Thursday, June 08, 2006

Round and Round the Morality Pole with Josh Brisby

My new friend, Josh Brisby from The Reformed Oasis, and I have been running around the morality pole, each of us claiming that the other is presupposing our respective moral systems to support their own.

Check out his latest post in response to me. I got to say, Josh Brisby is a refreshing change of pace from the other Christians that I've been talking to as of late, especially that down-syndrome sufferer, BJ. I'm so glad when mutual respect is observed between two people that disagree on an issue, because it allows for a much more enjoyable, constructive, and informative discussion.

Let's get down to it then. The meat of Josh's response starts out with this:

Aaron holds to the fundamental axiom of self-interest, which is to say that it is clear that everyone tries to live on this fundamental principle. He then argues that the main reason Christians become Christians is to simply avoid hell--that is, for their own self-interest, because everyone lives for his or her own self-interest.

I called him out on this. I claimed that when God regenerates a sinner, He opens our eyes to see that His ways are right and just.


Unfortunately, Josh admits that Hell (if it existed, which it doesn't) is a good reason to be a Christian later in the same post. Now, I want to make clear a minor point. Josh said that I was arguing that the main reason Christians become Christian is, "simply to avoid Hell." That is not quite what I meant, although it may have sounded that way. What I meant to say was that Hell is a major motivating factor in most people's conversion to Christianity (or any other Abrahamic religion depending on the geographic region or cultural surroundings), but it isn't necessarily the main or only reason, although it may be for some. Of course, something as scary as Hell, when contrasted with something as supposedly desirable as Heaven, would only logically serve as powerful motivator.

But let's get back to Josh's Hell concession. Near the end of his post, Josh pleads with me to open my heart to Jesus in part to avoid Hell, despite his earlier claim that Hell does not serve as the stick in a cosmic carrot/stick discipline system:

Stop kicking against the God who made you. You need to turn to Christ not only to be saved from God's wrath, but to avoid intellectual futility, to which you now hold.


Emphasis mine. It seems that Josh subconsciously already knows what I am maintaining: that Hell is a major fear-factor that serves to gain followers and maintain ranks in the Christian ideology. Believe and obey, or burn!

In my last post to Josh, I equated the Christian moral system as a master-slave moral system, and I then called it disgusting. Josh replied:

Of course Kinney thinks this is disgusting. He fails to see that God's ways are beautiful. He fails to see that only God's ways make sense. He is living for himself. He is his own god, and he does not want King Jesus to reign over him. It takes a miracle of sovereign grace to break our sinful stubborn rebellion.


First of all, I want to know why God's ways are beautiful. Are they beautiful because God conforms to outside standards of beauty, or because God simply decrees that his ways are beautiful? This is very similar to the moral dilemma: Is God moral because he conforms to an outside morality, or is He moral because he defines morality to simply be whatever He wants it to be?

Secondly, Christians are living for themselves as well. They cannot get around it. They assume it in their moral system, leave it unspoken and denied, yet they must use it to justify their following of God's rules. Why does Josh care if He follows God's law? Why does Josh delight in pleasing God? Because it makes Josh happy. Josh wouldn't follow God's law if he didn't want to; if it didn't serve his self-interest.

I would really like to see a straightforward answer from Josh explaining why he loves God and obeys his rules?

Finally, if breaking our sinful stubborn rebellion truly takes a miracle of sovereign grace, then how can I be called to task to submit to Jesus anyway? If it requires a miracle from the Lord, then that means its up to Him! Josh should be pleading with God for me to repent, not me. I am powerless to do so; I am not the one who can make that decision.

Josh then addresses my mention of how the law of the conservation of energy (aka the first law of thermodynamics) disproves creation:

He asks how I can account for the fact that the matter/energy in the universe was never created nor destroyed. What Kinney fails to recognize here is that this law in science is not dealing with origins, nor can it. Can science really explain our origins?


Yes. It has. Matter/energy is eternal; it was never created, nor will it ever be destroyed. Only time is temporal. And only science arrived at this discovery, not faith, not prayer, not the Bible. Indeed, measured and testable observations of the universe directly contradict the claim that the universe was ever created.

Josh then "turns the tables" on me:

Science entails the use of inductive principles for the scientific method. I am turning the tables on Kinney here and asking the following question: Aaron, how can you begin to talk about science given the claims of your worldview?


MY worldview rests solely on observation of independent facts, not the whims of the imagination or the "faith" of things unseen and unprovable. Faith is, by definition, belief without physical proof or material evidence. I, however, am a materialist. I believe only in things that are verifiable materially. In other words, I believe in science and wholly reject all knowledge claims based on faith.

I wonder if Josh Brisby is familiar with the God of the Gaps argument (I assume he is) and how, as science keeps progressing, it also is squeezing out the "God did it" answers from the gaps in our knowledge about reality?

Time for me to flip the table back again and ask Josh how he can make any claims about science given that his worldview is based on faith? When science and faith collide (evolution vs. creationism for example, or God creating the universe vs. the first law of thermodynamics), which does he choose? Does Josh choose the faith of the Bible, or the science of the first law of thermodynamics? He chooses the faith, and rejects the science.

Next, Josh addresses my "fact-based" moral system:

Kinney recognizes the problems of relativism and tries to place a "fact-based" system in place of it (as if there were such a thing as a "fact" outside of the interpretation our various worldviews assign to it), but he is unable to show me from where he derives his ethics. I am still waiting for him (or any other atheist) to tell me what "good" and "evil" is. He still hasn't told me.


Emphasis mine. I emphasized that part because it is a nihilistic thing to say, that there is no fact outside of our perception. Baloney! Fact is not dependent upon one's perception, but one's perception is dependent upon fact! If a bullet is speeding toward your skull, and you are unaware of it, the bullet will still kill you. The existence of the speeding bullet aimed at your skull would be a fact, and your perception (that you are unaware that a bullet is going to hit you) will not override this fact. Fact always wins over perception. Facts exist independently of any perception. If all conscious entities in the universe suddenly died, the facts of the universe would still exist, even without any entity to perceive them.

Now let me answer the question in which Josh asks where I get my ethics. I get them from facts of reality, and my own self-interest. It makes me happy to be alive and feel good. Food helps me live and feel good. Why? Not because I want food to sustain me, but because it is a fact. I cannot avoid the fact that I need food to live and feel good. So, food is a value to me. It is moral for me to eat food as needed to sustain my life and well-being.

It's that simple. We take one's self-interest (I want to be alive and feel good), and look at the facts (food is required for life and feeling good) and we make a fact-based moral conclusion: eating food is moral for said individual.

Now let's quickly define "good" and "evil". I imagine that Josh would define "good" as "that which pleases God" and "evil" as "that which displeases God". I, on the other hand, would define "good" as "the realization of one's values" and evil as "the restriction or prevention of the attainment of one's values".

In my moral system, the only thing that is immoral is coercion, or force. Lying, cheating, stealing, physical force, etc. Why? Because to coerce someone is to violate their ability to realize their own values. Coercion is the forcing of one's values onto another.

As long as you are acting within your own self-interest and not forcing your interest onto another, you are acting moral. My moral system is not complicated or hard to understand. It applies the facts of reality within the context of the values of a given individual.

This moral system of fact-based individualism is what Christians borrow from when they choose God! They believe that God is a fact, as well as Heaven and Hell, and because they value their own happiness, and believe that these so-called "facts" about God and religion will bring them happiness, they choose God and the religion. Simple as that.

Josh then mentions Romans 1 and 2 to argue that God's law is written on my heart:

I would like to close off this response to Mr. Kinney by pointing out that he has once again demonstrated that what God's Word says about him is true. Romans 1 and 2 says that God has written His Law on the heart of every man, yet people kick against this and set up idols in God's place.


But which laws are these? I don't agree with any of the Ten Commandments (actually 30 commandments in 3 different versions), that's for sure. The commandments about lying and stealing are okay, but the killing commandment is contextual and I cannot endorse it. For example, if I am in the terminal stages of cancer, and I ask my friend to kill me for my own sake, then it isn't immoral for him to kill me. But lying of course is coercive, and so is stealing. But the lying and cheating commandments are just accessory examples of coercion itself, while my moral system gets to the foundation and says that coercion is wrong. The Bible never says, "don't coerce".

What is written on my heart is the facts of reality and how they apply to my individual values. Not some stupid crap about boiling baby goats in milk and not working on the Sabbath. I'll work whenever the fuck I want to! Indeed, many of the commandments in the Bible are coercive themselves, and are diametrically opposed to my moral system.

Josh then confronts my problems with original sin:

Kinney is appalled at the notion of original sin. He finds it hard to understand why we would be punished for something that someone else did. I am not going to go deep into this, but I am just simply going to ask,

Why is this a problem for you, Aaron, given your worldview? By what standard do you have a problem here? Who cares who gets punished?


Original sin is a misapplication of identity and cause and effect. Only individuals are responsible for individual actions, and the notion of guilt being inherited is ridiculous. It is simply not logical, and it is coercive as well, because it is the forcing of unearned guilt onto an individual for something they didn't do.

My worldview holds the sovereignty of the individual in the highest regard. That is the standard I base my issue with original sin on. Josh wants to know who cares who gets punished? I care. If person X robs me, I want him to be punished, not person Y. Nobody would be satisfied if an innocent person suffers the consequences for the evil actions of a criminal, while the criminal gets off scot-free. Or more appropriately in the context of original sin, if a criminal commits a crime, he should get punished and him alone, not all of his descendants for all eternity.

Next, Josh tries to give an answer for my question about why he should follow God's rules, but only succeeds in pushing back the question:

He asks me why I should follow God's rules. The answer is that I owe God my obedience. He made me. He saved me. He redeemed me. As Dr. Bahnsen has well pointed out, if a watchmaker makes a watch, but it doesn't do what it is supposed to do (namely, tell time), then you throw it out. Furthermore, you don't reward the watch if it does what it is supposed to do.

Likewise, as question and answer 1 of the Shorter Catechism correctly says, man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. I owe God my allegiance because He is my Creator.


But why does Josh care to give God his obedience just because he owes it to Him? Why does Josh care if he gets "thrown out" like the proverbial watch in Dr. Bahnsen's example? Why does Josh want to fulfill the allegiance that he allegedly owes God? Josh says, "Because He is my creator" but he doesn't make the connection as to why that alleged fact would make Josh want to obey God? Josh only pushed back the question.

Next, Josh brings out the big guns of emotional appeal:

Aaron, it is reasonable and fair for you to bow the knee to the lordship of Christ. He is patient with you. Today is the day of salvation. Turn to Christ and live.


I appreciate Josh's attempt to help me by advising me to do what he thinks is the correct course of action. Obviously, Josh and I both have the same goal: to determine the truth and find happiness and serve our own self-interests. Josh is appealing to me to turn to God because, like him, he feels that it is within my self-interest to do so. The disconnect is in our premises; in our beliefs about what the facts are.

I must say that I still do not believe that God exists, I still do not believe that Jesus existed, and I am still convinced that the master-slave moral system of Christianity is immoral, and that the only appropriate moral system (that Christians borrow from, no less), is a fact-based individualistic morality.

While I am still repulsed by the ideology of Christianity, I am pleased to sharing this continuing discussion with Josh Brisby. He and I have the same ultimate goal, but our premises are totally different. I hope that, some day, I would be able to open Josh's eyes to reality, and free him from the mental enslavement of the Christian superstition. But he seems like a happy guy nonetheless, and he definitely seems to take pleasure in Christianity. At least he is pursuing his own self-interest.

14 comments:

olly said...

Very refreshing to see discussion minus the mudslinging!

-olly

Zachary Moore said...

"Fact always wins over perception."

Hear, hear. What is it with Christians always refusing to accept the facts of reality?

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Morality is innate. It is about survival and procreation. All living creatures share a common ancestor. If you want to define morality, look no further than the world of ants.
God doesn't tell ants what to do and how to do it. Ants don't have 10 commandments either.

Francois Tremblay said...

Great reply Aaron. I'm curious to see what will happen next. You left him no wiggle room.

Vic said...

Sort of an aside:

As long as you are acting within your own self-interest and not forcing your interest onto another, you are acting moral. My moral system is not complicated or hard to understand. It applies the facts of reality within the context of the values of a given individual.

It's not complicated and not hard to understand, that is true. However, to exercise it takes constant work - you must always perceive your context to supply yourself with the facts of your current circumstances, and then do the mental work to evaluate courses of action. This takes a lot more work than a simplistic rule-based 'morality' - and it makes me wonder if the ones who follow said rule-based fictions are just too lazy to do the work it takes to ACT morally?

(unable, or unwilling? Neither alternative speaks well for them...)

Aaron Kinney said...

I agree Olly!

Vic, interesting observation. But Christianity isnt known for promoting the virtue of thought now, is it? From faith to arbitrary dictates, it attempts to make non-thinking robots out of its adherents. :)

BlackSun said...

He fails to see that God's ways are beautiful. He fails to see that only God's ways make sense. He is living for himself. He is his own god, and he does not want King Jesus to reign over him. It takes a miracle of sovereign grace to break our sinful stubborn rebellion.

This is sick and disgusting. Totally subjective nonsense. When I was a kid, the fundies used to hang out and protest outside my mom's lectures. They were upset that my mom was preaching about a different god than they were. We used to go out and try to talk to them. I learned long ago that it was like talking to a bunch of glassy-eyed robots.

Aaron, these people you are engaging are just wasting your time. The moment someone opens their mouth spouting subjectivism or presuppositionalism--biblical or otherwise--they are proving that they cannot engage in rational debate.

A pre-requisite for any discussion has to be a willingness to accept objective facts when they are presented. People have to be willing to concede points when they are made. I always ask people, as a precondition, whether or not they can accept the possibility of the non-existence of god. If they say no, the conversation is over. As you saw, I ignored this rule with Mr. Showers, with predictable results.

People who cannot suspend their judgement and wait for the evidence about their pet 'beliefs' have a brain deficiency--a mental illness of a sort. Would you go into an asylum and try to carry on a debate there? You are better than this. These lunatics do not deserve a seat at your table.

Anonymous said...

If all conscious entities in the universe suddenly died, the facts of the universe would still exist, even without any entity to perceive them.

You have gone a bit overboard here. This is the kind of statement that can neither be proved nor disproved. The question "Is there a objective reality outside of *all* conscious perception of it?" is a perfectly valid one (which we may never be able to answer), the operative word being all. But the physical and material laws of science and the universe DO work objectively, no doubt, and those are not relative to our "worldview" as so-and-so tries to say.

Aaron Kinney said...

BlackSun,

I understand what you are saying. But I do not feel that I am "wasting my time" with Josh Brisby, even if both his and my positions remain static throughout the discussion.

Josh Brisby is a nice guy, even if he does subscribe to a disgusting worldview. A big part of why I am dong this is for the mental excercise or game of making and countering claims.

In addition, this is a blog meant to lay out ideas and arguments for as many spectators as possible. One of the things I am dong is precisely that: presenting my claims, claims from a typical Christian, and my counter-claims.

I think it is useful for me to have these kinds of dialogues from time to time with Christians, and lay out the shredding of their moral arguments plainly for all to see.

Anonymous,

You said:

The question "Is there a objective reality outside of *all* conscious perception of it?" is a perfectly valid one

And I agree with you there. However, I think you are forgetting that the answer I give to this question, "yes," is a perfectly valid answer.

My answer of "yes" to an objective reality that exists independently of perception is backed up by evidence; backed up by reality.

However, the answer "no" has no evidence to back it up.

There is nothing "going overboard" about my accepting of an independent reality. However, for one to imagine that objective reality is dependent upon the perceiver, being unevidenced and unsupported, is indeed "going overboard."

I think it would behoove you to think long and hard about materialism and objective reality and understand that, contrary to your belief, the evidence of an independent reality exists all around you. Its right under your nose. All you have to do is recognize it.

BlackSun said...

OK Aaron, point taken. I was not meaning to imply that what you are doing is not valuable. Only that as far as changing minds is concerned, you would have better luck changing a stone.

But it is entertaining and fun to watch, so keep it up.

Anonymous said...

And I agree with you there. However, I think you are forgetting that the answer I give to this question, "yes," is a perfectly valid answer.

My answer of "yes" to an objective reality that exists independently of perception is backed up by evidence; backed up by reality.

However, the answer "no" has no evidence to back it up.


I had said that you can neither prove it nor disprove it, not that the answer is "no". I do not agree with the unequivocal certainity of the materialists on this, though it does seem *likely* to me.

The Schwa said...

Great site! I never thought of morality this way and it is intriguing. I find myself agreeing with you a lot. One question, though. You said:

But lying of course is coercive, and so is stealing. But the lying and cheating commandments are just accessory examples of coercion itself, while my moral system gets to the foundation and says that coercion is wrong.

Do you claim ALL lying is immoral? I would argue it is not. If a Nazi came to my door in 1940s Germany and asked me if there were any Jews in my house, and there were, and I said "no", I would be lying (immoral) but I would be saving lives (moral). Right?

Or is that too simplistic? Does the immoral Nazi campaign render my lie moral? I am confused. I would love to see your reasoning. At any rate, keep up the good work.

Aaron Kinney said...

Anonymous,

I dont care what you say. You are wrong. You have not provided any argument to support your empty assertion that it is not provable.

The schwa,

I have a perfect answer for you. since the Nazis would already be enacting coercion (forcing jews into death camps) it would not be immoral for you to lie to help save jews because you would merely be defending or resisting a coecrive act.

The initiation of coercion is the problem here. It is not immoral to defend yourself or your values (like your jewish friends) from people who want to initiate coercive acts against you or your values

The Schwa said...

Thanks, that is kind of what I figured but could not articulate.

I have another question. (If this is very basic stuff and there is a site that covers all these basic questions, please direct me to it).

I assume there are levels to the coercive acts. For instance, if someone lies to me, that does not leave me free to kill him, right? Killing is only moral in self defense or with consent (e.g. terminal illness).

Is it that the first to use coercion frees the second person to act to the same or lesser degree and still allow the second person to be acting morally?