Saturday, December 15, 2007

Non-Presuppositionalist Nods towards Presuppositionalism

Many (both non-Christian and Christian) thinkers have claimed that no one takes the basic ideas of presuppositionalism seriously, or presuppositionalism qua apologetic methodology, seriously.

Some have commented that presuppositionalism's invocations of circular argumentation is not respectable, and thus constitute a reason to reject presuppositionalism. Here are two comments by non-presuppositionalists. One is an atheist, the other a Christian.

"Circularity: A sequence of reasoning is circular if one of the premises depends on, or is even equivalent to, the conclusion. Circularity is not always fallacious, but can be a defect in an argument where the conclusion is doubtful and the premises are supposed to be a less doubtful basis for proving the conclusion." (Douglas Walton, Oxford Companion To Philosophy, p. 135.)

"This argument has a certain appeal, and I must grant that it has a valid point. The point is that any explicit justification of my belief that God is good will be circular. But that point can be happily conceded. Circularity need not be vicious, and the kind of circularity involved here is not in any way peculiar to my position. Indeed, any theory that posits objective values will face the same problem, which is essentially a sceptical one. Some sceptical challenges are fair and others are not, and we will clarify the distinction by the use of a couple of examples." (Steve Lovell, Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma, SOURCE.)

Another objection is that no non-presuppositionalist apologist respects the argumentation presuppositionalists employ. Presuppositionalism is excluded as a contender in contemporary apologetic literature, it is claimed.

A new apologetic book, Reason for the Hope Within, is endorsed by many of the "big names" in Christian apologetics. In an article of Postmodernism, non-presuppositionalist Michael J. Murray states in a footnote that that he has,

"to add here that this is where many Christians just misunderstand what is valuable in so-called postmodern philosophy. Almost without exception evangelical theologians who accept the deliverances of postmodernism do so because they confuse two points. They think that being a relativist about best-ness of theoretical explanations commits one to relativism about truth. But this is just mistaken. So, there is a lesson to be learned from postmodernism, but it is not the lesson they think. Let me add further that it is at junctures like this that we can see just where so-called 'presuppositionalists' have apologetics right. That is, it is right that both Christian and unbeliever have certain presuppositions in place when they engage each other intellectually. And it is right that there is no way to decisively argue unbelievers out of their unbelief because of these very presuppositions. In this way, one might think, the insights of Cornelius Van Til are quite useful for apologetics, and what he has to say already embodies anything useful postmodernism has to teach us. It is unfortunate, however, just how poorly contemporary defenders of presuppositionalism do in making its insights clear. In part, the trouble is that they themselves are just not clear about which of the insights are valuable and which are not." (Murray, Reason for the Hope, p.17, n.3.)

Now, I agree with much of what he says in his last two sentences. I would add that there is a lot of talent that is already here, and/or coming down the pike, that should serve to fill that gap. My point is a simple one, though. It's not a full claim to vindication, but I think I have pointed out that at least one concern regarding presuppositionalist thought - circular argumentation at the ultimate level - is respected by those outside the camp. And, another concern regarding the apparent shunning presuppositionalists receive in the contemporary, non-presuppositionalist apologetic literature has been shown to be without merit as well.


This will be my last response to Touchstoned on this subject. As it is, I’m now having to repeat myself. So, unless he provides something of an interesting or substantive response, I think I’ll just let his response to my response be the last word. Since he’s not even bothered to critique anything in my first post to the Ethical Atheist, and since he’s all but admitted his initial critique was mistaken, all the reader really needs is my first couple of posts and all the information therein constitutes answers to anything Touchstoned is likely to bring up.

Drug abuse is often connected to radical change in behavior. Previously, Touchstoned's shtick was that of moral prophet, calling down curses on the Triabloggers for their "un-Christ-like" behavior. Now, though, it seems as if Touchstoned is incapable of refraining from base, cynical, disparaging, insinuating, malicious, mean, nasty, sarcastic, scornful, sneering, spiteful, unkind, uncivil, uncivilized, uncouth, uncultured, uneducated, ungracious, unmannerly, unpolished, and unrefined statements. He also used to condemn us T-bloggers for our bad argumentation which "brought disrepute" to "the Christian faith." But what accounts for his awkward, bedraggled, botched, careless, clumsy, dingy, dirty, disheveled, inattentive, mediocre, muddy, poor, slapdash, slipshod, slovenly, sludgy, slushy, and splashy "argumentation"? His anemic, debilitated, decrepit, delicate, effete, enervated, exhausted, faint, feeble, flaccid, flimsy, forceless, fragile, frail, hesitant, impotent, impuissant, infirm, insubstantial, irresolute, lackadaisical, languid, languorous, limp, makeshift, powerless, prostrate, puny, rickety, rocky, rotten, senile, shaky, sickly, sluggish, spent, spindly, supine, tender, torpid, uncertain, undependable, unsound, unsteady, unsubstantial, wasted, wavering, weakened, weakly, and wobbly Swiss cheese arguments? I can just imagine Touchstoned taking a pull off his 4 ft. binger right before he reads and responds to my posts. Hitting his phat spliff filled with the chronic bubonic. Now, if Touchstoned has a better explanation for his base behavior, and his dilapidated argumentation, I'm all ears. In the meantime I'll assume that he has to have his lungs full of the kind bud.

Anyway, here's the story: Mason gave us a link to a paper for us interact with. I responded to that paper. Touchstone responded to my response. I responded to Touchstone. He responded back. I responded back to him. He responded back to me. What follows is my response to his latest. Like before, his words will appear in red:

"In this post, Paul pursues the idea of the category that doesn't exist because it's not an instance. We've been talking about whether "secular morality exists", and Paul's now committed to the idea that it doesn't."

Another symptom of drug abuse is the inability to match your thoughts with reality, indeed, the need to actively distort reality so as to throw the spot light off your dysfunctional thought processes. First, notice that I am not quoted. My arguments for my position are not stated, Touchstoned simply asserts to his readers his interpretation of the data and banks on the probability that they will not read my posts (cause that's usually the case. I don't expect the readers of this post - if there are any! - to go and read his. That's why I try to represent the situation correctly for them). His claims for why I believe that there is no such thing as "secular morality" is not that "it is not an instance." I am committed to the idea that it doesn't exist for (a) the reasons I've stated and (b) because that's how the best in the secular community want me to represent them. I'll fill this more out as we proceed with the discussion.

He continues...

"Atheism itself is not an ethical framework. As Lowder points out, it's just the denial of theism -- and the frameworks that are based on it (DCT and Calvinism being examples)."

Yes, atheism has no ethical theory. And, we can add Touchstoned's beliefs along with DCT and Calvinism. Lowder thinks he's as out to lunch as the rest of us. So, throw in his Arminianism and his "justice needs an after life belief" into the things atheism denies.

"'Atheist' is just a qualifier in that sense, so that any ethical framework that eschews supernaturalism would qualify."

Actually, Lowder states that supernaturalism is compatible with atheism: "Although atheism is logically compatible with the existence of supernatural beings other than God, the prior probability of the supernatural given atheism is low." SOURCE. So, it is not the case, as Touchstoned thinks, that any ethical framework that eschews supernaturalism would qualify as denied by "atheism." Touchstoned likes to pretend that he's enlightened. That he's "in touch" with his atheist peers. What I have seen, though, is that he is lazy - another symptom of drug abuse. Like with ethics, I'm almost positive that I have studied more works by atheists than has Touchstone. He's not really in a position to be debating this subject with me. But he has to, 'cuase it would hurt his pride too much to be PWNED by a T-blogger.

"Would it make sense to declare that there does not exist a such thing [sic] as "conservative tax policies"? To apply Manata's logic here, I'd be justified in asserting such because there is no one specific conservative tax policy implied by that term. Or, as Paul will tell us in just a bit, "conservative tax policies" is just an approach to tax policy, and therefore isn't meaningful as a concept in thinking about or evaluating tax policies."

i) Notice that is seems Touchstoned is committed to the existence of universals, how magical of his thinking.

ii) Notice that I've never denied that secular moralitIES exist. So, why would I deny that conservative tax policIES exist? Touchstoned can't keep his terms straight - another symptom of drug abuse.

iii) Also, note a logical point. Because I don't believe that X exists doesn't mean that I have to believe that same about Y, even if you can draw some similarities.

iv) My position is that "secular ethic" isn't an ethic. An ethic, just to be very basic about this, has (at least) two parts: a theoretical and a practical. The first tells us what it is that makes actions right, wrong, or permissible. The second gives us action-guides for moral situations. (I'd add that "motive" or "intent" is a third aspect, but to add that provides no help for Touchstoned anyway.) Now, given what I just laid out, let's look at Touchstoned's example of what "secular ethic" is, he cites Wiki:



Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance (which is the source of religious ethics). Secular ethics can be seen as a wide variety of moral and ethical systems drawing heavily on humanism, secularism and freethinking. The majority of secular moral concepts consist, on the grand scale of the acceptance of social contracts, and on a more individual scale of either some form of attribution of intrinsic value to things, ethical intuitionism or of a logical deduction that establishes a preference for one thing over another, as with Occam's razor. Approaches like utilitarianism and ethical egoism are considered rather more radical.


a) We are not treated to a theory about what makes actions right or wrong, nor are we treated to a practical guide to action. Thus the above is not an ethic.

b) We should also note that there are secular ethics that would not agree with the above. Thus the above quote doesn't give us necessary or sufficient conditions for being a "secular ethic."

c) I should also point out that, as Lowder states, atheism is compatible with the existence of supernatural beings. It is easy to see that if there were supernatural beings that had knowledge which far surpassed ours, one might very well take an ethical theory "derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance." In this case the atheist wouldn't hold to a secular account of ethics!

d) Let's note what else we are told by Touchstoned's authority:


Despite the width and diversity of their philosophical views, secular ethicists generally share one or more principles:

[1] Human beings, through their ability to empathise, are capable of determining ethical grounds.

[2] Human beings, through logic and reason, are capable of deriving normative principles of behaviour.

[3] This may lead to a behaviour morally preferable to that propagated or condoned based on religious texts.


Note that many theists (and theistic versions of ethics) would agree with [1] and [2]. Thus it's not clear that [1] and [2] distinguish secular from non-secular ethics. [3] is disputable, even by secularists. In any case, [3] need not lead to better behavior. And, [3] would only produce morally preferable behavior only if secular accounts of morality were correct. But Touchstoned doesn't allow this move! Finally, [3] could fit in with a theistic version of natural law. Moral principles and action guides would not, then, be "based" on religious texts. Thus [3] would also be consistent with some theistic versions of ethics.

e) Thus Touchstoned hasn't even come close to making a case for his position. Apparently he thinks the mere linking to a site which uses the same word he does constitutes an argument. Well, if he'd quit burning blunts for a second, he could probably figure out that it's, um, not.

Moving along...

"Not. Paul, does the category "conservative tax policies" "exist"? Apparently, Paul is supposing that a group of instances of a class (ethical frameworks that are secular) somehow denies the instances. I'll confess, that's a novel way to dismiss dealing with the merits of any particular secular ethical framework. Haven't seen this maneuver before."

i) Of course, I've dealt with the merits of many secular ethical frameworks (I briefly touched on the social contract theory in my last response to Touchstoned!). I think it is safe to say that I have given actual arguments against varieties of secular ethics. I've posted my discussion with atheist Malcolm Pollock and his endorsement of subjectivism. I've posted some of my critiques of egoism. I've posted critiques of ethical relativism as well. So, for Touchstoned to say that I've developed some novel way to "dismiss" ethical frameworks is for Touchstoned himself to dismiss my arguments. Thus he's engaging in psychological projection.

ii) I don't deny that one could gather up all the secular ethical theories and call it "the category of secular ethical theories." But all this means is "secular ethics" = "all the various secular ethical theories grouped together." But of course I don't think one could "mangle" that! There's no silver bullet argument that works against "every single secular ethical theory." Just like I could not mangle "MMA fighter" where that means "every single MMA fighter grouped together." Furthermore, "secular ethical theory" isn't an ethical theory. It was obvious that I was giving arguments against ethical theories, viz, theories that try to give an account of what makes actions right or wrong as well as providing an action-guide for moral situations (and involved motivation, or focuses and being an ethical character). Thus to take my arguments - which were arguments against theories of morality - and mock them by saying "Manata mangles secular morality" was a subtle equivocation of Touchstoned's part. It was a category mistake as well. When one gives arguments against ethical positions you don't critique that by saying he didn't critique the aggregate of all systems combined - which isn't itself a system.

iii) Touchstoned still needs to supply necessary and sufficient grouping conditions. Since contradictory systems could be called secular ethics, what is the unifying factor? We know that socialism wouldn't be grouped with Reaganomics, so why would anti-realism be grouped with realism? Is it just that they both don't take their view to have anything to do whatever with theism or religion? But this simply tells us what secular ethics isn't! Touchstoned's thoughts are completely muddled here. I think he bit off more than he could chew.

Moving on...

"Now, he's just again declared that secular ethics doesn't "exist", and has to badly mangle Lowder (maybe we'll have to see if Lowder wants to weigh in on Manata's reading skills here?) to avoid the completely non-controversial concept of secular morality as a grouping of any of a number of ethical frameworks."

Right, and here we see that Touchstoned is opting for the "grouping" out. This renders his initial title meaningless. It also makes his ability to comprehend what I was doing quite suspect. It was obvious that I wasn't addressing "groupings." I was addressing meta, normative, and practical ethical issues. The "grouping" doesn't give us any information on any of these issues. It doesn't need to be "mangled," especially in the way I was mangling. Touchstoned is simply trying to save face. Trying to make something out of his initial botched response to my post.


Let's now see the games Touchstoned likes to play. Get a glimpse into his hypocrisy. After he cited "Wiki" I said, "Thus saith Wiki." Touchstoned responded,

"Paul's reaction: "Thus saith the Wiki." Srsly."

Actually, I took a page out of Touchstoned's playbook. Let's see what he said about my citing SEP ( a tad bit more heady than, um, Wiki):

"Ahh, someone from the Stanford site said something [...] It is Stanford and all."

So my comeback to his remark: "It is Stanford and all." Srsly.

"Heh. The Wikipedia even throws out a couple examples of instances in this category (utilitarianism, ethical egoism). Paul can tell us that any particular ethical system is displeasing to his (theological) tastes, but that in no way disqualifies it as an ethical system."

Right, but where did I ever say that Utilitarianism and Egosim weren't secular ethical systems??? Touchstoned simply continues to equivocate and compound his errors.

"Utilitarianism, for example purports to 'tell us how we should act in given moral situations', and provides its grounding for 'good' in an actions overall utility (hence the name!). That is a secular ethic, the very thing Paul supposes doesn't exist. Would Paul suggest that utilitarianism is not an instance of a secular ethical system that provides 'action-guides'?"

i) I've never denied that there are systems that can be called secular ethical systems. Indeed, to refute "Utilitarianism" would not be to refute "secular morality." The former gives us a theory of right and wrong, and action-guides (but see below), the latter does not. That is what I mean when I say there is no "secular morality." When one is critiquing the former, it is rather intellectually dishonest to portray him as critiquing the latter. The arguments I gave were against the former not the latter. They do not exist in the same sense. When I say that "secular morality" doesn't exist I mean "there is no such system that one could point to and say, "Aha, that is 'secular morality.' If one did that with, say, Utilitarianism then one could not do that with, say, Egoism.

ii) What is Touchstoned talking about when he says "Utilitarianism?" Perhaps the hedonic versions of Bentham (quantitative*) and Mill (qualitative)? The non-hedonic versions of a Brink? Which view of consequences is its theory of right? Actual consequence utilitarianism? Probable consequence utilitarianism? Are we talking about act utilitarianism or rule utilitarianism?

iii) Utilitarianism is a version of value basic ethics. That is, right and wrong are based on non-moral value. Thus it provides its grounding for right and wrong in goods. And so Touchstoned is just flat out mistaken when he says that "good" is grounded in utility. Rightness or wrongness are grounded in utility, or, goodness.

iv) When Touchstoned says "actions" he is implying that Utilitarianism is to be viewed as "act utilitarianism." There are many that would debate this characterization. Many secularists would disagree with Touchstoned. Touchstoned is simply a sophomore.

v) Many secularists would tell you that Utilitarianism fails at the level of action guides (for one, see Timmons, Moral Theory, pp. 144-149).

vi) Many secularists would tell you that act utilitarianism fails at the theoretical level - what makes an action right or wrong. This is brought out by various objections. One such objection is that act utilitarianism would seem to justify punishing innocent persons in order to, say, quell social upheaval. Another is that if the total utility of the aggregate of all peoples is more on a scheme which oppresses and takes advantage of some, this would be justified as well. Another is that if you could kill a bum with healthy organs so as to give them to 4 rich and charitable patients, this would be justified (if the utility came out that way). There are further objections of overdemandingness. Say that I wanted to go watch the Chargers play football. If I could serve food to the homeless during this 3.5 hour window, and that would yield more utility, then that is what I should do. Thus going to watch football games would be immoral. So, yes, many secularists would tell you that Utilitarianism fails in providing for what makes an action right or wrong. It fails because it would make wrong actions right in some cases.

vii) So, some would argue that "Utilitarianism" purports to give us those things but, upon analysis, it doesn't.

viii) At any rate, that "Utilitarianism" tries to give us those things doesn't mean that "secular morality" gives us those things. To say that it does, just look to "Utilitarianism," is to say that, say, Kantianism (a secular version of), does not. Or, at best, "secular morality" provides the action guide of both A and ~A. But if one's action guide is both A and ~A he would be petrified. Therefore, "secular morality" does not provide us with any action guides. Same goes for the theoretical aspect.

ix) Anyway, yes, "Utilitarianism" is a secular ethic. It's not a good one (and, I say this with reservation. It's not clear to me that at this level of vagueness and abstraction this couldn't also be a non-secular ethic!), though.

x) So, any weight Touchstoned tries to muscle with his objection to me is soon found to falter once poked a bit. His ideas may be fine for the ignorant audience he addresses, but we can see that he's about as deep as a puddle.


We get a glimpse into the smoke filled brain of Touchstoned. He quotes me:

PM: "iii) The above [Wiki] account is biased towards a realist conception of ethics. Notice, furthermore, that "culture" is not listed as one of the "basings" for a 'secular ethic.'"

He responds, after choking on a bong load,

"Well, lucky for Paul that this whole category just "doesn't exist", then, huh? Ok, I've noticed that culture is not listed as a "basing". Now what? Maybe it's time to throw in a red herring?"

I should have thought my point was rather obvious. I think most people "got" it. The point: Wiki not only provided no single theory of right and wrong, no action-guiding principles, it also provided a picture of "secular morality" that would not allow other secular moralities from being called a secular morality! So, Touchstoned admits his choice of authorities has failed, now does he care to give us necessary and sufficient conditions? Not only must he provide a single theory of right and wrong, he must provide a single (or set) of action-guiding principles, and he must also not disallow secular theories from the label. All this just shows that my point was correct. He may list a set of conditions (may, I say)that all secular ethics have in common in approaching ethics, but he's not going to give us "secular morality." There is no such thing. And, just to show how fair I am, there is no such thing as non-secular morality. No such think as theistic morality. And, though there are many approaches to Christian morality, there is no one such "Christian morality." (That is not to say that one of the ethical positions that calls itself a Christian morality will not turn out to be the correct one, in that case then that would be "Christian morality," but note that it would also tell us wrong from wrong, give us action guides, and give us proper motivation through character.)

Moving along...

Touchstoned continues trying to avoid getting caught being high:

PM: "iv) There are secular ethicists who deny that anything has intrinsic value."

"Totally irrevelant. Unless Paul supposes the existence of such ethicists somehow denies the existence of other secular ethicists who do affirm intrinsic moral worth, this is just a useless observation."

No, I just pointed out that Touchstoned's authority failed at telling us what "secular morality" entails. (And, note that if he can ever do this, it won't be a morality.) It's like if I described a football defense as x, y, and having a three-four formation, I would then have ruled out four-three formations from the honorific title, "defense." So, I wonder how "totally irrelevant" secularists who don't hold to the characterizations Touchstoned has listed for us would think my points are? Funny. In a conversation with Touchstoned it is I who ends up defending secularists!

Moving along...

"Since Paul is having so much trouble with the concept of categories..."

Napes, don't think so. I don't have a problem with categories. My point, which everyone knows (besides the backpedaling, face saving, jig dancing Touchstoned) is that "secular ethics" isn't an ethic. "Secular morality" isn't a morality. I was critiquing moralities, not categories. At best, Touchstoned is tacitly admitting that his title was misleading.

"...maybe we can make headway by focusing on an instance."

And as I've stated from my firs post, I don't deny that there are secular moralitIES.

"...let's consider one of the instances mentioned above: utilitarianism. Even this "instance" is itself a category, or subcategory of secular ethics; under the broader perimeter of consequentialism, utilitarianism comes in multiple permutations -- classic utilitarianism, hedonistic utilitarianism,"

Classic utilitarianism is hedonistic utilitarianism. Bentham promulgated a pleasure/pain view of utility.

"But, variations considered, utilitarianism provides action-guides, a grounding for moral worth (normativity), offers practical axiological/deontological distinctions."

Yes, variations considered. To tell someone that you are "Utilitarian", and that's it, you've not provided them with anything.

"Utilitarianism, then, would be an instance of secular morality, a member of the class. Does Paul suppose that utilitarianism somehow "doesn't exist" as an ethical framework, secular or otherwise? This ought to push Paul's spinner to red-line RPM levels, I think."

Perhaps the first explanation of Utilitarianism provided the above - it doesn't do so anymore. But, what it does do, which is different that what Touchstoned's Wiki quote did, is that we at least know that right and wrong are based in the consequences of actions yielding the most utility. This will be characteristic of all versions. The problem is that it is too vague at this level. So, for one to provide a consequentionalist morality all one needs to do is to specify their position. I'm sure that almost all ethicists would agree with me that to simply say "Utilitarianism" and then shut your mouth afterwards, wouldn't be enough information for you to judge that as an ethical theory. At any rate, with the category "Utilitarianism" we at least know the basics of what they, and all of them, would say makes an action right - positive utility - and wrong - less positive utility than other options - and permissible - the same utility as any other option. And, some Utilitarianists would tell you that they are only trying to provide a theory of right and wrong, not practical action guides.

Moving along....

"I have to remind the reader here that the context for this was the question of whether atheists can be moral (or as Paul is inclined to re-cast the question: Can atheists provide an account for objective morality?). Rather than face any single, official rendering of secular morality, Paul has an array of secular ethical frameworks to deal with on this question. "Simply" pointing out that secular morality is a category containing multiple instances that qualify (which is what Lowder was pointing to) is a bigger problem from Paul. Rather than having to defeat a single "champion", he's obligated to "run the table". If just one of those secular frameworks can establish grounds for moral value, and the prescriptions and guides that flow from it, then his presuppositional goose is cooked. This is, however, a nice example of Paul as "contortionist pedant". Paul, does an array of secular ethical frameworks make things better for your argument, or worse?"

I re-cast the question to the one dealt with in apologetic literature. Why would Touchstoned support bad, straw man arguments from people? (Below we see that Touchstoned even admits that no one makes the argument that atheists cannot be moral in some minimal, nominal sense. So, he's agreeing with me.) Anyway, Touchstoned is way behind. I have already agreed that there's no silver bullet argument against every single secular ethic at once. I have furthermore pointed out that non-presuppositionalists have set them selves up for the same critique as Touchstoned offers me. So, why is he so enamored with presuppositionalism. He's acting as if he's making some charge that bears directly on me, or just presuppositionalists. He's actually making an argument against the majority of Christian apologists.

Moving along...

PM: "iii) I know that Lowder "leaves room open" for secular "ethical systemS." I never denied that there were secular ethical systemS (plural). But, that "atheism leaves room for ethical systems" does not entail that "atheism supports any one system." I might "leave room" for a slacker to get a good grade in my class, that doesn't logically entail that I support any one (or n) slacker/s!"

He responds,

"Now we're into thoroughgoing pedantics. If it "leaves room" -- "is compatible with" for those systems, it "supports" them. My Mac "supports" FireWire devices. It "leaves room" for compatible devices to be integrated in to the overall platform. Paul is equivocating on the word "support" here, leaning on "logically compatible with" in one case, and pointing to "fanboyism" (the slacker in his class) in the other."

_I_ am not equivocating, I used "support" in the same way. Furthermore, if "support" just means "compatible with" then why did he say what he did? Why think that because atheism doesn't require any single ethical theory it isn't "compatible" with any single ethical theory? Where did I ever even intimate anything remotely close to that? I'm no pedant, but Touchstoned is a sophist. He'll say anything, move anywhere, just to avoid looking bad.


"Atheism supports utilitarianism, for example. They are completely compatible."

Translated: Atheism is compatible with utilitarianism, for example. They are completely compatible. Furthermore, since "Atheism" is simply a "denial" of God's existence, it "supports" almost anything. Here's something else Touchstoned could have said: "Atheism supports child molestation, for example. They are completely compatible." Thanks for the words of wisdom, Touchstoned. What a wunderkid.

Moving along...

"As above, 'atheist' is just a qualifier, separating ethical systems into two categories: atheist ethical frameworks, and theistic ethical frameworks. Any ethical framework that does not rely on theistic concepts or principles is -- de facto -- an atheistic ethical framework..."

Well, I don't know about that. For starters, one could argue that the principles appealed to in ethics fit best in a theistic worldview, and so there are no atheistic ethics. Second, Touchstoned my show that all of the "atheistic ethical systems" are incompatible with any and all theistic ethics. Some theists - like Pojman - offers what he takes to be a morality that is compatible with both theism and atheism. He even says that he wants to provide a secular morality, one that secularists could agree with. I don't think he'd have agreed that his system was atheistic (and, Lowder even gives the book 4 starts on the Amazon review). Touchstoned is just ignorant of the entire field here.


Touchstoned starts to get it, but he just has to get a shot in since he can't bear the thought of being wrong:

"Ayiyi. It's no more possible to say "Ah, there is the theistic ethic" than "Ah, there is the secular ethic." They are both categories. I can say "Ah, utilitarianism, there is a secular ethical framework", and I can say "Ah, sweet Calvinism, there is a theistic ethical framework" (Calvinism, of course, is more than just an ethical framework, but it does provide one, for anyone scanning for ethical frameworks). Paul, the only reason I can see to deny the category "secular morality", is simply intransigence in correctly a poorly thought-out minor point in one of your posts. If you look around, plenty of intelligent people use the term, and the concept it points to, in useful and practical ways."

Yes, it was a somewhat minor point - it was correct, though. You should have just accepted it rather than jumping the gun. Lastly, I don't care if plenty of people talk that way (most people who read the Bible in a literal way take the creation account to be speaking of 6 literal days as well, but that doesn't stop Touchstoned from not adhering to the layman usage. I bet that sent Touchstoned’s RPMs into the red).


Touchstoned shuffles some more:

"Paul proceeds to implicate me in his own errors:

PM: 'Notice his "deep need" for "justice" and the "need" t provide "incentive" in order to be moral. His "need" of "psychological guardrails," etc. So, even though I didn't make the kind of argument Pebbles attributes to me, he does! Pebbles must ridicule himself now. He appeals to a "magic" after life. Boy did he ever "mangle" secular morality!'

This in no way denies that atheistic moral frameworks can have a solid ground, Paul. I said in the quote above that secular morality appears quite plausible, but falls short of the virtues I'm looking for. That doesn't deny its existence as a moral framework, though. I affirm, at least in principle, and even nominally in practice, that secular ethical frameworks can provide accounts for their assertions and prescriptions."

The point of my critique here isn't to talk about whether Touchstoned denies the existence of "the secular ethic." My point here, which was plainly obvious to the reader, is that Touchstoned has no business chiding me (with no quotes, analysis, or proof, mind you) for saying that an ethical theory is wrong for "not meeting my "need" for something else, when Touchstone himself does the very thing he accuses me of doing! And, I cited proof to back my charges up. So, Touchstoned has not countered my piercing objection. That of intellectual hypocrisy. Has he read the literature? Atheists 'round the globe have scoffed at and argued against the "deficiency" that their system cannot account for final justice.

"A presuppositional claim to transcendental necessity for theism as the basis for morality is wholly unwarranted, a folly. If I can identify aspects of secular morality that I find deficient (or superior, by the same token), fine. But I grant that in principle, the atheist has all the basis he needs for providing justification for value judgments. The frameworks compete, rationally, and none are declared invalid prior to exercise and inspection by some artificial axiom I'm carrying around."

Assertion without argument.


"I'm routinely informed that any theistic tolerances I have are inherently immoral, in and of themselves, by at least two fellow on an email loop I participate in. That is, in their view, entertaining theistic ideas, absent rational justification for same (in their view), I'm an immoral person. This stems from the proposition that we are obligated to be rational and skeptically inclined, in some utilitarian sense. You can't even talk about "being able to make that claim", as you are presuppositionally forbidden from considering it a possibility. But in the general sense, I would dispute the "moral imperative" for totally eschewing supernatural ideas and instincts, but that would be their "qualified, narrow sense" in which theists qua theists are immoral, and cannot provide an accounting for themselves morally."

Now, I had just asked for Touchstone to show me how on an atheistic account of morality, theists would be immoral. I also had said that it would have to be at the level of principle, not factual disagreement. The above was his answer. My response:

i) This idea isn't an atheistic one!

ii) This is a debate at the level of fact, not principle. For, if we do have such justification, then we as theists, qua humans, are not immoral for being theists.

iii) I could make the same charge. Hence there is nothing here that shows how a strictly atheistic morality would imply that theists are immoral. Shoot, those same atheists could claim that Touchstoned was immoral if he murdered someone. Is "murder" the sole property of atheistic morality?!? Again, Touchstoned is making autobiographical remarks. That is, he's telling us just how much he doesn't know about ethics.

iv) Btw, I talk to atheists who I consider friends via private email and phone correspondance on a regular basis. So, don't try to pretedn that you're so enlightened. And, btw, they all say that they'd rather deal with a theist like us at T-blog than someone like you. So, don't know what you want to make of that.

Movng along...

"To put it in a nutshell, I believe your agument is: atheists cannot account for their moral judgments.

Do I have that right, for a nutshell?

If so, that's not an innovation in the conversation. That goes back to van Til and beyond. I've never supposed Christians -- the layman in the pew or the world-class apologist -- have contended that atheists cannot be moral/ethical in a nominal sense. It's demonstrably false, and not even interesting to entertain."

i) No, that's not my argument. That's not even an argument. Not even a nutshell of an argument. That may be a conclusion of an argument, it's not an argument, not even a nutshell. For someone who chides others for not getting their opponent, why does Touchstoned so often (almost always) misrepresent us? He's giving us more of his psychological projections.

ii) Not just Van Til and beyond, plenty of evidential, classical, Arminian and Roman Catholic apologists have made that claim.

iii) This was my point in my response to the Ethical Atheist, so why did you even respond Touchstoned? You are admitting you were wrong in your response, but you just can't admit it outright.

"No, I'm focused on the intellectual poverty of the attempts I've seen from you and others to either a) declare "presuppositional" victory up front, or b) go into "hyper-sophist" mode in confusing, obfuscating, and simply dealing dishonestly with the analysis of the underpinning of moral frameworks, secular or otherwise, or both. That is, the integrity of thought you bring to this discussion -- not if an atheist can be moral, but if an atheistic ethic can acquit itself -- is just a disaster. But disaster or no, I do see the "justification" question as being the central one from you and other Christian apologists, as opposed to "performance" (i.e. "doing good things")."

Assertions minus argument. Assertions minus quoting opponent. Argumentum ad takemywordforit.

Furthermore, a lot of my arguments against secular ethical theories have been gleaned from other secular ethicists! You're implicating those you seek to defend, and you're showing how unfamiliar with the arguments you are. If you were familiar, you'd have to say that the arguments from the Martin's, the Lowder's, the Rachels', the Timmons', the Mackie's, the Frankena's, the Rawls', the Singer's, the Shafer-Landau’s, the Miller’s, &c were all weak!

Touchstoned shuffles,

"It doesn't matter what else you use, Paul. Your presuppositionalism is problematic all by itself. It precludes the possibility -- not the demonstration, but the possibility -- of acknowledging secular grounds for concepts like "good" and "bad". It's a set of constraints you cannot get out of. This has nothing to do with your being otherwise willing to rationally consider a proposition on the merits. But you've embraced axioms that preclude that as an investigation. It's disingenuous to claim you can both maintain your presuppositionalist fancies, then also set them aside to consider things rationally."

This is after he made a comment about the transcendental argument. I showed him I don't use that argument. His answer: "That doesn't matter. You're wrong. Wrong. Wrong. No matter what, you're wrong. Did I say you were wrong?

And, btw, many non-presuppositionalists are precluded by the same thing! You're not attacking presuppositionalism like you'd like to.

And, again, notice the mere speculation. No arguments. No analysis. Just say-so. Touchstoned does the thing he accuses presuppositionalists of. He's simply psychologically projecting.

Lastly, I can acknowledge the broad logical possibility of a secularist accounting for those things. I haven't seen it yet. I actually study my opponents. I have read 4 books on ethics just this month! I have shown that I am more familiar with their positions that is Touchstoned. It is he who doesn't bother studying them.

I had wrote:

PM: "ii) Many non-presuppositionalists make the exact same argument that I do. Once can see that by reading the works of Copan, Craig, Hare, Helm, Moreland, et al."

He responds,

"Completely irrelevant. This doesn't have any impact on anything at all here. Craig isn't bound by the commitments to presuppositionalism that you are, so he can, at least, in principle, claim to be pursuing these questions in earnest, rationally. You cannot."

Argumentum ad takemywordforit.

"You are the picture of irrationality. If your views weren't yours, you'd despise them as the apotheosis of anti-reason. But you bless them because they're yours, and they make you feel cozy, and provide magic answers to hard questions. Oh, and they insulate you from liability from having to engage these questions on the merits. That's what your worldview depends on."

Argumentum ad takemywordforit.


But, even if what Touchstoned claims were the case, this is simply an example of a circumstantial ad hominem argument. Even if true, the arguments given against secular accounts of morality must be weighed on their own merits, not on the (alleged) psychological disposition, or circumstances in which I proffer those arguments.

What is hillarious about these kinds of remarks Touchstoned makes regarding me and my motives, is that they are the same remarks he chastises Phil Johnson for making! Notice what he says of Johnson:

* "They compromise their principles, don't you know. They don't -- they can't -- arrive at their positions through earnest inquiry. The Open Theist may say he's pulling his conclusions from scripture, and from logical implications that arise from that analysis. But really, Phil has traced the real cause, and that cause is slavish capitulation to the world's ways, anything at all in order to please Babylon." (Regarding me: Paul doesn't --he can't-- arrive at his conclusions through ernest inquiry. Paul may say that he's pulling his conclusions from the weight of the arguments that support them, but really Touchstoned as nailed the real cause: Paul just has to say that those other people's position can't be right 'cause otherwise he'd have to give up on his faith.)

* "So, by virtue of elimination, Phil is fairly forced to the ad hominem explanation. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, and he doesn't relish the kinds of disparagement he's got to dish out." (Regarding me: Touchstoned is forced to the ad hominem explanation. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, he just can't seem to be able to see that he's doing the exact same things hie chastises others for doing!)

Touchstone just refuses to deal with the fact that we may be right about the things we argue about. He cites competing positions to ours as if that showed that we were wrong. of course, those positions could be wrong. But Touchstoned can't take his blinders off long enough to realize this. He consistently fails to see that all his critiques can equally be launched against him and his modus operandi. That there are other interpretations of the things we debate doesn't imply that we are wrong. Touchstoned does a great job showing that there are other interpretations, at showing that it is possible for someone to play semantic word games to avoid arguments, that people can subtly change subjects and turn the debate into an emotional, off-topic display of sophistry at its best, what he constantly fails to do is actually show that our arguments are false. That there are other interpretations does not logically imply that we are wrong. Touchstoned needs to start engaging in the latter.

"So all this argument really signifies is that you cannot get your head around notions of "normativity" that aren't singularly tied to your theism. That's what presuppositionalism does to your brain."

Argumentum ad takemywordforit.

I had claimed,

PM: v) Many secularists don't think that secularists (or anyone for that matter) can account for norms in morality.

He responded,

"Sure, and it's totally irrelevant. How does this observation attach at all? I might as well observe that some days the sky appears to be blue. Have I reached the point where I can try on Paul's triumphalist hat on, now?"

His answer: "That doesn't matter. You're wrong. Wrong. Wrong. No matter what, you're wrong. Did I say you were wrong?

My point: For Touchstoned to say that presuppositionalism is weak because it assumes that secular ethicists cannot account for norms is to say that the secular ethicists who make the exact same points are weak!

Now, Touchstoned may say, "Oh, but they can approach the conversation in a rational way, you cannot," suffers from at least two problems:

[1] The arguments must be judged for their merits, not for your mindset in approaching them. If my arguments are valid and sound, it matters not what I think about the debate I'm engaged in. If someone thinks that flat earthers cannot provide a good case for the pancake shape of the earth, and that flat earthers were irrational, that wouldn't change the arguments for the global shape of the earth.

[2] He can't provide any arguments to back up his oft repeated claims.

As always, its been a pleasure. Thanks for providing the fodder.

By: Afroman

It's like I don't care about nothin' man
Role another blunt, Yeah cuz
(Yeah x 2)

I was gonna clean my room, until I got high
I was gonna get up and find the broom, But then I got high
My room is still messed up And I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high
Because I got high
Because I got high

I was gonna go to class, before I got high
I coulda' cheated and I coulda passed, but I got high
I'm taking it next semester and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high
Because I got high
Because I got high

I was gonna go to work, but then I got high
I just got a new promotion, but I got high
Now I'm selling dope and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high
Because I got high
Because I got high

I was gonna go to court, before I got high
I was gonna pay my child support, but then I got high (No you weren't)
They took my whole pay check, and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high,
Because I got high
Because I got high

I wasn't gonna run from the cops but I was high, (I'm serious man)
I was gonna pull right over and stop, but I was high
Now I'm a paraplegic, and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high
Because I got high
Because I got high

I was gonna pay my car a note, until I got high
I wasn't gonna gamble on the boat, but then I got high
Now the tow truck's pulling away, and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high, because I got high, because I got high
Because I got high
Because I got high

I was gonna ask you out you, but then I got high, I'm serious
I was gonna kiss you too, but then I got high
Now i'm all alone and I know why, 'cuz I got high, because I got high, because I got high

I messed up my entire life, because I got high
I lost my kids and wife , because I got high
Now I'm sleeping on the sidewalk, and I know why, (why man) 'cuz I got high, because I got high, because I got high

I'm gonna stop singing this song, because I'm high
I'm singing this whole thing wrong, because I'm high
And if I don't sell one copy I know why, (why man) 'cuz I'm high,
because I'm high, because I'm high

(Are you really high man?) (he really is high man!) get jiggy with it
O bring it back (say what say what oh, Because I'm high
Because I'm high, because I'm high


* The minority in the field don't label Bentham this way.

Some Neglected Evidence Relevant To The Census Of Luke 2 (Part 6)

As we saw in the first two parts of this series, critics of the traditional Christian view of the census make claims that we would expect to leave traces in ancient sources such as the church fathers, the early heretics, and the early enemies of Christianity. The critics sometimes acknowledge that fact, and they sometimes appeal to such ancient sources to support their own arguments when discussing the census or similar issues.

Yet, the early Christians and their opponents seem to have been unaware of many of the claims these critics make. In addition to the absence of early support for these critical theories, we see widespread agreement among the early sources on some of the relevant issues:

- Jesus was born under Herod the Great.

- He was born in the closing decade of the B.C. era.

- He was born within months, not years, of John the Baptist.

- The amount of time between Luke 3:1-2 and 3:23 was short enough to conclude that Jesus was around thirty years old at the time mentioned in 3:1-2.

- The census account in Luke is historical.

- There was corroboration of the census account in the records of the Roman government.

- There was no need to respond to objections to the census, whether objections like the ones cited by modern critics or objections of a different sort.

- Psalm 87:6 wasn't of much significance to Luke's account.

Some of these points carry more weight than others. And, as I mentioned earlier, the relevance of these points to modern critical theories would vary from one theory to another.

I think the evidence I've discussed carries a lot of weight against the argument that Luke was writing in a non-historical genre. The early Christians, heretics, and non-Christians seem to have been in widespread agreement, perhaps universal agreement, that Luke's account was to be taken as an attempt to convey history.

I also think the evidence I've discussed carries a lot of weight against theories that involve explicit and widespread error on Luke's part. The more subtle and minor the alleged errors are, the more plausible it would be to reconcile such errors with the evidence I've addressed.

On the other hand, I think the evidence I've cited only carries moderate or a little weight on other subjects. The appeal to a Roman census record is significantly questionable, even in its most credible form (the passage in Justin Martyr).

And some of the ancient sources I've discussed were ignorant or careless in the chronological claims they made. If Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., as most scholars believe, then the widespread early dating of Jesus' birth to 3 or 2 B.C. is inaccurate. It seems that some ancient sources took the sort of overly simplistic approach that Clement of Alexandria describes:

"And our Lord was born in the twenty-eighth year, when first the census was ordered to be taken in the reign of Augustus. And to prove that this is true, it is written in the Gospel by Luke as follows: 'And in the fifteenth year, in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias.' And again in the same book: 'And Jesus was coming to His baptism, being about thirty years old,' and so on." (The Stromata, 1:21)

We know that other sources were more careful. Justin Martyr refers to how Jesus waited "thirty years, more or less" (Dialogue With Trypho, 88) before beginning His public ministry. As I argued earlier, Justin's comment that "Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago" (First Apology, 46) also seems to have been an approximation of years. Apparently, Clement took Luke 3:23 to be an approximation in terms of months, whereas Justin correctly read it as an approximation in terms of years. But both men apparently were making approximations without having done any detailed study of what Josephus or other sources had recorded about the timing of Herod's life.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, such ancient sources could reliably preserve information of a more general nature without having preserved every detail. The fact that somebody like Clement of Alexandria hadn't done much research into the timing of Herod's death doesn't suggest that all of the ancient sources I've discussed would likely have been so careless as to have erred as badly as many modern critical theories suggest. If Luke's original account had Jesus born in 6 A.D., under Herod Archelaus, twelve years after John the Baptist's birth, with Jesus' public ministry not beginning until a few years after John's, etc., the ancient sources I've discussed should have noticed and preserved such information. They wouldn't have needed an advanced knowledge of chronology or to have done a detailed study of Josephus or other such sources. If Luke's account was "dubious on almost every score", as Raymond Brown put it (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 413), we ought to ask why objections like Brown's are absent from these ancient sources on almost every score.

Unlike Raymond Brown and other modern critics, these ancient sources had experienced Roman censuses, and they had access to many sources of information unavailable to us. Judging from the "we" passages in Acts, Luke's access to members of Jesus' immediate family (Acts 21:18, 1 Corinthians 9:5), and the references to Luke in Paul's writings and some patristic sources, it seems that Luke was in a good position to have reliable information about Jesus' background and to make his understanding of that information known to a large number of people. And the critical theories themselves assume that non-Christian sources, such as Josephus and Tacitus, had access to a large amount of relevant information. That atmosphere didn't produce modern critical theories. It produced a widespread consensus that Luke's account was reliable history.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Logic of Torture "

"The Logic of Torture: Why the subject of torture provokes so much yelling and so little argumentation" by Keith Burgess-Jackson

Orthodox logic

“Last I checked the Church was called the Body of Christ. I suspect that might have something to do with the Incarnation.”

I think Perry is definitely on to something here. Last I checked, the Church was called the Vine. I suspect that might have something to do with a botanical Incarnation.

And last I checked, the Church was also called the flock. I suspect that might have something to do with an ungulate Incarnation.

I do hope that Perry will reproduce Cyrillian models of botanical Christology as well as ungulate Christology. I’m sure the details of a botanical or ungulate version of the hypostatic union, not to mention its resultant bond with the human race (i.e. a botanical-human hybrid or human-ungulate hybrid) should prove fascinating. And that’s even before we explore all the other ecclesial metaphors in Scripture.


If some readers feel that I’ve been piling on Romney of late, or that I’m guilty of Mormon-bashing, I plead no contest on both counts. Three cheers for Mormon-bashing! Having clarified my insidious agenda, let’s move on to what I want to talk about.

Romney supporters like Wayne Grudem, Richard Land, and John Mark Reynolds suggest it’s out of bounds to question Romney on his Mormon faith because that’s irrelevant to his presidential qualifications.

Let’s us concede, for the sake of argument, that his Mormonism is, indeed, irrelevant to his presidential qualifications. Does it follow that he shouldn’t be questioned on his Mormon theology? Not at all. Even if we accept the premise of this argument, we can build on that same premise to draw the contrary conclusion.

You see, Romney is a Mormon celebrity. Indeed, running for president has made him a celebrity. And he’s not a celebrity who just so happens to be Mormon—as if you had to be a devoted fan to know this obscure detail about his private life.

There may be clueless Americans out there who have never heard of Romney because they don’t follow politics. But if you know who he is, you know he’s a Mormon. He is known for being a Mormon. He is famous for being a Mormon.

A consequence of this fact is that Romney is now the public face of Mormonism in a way that Gordon B. Hinckley is not. You either have to be Mormon or a countercult junkie to know who Gordon B. Hinckley is.

Romney is to Mormonism what Donny & Marie used to be to Mormonism. Probably Glenn back is, at present, the only another Mormon of comparable notoriety.

When, therefore, Romney presents himself as a Christian, that, of itself, is reason enough to publicly question his theology. This represents a rival interpretation (or radical reinterpretation) of the Christian faith. If Romney were a nobody, it wouldn’t matter. But it does matter when a popular, high-profile cult-member or cult-leader is identified with the Christian faith.

Like it or not, Romney is a de facto evangelist for Mormonism. Just by calling himself a Christian, his sheer celebrity catapults him into the role of a Mormon missionary—with vastly more media penetration and potential impact than the square young men in the Eisenhower era business suits. He’s a national ad for the equation between Christianity and Mormonism. You couldn’t have a bigger, louder commercial for the Mormon cult than a promising presidential bid.

So, yes, Romney should be grilled on Mormon theology. Even if that’s irrelevant to his presidential qualifications, it is highly relevant to the public perception of what constitutes the Christian faith. That may be an incidental side-effect of his presidential ambitions, but however ancillary to his presidential credentials, it has now taken on an importance of its own and all it’s own. And in terms of our Christian priorities, is that not at least as important as who wins in November?

Some Neglected Evidence Relevant To The Census Of Luke 2 (Part 5)

Most modern scholars take Luke 1:5 as a reference to Herod the Great, which would agree with the dating of Jesus' birth in Matthew's gospel. But if Luke 1:5 is referring to Herod the Great, then how can the census of Luke 2 be referring to a census that didn't occur until around ten years after that Herod's death, as some critics claim?

Richard Carrier proposes two possible answers. He thinks that Luke 1:5 is referring to Herod Archelaus, but he suggests a second possibility. He argues that the passage might be referring to Herod the Great, as most scholars believe, but that John the Baptist was born more than ten years before Jesus. Thus, John the Baptist turned twelve years old (supposedly referenced in Luke 1:80) around the time when the events of Luke 2 began.

Both of Carrier's proposals are highly problematic. I've already discussed some of the patristic references to the timing of Jesus' birth and the distinction between the Herod who ruled while Jesus was born and Herod Archelaus. Matthew's gospel explicitly distinguishes between the two (Matthew 2:22), and, as discussed earlier, there was widespread acceptance of Matthew's gospel and harmonization of his gospel with Luke's from the earliest post-apostolic generation.

The second possibility Carrier suggests, involving more than a decade of time between the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, is also widely contradicted by the patristic and other ancient sources. Over and over again, a wide variety of sources from a wide range of locations refer to John the Baptist and Jesus as being in their mothers' wombs at the same time: Protevangelium Of James (12-13, 22-23), Tertullian (A Treatise On The Soul, 26), Hippolytus (On Christ And Antichrist, 45), Origen (Commentary On John, 6:30), Peter of Alexandria (The Canonical Epistle, 5), etc. It seems that there was an early, widespread consensus that John and Jesus were born within months of one another, not years.

Carrier also proposes a longer amount of time than is usually assumed between the beginning of John the Baptist's public ministry and the public ministry of Jesus. If the dating of John's ministry in Luke 3:1-2 is applied to Luke 3:23, then it seems unlikely that Luke dated Jesus' birth at 6 A.D. Thus, Carrier argues for the passing of "an interval of some years" between Luke 3:1-2 and 3:23. Once again, though, the earliest post-apostolic sources contradict Carrier: Marcion (Tertullian's Against Marcion, 4:7), Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3:14:3), Clement of Alexandria and some other sourcs he mentions (The Stromata, 1:21), etc.

Raymond Brown has suggested that an ancient translation of Psalm 87:6, which refers to a census, might have inspired Luke's census account (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], pp. 417-418). He makes reference to a passage in which Eusebius of Caesarea cites that Psalm as a prophecy (p. 418). But, in addition to the problems with Brown's argument that Darrell Bock discusses (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 209), I'm not aware of any Christian earlier than Eusebius who made such an association. The early post-apostolic sources frequently discuss prophecy fulfillment, but the earliest sources to address the census make no appeal to Psalm 87, as far as I know. If the Psalm was so influential as to inspire Luke to include in his gospel a census account that Brown considers "dubious on almost every score" (p. 413), then we ought to ask why the earliest sources to comment on the census seem so uninterested in Psalm 87 while they're so interested in other Old Testament passages in other contexts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Romney's "courageous" speech

Since Grudem is in the tank for Romney, it’s not surprising that he liked his speech:

In some ways, this election is shaping up to be a referendum on the state of Evangelical leadership as much as political leadership. I’ll venture a few comments on Grudem’s analysis:

“But he also said that he thought questions about different doctrines of his or anybody else's faith were out of bounds, they are inappropriate for someone to ask someone as a candidate for president because that's not relevant for his suitability for office. I thought that was a good distinction.”

i) The first problem with this distinction is that it’s clearly overstated. Sometimes doctrinal differences are politically irrelevant, and sometimes they're not. Would Grudem support a Scientologist for high office? Or would that say something important about the candidate’s intellectual discernment? Belonging to a religious cult is a reflection on your powers of judgment.

Would Grudem support a jihadist for high office? Is it "out of bounds” to oppose a jihadist simply because he’s a jihadist?

ii) And why is Romney drawing this distinction in the first place? Because he has to. This is a statement of expediency rather than principle. He doesn’t want his Mormon faith to be held against him. So the whole point of his whole speech was to preempt that objection.

That’s political pragmatism. And pragmatism isn’t always out of place on politics. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that Romney’s speech was an exercise in high-minded statesmanship.

“I was very thankful to see his courage in saying that he wouldn't back down or jettison his personal religious faith just for political convenience. It was important to him, and if people reject him then so be it—that took courage.”

Aside from the wimpy definition of “courage,” this exposes Grudem’s pitiful naïveté. Does he really think, on the eve of the primaries, that Romney could publicly recant his Mormonism?

Everyone knows that he is a Mormon. As such, he has to play the card he dealt himself. It may be a losing hand, but he has to play it as though it were a winning hand. He said this to make himself look like a man of unyielding integrity, and Grudem fell for it.

BTW, don’t you suppose a lot of Mormon businessmen are making contributions to his presidential bid? What would be the financial impact on his campaign chest if he suddenly recanted the Mormon faith? Wouldn’t the donor-pool dry up overnight?

“I thought he was courageous also to say that the state-sponsored religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. He saw the danger of state religion and talked about the empty cathedrals in Europe.”

This is calculating, not courageous. It’s all part of Romney’s endeavor to marginalize the “religious test.” This is just another transparently self-serving attempt to tell us that we’re not supposed to judge him by his religious resumé. He has to say that because he’s a Mormon, and everyone knows he’s a Mormon. From start to finish, Romney is trying to make a virtue out of an onerous necessity.

“If as evangelicals we are going to support the principles on which our nation was founded, then we need to defend the principles of religious liberty. That means that non-evangelicals are not only full citizens but eligible for office as well. I would hate to see us come to the point where we would essentially be saying non-evangelicals are welcome to be citizens but we will never ever allow them to become president.”

i) Of course, that’s the very same argument that Andrew Sullivan uses to justify homosexual marriage. Yet Grudem is a stalwart in the defense of traditional marriage.

ii) Anyone over the age of 34 who’s not a foreigner is “eligible” to run for president. That’s not the issue.

iii) Our nation was never founded on unconditional religious liberty. Not every religious option was a live option at the time the Constitution was ratified.

iv) Opposing a Mormon for office in no way implies that you oppose a non-evangelical for office. You could support a conservative Jew or conservative Catholic for president.

Some Neglected Evidence Relevant To The Census Of Luke 2 (Part 4)

It was sometimes claimed that a government record of the census still existed into the second century and beyond:

"Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judaea." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 34)

"And yet how could He [Jesus] have been admitted into the synagogue - one so abruptly appearing, so unknown; one, of whom no one had as yet been apprised of His tribe, His nation, His family, and lastly, His enrolment in the census of Augustus - that most faithful witness of the Lord's nativity, kept in the archives of Rome?" (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4:7)

"For He [Jesus] was from the native soil of Bethlehem, and from the house of David; as, among the Romans, Mary is described in the census, of whom is born Christ." (unknown author [not Tertullian], Tertullian's An Answer To The Jews, 9)

"Let, then, such as trust to instruments of human skill, who may (approving of applying them as attestators of the holy word) inquire into this census, if it be but found so as we say" (unknown author, Five Books In Reply To Marcion, 5:198-203)

"Finally, though never at Rome, on authority he [John Chrysostom] knows that the census papers of the Holy Family are still there." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

"He [an author falsely writing as Cyril of Jerusalem] asks Julius to assign the true date of the nativity 'from census documents brought by Titus to Rome'; Julius assigns 25 December." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

"If verifiable this text [a homily attributed to Jerome] would suggest that Jerome, like Augustine, believed 25 December to be the historic anniversary of Christ's birth on the basis of the putative census records from the time of Augustus." (Susan Roll, Toward The Origins Of Christmas [The Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1995], p. 104)

Some of these claims are problematic, and we don't have much information by which to judge the more credible claims. Justin Martyr's claim is the earliest and the most credible. But Richard Carrier writes:

"Justin Martyr's Apology 1.34 and 1.46 also shows that this is exactly how Christians understood their own history: Quirinius was the first governor of Judaea, and Jesus was born during the census he took there, which happened 150 years earlier. It is believed that Justin wrote his first apology around 155 A.D., which produces a birth year of 6 A.D. (the 150th year before Justin wrote). Justin also claims that one can check the census records to confirm this, but this is certainly a bluff: it is extremely unlikely that Justin checked them himself. He does not say he did, and the information he gives is too vague to suggest he was drawing on an official record. Had he read the actual record, he should have been able to report at least one of the items the record would include: for Joseph there would be a full name, age, name of father or family, residence, occupation, and amount of property, as well as the character and extent of any land and the number of slaves owned. If a baby Jesus would be listed at all in the census records, it would only be as part of this entry. It is also unlikely that just anyone could access such important records--to prevent fraud, they must have been kept under very tight guard and accessible only to Roman magistrates. Cf. Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1996), s.v. 'census.'"

There are a lot of problems with what Carrier is asserting here.

I have the 2003 edition of the dictionary he cites. It says more than Carrier does on some issues and less on others. The last sentence in Carrier's comments above, prior to his reference to the dictionary, expresses Carrier's opinion. The dictionary doesn't assert Carrier's conclusions. Apparently, Carrier was citing the dictionary only to corroborate some of his more general claims.

Notice that Carrier refers to what Justin Martyr and "Christians" believed. Notice, also, that Carrier suggests that a specific year for Christ's birth, 6 A.D., was still known to these Christians as late as the middle of the second century. Think about the implications of Carrier's argument. He's suggesting that these Christians were interested and knowledgeable enough about the relevant chronological data to keep track of the year of Christ's birth more than a century after the event. He's also suggesting that the alleged contradictions between Matthew and Luke, as well as between earlier and later interpretations of Luke, were prominent and persisted as late as the middle of the second century. If Carrier's suggestions are true, we would expect to see them reflected in other sources. But we don't.

Jack Finegan, in his Handbook Of Biblical Chronology (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), discusses fourteen different sources who date Christ's birth in the second through sixth centuries (pp. 288-291). Of those fourteen, none give 6 A.D. as the year. The large majority give a year in the closing decade of the B.C. era.

The closest any source gets to the date Carrier assigns to Luke's gospel, Justin Martyr, and "Christians" of Justin's time is 9 A.D. And that 9 A.D. date comes from Epiphanius' description of what was believed by a heretical group of the late second century. But Epiphanius' description of the same heretical group suggests elsewhere that they dated Jesus' birth to "around" 4 B.C. (p. 290) Apparently, either this heretical group, the Alogi, were inconsistent in their own dating or were misrepresented by Epiphanius. But even if they, or some of them, did intend to date Jesus' birth to 9 A.D., that date would be a few years off from what Carrier attributes to Luke, Justin, and other Christians. And that's the closest anybody gets to Carrier's date.

Finegan mentions seven sources who either were contemporaries of Justin Martyr or lived shortly after his time (Alogi, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, Hippolytus of Rome, and Origen). All of them give a year in the closing decade of the B.C. era. And Finegan doesn't mention all of the sources he could have. Clement of Alexandria, for example, makes reference to other people who dated Jesus' birth to the same year he did (The Stromata, 1:21).

And Carrier's interpretation of Justin himself is dubious. He refers to how Justin's First Apology was written "around 155 A.D." Eric Osborn dates the work to "shortly after 150" (Justin Martyr [Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1973], p. 8). Leslie Barnard dates it "between 151 and 155 C.E." (St. Justin Martyr: The First And Second Apologies [Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997], p. 11). John McGuckin places it "c. 155" (The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], p. 200). A recent book on Justin edited by Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, Justin Martyr And His Worlds (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007), places the First Apology at "154-155" (p. xiii). All of these dates are approximations, yet Carrier has to assume that 155 is correct in order to get to his result of "a birth year of 6 A.D. (the 150th year before Justin wrote)".

Leslie Barnard comments that Justin's reference to 150 years is "no doubt a round figure" (St. Justin Martyr: The First And Second Apologies [Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997], p. 11). In addition to the fact that 150 is the sort of number that somebody would cite if he were rounding off, we see Justin using round numbers repeatedly elsewhere in the same document. In chapter 31, speaking of Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy, Justin writes:

"And He was predicted before He appeared, first 5000 years before, and again 3000, then 2000, then 1000, and yet again 800; for in the succession of generations prophets after prophets arose."

Those are all rounded numbers. Similarly, in chapter 42 of the same document, shortly before the passage Carrier cites:

"The words cited above, David uttered 1500 years before Christ became a man and was crucified"

Again, he's using a rounded figure. Elsewhere, Justin repeatedly cites Matthew's gospel approvingly, treats the accounts of Matthew and Luke as harmonious (Dialogue With Trypho, 78), and refers to Jesus' birth under Herod the Great, distinguishing him from Herod Archelaus (Dialogue With Trypho, 103).

We don't know what year Justin's First Apology was written. The figure Justin cites in the passage under discussion (150 years) is the sort of figure somebody would use if rounding. Justin repeatedly uses rounded year numbers elsewhere in the same document. He accepts Matthew's gospel as harmonious with Luke's, states that Jesus was born under Herod the Great, and specifically distinguishes between that Herod and Herod Archelaus. Several other sources contemporary with Justin or born shortly after his time give a year for Jesus' birth, and all of them, with one possible exception (the 9 A.D. dating discussed earlier), place Jesus' birth in the closing decade of the B.C. era. Those sources include men who had lived where Justin lived, possessed Justin's writings, and thought highly of him.

And Justin is the only source Carrier cites to argue that "Christians" understood Luke's gospel the way Carrier represents it. It's much more likely that Justin was using a rounded figure. Since I reject Carrier's interpretation of Justin Martyr, I don't know of any source in the earliest centuries who agreed with Carrier's interpretation of Luke.

What about Carrier's assessment of whether there was a census record as Justin describes it? It's reasonable to think that Justin might have been speculating or repeating something he had heard without confirming it. But I think that Carrier is overly confident in his conclusion that Justin was "bluffing".

Carrier tells us that, if Justin had seen a census record, he could have mentioned "at least one of the items the record would include". But Justin does mention one of the pieces of information supposedly in the census record: the Bethlehem birthplace. Apparently, Justin thought that the record referred to Bethlehem in some context (because Joseph owned property there or for some other reason).

Besides, why would Justin think he needed to mention the sort of details Carrier asks for? If Justin's claim wasn't being disputed, and he thought that people could access the census record themselves, why would he go into the sort of detail Carrier wants?

And while Carrier thinks that only government officials would get access to the census records, Justin's claim doesn't require that he or anybody else outside of the government had gotten access to such a record without government assistance. A Christian or non-Christian who had been in a position to access such a record could have seen it.

Again, though, I think it's reasonable to question Justin's claim. What's more significant than Justin's claim about such a census record is what's implied by his willingness to make that claim. The claim of a government census record involves a historical interpretation of Luke's account, so Justin's comment tells us how he viewed the genre of the census account in Luke's gospel. And even if Justin was mistaken about the existence of such a census record, he was so confident about the historicity of the census as to expect corroboration of it from the Roman government. Even if his confidence was too high, it's unlikely that he would become so confident if he was living in an atmosphere in which the census account in Luke was being widely questioned or denied. Similar implications follow from the other ancient sources, mentioned earlier, who refer to a census record kept by the Roman government.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Some Neglected Evidence Relevant To The Census Of Luke 2 (Part 3)

Critics of the traditional Christian view of Luke's census often make claims that, if true, should have left traces in the church fathers and other ancient sources that aren't often discussed in this context. If Luke didn't intend to give a historical account when he wrote about the census, then some of Luke's contemporaries, probably many of them, should have known about it. If some of the earliest Christians, represented by Luke's gospel, believed that Jesus was born around ten years later than Matthew's gospel claims, we would expect some ancient Christians and non-Christians to have noticed that inconsistency. If some Christians were claiming that Jesus was born under Herod the Great, while others were claiming that He was born under Herod Archelaus, we would expect that difference to be noticed. Since people living in the earliest generations of Christianity frequently experienced censuses, we would expect them to notice if Luke was describing census procedures that would be implausible. Etc.

Ancient Christianity had a wide variety of enemies. As Irenaeus reminds us, a heretic who accepted one of the four gospels wouldn't necessarily accept another (Against Heresies, 3:11:7). Just as a pagan or a non-Christian Jew would have an interest in criticizing inconsistencies between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, so would a Marcionite or Ebionite.

And we shouldn't assume that the earliest Christians wouldn't have noticed and discussed such issues themselves. When Augustine discusses alleged errors or inconsistencies in the infancy narratives in his Harmony Of The Gospels, it's sometimes unclear whether he's addressing the arguments of non-Christians or questions that he or other Christians had raised. Ancient Christians, like modern Christians, were capable of critiquing their own beliefs, and we shouldn't assume that they would have been too dishonest to address questions that arose surrounding the census. Documents like Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho and Origen's Against Celsus were written because Christians had an interest in addressing criticisms of their belief system.

As early as the second century, we see Christians producing harmonies of the gospels, because they were thinking about such issues. Tatian's gospel harmony is the one most often discussed, but some scholars believe that Justin Martyr worked with a gospel harmony of his own even earlier. Craig Allert argues that there were a few other gospel harmonies circulating in the earliest centuries as well, such as one attributed to Theophilus of Antioch and another attributed to Ammonius (A High View Of Scripture? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007], pp. 114-116). Euebius of Caesarea hyperbolically refers to how "every believer" offered an explanation for the differences between the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke (Church History, 1:7:1). The early Christians were willing to dispute the canonicity of books like 2 Peter and Revelation, so it doesn't seem that they accepted the canonical books, like the gospels, uncritically. If Matthew and Luke were giving radically contradictory accounts of the events surrounding Jesus' infancy, such as the census, the earliest Christians, including contemporaries of the apostles and people who lived just after their time, don't seem to have been aware of it. The historical record suggests that there wasn't a separation between an original Matthean community and an original Lukan community. Rather, the two gospels were accepted together as harmonious from as far back as we can trace the issue. See, for example, Bruce Metzger's discussion of the widespread early acceptance of both gospels in The Canon Of The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Given Luke's apostolic ties and his positive portrayal of the apostles and other early church leaders in Luke and Acts, it makes sense that he and Matthew would hold similar views.

As I've mentioned in previous articles (here and here), the gospels of Matthew and Luke were widely accepted and interpreted as giving harmonious historical accounts early on. A small minority of sources, such as Marcion and his followers, would reject one or both of the two gospels on other grounds (not because of inconsistencies related to the census), but the large majority of professing Christians accepted both.

The earliest interpreters of Luke's account refer to the census as a historical event: Justin Martyr (Dialogue With Trypho, 78), Clement of Alexandria (The Stromata, 1:21), etc. In the process of putting together this series, I contacted some New Testament and patristic scholars to ask some questions about how the census was viewed during the earliest centuries of church history. None of the scholars I corresponded with were aware of any ancient Christian or non-Christian source who questioned or denied the historicity of Luke's census. Julian the Apostate, a Roman emperor who wrote against Christianity in the fourth century, argued:

"Even Jesus, who was proclaimed among you, was one of Caesar's subjects. And if you do not believe me I will prove it a little later, or rather let me simply assert it now. However, you admit that with his father and mother he registered his name in the governorship of Cyrenius."

Apparently, Julian didn't argue against the census, he was at least willing to accept its historicity for the sake of argument, and he expected the average Christian to accept its historicity. Justin Martyr and Origen mention the census as a historical event in their responses to Trypho and Celsus, but neither saw any need to interact with arguments against the census, even though they address a wide variety of other arguments against Christianity.

Touchstone Tries To Save Face, Ends Up Blowing Head Gasket

Touchpebble's ("Pebbles," for short) shtick used to be that of the prophet calling Triabloggers to moral reform. He gained sympathy from his atheist constituents by constantly pointing out our rude treatment of those we conversed with, claiming that we were "dishonoring Christ." Pebbles has now become what he so often vilified. In fact, he's now almost too rude to make in on our team.

Anyway, here's the story: Mason gave us a link to a paper for us interact with. I responded to that paper. Touchstone responded to my response. I responded to Touchstone. He responded back. What follows is my response to his latest. Like before, his words will appear in red:

"Manata attempts to set the record straight in this post over at Triablogue."

Let's set the record straight, I did set the record straight.

Pebbles quotes me:


The first thing to point out his title - interesting choice of words given that he's an expert on "secular morality." Touchpebble says, "Manata Mangles Secular Morality." Since there is no such thing as "secular morality" then how did I mangle it? For example, prominent up and coming atheologian Jeffery Jay Lowder states,

"On that basis, atheism alone is not enough to construct a worldview. Atheism does not entail any particular ethical theory; all that atheism entails is a rejection of theological ethical systems, such as divine command theory."

So, I have no idea how I "mangled" a non-existent category, viz. "secular morality."


He responds,

"Well, that explains it, then. Paul just doesn't think it exists as a category."

I don't "just think" that it doesn't, it doesn't. There is no such thing as "Secular ethics." Lowder corroborated.

Pebbles runs to Wikipedia in order to find support for the existence of "secular morality." Thus the Wiki:



Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from purported supernatural revelation or guidance (which is the source of religious ethics). Secular ethics can be seen as a wide variety of moral and ethical systems drawing heavily on humanism, secularism and freethinking. The majority of secular moral concepts consist, on the grand scale of the acceptance of social contracts, and on a more individual scale of either some form of attribution of intrinsic value to things, ethical intuitionism or of a logical deduction that establishes a preference for one thing over another, as with Occam's razor. Approaches like utilitarianism and ethical egoism are considered rather more radical.


(Emphasis supplied)

Thus saith the Wiki. Let's note some problems:

i) Pebbles makes my point! Thanks buddy.

ii) At best, this quote says that their is a secular way of approaching ethics. It doesn't support the idea that there is a secular ethic. This can be proved by pointing out that an ethical system is supposed to provide normative, action-guiding principles. If an ethical system didn't purport to tell us how we should act in given moral situations, then that system would be useless as an ethical system. This is to say that there needs to be both a formal and a material aspect to ones ethical theory (this point is made by many, for example, secularist Mark Timmons points this out in his book Moral Theory. Secularist James Rachels makes this point in The Elements of Moral Philosophy. etc). Since the above does not purport to give us action-guides, we haven't seen a "secular ethic."

iii) The above account is biased towards a realist conception of ethics. Notice, furthermore, that "culture" is not listed as one of the "basings" for a "secular ethic."

iv) There are secular ethicists who deny that anything has intrinsic value.

v) Pebbles thus digs his grave all the more deeper. He's simply giving us all a lesson on just how much he doesn't know about ethics qua branch of philosophy, and ethics qua secular.


"This article is not one of Wikipedia's gems, and there are certainly better resources for more in-depth discussion of the topic. But there it is, right in a trivially obvious place to look."

Given my comments above, this utterly embarrassing for Pebbles. Oh, btw, I never look to Wikipedia for support of my assertions, especially assertions that are suspect and off-the-cuff.

"Paul satisfies himself with a quote from Lowder, that suggests to him that it just "doesn't exist" as a category. Lowder is correct: atheist doesn't ENTAIL any PARTICULAR ethical theory. There are any number of particular ethical theories that can operate under the umbrella of secular morality, as noted in the Wiki quote above."

That's right, and that's all that I was saying. There is no such thing as "secular" morality. An approach to ethics isn't an ethic. There is no "secular morality" since a morality gives one normative prescriptions that serve as action guides. A "morality" has principles, guides to actions, rules, an axiological position, and, in some cases, aretaic ethics - which, not surprisingly, the Wiki quotes leaves out of the list of the myriad "basings."

"Whoops. Paul hears Lowder say atheism doesn't require any one specific ethical theory, and makes the leap to "atheism doesn't support ANY ethical theories". Lowder was rejecting supernaturalism, but doing so in a way to leave plenty of room for non-magical ethical systems."

Whoops? Let's see:

i) First, I read Lowder, I didn't "hear" him.

ii) I never said "atheism doesn't support ANY ethical system." That's Pebbles' (mis)characterization. I simply said that there is no such thing as "secular morality." Lowder would agree. But, "atheism" does not support any one theory (see (iii) below).

iii) I know that Lowder "leaves room open" for secular "ethical systemS." I never denied that there were secular ethical systemS (plural). But, that "atheism leaves room for ethical systems" does not entail that "atheism supports any one system." I might "leave room" for a slacker to get a passing grade in my class, that doesn't logically entail that I support any one (or n) slacker/s!

iv) Pebbles is simply confusing being compatible with ethical system/s, and being an ethical system. There is no "atheistic" or "secular" ethic, though, "atheism" and "secularism" are compatible with numerous ethical systems.

v) Lowder doesn't use the pejorative "magical" in his post. Why does pebbles? He professes to be a Christian yet he refers to a theistic ethical system as "magical." His "Jesus" teaches us of a "law," an "ethic," yet Pebbles disrespects his professed "savior" by spitting on, and mocking, his claims.

Moving on...

Pebbles quotes me,


Furthermore, as I point out in my post, there is no one accepted "secular morality." I wrote,

"This theory is certainly not the accepted view of atheists and naturalists. Some would say that moral principles are necessary truths expressed as conditionals (cf. Shafer-Landau). Some would say that ethics are the products of social contracts (cf. Hobbes). Some would say that ethical principles are the product of virtues (cf. Aristotle, Mill, etc). Some would say that ethics are supervenient facts, products of the natural world (cf. Brink)."

But, perhaps Touchpebble will reply, conveniently, that I am being pedantic. So let's move on...


His response:

"This Lowder's point, which Paul used as a mangling device above. It's a category, a set of different constituent frameworks. We could say the same thing about theism: there is no one accepted "theism". Some would say God looks like Allah, some like Yahweh, others Quetzacoatl perhaps. But that doesn't "disappear" theism. Paul's instincts are pedantic here, but he hasn't even reached it yet. He's just confused at this point."

i) No, this was my point. I'm the one who said that there is no such thing as a secular ethic. I cite Lowder as agreeing with me. My only point was that Pebbles' title was sloppy. I didn't mangle "secular morality" since there exists no such enterprise to mangle. That's it. Pebbles needs to make more to this then there is. He's trying to cover his tracks. Simply put, my point was that his title was misleading and ignorant. My point is correct. No amount of complaining and sophistry can change the fact.

ii) I know there is no "theistic ethic." That's why I never claimed that there was! Pebbles is trying to put his mistakes on me. Anyway, there is a "theism" where "theism" is defined as "belief in a god." There is no secular ethic, no matter how you define it (speaking non-arbitrarily here). An ethic requires certain things that make it impossible to point and say, "Ah, look, there is the secular ethic." So, his argument from analogy isn't a good argument, and isn't analogous. Everyone agrees that there is an intelligible category which we can use in intelligent conversation called, "theism." This is not the case with "secular ethic." Pebbles is just confused here.


I quoted Byrne - someone Jeff Lowder respects, by the way - as agreeing with me about certain points. Pebbles responds:

"Ahh, someone from the Stanford site said something with some of the same words as Paul used. He's off the hook! It is Stanford and all."

Ahhh, someone (some oneS) from the Wiki site said something with some of the same words as Pebbles used. He's off the hook! It is Wikipedia and all.

"If you read Byrne here, this is not the basis for a "sense" -- however trivial and "not my argument" Paul now wants to claim it is -- that atheists CANNOT be moral. From just above Paul's quote in the SEP article:"

That's not why I cited Byrne, Pebbbles. Perhaps if you calmed down before posting you'd be clear-headed enough to see through your emotional haze of T-blog envy and you'd actually be able to comprehend what your interlocutor is arguing. I had said that my point was something we could both agree on, but that wasn't the focus of my post. My argument was not that atheists CANNOT be moral. That wasn't what I was arguing in my post, Pebbles. I made some qualifications where THAT argument COULD be made, but that was the stated PURPOSE of my post. You picked on something that wasn't INTENDED to function as part of my RESPONSE to the Ethical Atheist.

Pebbles cites the SEP article:


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

These versions of moral argument partake of the flavor, and thus of the difficulties, that surround the pragmatic arguments for religious belief found in writers such as Pascal and James. They will meet with the same response: this is wishful thinking dressed up as argument. The non-theist may press this specific point: only if one is convinced prior to these arguments of the premise that

44. The world is likely to be organized so as to meet our deepest human needs

will one find them cogent. But (44) is just the kind of hypothesis that would be false if there is no God. Arguments such as IX and X thus look circular.


Of course I never gave that argument, or any argument like it, now did I?

Pebbles continues...

"We have here a discussion of the difficulties involved in construction of moral frameworks with and without a God in view. And to be sure, proceeding to build moral frameworks without a supposed supernatural authority presents a significant challenge -- what Byrne calls a "perilous enterprise". It is this peril that points to the criticism leveled at theism -- so much "wishful thinking dressed up as argument". It's just the convenient utility of pointing to an invisible, unverifiable authority that makes theistic morality problematic."

And this is nothing more than Pebbles taking the discussion further off the road from where mine went. Pebbles is simply proceeding with his originally false assumption about my argument. He can wipe his red herrings over the trail all he likes, this dog won't hunt, though. I furthermore wonder which theistic arguments from morality he has sincerely, honestly, and critically interacted with. Based on some of his claims, I'd wager not many, if any.

Lastly, here a zinger! >:-D Let's look at a claim Pebbles made once in our combox about the "evidence" of morality which point, for him, to theism:

"f. Evaluation of "moral law".
f1. Christianity posits final justice, provides dis/incentives for man to be moral, even when "no one is looking".
f2. "Moral law" appears to be "built in" -- 16 month old son displays sense of virtue, shame, guilt, honesty, along with everyone else. My own sense of moral obligation to *something* or *someone* endures, even after I have decided Christianity is as bogus as YEC. My *experience* in dealing with the world in terms of ethics doesn't shout "Yahwheh" or "Bible" directly, but does suggest persistently there is more to this sense than simply serving my own goals (even altruistically construed).
f3. Secular morality seems as plausible, but deficient in terms of final justice, psychological guardrails vis-a-vis Christian model. (and militates against (1)).
f4. Application of Christian morality as hypothesis provides good validation of a) man's nature, b) value of universal principles as bedrock for moral society, behavior.

Notice his "deep need" for "justice" and the "need" t provide "incentive" in order to be moral. His "need" of "psychological guardrails," etc. So, even though I didn't make the kind of argument Pebbles attributes to me, he does! Pebbles must ridicule himself now. He appeals to a "magic" after life. Boy did he ever "mangle" secular morality!

Moving along...

"Paul then proceeds to distance himself from the relevance or efficacy of the comments of his I looked at in my previous post on this. I'm taken to task for seizing on what really should be taken for what it is -- a trivial "throw-away" digression that really doesn't attach to the rest of his points, the good, relevant points in his post."

i) This is revisionist history. Pebbles is simply sophistically using language to characterize the discussion in a light which blots out the actual facts of the matter. Pebbles "mangles" the facts.

ii) As Bertrand Russell once quipped: I am firm. You are obstinate. He is a pig-headed fool.

iii) Rather than "distance myself" from my comments I simply "corrected" Pebbles' mishandling of them.

Moving along...

Pebbles quotes me in response to his asking of a secularist could say that theists are immoral:


I'd have to see the argument expressed more fully. At this point I'm inclined to say "No." In fact, I'd wager that most atheists don't have a problem saying that Christians can be "good" on myriad secular standards; realist ones, at least. Perhaps some subjectivists would say that those who believe in a god are immoral, and the factor that makes this right is the mere belief of the subject, then I'd agree that if that thesis were true, then I couldn't be good. Perhaps an emotivist thinks: "Theism, boo!" But why think anything of interest follows from that? If pebbles wants this point, I'll gladly give it to him.


"This is to miss the point, and the way Paul responds to this 'turning of the tables' reflects the vacuity of his original sense. Indeed, there is a sense in which atheist can say 'theists can't be good'. He then says, without a hint of tongue-in-cheek, 'But why think anything of interest follows from that?'"

i) What is the sense? That an emotivist or a subjectivist can say that a theist can be immoral? They could say that ping pong players are immoral!

ii) Nothing of interest follows because if Pebbles was up on his ethical theory he'd know that the two types of ethical theories I cited can't say that I am "really" or "objectively" immoral. I mean, if he really needs this point, then that's why I gave it to him. Indeed, given the above theories, they could say that Pebbles is immoral! In fact, a secular subjectivist could say that all other secularists besides him are immoral! So, if Pebbles really wants this point he has it. But then this old Nursery Rhyme is apropos:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Moving along....

Commenting on my claim that nothing interesting follows from that Pebbles responds,

"That was precisely MY objection to Paul's original "sense", this self-serving and narrow sense in which Paul gets to define the existential ontology ("God exists"), and the semantic freight too ("Gotta use my interpretation of the Bible to define the terms"). Yes, Paul, there is that "sense" on both sides of the coin -- self-serving and irrelevant."

i) And, in one sense, I even granted this! I knew this before Pebbles brought it up! I didn't need him to tell me what was, what I thought, obvious to all. That's why my argument didn't make us of the points I cited in one paragraph amidst the many I wrote!

ii) In another sense, something interesting does follow from my point that doesn't from the other theories I pointed out above. You see, on those theories I'm not really immoral. If they are true, I am not actually immoral. But if my theory is true, then the atheist is really (objectively) immoral. I thought everyone knew that that was the interesting question. Who cares if you're not really immoral? I should think that everyone cares if the truth of something implies that they actually are immoral. Pebbles isn't even in the same league with me in this discussion. He didn't even practice for the game. Came on to the field without shoulder pads. Without a helmet. And, he brought a Dixie cup!

"Paul complains that nothing "of interest" follows from the atheist side of that coin."

No, I claimed that nothing interesting followed from emotivism or subjectivism. To make an argument that Christians are immoral on a realist account is something I asked you to flesh out since I don't see them being able to make that claim. At best, we'd have differences at the level of fact, not principle (am I assuming to much to think Pebbles grasps the distinction?).

"But, well, there's a large paragraph devoted in his original post to the theist side of the coind [sic]. Nothing of any interest proceeds from that, either. But Paul is unaware."

No, things of interest follow from my comments. The proper distinction that I'm making, though, is that my comments had nothing much at all to do with my argument and response to the Ethical Atheist. It was a side point of clarification. I mainly wrote it for fellow theists who might have broached that subject in the combox. But, as I made clear in my post, the subject for discussion was a different one. The apologetic literature doesn't contain arguments from the qualified sense, they press the: O --> G; O; :.G argument I mentioned in my last response to you. It is often claimed that theists are making arguments from the inability of atheists to be moral. To "refute" this argument is simply an exercise in futility since no one is making that claim. I thus made sure that the Ethical Atheist was dealing with the arguments that we do make, not ones he falsely imputes to us. I should think that a sensible fellow like you would have (a) grasped that and (b) agreed with it. Surely you're not for someone wasting their time beating up straw men, are you?


In response to my clarifying the obvious for Pebbles, he digs his feet in further, refusing to grant when he's overreached,

"Paul's welcome to minimize his point."

Again with the sophistic use of language. Anyway, I rather thought it was obvious that my point was minimized in my post. It's not as though I'm backpedaling now and "minimizing" some strong, main point I made. I even claimed in my original post that,


"iv) ... But, I take it that in this debate, and the sense the Ethical Atheist meant it in, the claim that "atheists can't be moral" is usually intended to connote the idea that atheists cannot adhere to some basic, fundamental, paradigm cases of morality according to a normative model. That is, atheists can refrain from murdering, lying, stealing, etc. (Of course, even here, qualification could be made, for there is much more to following those commands than ordinarily thought. But again, I'm speaking in a very minimalist way. Perhaps a way in which the atheist can accept as what constitutes following moral precepts.)

v) Thus I think the question isn't, "Can atheists act morally?", the question is, "Can atheists provide an account for objective morality?".


It is thus obvious to any one who wants to develop the intellectual virtue of the principle of charity that I "minimized" my point before Pebbles ever responded to me! For a mistake this is too big. What accounts for pebbles' hatchet job? Simple, his mind is clouded by his emotions right now. He's got it out for us, and he doesn't care about putting forth work with a modicum of intellectual integrity, he simply cares about making us look bad. I'd suggest a couple valume, a long vacation, a few drinks, a few nights alone with the Mrs., and then a return to the tough job of defending the atheists from the mean and nasty T-bloggers.

It gets worse...

"but the larger point of Paul's post (which he stresses is what we should focus on, never mind his "more qualified sense") is that secular morality cannot point to a justification for its qualitative assessments -- "good", "bad", "virtue", "vice", etc. That's a key point for Paul, or any presuppositionalist because their worldview depends on a transcendental argument, one that theism in the general sense neither requires or embraces in many cases."

i) I don't use "the transcendental argument for Christian theism alone." I made this point a long time ago. I've pointed this out to Pebbles on numerous occasions. He continues to push bad information. Integrity is not something he holds in very high regard, as you can see.

ii) Many non-presuppositionalists make the exact same argument that I do. Once can see that by reading the works of Copan, Craig, Hare, Helm, Moreland, et al.

iii) My "worldview" depends, at a basic level, on the information contained in the text of Scripture.

iv) I used "normative" assertions, not "qualitative," in my post.

v) Many secularists don't think that secularists (or anyone for that matter) can account for norms in morality.

"That is, Paul MUST assert that secular morality cannot have a rational foundation because his faith is pinned to the idea that it cannot -- God must exist, presuppositionally, for there to be a basis for morality at all."

Notice Pebbles stipulates to his audience what I "MUST" believe, he doesn't quote me, though. And, it is obvious that Pebbles doesn't know the first think about my ethical theory. It's not that "God must exist" for their to be a "basis for morality," though that it part of it. If I were Pebbles I' make sure I knew the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

"A theist who is an evidential, for example, isn't committed to this. He's free to question and doubt the foundations of secular morality, but the discovery or establishment of a secular basis for ethics doesn't invalidate his worldview as it does Paul's."

Contrary to Pebbles' assertions, many evidentialists would hold that if someone actually did put forth a valid secular justification and account for objective ethics that would falsify their position (now, they could change their position after the fact). I wonder if he's ever heard of the divine command theory of ethics? Many evidentialists have held to this. Thus if one holds that an ethical theory that states:

* An act A is obligatory if and only if it is commanded by God that we A.

* An act A is forbidden if and only if God commands that we not A.

* An act A is permissible if and only if God neither commands that we A or that we not A.

and one thinks that DCT is entailed by their version of theism, then if one can put forth a theory of ethics that says that an act A is permissible if X-secular feature, and this theory is true, then the DCT's position has been defeated because if something entails a false proposition, then it is false. I should have thought that all of this was obvious. Pebbles' remarks about "presuppositionalists" hold the same for a non-presuppositionalist like Robert C. Mortimer.

"So, whenever you get a presuppositionalist to comment on this topic, you can confidently expect the knee-jerk reaction, the only defense in the presuppositionalist playbook, and one which must be played and stuck to no matter what: there cannot be any basis for secular moral, because God is transcendentally required for morality."

Note, again, Pebbles offers no quotes from his opponent. I could just as arbitrarily state that whenever you get a Triablogue hater, like Pebbles, you can confidently expect the knee jerk reaction, the only defense in the hater play book (washed down with some hateraide), and one which must be played and stuck no matter what: there can be no good argument from a T-blogger, 'cause they are just stupid and they hurt my feelings.

Pebbles quotes me,


"I dismiss it because the question he's addressing isn't framed that way in the standard literature. So, in this particular debate, the theist does not make that claim. I did point out, though, that if we did make that claim, the debate would progress beyong a mere discussion of normative or meta ethics. So, that claim could not be defeated by simply pointing out that atheists follow deontic principles, for the most part. That was the point. But, as my post indicated, I didn't wish, or need, to debate that point. I even cited W.L. Craig stating that our objection has never been "atheists can't be moral" (from our position, this is obvious. Thus Saint Paul: "There are none who are good." But we don't make that argument because it would take us right back into a "Does God exist" argument. If G then ~M. We would need to prove G first. Thus the argument could be thought of more like this: If objective morality, then God. Objective morality. Then God. If God then atheists cannot be good persons (in the fullest sense of the term). God. Then atheists cannot be good persons (in the fullest sense of the term). Thus the full argument here would be: {O --> G; O; :. G. G --> ~M; G; :. ~M.} But note that I didn't make this argument.), our objection, the one found in the apologetic literature, is that secularism cannot account for the deontic, normative action guiding prescriptions of objective morality, nor teleological normativity, nor axiological normativity. And that is what I was debating, not what Pebbles so underhandedly presents as my position in the context of the dialogue given the framing by the Ethical Atheist."


He then just has to write something,

"Yeah, snore. It's axiomatic for Paul: secularism cannot account for moral norms, because that would invalidate his worldview, a worldview he cannot arrive at reasonably, and can't be expected to leave reasonably. It doesn't matter what arguments an atheists presents, it's literally -- this is vanilla presuppositionalism -- a foregone conclusion. Say what you want, atheists, Paul doesn't need to consider or understand. He knows the TRUTH™ here, and all of this is just so much cynical philosophical swordplay in the fine traditional of van Til and his nihilist heirs. Atheists often make the mistake in reading statements like Paul's "cannot account for" as meaning it's theoretically possible, but atheists haven't succeeded."

This is nothing but an emotional tirade. A temper tantrum of epic proportions. ranting for the sake of ranting. For nothing he has just written can even remotely count as a response to what he quoted from me. Reading what I wrote (see context especially), and then reading his response, leads me to believe that he probably didn't want to put in the mental effort to soak in the information I was conveying. I furthermore have never argued that atheism cannot provide an account for morality because "that would invalidate my worldview." But, even if what Pebbles claims were the case, this is simply an example of a circumstantial ad hominem argument. Even if true, the arguments given against secular accounts of morality must be weighed on their own merits, not on the (alleged) psychological disposition, or circumstances in which I proffer those arguments. And, I would hope that atheists 9or anyone) would read "cannot account for” the way it is intended, the way it is used in philosophical literature. Pebbles acts as if he's never cracked open a philosophy text.


"The larger point, widening out from Paul's "narrow sense" in his long post is that for all its length, it is "content free" with respect to the arguments put forward by the Ethical Atheist et al."

That's funny, the Ethical Atheist didn't really put forward any arguments, any good ones, at least. If Pebbles disagrees, he's always free to actually engage my discussion in a substantive manner, rather than taking shots from the cheap seats. Anyone can assert that someone can't play the game, if they're in the stands.

"That is, when the statement is made that X is considered a norm by virtue of its status as social contract, Paul complains that that is not a sufficient "why"."

i) The Ethical Atheist didn't argue for the social contract theory.

ii) Well, not just me, Pebbles. Surely if you're so versed in ethical theory you'd know that secularists maintain that the social contract theory has severe and crippling problems. I mean, talk about "magic," the social contract is based upon fiction. There is no contract. I mean, who signed this contract? I don't remember doing it. Our children didn't. Was it made long ago? Are we bound to our ancestors agreements? Do our children "renew" it every generation? What about sentient beings who are not participants to the contract. For example, did animals sign it? How about infants? The contract only works, per the theory, if both sides sign it and agree to it. It is based on rules of mutual benefit. To say that we have duties to beings that are not part of the contract, never entered in to it, seems to undercut the very foundation of the theory!. Anyway, for objections tom the social contract theory see such secularists as Rachels, Elements, pp. 155-160. The social contract theory also has been noted to assume psychological egoism, this has its problems, of course being unfalsifiable is one of them. There's also questions on the normativity and objectivity of the social contract theory. They seem to admit that there are no objectively existing features of the word that make moral principles facts of the world.

iii) Social contract can't account for "ultimate justice" and so YOU, PEBBLES, must say that it won't work! That's what you claim above. (They tell me that self-refutation is the worst form of refutation. I wouldn't know, is that true?)

iv) Those were just some opening salvos, you'll notice that I never appealed to anything like: "It just can't be true 'cause them my beliefs would be wrong." I've thus shown that Pebbles simply opines his way through arguments. It is he who is the one who argues thus: Paul just can't have a point, 'cause then my faith would be shattered.

"You can point to the evolutionary social constraints that established it, you can point at the biological and instinctual orientations humans bring to the table, their innate sense of empathy, desire, social connection and competition distilled through millions of years of development, and Paul will still say that's not a 'why'."

Of course I've undermined his false claims about how I argue. Also, if Pebbles knew anything about the theory he's trying to defend, he'd note that it states that we are innately egoists. We are born in a state of war. We want it all. There is a fierce competition for goods. So, we make a contract, based on prisoner dilemma type arguments, that working together would be the best way for us to get the most out of life. We do it grudgingly. We have calculated the odds, and giving up some freedom gives us the best opportunity to live out our egoist desires. And, I will gladly grant that that's a "why." It's just not a good "why." I will also say that saying those things don't account for the normativity and objectivity of ethics. If one could wear Gyges' ring, have the power of invisibility, never get caught, why obey the "rules" on the social contract theory?

Anyway, it's been fun as always, Touchstone. You always provide us with such good fodder, and for that, I thank you. We're all just doing our part.