Tag Archives: Prescriptive Morality

Richard Dawkins’ atheist charity sues former Dawkins disciple for fraud

The center-left UK Independent explains how one person who cannot ground morality rationally defrauded an organization of people who cannot ground morality rationally. (H/T Lex Communis)


Josh Timonen was one of a small coterie of young protégés around Richard Dawkins, sharing his boss’s zealous atheism. But now he and the evolutionary theorist have fallen out spectacularly. Professor Dawkins’s charity has accused Mr Timonen of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The two atheists had become close in recent years, with Dawkins, the best-selling author and Emeritus Professor of Biology at Oxford University, even dedicating his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, to him. But Mr Timonen and the Dawkins foundation are now preparing for a legal wrangle.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, has filed four lawsuits in a Californian court alleging that Mr Timonen, who ran its online operation in America, stole $375,000 (£239,000) over three years. It is claiming $950,000 in damages, while Mr Dawkins is suing him for $14,000 owed to him personally. Mr Timonen strongly denies the allegations.

[…]In documents filed at the court, the foundation says it spotted the alleged embezzlement this year when books were found detailing $500 meals, trips to Malibu Beach Inn and $314,000 in salaries paid to Mr Timonen and his girlfriend.

Beside his work for Professor Dawkins, Mr Timonen has been employed by fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens and the British Humanist Foundation, according to his website.

I actually wrote an entire series of posts on how atheists cannot rationally ground objective moral standards, free will, moral accountability, moral obligations and moral significance. If it turns out that Timonen is guilty, it would be interesting to hear what he thinks about the question “Why should I be moral?” from his atheist perspective.

MUST-HEAR: Glenn Peoples debates Arif Ahmed on God and morality

Another good Unbelievable debate between theist Glenn Peoples and atheist Arif Ahmed.


Torturing children for fun – is that absolutely wrong?

The Moral Argument for God states that there are such things as objective moral facts, and that objective moral facts must have an immaterial source – namely God.  Therefore God Exists… Simple right?

However, atheist Cambridge Philosopher Arif Ahmed disagrees with the first two premises.  He debates with New Zealand’s Christian philosopher Glenn People’s on whether the argument proves the existence of God.

So, are moral beliefs nothing more than our “preferences”? What do we do with the intuition that certain things are absolutely wrong?  Are atheists who affirm moral facts but deny God, being inconsistent?

The MP3 file is here.

I would not really characterize Glenn as an orthodox “Christian” philosopher, although he claims to be – because he doesn’t hold to some beliefs that are essential. E-mail me if you want more info and links to his statements. But he makes good arguments for theism.


Are there moral facts?

Glenn Peoples:

  • Here is my argument:
  1. If there are moral facts, then they have a basis that is either supernatural or natural
  2. If there are moral facts, then there basis is not natural
  3. Therefore, if there are moral facts, then there basis is supernatural
  4. A supernatural person is the most plausible way to think of the the basis of moral facts
  5. If there are moral facts, then the best way to think about their basis is that they are grounded by a supernatural person

Arif Ahmed:

  • There are no moral facts
  • There is no sensory evidence for moral facts
  • I would only accept sensory evidence for the existence of moral facts
  • Each person has preferences for how to treat other people
  • I campaign for things I personally prefer
  • So morality for me is doing whatever I want

Glenn Peoples:

  • Well, that is not moral conduct, that’s “satisfaction conduct”
  • You are doing what satisfies you, but it’s not normative
  • There is no ought there
  • It’s not prescriptive of what you should do, it’s just descriptive of what you do

Arif Ahmed:

  • I would interfere with other people’s preferences if I didn’t prefer them

Glenn Peoples:

  • What do you mean you “ought to” impose your preferences on other people

Arif Ahmed:

  • I do this thing I prefer and this thing I prefer and this thing I prefer
  • I do certain things because I like the way I feel when I do them
  • Nothing defines moral standards because there are no moral standards

Glenn Peoples:

  • On Arif’s view, it is impossible that anyone’s preference could be “wrong”
  • Each person’s preferences are supreme and cannot be judged on Arif’s view
  • On his view, someone who tortures people for fun is as justified as someone who doesn’t because both act on the basis of preferences

Arif Ahmed:

  • We can’t prove the existence of moral facts because only things that can be perceived with the senses are real

Glenn Peoples:

  • But even sensory inputs cannot be proven to be reliable using the senses

Is Glenn’s argument valid?

Arif Ahmed

  • Well, what if I arbitrarily assert that harm is morally wrong without sensory evidence for that moral fact, thus breaking my own rule about what counts as true
  • that makes me look like less of sociopath than before, right?
  • so how about that?
  • even if there were moral facts, God doesn’t have to be the cause of them

Glenn Peoples:

  • If there are moral obligations, they must be owed to a person, not to a state of affairs

Arif Ahmed:

  • Human beings don’t have any proper function, no way we ought to be
  • Each person just decides what they want

Glenn Peoples:

  • What about purpose, is there any reason why we are here?
  • On atheism, you would have to say no

Arif Ahmed:

  • An atheist could have a purpose for your life in an accidental universe without a designer
  • I don’t believe there is a purpose to life though
  • But you can choose social justice, or yoga, or vegetarianism, or video games and have meaning in life
  • And an arbitrary, narcissistic, illusory purpose is just as valid as an objectively true purpose (and as healthy!)
  • It’s very liberating to be able to make up your own arbitrary purpose and arbitrary preferences
  • You can even pretend they are significant and meaningful and that you are a good person (but they aren’t!)

Glenn Peoples:

  • Just to be fair, the idea of objective meaning and objective purpose does require creativity and work – it’s not a cop out

Analyzing Christopher Hitchens’ case against God

UPDATE: My play-by-play transcript of the April 4, 2009 debate at Biola is here.

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In preparation for the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, I thought that I would go over his opening statement from a previous debate to see what we can expect from him. I used his opening speech from his debate with Frank Turek. The audio from that debate is here, at Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 site.

Now the important thing to remember about a generic debate on whether GOD EXISTS is that there should be no mention of any particular God, such as the Christian God, and no mention of the history of any particular religion. All arguments that assume specific theological or moral doctrines or specific religious history are irrelevant to a debate on generic theism.

The question to be debated is: does a God who created and designed the universe, who has all the traditional properties of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence, etc. exist? That is the question being debated in a “Does God Exist?” debate.

Frank Turek’s case for theism:

Frank Turek made 4 relevant arguments for theism, each of which alone would support his conclusion, that God exists:

  • the origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing
  • the fine-tuning of the physical constants to support the minimum requirements for life of any kind
  • the origin of the biological information in the first self-replicating organism
  • objective, prescriptive moral rules need to be grounded by the designer of the universe

And he also listed 4 features of the universe that are more consistent with theism than atheism (= materialism).

  • non-material minds that allow rationality that would be impossible on materialism/determinism
  • the mathematical structure of the universe and its intelligibility to the scientific method
  • free will, which is required for moral responsibility and moral choices, requires a non-material mind/soul
  • our first person experience of consciousness is best explained by a non-material mind/soul

Hitchens’ case against theism

To counter, Hitchens has to argue against God using arguments in one of two forms:

  1. The concept of God is logically self-contradictory
  2. An objective feature of the world is inconsistent with the attributes of God

The claim that God does not exist is a claim to know something about God, namely, that he does not exist. This claim requires the speaker to bear a burden of proof. In a debate on “Does God Exist?”, Hitchens must deny that God exists. Let me be clear: Hitchens must defeat the arguments for the claim that God exists, and then defend the claim that God does not exist, and support that claim using arguments and evidence.

Hitchens makes 2 basic claims:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that theism is true
  • There are good reasons to believe atheism is true

So far so good. But what are his good reasons for atheism?

  1. I personally don’t like Christianity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Catholicism getting rid of limbo
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Hell
    – Premise: I personally don’t like some episodes in church history
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  2. The plurality of religions means that no religious claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: There are lots of religions
    – Premise: The religions all disagree in their truth claims about the external world
    – Conclusion: No religion’s claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
  3. I believe in one less God than you, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: You disbelieve in every God I do, except one
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  4. Religious people are stupid and evil, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Religious people are ignorant
    – Premise: Religious people are fearful
    – Premise: Religious people are servile
    – Premise: Religious people are masochistic
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  5. Evolution explains how life progressed from single cell to today’s bio-diversity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Modern theists like Turek believe in Paley’s argument, and argued it in this debate
    – Premise: Paley’s argument was refuted by evolution
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  6. God wouldn’t have made the universe this way, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: If God exists, then he would have made the universe my way
    – Premise: The heat death of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The extinction of species wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The size of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The amount of open space wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The large number of stars wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The age of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  7. Religion makes people do things that I don’t like, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Some religions do suicide bombing
    – Premise: Some religions do child abuse
    – Premise: Some religions do genital mutilation
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  8. If you speak a sentence, I can repeat the same words as you said, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Anything that you say is good, I can say is good too
    – Premise: Anything that you say is bad, I can say is bad too
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  9. Atheists are morally superior to religious people, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Premise: You don’t act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  10. If I believe in God, I would have to submit to an authority
    – Premise: If I believe in God, then I can’t do whatever I want
    – Premise: But I want to do whatever I want
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  11. I don’t like certain Christian doctrines, therefore arguments for God from science fail and therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I don’t like the atonement
    – Premise: I don’t like the virgin birth
    – Premise: I don’t like the incarnation
    – Premise: I don’t like original sin
    – Premise: I don’t like the resurrection
    – Conclusion: Arguments that are built on recent discoveries from the progress of science like the big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, etc. are incorrect, and therefore God doesn’t exist

General comments about Hitchens’ case:

  • The form of all of these arguments is logically invalid. The conclusions do not follow from the premises using the laws of logic, such as modus ponens and modus tollens.

Specific comments about each argument:

  • Argument 1 tries to disprove God by arguing from Hitchens’ personal preferences about specific Christian doctrines. Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And there is no reason why God should be bound by the personal, subjective preferences of one man. In fact, the concept of God entails that his unchanging nature is the standard of good and evil. So, this argument doesn’t disprove God, it’s just a statement of personal, subjective preference.
  • Argument 2: Just because there are different truth claims made by different groups, doesn’t mean no one is correct. Mormons believe that matter existed eternally, and Jews believe it was created out of nothing. The big bang theory shows that the Mormons are wrong and the Jews are right.
  • Argument 3: First of all, the debate is a about a generic Creator and Designer, not any particular religious conception of God. So the argument is irrelevant. Moreover, Christians reject Zeus, for example, because Zeus is supposed to exist in time and space, and therefore could not be the cause of the beginning of time and space.
  • Argument 4: This is just the ad hominem fallacy. Hitchens is attacking the character of the theist, but that doesn’t show theism is false.
  • Argument 5: This argument can be granted for the sake of argument, even though it’s debatable. The point is that it is irrelevant, since it doesn’t refute any of Turek’s actual scientific arguments like the big bang, the fine-tuning of the physical constants, the origin of information in the simplest living cell.
  • Argument 6: Again, there is no reason to think that God should be bound by Hitchens’ personal opinion of how God should operate.
  • Argument 7: This is the ad hominem fallacy again. The good behavior of religious believers is not a premise in any of Turek’s FOUR arguments for theism. Therefore, Hitchens’ point is irrelevant to the debate.
  • Argument 8: The fact that the atheist can parrot moral claims is not the issue. Being able to speak English words is not what grounds objective, prescriptive morality. The issue is the ontology of moral rules, the requirement of free will in order to have moral responsibility and moral choices, ultimate significance of moral actions, and the rationality of self-sacrificial moral actions.
  • Argument 9: This is just the ad hominem fallacy again.
  • Argument 10: This is not argument so much as it reveals that the real reason Hitchens is an atheist is emotional. One might even say infantile.
  • Argument 11: Again, these specific Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And Hitchen’s subjective, personal preferences about Christian doctrine certainly do not undermine the objective scientific support for the premises in Turek’s 3 scientific arguments.

So, in short, Hitchens lost the debate. A talking parakeet who could only say the 3 premises of the Kalam argument over and over, in a squeaky high-pitched voice, would have defeated him. Atheists and agnostics can do a lot better. That is, if the purpose of the debate is to win and not to just hurl insults at people on the other side.

Worst. Debater. Ever.

Here are some posts on defending Christianity: the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the irrationality of morality on atheism, debates on morality, the irrationality of moral judgements against God on atheism, the hiddenness of God, the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the problem of the unevangelized and how to defend the resurrection without assuming that the Bible is generally reliable.

UPDATE: On Hot Air, I noticed that legions of British atheists are signing up to be de-baptized. Probably fans of Hitchens and his “I woudn’t have done it that way” case against God. As well, Hot Air is covering a story that scientologists and atheists are uniting. Because, you know, they are both science-based.