for the message of Christ, the final message of God -- we have to assume that the Old Testament does not, in itself, contain immorality.
No, we don’t have to agree with that at all, as you acknowledge in your next point. The Scriptures can contain immorality; they just cannot be immoral.

Benton said:
To eliminate two frequent complaints…
Good thing you eliminated that which no one was going to raise. We can all rest easier at night now :-)

Benton said:
The two books can, obviously, contain stories OF immorality -- the story of David and Bathsheeba being an obvious example -- but they cannot, if written by the Creator of the ultimate moral standard, accept or celebrate such immorality.
This is simply naïve. What is the most immoral action ever committed? The murder of Jesus Christ. Yet this was for the greatest possible good because it saved His people. The Bible can celebrate the fact that evil people did an immoral action because of what was accomplished by it: the greatest good.

What the Bible cannot do is call that which is evil good. And it doesn’t. The men who murdered Jesus are rightly condemned as evil people, even though the good that we gain through His death is celebrated Scripturally.

Benton said:
D) The existence of the 'two Testaments' implies that humanity's moral sense might grow and deepen, but the 'ultimate standard' cannot itself change.
I don’t see how that follows from the existence of the two Testaments. God’s immutability and His promises are the reasons why “the ultimate standard” won’t change.

Benton said:
Humanity's moral sense might grow, but it cannot grow beyond that which the Creator has created. (To make that clearer, if God has permitted something as moral, we may not claim we now 'know better' and see it as immoral -- not if the standa5rd is in fact 'absolute' or 'ultimate.’
This likewise does not follow. That God permits something does not mean that what is permitted is good. Jesus Himself points out that God permitted divorce under Moses, even though He hates divorce. Due to the hardness of men’s hearts, God does not enforce the law 100%, but has mercy on whom He has mercy.

Mercy isn’t owed; therefore, it need not be given to all. If God permitted (for example) polygamy in the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean He cannot choose to no longer permit it in the New Testament.

Benton said:
And some [commandments], like the rules on 'mildew and infectious skin diseases' -- Leviticus 13,14 -- or the laws on planting two crops in the same field or wearing clothes of two different materials -- Leviticus 19:19 are inexplicable, at least to me -- I'd go so far as to call them simply 'weird.')
Yes, and we know that Benton’s standard of “weirdness” is the objective standard that we must all accept, and that if Benton doesn’t get it then no one can get it. Argument from ignorance.

Benton said:
Many Christians argue that the "New Covenant" wiped out the Old, that the laws of the Old Testament were abolished by Jesus.
“Christians I know believe X” fallacy. Many Christians are Biblically illiterate. That doesn’t disprove Christianity. The New Covenant didn’t “wipe out” the Old; it fulfilled it.

And then suddenly it’s over. Benton’s argument is just finished (with the promise that there will be more someday).

So I ask, since Benton is going to write more, that he establish morality under atheism. Now it should be noted that by “morality” I mean an objective, transcendent morality. That is, Benton needs to show how he can come up with moral commands that I ought to follow, without invoking a deity of any kind. If he wants to say that murder is wrong, then he needs to establish it without abandoning his atheistic principals. He needs to demonstrate, FROM ATHEISM, how murder is wrong.

If he cannot do so, then I’d say that’s a pretty airtight argument that morality presupposes some form of deity.

1 comment:

  1. If you're interested in a case for objective morality, most philosophers resort to realism on the grounds of properties. The existence of all properties, relations and logical laws...etc...are not contingent upon us or our feelings any more than the existence of "2".

    Then, the philosopher goes on to say that moral properties are those properties that we attribute to "rightness" and "wrongness" based on our concepts, psychology and human nature. Our epistemic access and rationalization of morality may be contingent, but the existence of the property "evil", which we use to describe particular actions, is not.

    Order of knowing v. order of being, right? Same problem you theists face when it comes to god and revelation.

    Perhaps God *does* serve as the "foundation" of morality, or what have you, but how so? Well, the theist has to resort to revelation at this point, and to contextual situations regarding the OT law and etc...all of which are obviously human-contingent.

    If you're interested: