Atheistic Arguments I have never seen before

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tellville

Puritan Board Junior
My friend is currently having a email debate/discussion with a prof at school over the existence of God (brought on by my friend writing an essay in response to a Atheistic guest lecturer). My friend is a philosophy major and employs the classical method of apologetics, though he dabs into presuppositionalsim every now and then. I figured he was doing fairly well until the Prof's last email. So, while I quote all the emails my friend has supplied I do this so as to create a context for the last email. It is the Prof's last email in particular that I would be curious at how people here would respond.

Prof said:
I have read your essays and I hope you do not mind if I
make a comment. It is a simple one - if you wish to argue in this
realm, you must learn to make your arguments theologically neutral.
Everything you have said may well follow logically and rationally
when structuring philosophical arguments from the perspective of
Christian theology. However, outside of this realm, say within the
general discipline of philosophy, not one of your points is
justified...not one.

Why?

Because each is predicated on a tightly structured belief in the
existence of God. For example, you tell Hans that God cannot be evil
and then proceed from the assumption that God is good and meek, to
tell Machel why he is wrong. If we all agree on the assumption that
morality cannot proceed its creation by a God, then you are right.
But frankly, if you are arguing with me, where that foundational
assumption (existence of morality and the truth that only God is the
source of morality) is itself the question, then your predicate
statement is the problem.

It is for this very reason, a structured Christian metaphysic, that
your arguments stand on shakey ground outside of Christian circles.
Philosophy is not a defence, logically or rationally, for the
existence of God. It is not. It does not prove God nor disprove God
any more or less certainly then Science. Only theology supports the
existence of God. Within the framework of Christian theology it is
possible to use the language, rhetoric and tools of philosophy to
argue with other Christian philosophers as to the nature of God,
morality, evil, theodicy, etc. But, when arguing with people outside
that realm, i.e., the agnostics, scientists, pantheists, atheists, or
me, you must drop the Christian metaphysic as in the end, it appears
as nothing more than big words used in defence of something simple -
your faith. Your arguments are the philosophy equivalent of what the
ID people are doing using the tools of science.

This was what I was starting to say at the end of Hans' presentation
as week ago...and never finished.

Friend said:
Thank you for your response, Dr. Caldwell. It is my intention to make theologically neutral arguments rather than presupposing the theological world view I hold. When I argued that it is not logically possible to posit an evil God (in the section "The Egg of Religion", I admit I did not fully develop my argument between the statement that God cannot logically be evil, and the satatement that God is the source of morality. The justification for the first statement is that if there exists a divine personal creator of the universe, such a being could not be subject to a higher moral law (and thus be called evil) because to posit a higher moral law would require that this higher moral law be grounded in something (and not just be an arbitrary law, which is an oxymoron). This brings us to the second statement. The argument here is that a reason is required for the existence of transcendental abstract realities such as logic and morality. Naturalism can offer no basis for believing that logic and morality refer to anything real, but Theism can. If it is the case that philosophy is incapable of proving the existence of God, then my arguments will fail, but I do not see the logical error in my reasoning.

Prof said:
Hi Stephen, your arguments continue to fail because of "The justification for the first statement is that if there exists a divine personal creator..." (your fourth statement).

Everything you argue is predicated against this first principle divined by nothing more than an "if". Your subsequent statements are logical outcomes of the predicate statement, but they are neither logical, rationale, nor true if there IS NO divine creator. It is easy to create and rationalize a logical stream from any "if" statement.

As for an arbitrary law, it is not an oxymoron unless you presume that there must be greater justification to any nomological system than that of the community of practitioners that create it...parliament for example..."Thou shalt pay 17% of thy annual gross income to the state, if thy annual gross income is below $35,000/year". It is "nomological" in every sense to say that such legislation is both a law and arbitrary as it is produced by debate in the House of Commons. The House of Commons also legislates morality into law by debate...16 is ok, 14 is bad for example. Arbitrary. In any sense, Naturalism works just fine as an arbiter of morality and more importantly, a creator of morality. To claim otherwise is a dangerous form of arrogance predicated upon your blind acceptance that your "if" is more than an "if" and that it is indeed true. This flies in the face of your ontologic as outlined in your recent note, and to which I rebutt with the following paragraph.

So, as I said in my earlier note, your arguments are logical and rationale if predicated by the acceptance of your "if" statement. Debating theologically using philosophy as a tool for dissecting good, evil, morality and the nonsense of naturalism leaves you on the losing end because your final defense for your position is your "if". Not surprisingly, your "if" fails your own test of "anything real" (i.e., Naturalism can offer no basis for believing that logic and morality refer to anything real, but Theism can.) as there is nothing real about it; you cannot frame god ontologically as everything you have stated so far defines God as being transcendent beyond naturalistic reality...the thing your senses actually inform you of. This leaves your ontological plea, and the parameters you set for it, on extremely unstable turf as your ontologic of morality, good and evil is predicated on the "real" existence of God which you define as transcendant...there is a real problem here as I see it.

friend said:
I think you are misunderstanding me and reading my statement out of context. My justification does not rest on an "if" statement. The only purpose of the "if" statement was to show that the concept of an evil God is logically impossible, but what I was trying to show there is irrelevant to what we are talking about.

In fact, there is nothing remotely relating to that argument in the section of my paper where I make an attempt to prove the existence of God. I don't see how those arguments fail, and so far you have not given me any reason to.

If my arguments fail, I would want to know where the cosmological argument fails in particular (since it is my main argument). Briefly, the argument was:
1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2) The universe began to exist
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause
I have never heard a counter argument to this before. That does not mean there is not a good one; I just have not heard it. As I argued in my paper, any argument that counters this would have to show that either (1) is false, (2) is false, or that (3) does not follow logically from (1) and (2). Any problems that are raised that do not do one of those things cannot defeat the argument. Would you agree?

In regard to the issue of whether morality requires the existence of a transcendent being, I would not say that there must be greater justification to any nomological system than that of the community that creates it, but I also would not call such a law arbitrary. The sense that I was using arbitrary is in the existence of a universal moral law that has no cause. You seem to be assuming that morality is purely a social convention, and in that sense my argument does not apply to it because I was assuming that morality is a universal transcendent reality.

I have never met a person who consistently believes that morality is purely a social convention, but you may be the first. If this is the case, you must believe that morality does not refer to any objective truth, but is simply a matter of opinion. Therefore, genocide, rape, torture, and the like are not objectively wrong, but those who think so simply find them unappealing. In reality then, all moral beliefs are simply inclinations, and it makes no logical sense to seek to punish people for doing what we consider evil (except as a form of revenge when they have injured us directly). One might argue that morality is an useful evolutionary construction, but if that is the case we are forced to accept that there is no such thing as evil.

In reality, this view of morality does not fit with what the majority of human beings experience. We believe something is actually wrong. There is something about torturing babies that I just know is inherently wrong, and the vast majority of people would agree. Again I submit that a Naturalistic worldview cannot allow such transcendent realities as morality, truth, and logic. These things can only be real if they are grounded in a transcendent reality. Also, in regard to your comment about arrogant statements, whether or not I am arrogant is irrelevant to whether my arguments are valid.

Prof said:
I want to try and provide a bit of perspective, mine anyways, on how I see the intention, and thus the structure, of your arguments.

The simple truth is that you can have this debate, as you have structured it so far, with any manner of theist (Moslem, Christian, Mormon, Jew, etc.). It is likely that you could have this debate with someone like Murray Gingras, a recognized and evolving pantheist cum deist cum Jewish theist. However, as an argument for the existence and subsequently nature of God, sin, morality, evil, etc., in the face of positions held by agnostics and atheists, it simply does not work.

It is illogical, irrational, and intellectually arrogant (my earlier intended use of the word). Why? Because you are not admitting that the fundamental precept of your arguments, and the subsequent structure of your rationales and logic, is that a monotheistic Abrahamic God exists.

Everything you present, for example your cosmological argument as outlined below, is predicated on your belief (faith, not logic) of the existence of a personal God - ultimate regress arguments are not valid because there is no rationale for the ultimate causality presumption at the end of the regress. You say you have never heard a counter argument to the "cosmological argument", but this is because you have been talking to the theologically inclined. Literally thousands of scholars have crapped all over Aquinas' logic since the 11th century. It is deeply flawed.

Thus if you wish to be successful, you must consider the manner in which you render this argument, with its unquestioned yet hidden causa finalis, God, lurking like a monster around the corner as you wait to spring what you see as your logical mousetrap for the unwary (this is intellectual arrogance). Unfortunately your lurking causa finalis is a fallacy because it remains the untested hypothesis at the heart of the debate. Thus the argument fails.

For example, I can render the same argument of causality (things exist because they have a cause) without invoking anything more than material (causa materialis) and formal causes (causa formalis) for the explanation of the existence of anything and everything (and if required, the causa efficiens and finalis are easily explained naturalistically, as Aristotle did in Physics II, by reference to the connection and existence of things and their parts through time and those connections being "good"...say, adaptationally advantageous with the 'design' in the system being a reflection of evolution resulting from adaptative 'goodness'...Darwin opened up the explanation of Aristotle's "good").

If on the other hand you choose, using your cosmological argument, to believe that the explanation for ultimate causality is where God resides, that is fine. But that conclusion is not based on evidence, logic nor rationality, only faith.

The same holds true for your continued damnation of naturalism...I disagree with you completely. Your own personal experience of morality is a social convention. Your BELIEF is that the reason morality exists is because it springs forth from God. Unfortunately, your objective experience of morality is at the social level - the first time you stole a cookie your mother reprimanded you and informed you what theft was all about...likely telling you you would get a spanking (from her, not God), if you didn't learn and kept stealing, you would go to jail (social convention, not God). You invoke experience, well, there it is. In Saudi Arabia a women is a harlot if her head is bare; in North America there is no such morality. What is it? Transcendent decree or social convention?

As you note, you assume morality is a universal transcendent reality, and from this assumption your criticize the naturalist view of morality. Here you may well be stooping to personal arrogance...be very careful.

Additionally I might add, from your arguments it is easily read (and this makes me crazy) that the religiously inclined are border-line nihilists...if there is no God, then there is no point to being good. While perhaps this irresponsible notion of personal responsibility is common among the religiously inclined, it is frightening to consider the possible objective reality for humanity if all these closet nihilists should one day suffer their atheistic conversion!!!

From your morality arguments, it is also clear to me that you confuse objectivity, subjectivity, and experience. You use objectivity as a synonym for ultimate causality. This is not the case as your ultimate causality, God, exists outside of the universe. Objectivity is very much ontologically bounded by experience and is thus part of this universe - the rock thrown at your head objectively hurts because both the rock and your head are 'real' (both are ontologically bounded). Subjectivity can still be experienced, but is not as tightly bounded ontologically - the insult thrown at your head hurt your feelings. Or in another sense, the ball is large but not as large as the other ball...subjective assessment...while, the ball is 7.2 cm in diameter while the other ball is 8.9cm in diameter....quantitative and qualitative analysis are synonyms of objective and subjective in these examples.

Thus genocide, an objective experience, is objectively wrong...we have created laws to govern our response to such acts...note the laws govern our response...the laws are objective statements based on a socially agreed upon (subjective) assessment of how to respond. Our motivation for creating laws and policing systems to enforce those laws is our subjectively rationalized response to an objective event. The murdered cannot respond. The living can. Our justification for responding is a collective decision to do so...we have created the moral justification that says a response is necessary. I do not want to die, you do not want to die, Denis Lamoureux does not want to die...we collectively agree that the response of the non-victims will be to punish the person(s) that violate the code of the collective.

You want a higher being as justification for the code, yet in reality your own objective experience is exactly what I have described above. In the end, your appeal is one based on faith, nothing more. There is not one single objective experience to indicate otherwise.

Human beings, organized in collectives, from animist Congo pygmies, to the Vatican councils of Rome, have humanly devised collectivized rules to punish violators of their humanly constructed social orders. The rules vary greatly, from the Congo to Rome, in their specific moralities and ethics, though in general they all seem to agree upon a couple of basics...murder is to be punished, theft is to be punished, etc.

Objectively social constructs...everyone of them. Claims of justification by revelation from a higher power are just that - claims. Nothing more. They are belief.

As for a Naturalistic worldview not allowing morality, truth and logic...Wrong, and you should thank the pre- and posttheists for their logic...in particular because it allowed them to explore morality and ethics free of the pernicious control of the theologians...and most importantly, to argue that epistemic and ontologic quests were valid outside of the singular reference to deity. After all, without us, the concept of "freedom of religion" would simply not exist and YOU would still be Catholic.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Prof believes that there is a philosophy apart from theology -- faith. Prof. believes in the existence of evil -- faith. Prof. believes in the use of logic -- faith. And then he proceeds to chide his poor student for using faith-based arguments.
 

sotzo

Puritan Board Sophomore
Let me say first, that I am a die hard presupp man, but I am going to respond in the context of their discussion which is largely evidential on the part of your friend.

The simple truth is that you can have this debate, as you have structured it so far, with any manner of theist (Moslem, Christian, Mormon, Jew, etc.). It is likely that you could have this debate with someone like Murray Gingras, a recognized and evolving pantheist cum deist cum Jewish theist. However, as an argument for the existence and subsequently nature of God, sin, morality, evil, etc., in the face of positions held by agnostics and atheists, it simply does not work.

Whether a deductive argument, such as the cosmological argument, "works" (as the prof puts it), is independent of who is being given the argument. An argument is either valid and/or true on the basis of its premises, not who is hearing it. The prof should either show that the cosmological argument is invalid and/or false (which he attempts below) or grant the validity and/or truth of the argument before moving on.

It is illogical, irrational, and intellectually arrogant (my earlier intended use of the word). Why? Because you are not admitting that the fundamental precept of your arguments, and the subsequent structure of your rationales and logic, is that a monotheistic Abrahamic God exists.

Quite ad hominem if you ask me. What the cosmological argument's 2 premises and conclusion has to do with your friend's "fundamental precepts" is irrelevant. Imagine if your friend told his prof, "what is really behind Dawkins' God Delusion is his fundamental precept of materialism"? I doubt that would earn him an "A", yet his prof seems to think his Christian student is eligible for such sloppy criticism.

Everything you present, for example your cosmological argument as outlined below, is predicated on your belief (faith, not logic) of the existence of a personal God

More of the same ad hominem...

- ultimate regress arguments are not valid because there is no rationale for the ultimate causality presumption at the end of the regress.

I can't tell here if he is saying, "then who created God?" or "there is no need to posit a cause for the world". If the former, the answer is God is uncaused. If the prof says you can't have an uncaused cause, he is guily of presupposing materialism. (BTW, this is why I believe presuppositionalism is indespensible and primary in the apologetic task. I'm willing to give him my "precept" of Christian theism if he will own up to his badge of "materialism". Agreeing that neither of us are neutral we can then proceed from each other's "precept" and move along. As it stands in his discussion with your friend, he is essentially claiming he is neutral while accusing your friend of being committed off the bat. By asking your friend to lay down his theism and adopt a supposed neutrailty, the prof is showing his true commitment to materialism.)

Moving on, if the latter, he must deal with the very difficult task of proving the eternality of matter.

You say you have never heard a counter argument to the "cosmological argument", but this is because you have been talking to the theologically inclined. Literally thousands of scholars have crapped all over Aquinas' logic since the 11th century. It is deeply flawed.

More ad hominem...against your friend and Aquinas! Genetic fallacy as well in saying that the reason the cosmological argument works in theistic circles is because it is being said in theistic circles. Good grief.

Thus if you wish to be successful, you must consider the manner in which you render this argument, with its unquestioned yet hidden causa finalis, God, lurking like a monster around the corner as you wait to spring what you see as your logical mousetrap for the unwary (this is intellectual arrogance). Unfortunately your lurking causa finalis is a fallacy because it remains the untested hypothesis at the heart of the debate. Thus the argument fails.

More of the same. There is zero here except accusations that the cosmological argument fails because it assumes God...it does no such thing. Although the reason (hopefully!) the prof is so obsessed with this issue is that he is suppressing truth that cannot but reveal itself! (Rom 1)


For example, I can render the same argument of causality (things exist because they have a cause) without invoking anything more than material (causa materialis) and formal causes (causa formalis) for the explanation of the existence of anything and everything

Here he indirectly acknowledges the validity of the cos. argument. This is seen in that he is now trying to give potential causes necessitated by the argument's conclusion. And why the Latin? Sounds nice and scholarly, but no meat is on those bones. Citing terms from ancient Greek philosophy is easy, but what specific material and formal causes can provide the conditions of the particular cause (creation of the universe) necessitated by the argument's conclusion?

(and if required, the causa efficiens and finalis are easily explained naturalistically, as Aristotle did in Physics II, by reference to the connection and existence of things and their parts through time and those connections being "good"...say, adaptationally advantageous with the 'design' in the system being a reflection of evolution resulting from adaptative 'goodness'...Darwin opened up the explanation of Aristotle's "good").

First off, he says "if required". This means he is OK living with undefined "material and formal causes" for the explanation of the cause in the conclusion of the cos. argument, and that further explanation is optional for him, a materialist, though not optional for your friend, a theist.

Then he cites Aristotle's Physics as a reasonable definition of those causes. But Aristotle's causes outlined in Physics still do not answer the specific question resulting from the cos. argument conclusion (ie, what/who is the cause). For Aristotle, the telos of nature is nature itself. But that only begs the question as to whether or not nature (matter) is eternal and uncaused, therefore rendering the cos. argument useless since there would be no beginning to the material universe. What the prof needs to do is demonstrate this or 'fess up to materialism as his presupposition while allowing your friend to own his theism.

If on the other hand you choose, using your cosmological argument, to believe that the explanation for ultimate causality is where God resides, that is fine. But that conclusion is not based on evidence, logic nor rationality, only faith.

Yes, as are all ultimate questions...the prof still likes to act as if he has no unproven commitments to ultimate questions. Again, would the prof give your friend high marks for saying the reason the prof is not buying the cos argument is simply because of his faith-based commitment to materialism?

As for the rest of the prof's response on natuarlism being able to account for morality, this is where a bit of existential dialogue from your friend, would be helpful. For as much as the prof wants to talk about morality simply being a function of pygmie tribe values vs. middle-america values vs etc, etc, the prof either A) watched the coverage on the VT murders last week and took it no differently than watching a documentary on a lion sinking his teeth into hyenas OR B) watched the coverage on the VT murders last week and ached for the community and families. If he responds "A", I would have your friend challenge him to share that in class to show that objective morality really doesn't exist...that "if you, my students, want to be sensitive about it go ahead, but I am subjectively unable/deciding to differentiate between the VT events and Animal Planet."

If he responds "B", then he is either reacting out of a societal inculcation of rules and is a prisoner to a mere social convention...or he is feeling the force of the transcendent God's imprint on the world, that there is something bound up in reality that makes those murders really wrong. As really wrong as oxygen is really needed to breathe.

Obviously there are customs and morals that differ between cultures as the prof says...even the Bible makes no bones about that...but getting down to the brass tacks, if He does not exist, let's not kid ourselves...what happened at VT cannot be differentiated from the killer going into the classrooms to rescue the students from the building burning down. In fact, the only difference is materially...a certain cluster of molecules has died rather than that same certain cluster of molecules remaining alive.

Dostoevsky understood what was at stake. Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, lies on his couch, contemplating the murders he undertook:

"The old woman was a mistake perhaps, but she’s not the point! The old woman was merely a sickness . . . I was in a hurry to step over . . . it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!"

In summary:

1. On one hand, the prof appears to accept the force of the cos argument by arguing for, as of yet, undefined material and formal causes as an explanation for the cause of the universe.
2. On the other hand, the prof uses ad hominem argument to attempt to show that the cos argument is invalid/untrue...nothing but ad hominem is given from what I can tell.
3. The prof believes that all morality can be explained on purely social convention terms.

So, we are left with, at best is no rebuttal to the validity/truthfulness of the cos argument, no defined causes if it is valid/true, and your friend, on your prof's terms, being able to say cheating in class is OK so long as his prof does not catch him and impose the university's values on him.
 

panta dokimazete

Panting Donkey Machete
As for the rest of the prof's response on natuarlism being able to account for morality, this is where a bit of existential dialogue from your friend, would be helpful. For as much as the prof wants to talk about morality simply being a function of pygmie tribe values vs. middle-america values vs etc, etc, the prof either A) watched the coverage on the VT murders last week and took it no differently than watching a documentary on a lion sinking his teeth into hyenas OR B) watched the coverage on the VT murders last week and ached for the community and families. If he responds "A", I would have your friend challenge him to share that in class to show that objective morality really doesn't exist...that "if you, my students, want to be sensitive about it go ahead, but I am subjectively unable/deciding to differentiate between the VT events and Animal Planet."

If he responds "B", then he is either reacting out of a societal inculcation of rules and is a prisoner to a mere social convention...or he is feeling the force of the transcendent God's imprint on the world, that there is something bound up in reality that makes those murders really wrong. As really wrong as oxygen is really needed to breathe.

Obviously there are customs and morals that differ between cultures as the prof says...even the Bible makes no bones about that...but getting down to the brass tacks, if He does not exist, let's not kid ourselves...what happened at VT cannot be differentiated from the killer going into the classrooms to rescue the students from the building burning down. In fact, the only difference is materially...a certain cluster of molecules has died rather than that same certain cluster of molecules remaining alive.

Dostoevsky understood what was at stake. Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, lies on his couch, contemplating the murders he undertook:

"The old woman was a mistake perhaps, but she’s not the point! The old woman was merely a sickness . . . I was in a hurry to step over . . . it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!"

This is a key challenge and presupposition!

To be consistent, human beings either have some intrinsic worth - or they are just deluded purposeless gene passing flesh bags with no more intrinsic worth than a bacteria...or a rock for that matter, so all our morality, logic and philosophy has no more value than the passing nerve impulses of a snail.
 

puritan lad

Puritan Board Freshman
Prof believes that there is a philosophy apart from theology -- faith. Prof. believes in the existence of evil -- faith. Prof. believes in the use of logic -- faith. And then he proceeds to chide his poor student for using faith-based arguments.

You nailed it. The Professor seems to have a lot of faith in logic, which comes from human neurons, which he believes cames from an ocean of soupy chemicals, which ultimately formed from star dust.

He has lots of faith in star dust.
 

king of fools

Puritan Board Freshman
Prof believes that there is a philosophy apart from theology -- faith. Prof. believes in the existence of evil -- faith. Prof. believes in the use of logic -- faith. And then he proceeds to chide his poor student for using faith-based arguments.

That was going to be my point exactly. The prof holds that the student is using "faith - not logic", while the prof is doing the exact same thing.

- ultimate regress arguments are not valid because there is no rationale for the ultimate causality presumption at the end of the regress.

Sounds like prof has gotten the law of cause and effect backwards. He must read Bertrand Russell.
 
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