Matters of faith and morality

There is an interesting interview on Sam Harris’ website. Titled, “Life Without God: An Interview with Tim Prowse,” the interview delves into one man’s decision to leave two decades of church and pastoral career, announcing that he is no longer a believer.

It also mentions a website known as The Clergy Project, which says it began in March 2011 with 52 members and currently has more than 150. The Clergy Project is an online “safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.”

The entire interview is very thought-provoking, especially if you, or if anyone you know, has left a faith and know what can occur in those instances. It varies, of course, but there are people who throw in “atheism” with any other “-ism” that sounds negative – communism, satanism, etc.

One particularly interesting issue that gets brought up in the interview is one of morality, as it goes back to a debate between Harris and Rick Warren, author of the very popular book The Purpose Driven Life. The debate was published in Newsweek in 2007.

In the debate, Warren makes this statement: ” If death is the end, shoot, I’m not going to waste another minute being altruistic.”

Harris replies, “How do you account for my altruism?”

This goes into an argument that I have personally heard from a number of Christians – that without a belief in a god, more specifically their God, that there is no morality. This argument is also used in ways to defend creationist teaching rather than the scientific theory of evolution.

But it doesn’t stand up to the evidence that we see in a world where many nonbelievers do good and many religious adherents do bad. And history is full of examples of many religions doing many evils in the names of many gods.

I’m not perfect by any means. I try to do right and be a good person, but it’s not because of a deity’s instruction or because I think I’ll be rewarded for it in some other life.

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22 thoughts on “Matters of faith and morality

  1. How altruistic of you Josh. True Christians do not discount others beliefs, or non-beliefs as it may be. I’m a Christian because God has called me, I don’t however subscribe to the school of thought that insists Jesus is the only way to salvation. Some people, I think, are on a higher plane than others. I do happen to know that if one has been introduced to Jesus Christ, there is most definitely a reason why. With that being said, don’t turn away from anything until you are sure you want to close that door.

    • Hi Melissa,

      I appreciate your comment, but I think you’re getting into an area of what constitutes a “true Christian.” The only Biblical definition of a Christian is a person who professes belief in Jesus as the son of God. Also, in the Bible, Jesus says that he is the “only way to the Father.” So I am confused as to how you claim to be a “true Christian” without subscribing to the thought that Jesus is the only way to salvation. It seems like those two things would contradict each other.

      • There are people that live in rural, third world villages that have never been introduced to Jesus Christ, yet they will not be punished after they leave this earth for their lack of faith and service.

    • Melissa – I am going to have to agree with Josh on this. You say you are a Christian because God has called you. What God has called you? If not Jesus, then what God? Jesus says very plainly that ‘He is the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father but through Him.” I don’t have a problem with you ‘not believing’ so to speak on the thought that ‘insist Jesus is the only way’ but on what basis do you hold your understanding and faith in Christ. Is it from the Bible or some other source? If from the Bible, how can you not hold that Jesus is the only way? I’m not trying to make you look bad, just very curious how you can be a ‘Christian’ and not believe that because of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity on the cross and His resurrection from the grave is the only way to be saved and reconciled to a Holy and perfect God? Scripture also says, “There is no other name on earth or under Heaven which man must be saved.” Just very curious. If you some time, I would love to hear what you have to say concerning this.

      • Please read my reply to Josh on your first question. When I said God has called me, i mean I have active conversations with God and Jesus, and have a calling to the ministry. Also, scripture is interpretive and speaks to the individual reader. Please email me at imswtmelissa@gmail.com as Iwould prefer to have any lengthy conversations concerning my personal relationship with God privately. Thanks. I would like to hear from you.

  2. If nothing we do matters, then everything we do matters. If all we are is a self-important primate on a mote of dust around an insignificant spark, the only mark we will make in the universe is how we effect those around us. So we try to make those around us have a little bit better day and protect ourselves and this we care for from the forces of suck.

    Rick Warren expects an eternal cookie for being kind to people. Screw him.

  3. Josh – I think you are misunderstanding the objective morality issue. In fact, you cannot believe in an objective morality because in doing so you would by logical conclusion be required to know that your morality cannot exist without a Moral Being giving you that right. Your understanding of morality has to be subjective because subjectively you can choose your right and your wrong. But we know that this goes against the very beings of who we are in choosing what’s right and what’s wrong. Your last statement gives me that indication of your fallacy: “I try to do right and be a good person, but it’s not because of a deity’s instruction or because I think I’ll be rewarded for it in some other life.” A diety’s instruction or even reward is not the argument. Your statement actually is left to the ontological argument of God’s existence. You are talking about 2 different premises in your blog. 1). If morality exists, then God must exist (or in your case, does not necessarily have to exist) and 2). We as human beings (or in your case homosapiens) can do good regardless of whether or not there is a reward in the end. Though the second premise is a good topic of discussion as it relates to eschatalogical theology; the first premise is the heart of this matter. Let me break it down logically to rebut what you have put forth as your argument: 1). If natuarlism requires animals to survive through ‘survival of the fittest’ morality cannot exist. 2). Naturalism does require survival through “survival of the fittest” 3) Therefore, morality cannot exist through naturalism.

    I am not condemning you for your non belief b/c that is not for me to do. But the very fact that you do have the understanding of inherent good in you means that something had to put it there because naturalism did not. In fact, morality (subjective or objective) gets in the way of achieving the survival of any naturalistic species. I am actually complimenting you when I say to you that as a naturalist it would be better to just shoot everybody and take what they have, b/c what’s the point? We are all accidents anyway in a cosmic chaos trying to survive ultimately to just die and go back to disentegrated molecules. But the very fact that you do not shoot everyone and take their stuff shows that you have and ‘moral compass’ inside you and for that again I compliment you; not making it sound like atheists are murders and immoral people. Quite the contrary. However, your naturalistic/atheistic perspective is not logically sound. So the question begs itself: how did themoral compass get there? Well, we know it did not get their by naturalism simply because naturalism does not allow morality; simply because morality tips the scales of survival and in the end morality be the demise of our species.

    Lastly, for those who do not understand what I am talking about concerning objective morality or natuarlism, let me explain it this way: How do you know a line that you have drawn is straight? The answer is, you must have a straight edge. In order to know something is straight you must have a perfectly straight object to measure against the line that has been drawn. If you do not have that straight edge, then you are just guessing whether or not the line you have drawn is straight or not. But then begs the questions: what is a straight line? When you shine a light or a laser, it has to be perfectly straight because by it’s very nature a ‘ray’ can only go straight. So how do we know it’s straight? Because there is no deviation to the left or to the right. If there was a deviation, it would not be straight. But who determines that it’s straight? Should the property of straight be automatically given to the straight line just because the straight edge says it’s straight? Well, actually no. The property of straight is given because that is what it is. It’s the nature of the ‘ray’ to be straight. So we can measure the straightness of any object based on the fact that we know that there is a perfectly straight line in a ‘ray’ and we can measure our drawn line in such a way. However, be warned, no matter how straight your drawn line appears to the naked eye, it’s really not straight until it is put against the actual straight ‘ray’ line. Objective morality says their is a “Straight Maker” and it is this “Straight Maker” that determines whether our lives are straight.

    Your morality is an inherent property that has been given to you. Naturalism did not put it there. So if naturalism didn’t put it there it had to come from somewhere.

    Now, let me be very clear here; though I am a believer in Christ, I am not arguing for or against Yahweh/Jehova. That is for another blog topic. I am simply putting forth a general logical argument for the fallacy of the naturalistic objective moral argument (which the author of this blog has made).

    • Jason – Your arguments are against a premise I have not made. Because we are friends and have had this discussion, you know that atheism (more specifically, agnostic atheism) is quite simply disbelief.

      So, could there be a “Straight Maker,” as you put it? It’s possible. I don’t know. But because I don’t know, I will not make claims about this supposed, invisible “Straight Maker,” or proceed to know its personality or desires.

      What I will say is that I don’t subscribe to the vast array of “Straight Makers” that I have been told about – Jehovah, Allah, Zeus, Horus, etc.

      And regarding the morality issue, the deity of the Old Testament took a lead role in death, destruction, genocide and psychological torture – even in women and children. I see no reason to attempt to follow a morality based on a “Straight Maker” that conducts itself in such a destructive manner.

      • Again, I stated very clearly I am not arguing for/against God (Old Testament or otherwise). That is for another discussion. I am merely giving logical evidence against what you have stated which was: “This goes into an argument that I have personally heard from a number of Christians – that without a belief in a god, more specifically their God, that there is no morality. This argument is also used in ways to defend creationist teaching rather than the scientific theory of evolution” and then you say “I’m not perfect by any means. I try to do right and be a good person, but it’s not because of a deity’s instruction or because I think I’ll be rewarded for it in some other life.”

        You brought in the deity, not me. I steered clear from any diety. I was merely showing that naturalism cannot logically assume morality. Now, atheism/agnosticism is not a ‘disbelief.’ The notion and idea of these terms may have been logically concluded to be a ‘disbelief’ but the starting point of your disbelief begins with ‘faith.’ The reason your so called ‘disbelief’ HAS to begin with faith is because an absolute negative cannot be proven. So you are basing your disbelief on the notion that there is good evidence to prove the absolute negative. This notion is faith whether you want to admit or not. You may have some evidence, but you don’t have the proof. Just as I cannot prove God to you. I can give you some good evidence, but I cannot prove Him to you. However, I will concede to you that my starting point is faith and if the so called ‘atheist/agnostics/skeptics/non-believers’ would do the same, then we could probably have a good discussion about this. Unless you have absolute proof of the absolute negative, you are taking by faith that there is irrefutable proof that there is an absolute negative (which cannot be proven). Quite a contradiction there wouldn’t you say?

        Now, the word altruism is used in the non believing community to replace the diety that you do not believe in and that is fine (although altruism is an epistemology in many religions, which I do not deny). Again, I am not here to argue for/against God, but you cannot use altruism in the context of evolutionary existence especially as it relates to naturalism b/c there is no room for it in that paradigm. Now you can say it is and you will have many friends who will believe you and call me a religious fanatic, but the truth is, morality is a ’round peg’ and naturalism is a ‘square hole.’ When the dust settles that’s really all you have, a round peg trying to be forced in a square hole. They cannot coexist because the very nature of evolution will not allow it to. It’s like saying “I am a married batchelor” it cannot make sense and is therefore a logical fallacy. However, altruism can be used by the non-believer because it can make the non-believer have a piece of a scrambled puzzle to justify their ‘faith’ in the provication of an absolute negative.

        • “I was merely showing that naturalism cannot logically assume morality.”

          Theists tend to look at morality as something bestowed upon humanity by a deity. At least, that has been my experience. If morality is not a natural occurrence, and it is bestowed upon us by a deity, you must first prove that particular deity.

          Basically, what I’m getting at is that I don’t see the point of inserting something in the equation without good reason. This is basically the same thing that Spartacus alluded to in his statement: “I did not need to make such an assumption.”

          • But you, as an Atheist/Agnostic assumes morality outside of a diety. Again, you keep mentioning the diety that I have never mentioned or assumed. I am merely stating to you that morality is NOT an evolutionary process. It cannot be simply because if it was, we as a species would not exist (if you take naturalism to its logical conclusion). You are accusing me of Theism when I haven’t stated anything remotely to Theism. At first you claimed I was arguing a diety now you are getting even more specific with Theism. Just because I believe in those things, what we are talking about here as it relates to naturalism and morality CAN BE an independent conversation of any diety and I am trying to keep it as such. It appears that the atheist/agnostic is the one who cannot speak about morality without assuming a diety.

            • “But you, as an Atheist/Agnostic assumes morality outside of a diety.”

              Yes, true. I also assume morality outside of unicorns. Once a unicorn is proven to be the author of morality, I will take into account the new evidence. Same with any deity.

              “At first you claimed I was arguing a diety now you are getting even more specific with Theism.”

              I don’t see how one is “more specific.” Believing in a deity is theism. They are the same thing.

              “I am merely stating to you that morality is NOT an evolutionary process.”

              OK. So if it’s not, then it’s still unexplained, unless you insert something unproven (deity, unicorn, aliens, etc.) If you do that, however, it’s pretty much “god of the gaps.”

              • Ok, let’s assume it as unexplained and I will concede that it’s unexplained as long as you can concede that according to Darwinian Evolutionary Process cannot naturally create morality and concede as well. And if you cannot concede it, then you will then have the onus of explaining to me the degree of punishment for the immorality because in order to maintain a system of morals, there must be consequences to the immorality. The answer to the consequences of immorality literally is the foundation of our species survival because if we go with natuarlism, there is no consequences and then only the fittest will survive and we are left with a very small reproductive society. So who determines the consequences and who gives them the authority to do so?

              • You are correct about Theism. I have no idea what was going through my head when I wrote that. Actually I do, I mistook the word to mean Theism as in the Christian God more specifically Jesus. Thanks for catching that.

    • Of course objective morality doesn’t exist. We as a species (and we are far from alone in this)  define morality through some form of the social contract.  Break the contract and possibly lose the myriad of  advantages life in the community offers. Trying to prove a deity via morality is laughable. Especially the decidely cruel and amoral, if not downright immoral, God as portrayed in the Abrahamic tradition.

      Thousands of years of the word games of theist philosophers, and the word games still serve as flimsy and near transparent drapery around the elephant in the room, our own cosmic unimportance. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of universal consciousness with an anthopomorphic interface ascribing eternal and external validation to our existence?

      The William Lane Craig/Sam Harris debates are sideshows akin to the Bob Larson vs Satanists debates of the 80s and 90s. Both sides hit their talking points and their respective supporters think “Burn!!” I love Dawkins quote from Robert May when asked about debating Craig: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine.” When a man openly states no amount of evidence or reasoning will make him reconsider his positions, there is no point of debate.

      Why get bogged down into discussions about how nearly completely illiterate bronze age desert dwellers thought the universe worked? God is unecessary to the discussion or as LaPlace said when Napoleon asked him about why he didn’t place God in the models of the Solar System: “I did not need to make such an assumption.”

      • Spartacus – you seem to be using the so called ‘word games.’ You make not a single point here. You are rambling about things that I have not stated or try to defend. But I will chase your rabbit if you allow me to.

        I will get Dawkins out of the way first. It’s amazing how Dawkins will debate every other so called apologist and even the likes of Bill O’Reilley, but when it comes to WLC and Ravi Zacharias, he will not even get on the same stage with them. It’s easy to debate when you are debating people who are not experts at apologetics because you know you are going to win. It would be like a professional football team scheduling a high school team. They know they will wipe the floor with them. He has been asked repeatedly to defend his arguments and he will not. But you know what, much respect goes to Sam Harris and the late great Christopher Hitchens for doing what the so called ring leader of the ‘Brights’ would not do. And to circle your argument which you stated about WLC, “When a man openly states no amount of evidence or reasoning will make him reconsider his positions, there is no point of debate.” I believe you can say the same thing about Dawkins. I have heard him say many many times.

        Secondly, I have stated clearly and objectively that I am NOT arguing for or against God. I have not made assumptions, premises or suppositions for the existence or non existence of God. I am merely pointing out the logical fallacy that morality cannot exist in naturalism.

        Thirdly, for you to say that Objective Morality does not exists shows your ignorance to morality in itself. If Objective Morality does not exist than please answer me this: is it wrong to rape a three year old? What would you say? If you say there is no Objective Morality then you would HAVE to answer No, that it is not wrong because if you make morality subjective then what you have done is state that it may be wrong for me, but it can be right for someone else. So please explain to me how there is no such thing as “Objective Morality” please. There are things that are objectively wrong and everyone knows it, even if they are on the planet Xenon. It is still wrong to rape a 3 year old.

        • I don’t see anything along the line of the semantic navel gazing like a discussion of a “straight maker.” But one man’s word game is another man’s thought exercise, so I will concur that it all seems like so much masturbatory hot air, mine included, when viewed by others. Though it does takes quite a bit of hubris to accuse someone of being ignorant of morality. It’s OK though. I grew up with God’s Chosen people, so I am used to people taking the tone that they have some sort of greater insight than everyone else. It is sometimes annoying, but cute, the way most precocious know-it-all’s are.

          The first six words are “Of course objective morality does not exist” followed by the idea that we get our morality via the community and social contract. So actually I do make a single point. To say that the debate about objective morality has nothing to do with arguments about deities is disingenuous. Hitchens may have liked the term objective morality as Lane uses it, but I don’t. “Absolute morality” plants us firmly in Plato’s Cave and in discussion of a divine realm, which is why Lane uses “objective.” He is trying to get us to the Cave (a concept that was already being rejected by the much more grounded Aristotle before Plato’s death) before we know it.

          I don’t know of many view O’Reilly as a serious thinker, and pimping books isn’t exactly a debate. Dawkins is a biologist. Why would he debate a philosopher like Craig? I have seen several Craig debates. So much bending over backwards to make things about God. To an outsider, Apologetics looks like a crude dam set against a swelling river, trying to stem the flow that will eventually wash it away. While science has its orthodoxy and true believers, as a whole the field is infinitely more adaptable than a faith. Dawkins isn’t a leader in my book, he just is a loud mouthpiece for a minority crowd. The whole “bright” thing is beyond silly. I agree with Hitchens. There is no word for people who don’t believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, there need not be one for people unconvinced of the divine.

          In most of not all human societies, crimes against children are abhorent. It works against evolution, a process dependent upon a large number of offspring surviving to adulthood, that has caused human communities to generally be protective of their youngest members. But to paraphrase de Sade, mankind, myself included, has put a false importance on ourselves and death. Nature doesn’t care if a child is conceived by loving marriage, artificial insemination or brutal rape. The genetic material moves forward. Nature doesn’t care if a person dies of old age, by vicious murder at three or cancer at forty. More loam for the mill of the circle of life. So to answer your question, human society would generally find the rape of a three year old abhorrent, and I very much do. But to call it a moral absolute is a bit of a stretch. Good selection of the strawman though. Who defends child rape? I think genocide would be a better example, especially when coupled with that whole “God commands us to it” thing. I am sure a Canaanite could tell us more about it. Where does Genocide fit into an absolute morality? Human chattel slavery? The subjugation of the female sex?

          We have a biological mandate to survive to reproduce. Communities of animals work in close cooperation to perpetuate the gene pool, and we are just another one. Animal communities have their conventions, mandates, patters and mores. We do to. They most certainly evolve and change. Communities are nothing if not pragmatic, and our morality has had many tweaks, resets and revolutions on both grand scales and almost micro-local levels. Our morals come from the social contract and trial and error, not some absolute universal notion of right and wrong.

    • ” 1). If natuarlism requires animals to survive through ‘survival of the fittest’ morality cannot exist. 2). Naturalism does require survival through “survival of the fittest” 3) Therefore, morality cannot exist through naturalism.”

      Take this video:

      If naturalism requires animals to survive through ‘survival of the fittest’ is this then animals displaying morality?

      I’m actually not trying to support or attack your claim, though there are many instances in nature were animals step outside of their own self interest in survival to aid others. I’m afraid your logical assertion may lack sufficient information to be considered sound.

  4. And by the way, Sam Harris should have cleaned the floor against Rick Warren b/c Rick Warren is not an apologist. That’s why Sam Harris will no longer debate the likes of William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias because he knows they blow holes in his ‘logic’; which William Lane Craig has already done to Sam Harris. In fact, you can watch the debate between WLC and Sam Harris at http://www.reasonablefaith.org and watch WLC basically shred Harris’s naturalistic/moralistic premise out of the water. Simply put, it’s easy to present an argument to a layman with an emotional string attached, but it’s quite another when you present the same argument to a real apologist. The truth is, Sam Harris makes a great point and even plays at the heart strings, but the bottom line is that it cannot be carried out to the end logically because of the fallacies in it. Again, I am not arguing for or against the existence of God, but only the moralistic/naturalistic argument that has been set forth by the author of this blog (who happens to be a friend of mine who I repect greatly and respectfully disagree with on many issues).

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