All posts by Wintery Knight

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Is prescriptive morality rationally grounded on atheism?

In this post I am going to review a series of 7 posts over at Tough Questions Answered on the topic of whether evolution explains morality. The series critically analyzes two variants of godless morality, based on evolution: 1) optimistic humanism and 2) immanent purpose. Let’s start with part 1.

On optimistic humanism, moral values are not objective – that is, they do not exist for all times and places, independent of what humans believe. Instead, they are just arbitrary customs that emerge differently in different cultures, depending on the time and place. So, by good, optimistic humanists mean “what is in fashion here and now” and by bad, they mean “what is not in fashion here and now”.

On atheism, moral impulses are just the carry-overs from the need to cooperate in order to survive. Now, suppose we ask the question “Why should I following these arbitrary customs that limit my pleasure, if I can escape punishment?” TQA writes:

Why should a person be moral?  According to optimistic humanism, it is because leading a moral life will give you personal satisfaction.  Proponents of this view offer several ways of defining personal satisfaction.  Atheistic philosopher Kai Nielsen says that “there can be purposes in life even if there is no purpose to life.”   He speaks of each individual developing a life plan that may include career goals and social goals.  Meaning can be found in “things like love, friendship, caring, knowledge, self-respect, pleasure in life.”

Nielsen says that ethics is make-em-up-as-you-go, on atheism. You choose what you like, based on pleasure. That is why today people have given up on the hard virtues, like chastity, sobriety, marital fidelity, charity, self-sacrifice and devotion to children’s well-being. Instead, morality has been reduced to recycling, environmentalism, yoga, vegetarianism, animal rights, socialist tax policies, and anti-war protests.

As prominent atheist Michael Ruse says:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Next, part 2 notes that optimistic humanists are not able to judge the evolved morality of other times and places. Their morality was right for them, just like our morality is right for us – it is all arbitrary on atheism. Widow-burning in India isn’t really wrong on atheism, it’s just different from what we believe in our time and place. In their time and place, it’s right for them.

Atheist Michael Ruse says this about widow-burning:

“Obviously, such a practice is totally alien to Western customs and morality. In fact, we think that widow sacrifice is totally immoral. Clearly there is nothing particularly objective about this morality, nor is it something one would expect to find the inevitable product of natural selection.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

In part 3, TQA writes that moral choices and moral responsibility are impossible on atheism. On atheism, you are a computer made out of meat, and all of your outputs are fully determined by your genetic programming and sensory input.

TQA notes that:

Morality seems to require humans to possess a robust form of free will that allows them to make moral choices.  We often praise good moral acts and condemn bad moral acts as if the people we are judging have some control over their actions.  If there is no free will, then moral choices are completely determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, and it makes no sense to praise or criticize anyone because they are acting according to deterministic physical laws.

I would add this quote from Richard Dawkins:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Source)

In part 4, TQA writes that atheists cannot judge other people, or even God, because their atheistic morality is totally subjective and arbitrary. TQA cites the January-February 2005 edition of Humanist magazine, in which former American ambassador Carl Coon writes:

[Ethical] principles constitute a structure of interlocking behavioral guidelines that have been growing organically since our ancestors first became human, if not earlier.  These standards and principles didn’t descend to us from on high as some revealed truth from an intelligent being greater than ourselves.  We worked them out through a long and arduous evolutionary process marked by many wrong turns and much social discord.  Indeed, the structure is still imperfect and we continue trying to make improvements.

Then TQA exposes how all of this language is logically self-contradictory:

…notice the words he employs to describe morality: wrong turns, discord, imperfect, and improvements.  All of these words indicate that morality, over time, has been moving in a direction from worse to better, from bad to good, from imperfect to perfect.  But how is it possible for the ambassador to judge the morality of the distant past if all morals are relative?  How can he say that morality has taken “wrong turns”?  How do we know ethics are improving over time if no two time periods can be compared?

TQA goes on to define the immanent purpose view, (our survival is objectively good), in part 5. They critique it in part 6 and part 7. Here are some of their responses to this view:

  • no explanation of the origin of the value of human survival
  • evolution doesn’t justify compassion on the weak and unfit
  • no reason why individuals should conform their behavior to past observed behavior

Below are five good debates in which atheists try to answer the question: “on atheism, why is it rational for me to to do the right thing, especially when I feel less pleasure, and when I will not be punished if I do the wrong thing?”. There is no reason to be moral on atheism. And that is why atheism killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone. Atheists who do act morally are acting inconsistently and irrationally.

Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens

William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen

William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor

William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)

William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

These debate links are courtesy of ChristianJR4, who really needs to start his own blog! And there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here.

John Lennox vs Michael Shermer and Christopher Hitchens

UPDATE: Audio and video from a  panel discussion with Hitchens, Craig, etc. is linked here.

I found this debate between Michael Shermer and John Lennox, with video and audio, here. Shermer is, as usual, completely unable to bear his side of the burden of proof. He does not present a single argument other than the problem of evil, and that isn’t presented with any rigor. Lennox presses several scientific arguments from the progress of science, including the big bang. He also argues that atheism makes life and moral behavior meaningless. Shermer does not understand this simple maxim: before you can show why a belief is wrong, you need to show that a belief is wrong.

In other news, Lennox will be facing-off against Christopher Hitchens in Birmingham, AL in March 2009.

The Samford University Socratic Club is sponsoring a debate between leading atheist and acclaimed journalist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist and Oxford Professor John Lennox in what promises to be a thought-provoking evening.

“Is God Great?” will take place at 6:00 pm on March 3, 2009 at Samford University’s Wright Center in Birmingham, AL.  Doors will open to the public at 5:15, and the event will last until 8:00 with a booksigning to follow. Books will be on sale in the lobby.  Both men debated each other before for the first time this past fall at the Edinburgh International Festival over the question of whether or not Atheism could save Europe. Click here for the DVD of that event.

Tickets can be purchased through Samford University
$20 each / $10 for Samford Students

For questions or other inquiries, call 205.807.4477
For more information, see the
Socratic Club website.

William Dembski to speak at SES in May 2009

Just noticed this up at the SES home page:

Dr. William Dembski is coming to SES

May 11-16, 2009

Intelligent Design

Dr. Dembski is an internationally recognized authority on Intelligent Design and Design Theory. He will be teaching a Summer Module on that very topic.

The public is welcome to sign up for this module.*

To register for this course, click here

For new students please contact Duke or Nora Hale: 704-847-5600, Ext. 216.

For an introduction to intelligent design, look here.

Two ways to conduct a Tea Party revolution against socialism

GatewayPundit is reporting that the economic news is getting even worse.

Along with raising taxes on businesses, raising taxes on the “rich,” and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire…
President Obama will also announce the implementation of an expensive cap and trade energy policy this week to battle pretend global warming.

He cites Human Events’ report that we will lose between between $444 billion and $1.308 trillion of GDP output, and unemployment would increase 2.7% (= 4 million jobs lost), mostly in the manufacturing sector.

Well, we’re doomed. Or are we? I’ve found a couple of clever ideas for dealing Obama’s plans to plunge the United States into socialism.

The first idea is from Biola University professor Doug Geivett, who is a first-class evangelical Christian scholar. I met Doug at a philosophy conference on Providence and Open Theism at Wheaton College, IL in 2000. I remember asking him whether investments were a form of gambling. He explained that investing was not gambling, because investments fund the creation of new products and services that grow the economy.

Doug starts by noting Rick Santelli’s rant against Obama’s socialist policies which involve wealth redistribution from those who produce to those who consume. (Note: there is now a new rant up, with supply-sider Larry Kudlow).

In his post, Geivett enumerates the points made by Santelli:

First, fiscally responsible Americans don’t want to pay the bill for borrowers who can’t keep up with their mortgages.

Second, fiscally responsible Americans shouldn’t have to pay the bill for borrowers who can’t make their payments.

Third, this plan doesn’t rob the rich to give to the poor. It takes from every tax-paying American and turns it over as free cash to people who can afford to rent but can’t afford to buy.

Fourth, there are ways to get the federal government to pay attention, ways the government is totally unprepared for.

Santelli suggests that responsible, productive Americans may want to consider a revolution – a kind of Chicago Tea Party. Right now, the banks are being more careful about who they give credit to. This is not a problem for responsible people with good credit history. The government is giving out bailouts to banks in order to ease credit for irresponsible consumers – the same ones that got us into this mess in the first place.

Geivett describes what he thinks this Chicago Tea Party might look like:

For example, what do you think would happen if 30% of all Americans with an income of $50,000 or more organized to do the following two things:

  1. Convert all of their assets held in the stock market and at banks and credit unions into cold, hard cash (or gold bars holed up in their bank’s safe deposit boxes)?
  2. Refused to pay income tax for 18 months (or indefinitely)?

This would remove the money that banks use for consumer loans. If no one can get credit, then no one can default, and there is no need for bailouts to these delinquents. By refusing to pay income taxes for a period of time, the government would have no funds available for bailing out their favorite special interest groups. People might finally have to stop spending and start working and saving again.

Geivett goes on to describe how this plan should incorporate reduced consumer spending, which I agree with. Somehow, America has gone terribly wrong. We use to be a nation of workers and savers. But the progress of left-wing socialism, with all the redistributing of wealth from producers to free-riders, has caused us to drift into an irresponsible, immature, hedonistic culture.

Geivett’s plan made me think of a post I read before on “Going Galt”. What if all the people who produced wealth just stopped producing?

Do you ever wonder after dealing with all that is going on with the economy and the upcoming election if it’s getting to be time to “go John Galt”? For those of you who have never read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the basic theme is that John Galt and his allies take actions that include withdrawing their talents, “stopping the motor of the world,” and leading the “strikers” (those who refuse to be exploited) against the “looters” (the exploiters, backed by the government).

Obama talks about taking from those who are productive and redistributing to those who are not — or who are not as successful. If success and productivity is to be punished, why bother? Perhaps it is time for those of us who make the money and pay the taxes to take it easy, live on less, and let the looters of the world find their own way.

The National Taxpayers Union explains who pays the taxes that Democrats are redistributing to their freeloading constituents. The top 50% pays 97% of all income taxes collected! The lazy half the country is freeloading off of the productive half.

The second idea that I found for responding to Obama’s socialist bailouts is to move to Canada. Captain Capitalism had this post in which he compares the two economies and concludes that Canada has a better future than the United States. Canada has a smaller deficit, a smaller debt, and is not facing a meltdown from entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, like we are.

Investor’s Business Daily reports that:

By 2041, Social Security will be essentially broke, having exhausted its trust fund, those dollars amassed through decades of surplus payroll tax revenues that Congress will have already squandered on general budget expenditures. Medicare’s future is just as bleak. It is already spending more than it is receiving in payroll taxes.

The prime minister of Canada right now is economist Stephen Harper, a strong fiscal conservative in the mold of F.A. Hayek.

UPDATE 1: Michelle Malkin has even more ideas on what to do here.


Democrats caused the recession and Republicans tried to stop it

Who caused this economic downturn and what should we do about it?

Almost no one realizes that this entire subprime lending mess was created by the Community Reinvestment Act, which was passed by President Carter, a Democrat, in 1977. Later on in the 1990s, Bill Clinton, another Democrat, passed laws to enforce the original bill. The purpose of the CRA is to force banks to make risky loans to people who can’t afford to repay those loans.

The extremely left-wing Los Angeles Times explains in 1999 that the CRA was passed to force banks to make risky loans.

Under Clinton, bank regulators have breathed the first real life into enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, a 20-year-old statute meant to combat “redlining” by requiring banks to serve their low-income communities. The administration also has sent a clear message by stiffening enforcement of the fair housing and fair lending laws.

In 1992, Congress mandated that Fannie and Freddie increase their purchases of mortgages for low-income and medium-income borrowers. Operating under that requirement, Fannie Mae, in particular, has been aggressive and creative in stimulating minority gains… Fannie Mae has agreed to buy more loans with very low down payments–or with mortgage payments that represent an unusually high percentage of a buyer’s income. That’s made banks willing to lend to lower-income families they once might have rejected.

The extremely left-wing New York Times noted in 1999 that the GSEs gave out the risky loans under duress from Democrat Bill Clinton.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates — anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

According to the New York Times in 2003, George W. Bush tried to stop the Democrats from ruining the economy with these forced loans. He was blocked by Democrats like Barney Frank.

The Bush administration today recommended the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago.

”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

Here are some video clips to prove that the Democrats opposed regulating  the GSEs. They are responsible for this mess, along with the irresponsible people who signed up for these loans that they could not repay.

Timeline of the events in the crisis: Bush was the first to recommend regulating the GSEs in April, 2001. In 2003, Bush tried to create a new federal agency to regulate the GSEs. He was blocked from doing so by the Democrats in the Senate. In 2005, Alan Greenspan warned that failing to regulate the GSEs could be a catastrophe. Again, Democrats blocked the effort to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The video shows Democrat Chuck Schumer protesting that regulation is not needed. In 2006, McCain and other Republicans introduced a bill to regulate the GSEs. Again, the Democrats voted against it and nothing happened.

Republicans and Democrats in their own words on the GSE accounting practices: Here we have Republican Rep. Richard Baker, Democrat, Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat Rep. Gregory Meeks, Republican Rep. Ed Royce, Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay, Republican Rep. Christopher Shays, Democrat Rep. Arthur Davis, Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, Republican Rep. Don Manzullo. Shays notes that the GSEs make many contributions to Democrats who are blocking their regulation.

Fannie Mae CEO addresses Democrats: Fannie Mae CEO calling Obama and the Dems the “Family” and “Conscience” of Fannie Mae. The Democrats obstructed the regulation of the GSEs while taking political contributions from them, especially Obama. Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelick and Jim Johnson were all executives at the GSEs and are all Democrats. Other Democrats like Penny Pritzker ran other mortgage banks into the ground, and now work for Obama.

According to Human Events, Obama himself sued banks on behalf of ACORN, to force the banks to make these risky loans.

Obama sued Citibank under the Community Reinvestment Act in a typical ACORN-style lawsuit to force the bank to make these risky loans.  ACORN filed many of this type of lawsuit alleging racism in all of them.

According to opensecrets.org, Obama was also the second-highest recipient of political contributions from the GSEs. The American Spectator notes that he included 5.2 billion dollars of taxpayer money for ACORN in the porkulus bill.

UPDATE 1: The Achoress just posted even more of the history of this mess here. She has a link to Nice Deb’s post which contains about 2 dozen warnings issued by the Bush administration about the looming crisis, including 17 warnings in 2008 alone.

UPDATE 2:  Here’s an even better timeline than mine, by Roger Kimball.