Drama, science, evolution, morality – the usual

Link roundup and browser tab closing time…

Expel the evildoer from among you

If you’re not reading back over my old entries (why not? I used to be much better before I jumped the shark), you might not have noticed that there was some LJ drama over the last one. robhu conclusively won the debate on whether complementarianism is sexist by the cunning ploy of banning me from commenting on his blog: an innovative rhetorical tactic, and undeniably a powerful one. But it’s not over yet. I’ve realised that he may have made a Tone Argument, which might enable me to reject his ideas out of hand and advance three squares to the nearest Safe Space, so I’m awaiting the results of a steward’s inquiry. It’s possible I may have too many Privilege Points to make a valid claim for Tone Argument, but I’m hopeful the powers that be will see things my way.

Could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Down on the Premier Christian Radio boards, they’re talking about science and religion again, specifically whether science can ignore the possibility of God’s existence. I’ve been sticking my oar in, as usual.

Red Ken again

When I reviewed Ken MacLeod’s The Night Sessions, I reckoned that he had something to do with Christianity himself at one point, as the observational humour was too keen to come from a total outsider. It turns out he’s the son of a Presbyterian minister. At an SF convention in 2006, MacLeod spoke about his childhood, discovering that creationism was wrong, and the social contract. This old speech of his was linked from his recent blog posting on the changing meaning of evolution. MacLeod says a change occurred in the 1970s when Jacques Monod and Richard Dawkins introduced a thoroughly materialistic theory. This replaced older ideas that evolution is progress up a sort of secular Great Chain of Being, ideas which C.S. Lewis grumbled about, though not for the same reasons as the biologists. “Evolutionary Humanism was no doubt troubling enough to believers, but at least it wasn’t a vision of blind, pitiless indifference at the heart of things.” It’s the latter vision which MacLeod says has so riled modern creationists. I’m not sure whether he’s right, but it’s an interesting speculation.

Morality

Some people argue that if there’s no God, you can’t have real morality. We’ve discussed this previously here (and also here). The debate seems to boil down to which definition of morality you find psychologically satisfying, since as far as I can tell it has no practical consequences: almost everyone thinks that Bad Things are Bad, whether or not they also think there are moral absolutes.

Anyway, Jeffrey Amos over at Failing the Insider Test has an interesting post specifically about the idea that morality shows there’s a God. Firstly, he argues that all moral systems have the problem of where you start from, so the Euthyphro dilemma isn’t introducing a new problem for theists. Nevertheless, it does show that the problem isn’t solved by introducing God, either. Secondly, he argues that a theist must either say that God’s ideas of morality are not similar to ours, in which case pretty much everyone is wrong about morality and once we allow this, it’s no stretch to say that they might be wrong about it in a different way (for example, maybe true morality doesn’t have to be absolute). Or a theist must say that God’s morality is similar to ours, but this runs into the problem of pain: a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn’t allow there to be so much suffering in the world. The standard response that God allows suffering for inscrutable reasons doesn’t help: if God is inscrutable, how can we know his morality is similar to ours? The second prong of the second argument isn’t new (gjm11 makes it here, and I doubt he was the first), but I think Amos’s article states it very clearly.

10 thoughts on “Drama, science, evolution, morality – the usual”

  1. gjm11 makes it here, and I doubt he was the first

    Certainly not the first. See, e.g., the penultimate paragraph of Paul Draper’s chapter The skeptical theist in “The evidential problem of evil”, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder and published in 1996.

    (For what it’s worth, I know that I arrived at the idea myself before I’d read that chapter, but not before it was written.)

  2. a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn’t allow there to be so much suffering in the world.

    Why not? We do… And we might continue to do so, even if we could stop it all easily, if we believed that it was worth it in the long run.

    To counter the other side – if God’s morality is different to ours, this is also ok – because God’s told us what our part is in upholding God’s morality – and in order to be “Good” we just have to follow orders…

    1. Why not? We do…

      Yerbut, not only is God supposed to know what is good perfectly, he’s also supposed to be perfectly good, which I think means doing what is good. We don’t do what is good, even if we know it, as any Christian could tell you.

      if we believed that it was worth it in the long run.

      That’d be an argument that there was some greater good served by the amount of Bad Things that go on. But theists can’t quite say what it is, and usually end up saying that the mere possibility it exists is sufficient to retain their faith. That seems to be getting into the “God is inscrutable” territory, to me.

      if God’s morality is different to ours, this is also ok – because God’s told us what our part is in upholding God’s morality

      That’s not quite what that side of the argument is about (having said Amos’s post was clear, I think that bit could have been clearer). The moral argument for God rests on stuff “everyone knows” (that there are moral absolutes, say). But if you’re on the other prong of the fork, by hypothesis, what everyone knows is wrong. But if we allow that what “everyone knows” can be wrong, then the moral argument fails too.

      1. That seems to be getting into the “God is inscrutable” territory, to me.

        Which seems, to me, to be the only tenable territory. Otherwise you have to assert that our simple minds can grasp things as well as God’s mind does, which seems, given God’s infinite knowledge, etc. to be a tad silly.

        The moral argument for God rests on stuff “everyone knows” (that there are moral absolutes, say). But if you’re on the other prong of the fork, by hypothesis, what everyone knows is wrong. But if we allow that what “everyone knows” can be wrong, then the moral argument fails too.

        Aaah, yes, that makes sense to me. If the argument is that there is Good and Evil, therefore there is God, then without absolute morality it falls apart.

    2. Thanks for the link Paul!

      > a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn’t allow there to be so much suffering in the world.

      >> Why not? We do…

      Yes, this is a flaw in my second rebuttal. If you believe that God has a concept of morality similar to us and fails to live according to his own concept of morality, then my second rebuttal fails. But if God doesn’t live up to his own standards, this leads into a third prong: how does God have a standard of morality that is above himself unless there is a Higher God above him? Any answer to this question is equivalent to a rebuttal to the Moral Argument.

      >To counter the other side – if God’s morality is different to ours, this is also ok – because God’s told us what our part is in upholding God’s morality – and in order to be “Good” we just have to follow orders…

      You’re missing my point. I’m making a rebuttal, not a stand alone argument. The conclusion I draw is not “The problem of pain shows divine command theory theism to be false.” The conclusion is “The problem of pain show that divine command theory theists cannot consistently use the moral argument.” You response is an easy answer to the first, but not to the second.

      1. I’m used to blogger where my name is filled in automatically – in case it’s not obvious from context, I’m Jeffrey Amos.

    1. Ooh, livejournal needs a “strike with lightning” button.

      Preferably one that can cause small static shocks whenever the recipient next touches their computer 🙂

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