A couple of unbelievers have attempted to critique an argument I use in my introduction to The Infidel Delusion–one at Reppert's blog, and the other at the theologyweb. Here's my response:
Terrible, terrible introduction. It is basically a vindication of the title of their object of criticism, "The Christian Delusion," because it shamelessly tells the reader that there is no value in truth for its own sake when there is an appeal of heaven and threat of damnation hanging in the air. That is what delusion is all about. That is the whole point. That is the primary fault with Christianity--and Islam, and Hinduism, and old-school Buddhism, and all other religious ideologies that promise rewards and threaten you in the afterlife.
i) My argument wasn’t predicated on the threat of damnation.
ii) Abe’s problem is that, like a lot of unbelievers, he acts as if you can make fundamental changes in your worldview, but leave everything else intact.
But where atheism is concerned, we’re not simply dealing with some unfortunate local consequences. Rather, atheism is a global position with global consequences. If atheism leads to moral nihilism (or the equivalent), then there is literally no good reason to be an atheist.
Given moral nihilism, then there is no “value in truth for its own sake.” Without a value system, there are no values. The pursuit of truth cannot be artificially isolated from other values, as if that continues to flourish in its own little glasshouse.
If a worldview denies the very framework for right and wrong, then we have no responsibility to believe something just because it is the right thing to believe–including the worldview in question. Such a worldview summarily forfeits the right to be taken seriously. For a worldview is not entitled to our consideration if it disenfranchises the very notion of epistemic duties. Such a position disenfranchises itself from further consideration.
If a worldview rejects the possibility that true beliefs are praiseworthy, while false beliefs are blameworthy, then there’s nothing praiseworthy about pursing the truth for its own sake. And there’s nothing praiseworthy about believing a worldview which denies the praiseworthy character of true beliefs.
I’m making a radical claim because atheism has radical consequences which the average atheist stops short of taking. So I will do it for him. I’ll give him that extra little nudge over the cliff.
iii) I didn’t say that’s a reason to believe in Christianity. But it clears the underbrush. It narrows the field.
At July 21, 2010 6:21 PM , steve said...
Doctor Logic said...
“On page 1, Steve Hays starts out with the childish canard that the only morality worth caring about is absolute morality.”
“Childish” is a value judgment. But if you reject moral absolutes, then what’s wrong with being childish (assuming, for the sake of argument, that my “canard” was “childish”)?
“That's like saying that the only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness…”
That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why should I regard morality as equivalent to taste?
“Hays seems to be telling us that he doesn't give a %$#* about being courageous unless courage is an absolute moral virtue at the abstract level.”
If there are no moral absolutes, then what makes courage virtuous? You rattle off some putative counterexamples, but your counterexamples lose their moral worth once you ditch moral realism. So your exercise is self-defeating.
“(I think we're supposed to assume he lacks any subjective appreciation for courage from which he infers an absolute virtue.)”
What’s the value of subjective appreciation for courage if it doesn’t correspond to an objective moral fact about courage?
“For all practical purposes, Hays declares that it's preferable to be deluded and happy than be correct and stuck with a limited life in a physical universe.”
i) To begin with, that’s not what I said. Either you’re obtuse, or else you’d rather caricature what you cannot refute.
ii) But let’s play along with your caricature for the sake of argument. If you reject moral absolutes, then what is wrong with being deluded?
“He seems to back off from saying that this is an argument against atheism, but essentially he says that he doesn't care about being right if it's going to mean receiving bad news.”
No. What I said is, why should we care about being right if there is no epistemic duty to be right? Are you too dim to grasp the issue?
“If Hays really feels that way, there's not much point in engaging him in rational argument, is there?”
If you reject moral absolutes, then what’s the point of rational argument? There’s no obligation to be right.
“If Christians like Hays would just imagine a world without God, they might see that their appreciation for moral behavior exists independently of any abstract reasoning, and, thus, independent of any absolute values.”
“Moral behavior” which doesn’t answer to moral absolutes is indistinguishable from immoral behavior.
“Alas, fear and superstition prevent Christians from performing this sort of ‘what if’ analysis.”
i) Hypotheticals are a basic feature of rationality.
ii) If you reject moral absolutes, then there’s no obligation to avoid “fear and superstition.”
Thanks for your self-refuting tirade, Dr. Illogic.
At July 22, 2010 7:31 AM , steve said...
Doctor Logic said...
“I'm calling your bluff on this one.”
Never call a player’s bluff when you have a losing hand.
“It doesn't matter if there's no absolute, objective reason why every person should eschew childishness. My argument is compelling to you because you prefer - you care - not to be childish.”
i) If I were an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. Unless your argument is morally compelling (which you deny at the outset), then it has no force.
ii) If your “argument” reduces to emotional bullying, then that’s not an “argument.” Rather, that’s high school social dynamics. Who’s hot and who’s not.
“The same goes for rational thinking. There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational. (Indeed, any such rational justification you come up with would be circular.) The point is that we desire to be rational, and are often biologically compelled to be rational.”
i) I don’t think evolutionary biology compels us to be rational.
ii) But let’s play along with your claim for the sake of argument. That only works for animals which are unaware of their biological programming. If, however, an animal becomes conscious of its biological programming, then it’s in a position to realize that its “desire to be rational” it not, itself, a rational desire.
iii) You’re downshifting to psychological coercion, like the desire of an adolescent schoolgirl to fit in. To do whatever it takes to be accepted. Wearing the “right” clothes. The “right” hairdo. The “right” makeup. Listening to the “right” music.
iv) I might like to murder the guy who stole my girlfriend if I thought I could get away with it. In your worldview, my murderous desire is amoral.
“So, you sit across the table from me, holding a spoonful of dung, asking me to give you an absolute reason why you ought not eat the dung. Sorry, but I'm not worried that either of us is going to start eating dung, especially not on a regular basis.”
If you want to bring “rationality” down to the level of certain tastes and odors we find naturally repellent, that doesn’t exactly commend your worldview.
“Let's suppose (contra reality) that you really didn't care about being rational. How would the existence of some absolute moral imperative cause you to be rational? Surely, such an imperative only has a hold on you if you care. If you lack a subjective appreciation for rationality, a rational argument won't change that.”
There’s a fundamental asymmetry between atheism and Christian theism at this point. In Christianity, there’s a match between our subjective appreciation for rationality and objective epistemic duties. But by your own admission, you don’t have that in atheism.
“None of what I have said is self-defeating. My arguments appeal to people who subjectively value rationality. People who don't subjectively value rationality won't give a damn about my arguments, and I can live with that.”
Of course it’s self-refuting. You appeal to “rationality.” But your real position boils down to one’s personal preference, which is hardly interchangeable with rationality.
“The reason you think my comments are self-defeating is that your model of morality is wrong. You mistakenly think that people are moral because the perform some sort of deductive inference from self-evident moral absolutes. The reality is that morality is caring, not deduction. A man's supposed moral absolutes are inferred from his cares. It's not the other way around.”
I said nothing about moral motivations. I’ve been discussing the metaphysical foundations of morality.
“If I could somehow prove to you on paper that objectively good people absolutely ought to rape, kill and steal, would you still want to be an ‘objectively good’ person? I put it to you that you would prefer to be a subjectively good person, and an objectively evil person. You would rather be ‘objectively evil’ because you care about not murdering, not raping, etc.”
i) We can always dream up hypothetical scenarios which generate tensions between what is subjectively the case and what is objectively the case. But why not deal with the real world situation of atheism and Christian theism? Does Christian theism trigger this cognitive dissonance? No.
ii) And, once again, that goes to the asymmetry between the respective positions.
“Of course, this is all hypothetical because there are no decent arguments about objective goods, let alone proofs. But it does make the important point. People aren't good because they perceive and obey some abstract objective moral framework of absolutes. They act on their cares.”
i) This isn’t a question of what makes people good, since–on your view–nobody is good. There is no good to emulate.
ii) And, once again, I’m not discussing incentives or disincentives. Rather, I’m discussing what grounds moral ascriptions. You admit that moral ascriptions are baseless.
“If you don't care about being rational, and don't care about being childish, then my argument isn't going to work on you.”
To call one’s opponent “childish” is an attempt to shame him into changing his belief or behavior. But your moral nihilism takes the sting out of that accusation.
“Like I said, I can live with that.”
Yes, well…if the ship were going down, I won’t be stepping into the same lifeboat you do. Hard to sleep in a lifeboat with a moral nihilist by my side. I might be missing some body parts when I awake.