Euthyphro Dilemma – A False Dichotomy – Revised

It is written:

      I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For, since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.1

I have always disdained the dialogues of Plato for their format. Recognizing similar tendencies from my own childhood Walter Mitty fantasies, the protagonist and hero, in this case Socrates, always seems to have the equivalent of bowling pins for interlocutors. Euthyphro certainly constitutes one such lame antagonist; noticeable when one isolates his responses from the great Socrates. Euthyphro might have even been a real person and therefore, a real pushover. But in my experience, one’s ideological adversaries tend to have a more substantive and detailed rationales for their opinions, even if their reasoning will be found to be fallacious and spurious.

“The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy; or holy because it is beloved of the gods.” [Socrates] 2

To put the question posed in modern vernacular, “Are moral acts willed by God because they are good, or are they good because they are willed by God?”3 One of the common sophist tricks and deceits is to contrive a question with presumably only two equally abhorrent options, suckering the respondent into not thinking beyond this box of the dichotomy. But, there just might exist alternatives beyond the snare. Even coin flips sometimes can land on its side (1 in 6,000 for the U.S. nickel).

The other problem behind these rational inquiries is the presumption that Reason can, if wielded by a pristinely competent and honest practitioner, can ascertain all answers and understanding. As much as I believe in and enjoy the use of reason, I have come to realize its natural limits. (And our and my natural limits to reason!)

Through reason’s natural proclivity for infinite regress, Richard Dawkins thinks he can disprove the hypothesis of God. If God created the universe, who created God? And by extension, who created the person, who created God? And who created the person, who created the person, who created God…? The problem with the argument is that the alternative is no less rationally absurd and inexplicable. How did something come into being from nothingness? The naturalist might like to obfuscate the question by reducing existence, through the Big Bang theory, to a singularity. However, the existence of that singularity cannot be explained through reason. Whether we live in a theistic or a non-theistic universe, they are both rationally absurd and incomprehensible. (There are other theories of existence, less rationally credible. But they don’t escape from the rational conundrum.) And yet, here we are! Our existence is an empirical fact. And it is categorically impossible for such existence to derive from reason.

Another one of those paradoxes, (and I thank fellow madman Nietzsche (‘Beyond Good and Evil”) through which the conundrum was conceived), is that the virtue of truthfulness (intellectual integrity) cannot be derive through reason. For, in order to incontrovertibly arrive at the conclusion that truthfulness is a virtue, one must employ it in the first place. In other words, truthfulness must be an axiomatic epistemological attribute (one must, as a necessary foundational value, be truthful in one’s inquiry of such matters), in order to reason that truthfulness is a necessary foundational value. It becomes a circularity and therefore, rationally incoherent.

This is not to suggest throwing out reason and living out one’s life through leap of faith, apart from reason. Christ and the Apostle Paul certainly deployed its use. 4 The framework of civilization, let alone civilization itself, would soon regress to the proverbial caveman all-against-all existence. Law and moral authority of civil authorities requires rational consistency; a dearth of which is undermining the credibility of the judiciary. However, it is an inescapable conclusion of the insufficiency of Reason alone to explain all; even were the thinker pristine in virtue and acumen.

Behind this sophist snare, of the kind that Christ was not unfamiliar (Luke 20), include the apparent conundrums.

If the Good is whatever the god or deity commands, all that which constitutes the Good is an arbitrary value. (Even Good itself, has been argued is of arbitrary validity.5) If the Good is to be defined as an objective measure beyond God’s edict, then God is not omnipotent. He is subject to that which is greater. Secondly, God cannot be both virtuous and omnipotent. For omnipotence, in the minds of these detractors, means being able to do even what is evil. The underlying heart of these questions intends to demonstrate that morality can exist apart from God.

What is right and wrong depends on God’s commands such that his commands alone are what make actions right or wrong. There is no reason for what is right and wrong and morality is arbitrary.

God commands us to perform certain actions and refrain from others because certain actions are right and others are wrong and being fully rational he knows what is right and wrong and being completely good he issues commands to humanity that conform to his moral knowledge. Yet morality is autonomous from God’s commands and is something to which God must conform. Thus God is not omnipotent over morality.6

There is a “quarreling about words”7 quality to this discourse. However, current Evangelical nostrums on this matter, significantly detract from their relevance in the wider world. And these shibboleths do not even correspond to the arguments contained within Scriptures to which they allege allegiance. One response is to suggest that His commands emanate out of His own nature and character, which is presumed Good.

The third option is that good is based on God’s nature.  God appeals to nothing other than his own character for the standard of what is good, and then reveals what is good to us.  It is wrong to lie because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), not because God had to discover lying was wrong or that he arbitrarily declared it to be wrong. This means that God does not arbitrarily declare something to be good (ignoring his own nature) or say that something is good by nature (recognizing a standard outside of himself).3

This perspective (Modified Divine Command Theory8) attempts to avoid the charge of caprice and arbitrariness by moving goodness from mere will of God as from that emanating from the character of God. God will not command evil because it is unthinkable or overwhelmingly abhorrent for His to do so because of His nature. It doesn’t succeed on the former and makes worsens the conception of God.

Humanity, at least the larger and saner part of it, abhors the idea of being determined; of lacking Free Will. In the few arguments that I have had over Calvinism, what is the core heart cry of my interlocutors over the Doctrine of Sovereign Grace is the primal dread of only being a programmable robot.9 The thought of the mecha David in A. I. destroying all his duplicate copies because it violates his primordial need for uniqueness encapsulates the horror about such a reality. Although neuroscience and psychiatry, and those who occupy the Commanding Heights of philosophy of mind subscribe to the idea of physiological determinism (genetics and neurotransmitter), the belief system by which they operate are disguised and muted; knowing that their reception would be as repulsive and repudiated as that of religious determinism.

If humanity bears the image of God; that is, if we share a common psychological structure as our Maker, however that is constituted; why would we ascribe to God features, which we would find in ourselves, abhorrent? Would not God similarly find the idea of lacking true Free Will reprehensible? This philosophical god would be the god of the algorithm. And indeed, if this determined god ultimately lacks genuine choice, the qualities of morality, good and evil lack intrinsic coherence and meaning.

Since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself.11

The problem with the paradigm ‘moral acts are willed by God because they are good’ is that of adjudication. Those who suggest an external standard of Good could exist apart from God could very well be correct. However, the question yet remains, who is worthy in virtue and wisdom to determine what that external standard is and whether God complies. Those who believe they could fill such shoes, are foolishly arrogant and/or ignorant of the difficulties in ascertaining such. Any such self-appointee would quickly find themselves targeted under the same skepticism and scorn by others who have their own ideas of the ‘ought’. The history of humanity attests to this reality; with incessant rebellion and disobedience to civil and other authority; whether justified or unjustified.

Other than an omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the heavens and the earth, what other legitimate and workable alternative is there? Once one begins to go down the road of charging arbitrariness behind any form of authoritative ethics, no one need morally respect any ethical system or those who impose it. The French Revolution highlighted the implausibility of attaining a universal consensus through Reason as faction after faction cannibalized each other. And even if a consensus could be reached, it doesn’t necessitate that it knows the Good. Other than subjectivism, relativism and moral nihilism, whose practicable effects are lawlessness, chaos, misery and destruction; any who dares to define the Good will be similarly charged with caprice and arbitrariness by their peers and inferiors. This does answer the central dilemma. However, it illuminates the unwinnable sophistry in the question.

There is a third option, although it might appear as mere modification of existing options. That is, that God embodies the Good (“I am the way and the truth and the life.”12); both in being God and concurrently, in an objective sense. That is, God never required discovering the Good. But from eternity past, He always knew and embraced the Good. And that Good will prove objectively, with the light of omniscience, intellectual and moral integrity and virtue to be the Good. Reason might scream, from the argument of infinite regress, when did God determine that objective Good. But like the absurdity of existence without possibility of rational theistic or naturalist explanation; it just is.

A mere assertion hardly constitutes rational proof of this proposition. However, it does show that the Euthyphro coin can land on its side. It does resolve the respective charges of arbitrary caprice on the one hand and lack of omnipotence on the other.

And reason is like Newtonian Physics. It breaks down at the infinite extremes.

Postscript

In response to one conjury that denies the possibility of God being both omnipotent and virtuous; this argument works only if God be a god of the algorithm. That is, by His internal constitution; His programming, so to speak, He cannot categorically sin. And many a Christian adherent have made such claims themselves; possibly to secure themselves in His reliability for goodness, as if by logical supposition. However, our God is a personal god, with Free Will to sin at any time. In this, He remains omnipotent. It is just that He constantly elects to do the Good. This is a personal universe and our safety and security lies ultimately in the virtue, wisdom and power of a personal God, not in a logical deduction.

From the perspective of insignificant, weak mortals, dependence on a overwhelmingly powerful God, who theoretically could drop or abuse us


Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 1:19-21
  2. Plato, “Euthyphro”, c. 380 B.C., Transl. Benjamin Jowett
  3. Matt Slick, “What is the Euthyphro dilemma?”  http://carm.org/euthyphro-dilemma
  4. Matthew 23:16-22, Romans 2
  5. Nietzsche makes such argument in his book “Beyond Good and Evil”. However, he seems not to realize that he has substituted the Good in Judeo-Christian and Classical sense with as standard of good of his own; that of life-affirming. As judgment is an inherent psychological component of sentient beings, it is impossible not to judge by some criteria.
  6. Mark Timmons, “Moral Theory: An Introduction”, 2002, pp 28-29.
  7. 2 Timothy 2:14
  8. Robert Merrihew Adams, “A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness”, From Religion and Morality, 1975, pp 318-347
  9. Sovereign Grace issues
  10. Sam Harris, “Free Will”, 2012 gives a sophomoric and simple-minded overview of the thesis. However, all extant sub-hypothesis as to how this works are contradicted within their own ideological community and the Benjamin Libet family of experiments is profoundly flaw on their philosophical (and non-scientific) conception of ‘Free Will’. However, that is a topic of another project.
  11. Hebrews 6:13
  12. John 14:6
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8 thoughts on “Euthyphro Dilemma – A False Dichotomy – Revised”

  1. So god can do evil at any time he wishes. Thus proving his omnipotence. However, he knows what good is and elects to do good. My problem with this is that on the one hand you make it seem as if good emanates from god, but then you say, “god elects to do good.” That seems contradictory. If good comes from god, then by extension he must always do good, but in the example you gave, god and good are independent of each other. Here’s another problem I have, god can enforce his decrees with might and power. So by his power they become right. Hence the expression, “might makes right.” I don’t think you accomplished what you set out to do and this to provide a third option.

  2. That “god and good can be independent of each other” is exactly what I am declaring. In the philosophical god or god of the algorithm (which betrays my occupational training); the goodness of god is proven by definition. He is god; therefore he must invariably be good. This is akin to saying that the law of any given earthly jurisdiction must invariably be right, merely because it is the law of any given earthly jurisdiction. An ethical principle of god or a law of the land exists; therefore it must be good; regardless of logical and/or practical consequences. This must be seen as a logical fallacy and circularity in this philosophical god of Reason.

    The problem with this philosophical god is that it is a determined god (and I use ‘it’ intentionally). It does ‘good’ because its ‘programming’ can do no other. Obviously, this philosophical god is essentially bereft of free will. And if it is bereft of free will, than there must exist something beyond it that constrains it. That which exists beyond must be seen as the true god. Furthermore, the concept of ‘good’ lacks semantic meaning if one can only perform that to which it is programmed. Good as an attribute of character, by definition, implies a genuine choice between options. I might write a good program. But it is a misnomer to give judgment of the program as having a virtuous character.

    I reject the philosophical god of Plato (“The One”) and the Greeks in favor of the personal “I Am” of the Jews; who has always known the Good, which I define as that comprehensive and complicated weave of ethic and ethos which furnishes the best of all possibilities, and always chooses the Good; even if by second nature. And when I say second nature, I don’t mean an algorithm. I mean that type of conduct in us, like learning to walk or drive, that becomes “instinctual” and without self-consciousness, after first establishing in a more deliberative way of the virtue of that conduct. Our confidence in that conduct invariably leads inevitably to short-circuit those faculties which we first used to establish the virtue of that conduct. However, we are not beholden to the short-circuited action.

    The personal “I Am” of the Jews actually sets about, through history, to allow Himself to be judged. “That you might be justified in your sayings, and might overcome when you are judged (Romans 3:4, Psalm 51:4) is among many Scriptural examples of the nature of the Jew’s God and the attraction of this God is not through power but through character (i.e. the Crucified God).

    I repudiate any inherent logical connection between might and right. If a Central American or African leader cannot wield the power to constrain the warlords and genocidal squads within his country from committing their atrocities, is that leader considered guilty of crimes against humanity for lack of ability? If the paralyzed man deliciously daydreams of killing his wife, is he virtuous because he is incapable of fulfilling his fantasies? Power and virtue dwell in separate paradigms. A person can maintain the pristine height of ethical standards. But if he/she cannot execute or enforce his/her will, the objective end result is equivalent to as if he/she had no ethics at all. God must be omnipotent and He must separately be virtuous. There is no logical or inherent relationship between the two.

    The problem with the “might makes right” argument of Divine Command Theory is one of governance and political theory; an element very much in evidence in the Bible. The “I Am” of the Jews seeks to govern through “Righteousness and justice as the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14, 97:2) rather than through raw power. That is rather than by power and craven fear; it is by moral authority and approval of His citizenry that constructs the best form of governance and society. There exists abundant evidence in human history and even sociology to suggest that consent is ultimately more powerful than coercion. Those who are coerced tend to do as little as they can get away with. Those who consent tend freely to do more than is necessary. Wisdom would suggest the latter is the better policy of statecraft.

    This implies that there is a standard beyond the power of God. And the problem with this standard is that there is no other sentient being able (for lack of omniscience) and virtuous to be its adjudicator.

    I am only making a rational argument that a third possibility exists to discredit the disingenuous Euthyphro dichotomy between unsavory choices. That is; as an existential fact, there is the possibility that the Good is good because it emanates from God and because it simultaneously is objectively good (defined as resulting in the best of outcomes). And in this, the Good must be seen in its composite and systematic whole. It is not to prove that the third option is true; because one cannot philosophically prove existential fact. (Can one prove through pure reason that the Sun must exist where it exists?) It is merely to prove the possibility of the third option.

  3. Well, first, let me thank you for responding on such short notice and I look forward to having a long straight forward and in-depth conversation with you..

    I think it’s important to note that I am an atheist and I am very well aware of most Christian apologetics and their use of presuppositional apologetics. So, for the sake of this conversation I am merely entertaining the thought of there being a god since we have no evidence that such a being exists.

    “That which exists beyond must be seen as the true god.” You seem to have a problem with the idea of god only being able to do good and not being able to do bad. I spoke with several apologetics before coming to you and most have said that it is impossible for god to sin or do something that is immoral. Just because god is bound by his nature to always do good does not take away his omnipotence or his free will. You’re trying to have your cake and eat it too by suggesting that “good” is independent of god and god radiates good since it is within his nature.

    Now, that’s not to say that he doesn’t know what evil is. I think you’re wrong when you say that god is bereft of free will. Why would free will even be an issue if god is by nature good? Why would he all of a sudden need to have the option to do evil if he can’t do evil by his own nature?

    To be completely honest, it doesn’t even make sense to have a third option. Either good is good because it is good or it is good because god says so. This third option in my opinion is a way of trying to scapegoat the question. Why can’t theists just answer the question or at least admit that morality is not a black and white subject like most religious people make it out to be.

    Thank you for you time.

  4. Dear Allen:

    You said “I think it’s important to note that I am an atheist and I am very well aware of most Christian apologetics and their use of presuppositional apologetics. So, for the sake of this conversation I am merely entertaining the thought of there being a god since we have no evidence that such a being exists.“

    I am going to give response to you in two (perhaps more) separate comments because your comments raised more elements than the subject in hand. Other than the fact that you are a declared atheist, I make no presumptions beyond. I do not know whether you are an atheist looking for a reason to believe or one of the many partisans who are looking to fine tune your arguments (“iron sharpens iron” – Proverbs 27:17) against the “theistic peril”. From your comments, I suspect that the latter is truer. The problem with the latter motive is that I myself am as disconcerted with a theistic peril as with the “secular humanist” peril

    In my country, Canada, as in Europe; secular liberal tyranny is the greater threat to civil liberties. Ex-pat Mark Steyn calls our country a soft-totalitarianism, which I must concur. Investigation of the Human Rights Commission with regard to Steyn and others would give you understanding for his statement. In your country, (which I am presuming is America because all yesterday’s hits came from the U.S.), I would be more concerned with civil conflagration between the rivaling factions trying to impose their dogmas over the other. I don’t see too many card-carrying Christian Reconstructionists in the U.S.; although many have quasi-theonomic sentiments. However, the threat of liberal secularist impositions is exciting a contrary reaction in the theist and religious community and vice versa in a feedback vortex.

    Although I can see some merit in presuppositional apologetics, in the sense that existence makes a whole lot of coherent sense from a thoroughly Biblical perspective (“in Thy light, we see light” – Psalm 36:9) than any other metanarrative, I dislike presuppositionalism for the following reasons.

    Its association with Christian Reconstructionism (which appears to have an intrinsic logical relationship).

    The destruction of the worldview of one’s interlocutor (usually by showing how unlivable it is or how inconsistent the interlocutor’s professed worldview is to how they are living life) is not proof, in of itself, that Biblical viewpoint is true

    I think it is disrespectful to the interlocutor to insist that interlocutor believe the Bible as a given. Not even the God of that Bible acts in such manner. The practice is to give evidence and invite humanity to test the evidence against objective reality. That is tough because humanity lacks omniscience and is hobbled by existing prejudices, non-virtuous motives that lend to intellectual dishonesty, etc.

    It is a great leap of expectation for someone to immediately “see light” since understanding of the deep seminal themes of Scriptures takes considerable rumination.

    Nevertheless, presuppositionalists make a good point about apologetics. If one’s interlocutor forms axioms such as a necessary materialism (or physicalism as it is now called), which precludes the existence of the spiritual and the soul, it really is pointless making an effort to discourse because one is facing as dogmatic a non-believer as Divine Command Theory advocates are a believer.

    I am much more inclined to “evidentialism” since that is the intellectual foundation of my trust in God in Christ. However, such evidentialism would involve three, perhaps more, aspects.

    Negation of naturalist dogma which has its origins in 6th Century B.C. Ionian Physiologists and is a constellation of necessarily interrelated doctrines and axioms (physicalist cosmos, necessary reductionism of the diversity within the universe (i.e. evolution, atomism) since complexity and especially irreducible complexity intimates the necessity of an intelligent agent forming the universe, physiological (medical) model of mind etc)

    Negation of philosophical, epistemological and ethical skepticism

    Positive philosophical arguments of the existence of God, which are fine as far as they go. But believing in the existence of god is like saying I believe in economics, without discerning between laissez-faire capitalism and command economy Marxism. It is not really belief in God as He genuinely is. It is like saying I believe in wife, without any personal attributes particular to one’s own wife.

    Testing the claims of God, in whatever incarnation; the God of the Jews, Christians or Muslims or the million or so gods of the Hindus or the non-personal pantheist ‘god’ of the Buddhists etc; against objective realities. However, that is a long and tall order in order to get to the point where unbelief is far more irrational than belief. The idea of Cartesian certitude or Cartesian standards of proof are an absurd measure and sophistry for sentient beings who lack omniscience; guaranteed to ultimately produce skepticism. For, in that which we do not yet know, there might possibly contain that grain of datum which can upend all that we currently presume to know. However, in that humanity will never be omniscient, humanity is, through this philosophical bind, condemned to doubt.

    However, all such inquiries require commitment to intellectual integrity. That is; commit to where the evidence leads. A person might not honestly believe the evidence or find the evidence insufficient. However, it is certainty that a person will not believe any amount of incontrovertible evidence if their heart is categorically dead-set against such belief. Intellectual integrity in this age of extreme polarization and partisanship is in very short supply on both sides of the divide. In that you claim that you see no evidence; it would seem to indicate dogmatism. I can rationally understand insufficient incontrovertible evidence for lack of belief as some of the best-thinking atheists subscribe. However, I think that even they would find no evidence, an untenable and dogmatic position.

    My arguments against the Euthyphro Dilemma is not proof of God but an attempt to discredit a disproof by showing that it is more of a sophist snare between two unpalatable options; akin to the crap that the Pharisees threw at Christ (Matthew 22).

    You said, “Why can’t theists just answer the question or at least admit that morality is not a black and white subject like most religious people make it out to be.”

    It is not that I haven’t answered question, (perhaps not to your satisfaction). I just reject the premise that there are only 2 options. But more importantly in your comment; if morality (moral principles or law) is to be morality, there must be rational consistency; just as one would expect of any form of scientific law. Otherwise, moral law doesn’t really exist. One can either believe in ethics or the non-existence of ethics. However, relativistic, subjectivist morality is ultimately an untenable rational position. As it did to the Hellenists and Hellenized Romans; as it has done to the Moderns; it invariably leads to ethical nihilism.

    And how could a person rely on one’s compatriots if their moral principles fluctuate? Could you drive a car with confidence if the underlying scientific principles sustaining the operations of the vehicle fluctuated in like manner? That ethics is complex, I do not disagree. However, to imply that ethics is variable is an oxymoron of the definitional nature of ethics. Morality merely becomes a lifestyle choice; the equivalent of choosing colors for one’s sweater. However, morality is not, in my mind, some intrinsic quality. Morality, in order for it to be morality, involves some manner of detrimental effects to those things that are immoral. Or alternatively, sin, by definition, is that which comes short of producing the best results. (All people believe in sin by that generic and Biblical definition. They just don’t necessarily subscribe to Judeo-Christian ethics.)

  5. Part 2

    You said, “I spoke with several apologetics before coming to you and most have said that it is impossible for god to sin or do something that is immoral.”

    I can imagine the proof texts to which such apologists would cite that would say that it is impossible for god to sin or do something that is immoral (i.e. “God cannot be tempted by evil” – James 1:13). However, I would suggest that they have not unpacked such verses and compared them with others. Most of them, subscribers to Calvinism and Covenantal Theology, would concur with Westminster Confession of Faith. In that creedal document, it acknowledges that man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). But these apologists might have a little problem with their Confession.

    He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.
    (WCF – Chapter 4 – On Creation – Article 2)

    If Adam was given free will, with possibility of sinning, as an image bearer of God; does it not imply the same from of Free Will with God? Just because the surfeit of reason, foreknowledge of natural consequences, love, even self-preservation (the latter argument is too speculative to acceptably argue) would put God against sinning, it doesn’t imply that God is constitutionally unable to sin. In my present state of mind (because I am aware of the ability of humanity to degrade to the nth degree), I would be too revolted (intellectually, psychological, aesthetically) to mate with a sow. However, it doesn’t mean that I could not theoretically do it, even if I have to hold my nose. Those apologists who suggest that God could not even theoretically sin are trying to obtain comfort in their security through a philosophical definition; instead of acknowledging that their security is beholden to the personal character attribute of a personal God. (Such, and I have heard this first-hand, are also terrified with the prospect that their perfection in the next life would still theoretically allow them to sin). However, there is a difference between being made structurally unable to do evil and having the abundance of love and wisdom to abhor evil and refrain from doing it and yet still be under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will.

    Such apologists would likely deny the possibility of the Will being independent of one’s subjective faculties. (It is for this reason that many would deny that God has emotions and passions although there is no Scriptural basis – indeed quite the contrary). However, having personally experienced the insane extremity of having all subjective faculties ganging up and almost overwhelming me with their irrational and extraordinarily powerful impulses yet not caving in (I am not talking about sexual passion in this), I know that Will and subjective faculties can operate independently. I know that subjective experience hardly poses objective proof to those without, who were not there or did not experience the same experience. However, there is nothing in Scriptures that validates the premise that God cannot “structurally” sin. That assertion also emanates from the philosophical god of Plato and more so, the Neo-Platonists. I would suggest He can but would never do it.

    And my perspective is not contrary to Francis Schaeffer (something of a 20th Century Evangelical patron saint). However, having read his similar take in the mid-1980s, I cannot remember or cite which of His books he makes such a similar claim.

    You said, “Just because god is bound by his nature to always do good does not take away his omnipotence or his free will.”

    For me, the issue would be representing the “I Am” as He really is. There is a difference between doing good (because a person can do no other) and being good. The latter is a categorical attribute of character, which has no semantic meaning if the person has no choice; whether through extrinsic (i.e. environmental) or intrinsic (i.e. genetic) means. One of the aspects of the gay rights debate is the attempt by homosexuals to suggest that their proclivities are due to genetics in order to disqualify any basis for moral judgment and opprobrium against them. (Legal tolerance is perfectly legitimate but coerced social acceptance is highly offensive (and could ultimately cause civil conflagration) because it requires the trampling on individual conscience.) Nevertheless, in this example, it shows an underlying (perhaps virtually universal) understanding that a moral quality requires a choice.

  6. Part 1 of 1

    Sorry for the late response, but in observance of Thanksgiving, my day was filled with family and lots of food. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well.

    Now, You wrote a lot. So in turn, I will do the same.

    “I do not know whether you are an atheist looking for a reason to believe or one of the many partisans who are looking to fine tune your arguments”

    Neither actually. I used to believe and have found good reason that the Christian god as well as all other gods that have been invented by humanity are fiction which in turn has led to my atheism. It may be possible that one religion is indeed the correct one, but it is also possible that they may all be incorrect. I suspect for good reason the latter may be true. How’s that for a dichotomy?

    “In my country, Canada, as in Europe; secular liberal tyranny is the greater threat to civil liberties. Ex-pat Mark Steyn calls our country a soft-totalitarianism, which I must concur.”

    Secular liberal tyranny? You realize that most of European countries are atheistic and have higher levels of scientific literacy, high education standards, quality of life, and the overall treatment of these citizens (not just atheists) is pretty good? When you say civil liberties, I can only imagine you mean religious people like yourself who feel the progression of a more accepting society towards those who haven’t conformed and you feel that that is threatening your way of life. Here’s my advice, get over it. You have no choice but to concur with Mark Steyn because you’re bound by your Christian beliefs. By the way, Mark Steyn sounds like most of the idiots I hear on FOX news.

    “the threat of liberal secularist impositions is exciting a contrary reaction in the theist and religious community and vice versa in a feedback vortex.”

    It’s a threat to want equality for all? It’s a threat to religious people that a woman wants to make choices with her own body without a church getting involved? I hear people all across this nation make the same emaciated arguments about how their beliefs are being attacked by secular liberals who want to destroy this Christian nation (which it isn’t).

    “existence makes a whole lot of coherent sense from a thoroughly Biblical perspective (“in Thy light, we see light” – Psalm 36:9)”

    Makes a lot of sense? I guess, but then you have to wonder why plants existed before the sun? You know? The Genesis account? I read somewhere on this blog where you have an issue with existence existing without god. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing is a book by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss which explains in detail why there is something rather than nothing. If you’re interested in a scientific perspective.

    “The practice is to give evidence and invite humanity to test the evidence against objective reality. That is tough because humanity lacks omniscience and is hobbled by existing prejudices, non-virtuous motives that lend to intellectual dishonesty, etc.”

    This is rather funny for several reasons. First, when I was a christian, I don’t remember ever reading the bible and reading anything along the lines of testing to measure the veracity of the claims made in the bible. If that was the case, you would have a lot more atheists in the world. Second, Objective reality and the bible don’t even belong in the same sentence. Not only has the bible gotten the science part wrong, but morality as well. Take the ten commandments for example, you say there is a third option in the euthyphro dilemma, but in god’s very own commandments the first three deal with his own vanity “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Third, I agree with you that humans lack omniscience coupled with prejudices that do lead to intellectual dishonesty, but that can be found on both sides of the isle right? However, I’ve seen more intellectual dishonesty (which is to be expected) from religious people, in particular, Christians. Here in the US of A, Christians do what is known as “Lying for Jesus” in order to win over not people but souls for the church. Now, the practice is facetious and unbecoming of those who are supposed to worship a high power and champion the ethics that are tied along with it, but these are nothing more than mere acts of desperation to win over thinking people who are geared towards making this nation and the world a better place for all.

    “It is a great leap of expectation for someone to immediately “see light” since understanding of the deep seminal themes of Scriptures takes considerable rumination.”

    Trus me, light wasn’t something I saw when I was reading perhaps one of the most hateful books that to this day has made one half of the earth’s population fools and the other half hypocrites.

    “Nevertheless, presuppositionalists make a good point about apologetics. If one’s interlocutor forms axioms such as a necessary materialism (or physicalism as it is now called), which precludes the existence of the spiritual and the soul, it really is pointless making an effort to discourse because one is facing as dogmatic a non-believer as Divine Command Theory advocates are a believer.”

    Now you see what we atheists have to go through with you christians. It may be possible to convince someone of their peripheral beliefs, but trying to persuade someone to change their core beliefs is next to impossible. We agree with each other here.

    “I am much more inclined to “evidentialism” since that is the intellectual foundation of my trust in God in Christ.”

    I thought Christians walked through faith and not by sight? Times must’ve changed, but I’m glad you’re trying to use evidence.

    “However, that is a long and tall order in order to get to the point where unbelief is far more irrational than belief. The idea of Cartesian certitude or Cartesian standards of proof are an absurd measure and sophistry for sentient beings who lack omniscience; guaranteed to ultimately produce skepticism. For, in that which we do not yet know, there might possibly contain that grain of datum which can upend all that we currently presume to know. However, in that humanity will never be omniscient, humanity is, through this philosophical bind, condemned to doubt.”

    Believing things for which there is evidence is more practical. I agree that certainty is absurd, which is why I lean more towards being reasonably certain. Scientist will tell you that they are not in the business of trying to be 100% certain of everything they test. Yes, there are limits to our knowledge and we accept that. If you ask a scientist right now, “Does god exist?” They will be honest and say they don’t know. The purpose of a scientist is to doubt and the exercise of doubting should be incumbent upon us all. The only one claiming to have omniscience is you, John. Throughout are entire conversation you seem to know god exists, but when someone doubts his existence, you make seem like it’s this absurd thing that only stupid people do. How is it you say, “unbelief is far more irrational than belief.” when I am being intellectually honest by saying, I don’t believe because the evidence theists present is severely lacking. So what is my modus operandi for doubting until reasonable evidence manifests itself for the existence of god?

    “However, all such inquiries require commitment to intellectual integrity. That is; commit to where the evidence leads. A person might not honestly believe the evidence or find the evidence insufficient. However, it is certainty that a person will not believe any amount of incontrovertible evidence if their heart is categorically dead-set against such belief. Intellectual integrity in this age of extreme polarization and partisanship is in very short supply on both sides of the divide. In that you claim that you see no evidence; it would seem to indicate dogmatism. I can rationally understand insufficient incontrovertible evidence for lack of belief as some of the best-thinking atheists subscribe. However, I think that even they would find no evidence, an untenable and dogmatic position.”

    Couple of points. First, why don’t Christians commit to the evidence of evolution? I’ll tell you why, because aside from being complete idiots, they either don’t understand the science or don’t want to. Which bring us back to intellectual honesty. Second, everything you wrote about being dead set against evidence that refutes a particular belief has been shown to be committed more so by religious folk than anyone else. For example, cited Irreducible Complexity as one of the reasons why you reject evolution. There are several reasons why you’re dead wrong, but I’ll cite only two, but notice how I give you reasoned response and you won’t accept evolution.

    1.) No potential example of a supposed irreducibly complex system can, even in theory, demonstrate that it did not evolve from less complex components. One can only demonstrate how a system can be reduced, or claim ignorance as to how it can be. Irreducible complexity is therefore an argument from ignorance and, more specifically, a God of the gaps argument.

    2.) A claim that a system is irreducibly complex is not a falsifiable claim. Demonstrating how a complex system can be reduced to less complex components only shows the apologist to be wrong on that particular example. Each ‘reduced’ component is, in turn, another system susceptible to the same claim of being irreducibly complex, ad infinitum. This lack of falsifiability makes such claims unscientific.

    We will just have to agree to disagree on the subject of morality. I don’t believe that morality is set in stone and was given to us by some supreme being. I believe morality is subjective. The 9th commandment states “thou shalt not lie” This is an objective standard that cannot be broken. It is always wrong to lie no matter. Even the ones who lied to the Nazi’s as to the whereabouts of the Jews sinned against god. Unless of course, it was ok to lie which would mean morality is subjective?

    Thank you for your time.

  7. RE: Secular liberal tyranny in Europe

    I don’t know how much time that you have spent in Europe or the information that you have about it. But it would seem that you wear rosier and delusional glasses than you ought. Also, ideological prejudices have tendency not to see the ill that one side does to the other while complaining most vociferously about what the other does to it.

    You claim that Europeans have a better lifestyle than others and overall treatment of citizens. I am aware of the excellence of Euro propaganda and the so-called ‘neutral’ international studies that will tend to give them the nod; based on a value system that they create. However, you should consider the following:

    Material standards of living are still better in the U.S. than even Western Europe after you take into consideration cost of living. Yes. Switzerland may rank higher in $/capita. But cost of living in Switzerland is twice that of Canada. And the U.S. remains cheaper than Canada. The continent is cramped.

    Europe has not grown as fast as the U.S. until recently because of the overregulation (takes far more time on the Continent to get licenses and approvals from Brussels than anything on our own continent). I worked as a consultant for a French subsidiary in Canada. Because of labour policies, the I.T. guys back in France had used up all their allotted hours that they were allowed to work that year by the beginning of December. I couldn’t get support for their own in-house products to help their own subsidiary that month. This is typical of some of type of bureaucratic nonsense and jumping through hoops that is more problematic on the Continent. The U.S. problem of late ten years has been because of its own excesses.

    Economic inequality is a global phenomenon in the West and most every country has moved in lockstep with the U.S. since the mid-1970s. The U.S. started from and tends to always be more unequal than the rest. This is function of particular values of your culture. (There is an objectively true inverse economic relationship between “opportunity” and coercive statist measures to maintain economic security and equality. However, I would argue that excessive inequality also degrades and destroys “opportunity”, which has been happening in the U.S. in the last couple of decades.)

    Europe is not a more accepting place than U.S. Whatever the official policy of the continent, its people remain far more tribal than the U.S. or Canada. Americans just happen to wear their opinions on their sleeves. Europeans disguise the enmities (as do Canadians to an extent). This has been a reason that I have tended to prefer Americans. (At least you knew where you stood). Yes. I know that I am speaking in generalities.

    Europe has a Roma (gypsy) problem – harassing and shipping them from one country to another. I acknowledge that the Roma might have a culture more prone to crime etc than others. The reaction there however far exceeds the problem.

    Europe has a very big Muslim problem that far exceeds attitudes like Terry Jones. Indeed, the problem that Mark Steyn had with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) involved his proclamations over the threat of Islam. It was in fact a free speech issue (article in the leading newsmagazine of the country). It would never have happened in your country. To make matters worse, the HRC, manned by far more fanatic leftists than you find in your own Democratic party, violate every civic procedure that protects the rights of the accused. It is a kangaroo court that hurts right-wing opinion while excusing its own. As was famously caught by another person in that tangled web, even “Truth is no defense”.

    I do not find non-religious conservatives like Steyn very appealing. (Though I am moderately conservative (like David Brooks), I watch a whole lot of PBS than Fox News.) My complaints stem from a sociopolitical perspective of the radical middle than right wing sources. But like that attributed to skeptic Voltaire, I believe in the principle: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” However, from secularist University/College campuses throughout the world to state agencies in Canada and Europe, liberty of speech is under great and grave threat.

    Steyns’ arguments were not that excessive in comparison to the crap I hear from many popular European magazines and other sources about Islam. They reminded me of pamphlets against the Jews between the two great world wars. The Danish cartoons, which set off Muslim agitation throughout the world, were an arrogant secularist rabble-rousing put down of a Muslim icon more than it was a free speech issue. Unapologetically anti-Muslim, anti-immigration political parties, which have considerable clout, appear all over Europe with popular votes between 10 and 20% (Finland, Greece, Hungary, France, Netherlands to name a few).

    Although there was but four minarets (Muslim houses of worship) in all of Switzerland, there was plebiscite that disallowed the building of any more. There are comparatively few Muslims in Switzerland. I recall the triumphalist Christians in the 4th and 5th Century Rome banning the building and sometimes rebuilding of Jewish synagogues (after being deliberately burnt down). There is no difference between how a religious majority and a secularist majority behaves! I know of a Swiss couple that tried to defend the referendum on the grounds of not hurting the architectural character of the towns and cities. They are not radical Nazis and indeed hold left-wing social views. For the sake of their and my son, I bit my tongue.

    Yes. I know that the Muslim religion (with world-wide theocracy built into the Quran) does make integration ideologically improbable (and 2nd generation Muslims in Europe are less liable to integrate than their immigrant parents). However, the reaction by an already far more tribalist Europe is a bit excessive; don’t you think?

    In France and Belgium, the Burka and other clothing worn by women by some of the traditionalists is not allowed even allowed on city streets. By law! I can accept a problem with drivers’ licence, courts etc. But city streets! It is not a matter of these women being under the thumb of their men. Those women who wear burkas tend to be zealous in their insistence on wearing it; since it is more cultural than a religious necessity.

    Muslims are not allowed to pray on city streets as of the this year (France). All children are not allowed to wear any religious jewellery in public schools in France. No such ban applies against secularist symbols. The marginalization of religious values in Europe is government policy (Laïcité). It is the secularist inverse of Christian Reconstructionism. Many hundreds of Christian home-schooled kids in Germany had parents who were fined in the 10s of thousands because the parents refused to send their kids to mandated sex classes in the public schools. They obtained political asylum in the U.S. a couple of years ago. Sweden has a similar problem. There are also crackdowns against home schooling. You do that in the U.S. and you have a civil war. Respect for parental authority hardly exists. Families are considered adjuncts of social policy in a Rousseaunian nightmare. A similar problem is happening Quebec, Canada.

    Although Europe has so few Jews left, Europe has a Jewish problem. The burnings of Synagogues is not only due to Muslims. German Chancellor Merkel had to cut down a court decision that would have effectively prevented Jewish circumcision. I am not keen on the practice. But I do know that its banning is an existential threat to being Jewish. (Your gay friendly San Francisco, which doesn’t want the state to interfere with their penises tried to do the same the last year or so.)

    Outside of the murder rate, per-capital European crime rates (just take northern and western Europe for comparison) is roughly equal to or in great excess to U.S. rates. Bet you didn’t know that. European propaganda is so good. Britain certainly exceeds the U.S. by a good margin. Your so-called liberal Sweden has rates close to double that of the U.S. Rape statistics in so-called sexually liberated Sweden far exceed the U.S. I think that they are No 2 (or 4) in all of Europe (40 countires). And while the U.S. crime rate has fallen from early 1990 highs to levels not seen since the early 1960s; from the mid-1970s, European rates have proliferated in quite the reverse trend. Even after one discounts the Muslim component, the rates amongst the Caucasian population is still far worse.

    Civic courage in Europe is so lacking that the whole of the continent couldn’t take on a second-rate Serbian dictator in the mid-1990s. The Americans had to come to the European rescue. The European populace certainly enjoy their freedom but have little desire to defend it. They know longer have the will to fight for it. Therefore, internal threat of tyrants within and external threats without is real possibility in a population without conviction and the courage that comes with conviction. The same thing happened in 3rd Century Roman Empire.

    You have millions of Big Brother CCTV cameras all over the birthplace of Orwell’s 1984 (1 per 4 or persons) without much fuss, although they can hardly be traced to effectually solving or preventing crime. In France, in a measure meant to hurt males than females, insults hurled in the heat of relational squabbles are subject to state civic punishment. The level of state intrusion into the minutiae of everyday life is far worse in Europe than in North America.

    I can go on.

    The point is not that Europe is a completely hell-hole; although it certainly is going that direction. It simply is that your take on Europe is far too rosy. It is a far worse oppressive society and the people in conjunction with their nativism are far less accepting; unless you belong to the dominant group.

    The problem is neither with religion or irreligion. These tyrannical and totalitarian impulses are a function of human nature; of the arrogance of self-regarding individuals who overstep the bounds of imposing how others should live. It leads either to totalitarian tyranny or civil war.

    Secularists, when they feel their dominance, differ little from the religious. Think Antiochus IV (Hellenist Empire) against the Jews (Maccabean War); the French Revolutionaries (The Drownings of the River Nantes of 100s or 1000s of Catholics by atheist zealots), the Communists or the stupid Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse (Dawkins, Harris etc.)

    The AngloSaxon world until recently had a strong principle of liberty of conscience, which derived primarily from Christian sources (Romans 14). The push for political liberty was first a function of 16th and 17th Protestantism before Locke and others copied the principles but with naturalist foundations. The best secularist political philosophy in the Renaissance and Reformation periods is Machiavelli.

    I am not going to deny that many Christians and those who claim to be Christians have not hypocritically ignored and sophistically made those principles of none effect. However, like Mahatma Gandhi, I can say that while I like my Christ; I am not so fond of other Christians in this age. It is a sad commentary.

  8. Second Installment

    Dear Allan:

    You said:

    “It’s a threat to want equality for all? It’s a threat to religious people that a woman wants to
    make choices with her own body without a church getting involved? I hear people all across
    this nation make the same emaciated arguments about how their beliefs are being attacked by
    secular liberals who want to destroy this Christian nation (which it isn’t).”

    In stating “equality for all”, I am presuming you are talking about “gay marriage”. There are already existing pages on this site; which show that I reject the whole premise and necessity of the state (and also any ecclesia) making legislative definitions and licensing requirements for marriage. Prior to the 16th Century, when Luther, Calvin and other Reformers deemed marriage a “worldly” affair and thus should be governed under civil authorities, it had been always been a private institution; with relative few civic prohibitions. Prior to the 15th/16th Century, the Catholic Church did not require the connubials to be married under priest and two witnesses. (In fact, the Catholic Church wouldn’t even send priests outside the Church doors to conduct services in the first millennium after Christ.

    The history of state and church intrusion has been nothing but a travesty since. (The Proposition 8 Trial transcripts give good testament of the follies. However, the prejudicial gay judge (and I could point the travesty or his reasoning in good detail) concluded the wrong conclusion. It should be private contract legislated by the couple themselves with the terms of the contract scrupulously enforced by the courts at cost. In an age of ideological pluralism, a singular definition of marriage is implausible. There will always be losers. And the benefits of civil governance of marriage are far less than the risks to civil peace. There is insufficient need for civil governance.

    This is not an unusual historical position. In fact, in my book on Christian marriage, I wrote a 15 – 20 page chapter demonstrating that Scriptures and Scriptural logic does not support the need for pomp (church consecration) or paper (license). It is for this reason, that I will never be able to get that book published through Christian publishers. And for my position on gay marriage, I will never be able to get that book published through non-Christian publishers. Thank God for Amazon and self-publishing.

    As per abortion, I make no apologies on the defense of the weak and defenseless; for which law and laws are justified (general basis when morality should become law is when significant material and/or psychological harms that can be shown by objective measures and not by subjective wailings of the supposed victim). Subjectivity in the judicial system leads to caprice and arbitrariness. (We see this in child protection laws in this country which significantly differ from the U.S.) Not only theologically but philosophically and through pre-natal science, is the foundation for such abortion bans objectively justified (although I would be satisfied to allow abortion on the basis of rape because the issue for me is not ideological/ethical purity but saving as many children as possible).

    I have had to teach my religious colleagues of the true foundations of the American or even of my own nation. Neither the secular liberal nor Christian has got it right. Christian sects (Congregational, Episcopalian, Presbyterian), which followed the European model of Church/State relationships were challenged by a temporary alliance between a modified form of Enlightenment thinkers and those of third rail of the Protestant Reformation (Anabaptists which became Quakers, Mennonites, Baptists, Methodists, disaffected Congregationalists). The American Constitution is very consistent with Calvinist concepts of the inherent evil in mankind that requires checks and balances. The church v state formulation is from the Anabaptist playbook. The idea of natural unalienable rights which precedes the state derives from a mixture of Classical, but more so Christian (Puritan) origins. Evangelical Christians found it very easy to agree with the Constitution because it was in line with their already pre-existing theological understandings. Besides, the Founding Fathers had taken colonial state governments as their working model which derived from a Christian milieu in the prior century or so.

    The viewpoint of the French Enlightenment to which many suggest were particularly influential on Madison / Jefferson was that civil rights derive from the State. The overwhelming consensus of the Founding Fathers and populace did not subscribe to this view which now prevails amongst liberals.

    I am aware that the main actors were either Deists or unorthodox. I am aware of the Classical influences (Roman Republicanism particularly). However, the denial of Christian influence is just as disingenuous as claiming that the Founding Fathers were all Christians. Besides, that Constitution needed to be ratified. And if the Founding Fathers were unorthodox, the theological leanings of the general population would have been very orthodox. The First Great Awakening had only taken place 40 years before. The Second Great Awakening was just about to begin.

    This stuff is not mere opinion. It is honest rendition of the historical facts. And intellectual integrity is not a feature to be found amongst either ideological faction in the U.S.

    You say:

    “Makes a lot of sense? I guess, but then you have to wonder why plants existed before the
    sun? You know? The Genesis account? I read somewhere on this blog where you have an
    issue with existence existing without god. A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something
    Rather than Nothing is a book by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss which explains in detail why
    there is something rather than nothing. If you’re interested in a scientific perspective.”

    The actual argument I made about lack of rational foundation for an eternal material universe is to denote that rationality cannot prove either a theistic nor non-theistic universe. Reason has its limits. This was to repudiate the stupid so-called disproof by infinite regression by Richard Dawkins.

    What are the facts? If Sagan says “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, that applies to both an argument for a theistic as well as non-theist cosmology. The claims by scientists are relatively skimpy. Like the declarations by the IPPC, they suggest that we should accept their promulgations on the basis of authority. However, the Reformation discredited trusting any form of priesthood of knowledge; whether a cadre of religious Papists or a guild of secular scientists.

    Alhough I accept science as an epistemological method of ascertaining truth, the dogmatic deceit that permeates all science; soft-sciences as well as hard-sciences disgusts me and credits the disciplines. I saw this in my private studies of climatological science (AGW) and in my very intimate knowledge of neuroscience and psychiatry. What I find in much of scientific journals etc is speculation and explanations of dubious value posing as incontrovertible fact.

    And if, in this age, 75% of all university/students are engaged in extensive academic cheating; are we to believe that they stop cheating after they graduate. There is too much conceptual and methodological deceit to be found in much of the research studies.

    (As to AGW, I remain agnostic and will remain so on principle until they fire Jones and Mann and actually demonstrate some fidelity to academic integrity in their promulgations.)

    I have a much bigger bee up my butt about the lack of truth and honesty in this age. History demonstrates that free civil societies cannot long endure the absence of intellectual integrity.

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