"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What I've learned from my atheist friends

I can see the logic explaining the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of certain human actions in terms of ‘what’s good for the tribe’ . We all want to survive and be happy. In order to survive we need each other. We need to be able to live together. We need social codes to keep us from killing each other. As we evolved our social codes have been ingrained in our psyche. Therefore our conscience is simply the echo of that code, much like instinct in animals. Sure you can disobey that social code, but once you begin doing that the society as a whole begins to suffer creating a backlash against the perpetrator(s). That is why you ‘ought’ to follow the moral code. What’s good for all is good for you.

Seems like a neat little package does it not?

I don’t know what this does for man’s quest for meaning. I’d suppose you could say that is simply an evolutionary by-product as well.

Our sense of beauty sure is an interesting little add on. Maybe that helps us seek out appropriate spaces to dwell in. Perhaps it is simply the collective ‘memory’ of the tribe. I don’t know. That one is wierd.

All miraculous events are simply psychosis or delusion. The miracles are always the easiest to get around, because ‘obviously’ they just don’t happen.

Well that pretty much wraps up the whole God problem. We truly are a beyond all odds accident. This entire rant I have just composed is simply chemicals in my body doing what they do in response to the stimulus of it’s surroundings. Funny that the organism that I call me has the ability to look out at it’s self and make statements about it’s self. I don’t want to go to far with that one. That’s kind of wierd.

At any rate, as I now know there is no God I can live my life free from his ‘oppressive’ rule structure and simply seek to enjoy all I have before me! Sure others around me are hurting and need help, but I don’t want to spend all that much time doting about them. I have my own program to run! The only thing that is telling me to help them is ‘instinct’ anyway. And what is instinct? MINDLESS CHEMICAL REACTIONS BABY!!! All I need to do now is honor the social code ‘just enough’ to get by. Or be very sneaky when I violate it. If I can pull that off, it’s all good... for me that is!

Labels: ,


Blogger Matt M said...

Wah-hay! Knew you'd come round to our point of view eventually. ;-)

1:14 PM

Blogger Alex said...

It was only a matter of time!

1:16 PM

Anonymous Andy said...

So what will your new flavor of ice cream be? It's all on the table!

1:26 PM

Blogger Alex said...

I don't know Andy. It doesn't really matter does it?

1:33 PM

Anonymous Andy said...

I guess it really doesn't. Like I said, it's all on the table.

1:57 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Okay - I'm not sure how good I'm going to be at putting this into words, but...

And what is instinct? MINDLESS CHEMICAL REACTIONS BABY!!! All I need to do now is honor the social code ‘just enough’ to get by.

I recently watched ‘Shooting Dogs’, a BBC film about the Rwandan genocide which, as with ‘Hotel Rwanda’, managed to evoke a range of emotions which stuck with me long after the credits had ended: anger, despair, frustration, a sense of being overwhelmed... Now, I know that, ultimately, all those emotions are just biological reactions, my brain responding to the images I’m witnessing, but that doesn’t mean you can shake them off. They get to you, staying with you and colouring how you see and think about the world around you. It’s the same with the love you feel for friends and family, or the sense of compassion and wanting to do something you experience when you witness suffering. They’re real – as real as anything else in life. Yes, they’re basically just mindless chemical reactions, but the simple act of experiencing them transforms them into so much more.

For a long time after I became an atheist, I struggled with the question of why thoughts and feelings should mean anything, searching for a reason why they were important. But, eventually, I came to realise that there is no big, ultimate, unquestionable reason – they just are. Watching ‘Shooting Dogs’ reminded me powerfully of that. Confronted with the idea of people suffering in such horrific circumstances, the whole issue of “why” becomes irrelevant, you just know that they are suffering, and that you should help, and that is all you need. Realising, and then accepting, this doesn’t diminish what you do in anyway, at least it didn’t for me.

If you saw someone about to be killed in a preventable way, would you think through the reasons for doing something, or would you just act, instinctively? Would your actions mean any less to you because they were gut instinct?

Reason guides our actions, but it cannot be the motivation for them. That lies deeper - but within us, not out there in any supernatural being.

“A human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants.”

2:05 PM

Blogger Alex said...

So, what you are saying is that my cynical approach would be a 'bad' approach to life?

2:24 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

I couldn't manage it. Nor do I know anyone who could.

2:28 PM

Blogger Alex said...

You must live amongst a very fine lot. Perhaps none of you truly believe the foundational meaninglessness of the atheistic dilemma. Each time you respond to my rants on the meaninglessness of a godless existence you go to great lengths to show me that your feelings are true and real. I agree with you. I believe they really are real. I believe that they do matter. It's just that I believe they matter for a reason, whereas you believe the matter for no reason, yet they still matter. To me if they matter for no reason then they really don't matter at all.

2:44 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

To me if they matter for no reason then they really don't matter at all.

The reason they matter is because they're important to me - they're a fundamental, central aspect of my life.

2:53 PM

Blogger Alex said...

The reason they matter is because they're important to me

Who are you? Why do you and your feelings matter so much? You're just a meat bag like the rest of us. Why should I care what you think matters? As far as I'm concerned your precious feelings are worth about as much osmosis or any other chemical function.

Devils advocate here. You know I love you man.

3:00 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Why does there need to be any higher authority than myself on these matters?

As far as I'm concerned

That's your business. And what a miserable old sod you sound. ;-)

Are you really saying that without God you wouldn't care at all about other people?

3:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."

-Viktor E. Frankl

3:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

True meaning exists in god and we were created to worship, praise and serve him. Sounds pretty good for god, but still pretty meaningless for humans. What is better, meaningless herald or meaningless meatbag. Still meaningless for you in the end.

3:40 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Are you really saying that without God you wouldn't care at all about other people?

If I truly believed that man was nothing more than another random animal. No, I would not 'feel' any different... at least not right away. However I would think very differently about other people. If I meditated on my new found knowledge of our meaninless situation, perhaps then my feelings would begin to change. What has happened to those down through history who have lost hope? Without God I lose hope. I lose meaning. All I have is my feeling abut things. I would gain the knowledge that my feelings are simply chemistry. That I am essentially nothing more than a natural process. I am not me or I. This idea of having a unique personhood is an illusion. A cruel joke. To be here and feel like I exist and that I am important, yet knowing that it's not true...

I don't believe it Matt. You don't either, yet you wear the tag atheist as though it is some kind of honor. It's not my friend. It's the ultimate devaluation of all you know and love.

4:16 PM

Blogger Alex said...

It's not worship as you'd see reflected anywhere in humanity. It's a relationship. A mutual delight. A beautiful dance. The closest thing on earth you can see to this type of relationship is between a well maintained marrige. My wife and I delight in the unique aspects of eachother and find joy in loving the other. The difference is God is part of the equasion in the situation you mention. Would it not be an ultimate honor to serve one who is actually worth serving? As a soilder under a good commander finds pleasure in the service of his commander, so to we will find pleasure in the service of God.

I guess where this falls apart is if you have a picture of God in your head that is not worth worshiping... Maybe it is you with the problem not God?

4:22 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

meaningless situation

We're back to this again: Why is a Godless existence meaningless?

That I am essentially nothing more than a natural process.

We're essentially natural processes, but simply through experiencing life we become so much more. There's a big difference between scientifically describing love, wonder or excitement, and the experience of it - it's that difference which makes life worth living, for me and millions of other people.

You're looking at the sheet music as though it were the concert itself.

4:31 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

matt m said: Are you really saying that without God you wouldn't care at all about other people?

It is highly unlikely that a person's theism (or atheism) will change likelihood of his/her caring for others. However, it is hard to see how atheism can say that to care "is better than" to not care about others. Atheism can say that caring "feels better than" or "is more adaptive than" not-caring, but to say that one choice is objectively better than another choice requires an appeal to some sort of universal standard. While I don't think that this universal standard has to be a personal, omni-X being, I do think an atheist will have to ask him/herself what this standard is if he/she wants to be able to say that morality "is better than" immorality. Of course, if he/she doesn't want to say that, then there is no need for further thinking on the matter.

4:31 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


(Hope I got the right number of "v" there :-))

to say that one choice is objectively better than another choice requires an appeal to some sort of universal standard.

I agree. Human nature is the universal standard I appeal to when trying to say that something is better than another. When I say that freedom is better than oppression, for example, I rely on a majority of people agreeing with me.

4:42 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Yes, they’re basically just mindless chemical reactions, but the simple act of experiencing them transforms them into so much more.

Who is experiencing them?

8:54 PM

Blogger Alex said...

It's a pleasure to see you grace my blog. Thanks for stopping in.

8:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

matt m: Are you really saying that without God you wouldn't care at all about other people?

I would agree with Alex. Why should I care? It's all about ME then right! So since it's about ME I can drive my car as fast as I want becasue I enjoy the adrenaline rush and run over a kid and have no bad feelings about it. I got to drive fast and it was fun, eh so a kid got hurt. It was fun for ME! He was in MY way. Also he is nothing more than a gooey mass just like ME so again what does it matter.

9:46 PM

Anonymous Moe said...

I stumbled across this by chance and have enjoyed reading all the postings, and I feel I have to now jump in. So..

Alex I have a question for you. Where does that passion come from that separates your heart from your head as you put it. I 'think' I believe in God but have never felt that same feeling of love as I have for my son that is a deep seeded love. That feeling as you have mentioned is very real and deep, I agree. But how did you come to find the same feeling toward Jesus? I have always felt that I am missing something in my life and I believe it is that connection (passion) you have for Jesus. I have tried to give myself to him but I honestly feel no different, my head seems to still be leading the way. My heart and soul arent even in the same equation. I guess you could argue that I didnt give my whole self into it, which is probably true. Does that true conviction only come from some trematic experience. I have a lot of friends and have heard people talk that that is when they made their commitment. When they were at a real low place. That He showed up to welcome them and they have been different ever since. They have that passion that you have. What if say Matt and I never have any REAL low points in our lives. Which I think could open our hearts and allow Him to truly change us. I have a great family, money, toys, health, etc. It would appear I have it all. But there is that something internal or internal something (you put it) that always seem to be bugging me. Again back to if I never one of those experiences I am stuck with my head leading the way. What was that ah-ha moment for you?

10:24 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

matt m, i think leaving morality to the "majority" is a dubious option. i don't think moral quesitons can be answered democratically. for example, if the vast majority of people oppose homosexuality, does it make it morally wrong? and historically (and presently), the majority of people DO oppose homosexuality. Now, I don't think either one of us want go follow that path. Share your thoughts.

6:28 AM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

One more thing. To say that "human nature" is the supreme moral arbiter is to posit a thing (for lack of a better word) called "human nature." I'm not sure what that means (Speaking as a social psychologist). And if I did, I think Ockham's razor would apply here. I'm not sure "human nature" is any more parsimonious than "God."

6:31 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Hey Moe,
Thanks for posting. That's a deep question my friend. MANY people live in that reality. First of all let me start by saying personally I never had the sort of traumatic conversion experience where all of a sudden the lights came on and it was all clear to me. Some people do. Not me though. My path has been a journey plagued with doubt and discomfort. The 'church' has been a blessing and a curse to me. I'd suppose that is because it's made up of people. I see so much superstition and judgmental attitudes being thrown around. Not to mention the overt showmanship and 'bless me' type 'Christians'. To be honest, it has caused me to wonder many times why I keep going with this program.

So here's the key as I see it. The things I just mentioned... It's not Him. That's not Jesus! If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus! What was he like? Here's the problem. There are many many things that happen to us in this life that influence our picture of God. From how our fathers treat us, to what our preachers say about him, to spiritual forces who want very much for you to believe a lie about Him.

In order for you to have any feeling towards Him you MUST have an accurate picture of him in your mind. The person who has helped me most with this is Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church This man is relentless at digging deeply into Bible and asking tough questions of it. I've been listening to his sermons on line for a couple years now. You can listen to them from the website under sermon resources, or download his Podcasts.

As I continue to trust God and seek Him I've discovered a beauty in Him I'd never known. I've discovered a beauty in people around me I'd never known. Is it possible that God is less beautiful than His creation?

Personally, I have ingrained in me a longing for the mountains... the 'high places', if you will. Something happens in my spirit when I am dwarfed by towers of rock and balsam. To be surrounded by the skree, the wind, the sky... I come alive my friend. Would not the one who created it all and places these desires within me be even so much greater!?

I hope that helps somewhat. I'm not a preacher. I'm just a guy with more questions than answers. Good hearing from you!

8:11 AM

Anonymous Moe said...

Just a quick ressponse here, busy busy busy you know.
Again I have to go back to my question then of, what gives you the connection between your head and your heart? I agree that we are not all chance but that we were created by something special. Two dead pieces of matter spontaniously transformed into Salma Hayek for example. I get that, no brainer for me, its obvious to see something special was at work when life began. Its just that leap to the heart, where does that come from? I know we have to look at Jesus, and I know that there is some proof for all of His claims. The Case for Christ was a great book which showed and went on to prove using the same rules that all ancient claims are subjected to. I enjoyed that, and I can understand and even believe he was and still is all He and his followers said he was. So if I believe all that shouldnt it be obvious to me then? That I should have that fire in my soul as you claim to have? Or since we are just 'mindless matter' maybe that chemical reaction in me linking my head and my heart is just dead.

I too love the mountains and all the beauty, maybe if I/we lived there and werent surrounded by the greed, lust for material possesions, sex, and immorality that is in our lives these days. But we arent so how can we feel what you have? Blind faith? Even with that where does the passion for it come from.

Wow sorry, I said quick response, but it just flowed out.

8:38 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Alright Moe,
Consider this. Have you heard of the television show Gray's Anatomy? Not sure where you are from, but it's a show running here in the U.S. It's a fabulously written show. Very entertaining stuff. Sure, it's absolute garbage when it comes to any sort of moral stance, but if you start watching it you just can't stop. My wife was watching it for a time. She would get so involved with the characters and what was going on even though this show it complete fiction. Not only that, but it's complete fiction that she very much disagrees with and wishes she didn't want to watch. This fictitious show would get her emotions all up in a tizzy. It's not real. It's a story well told with light, color, motion, people, sound.

What does this tell us?

I would say that a well told story shown in a very sensual (using all our senses) sort of way has more capacity to move our emotions (or heart) than even the reality around us. Reality in many ways can not compete with the sheer emotive quality of the entertainment our culture can produce. How are we to 'feel' God when our picture of him is in some stodgy old book that is read in places that often resemble nursing homes? How can that move us?

I would say one answer is first finding the truth about God. (It's a process) Then meditating on it. Practice using the imagination God gave you to see him, to feel his presence. Create a substantial reality in your mind and seek to see him. Let him speak to him through this experience. Also the process of living out your faith towards others has a very profound effect on us. By loving others as Jesus called us to (a way that is beyond our natural inclinations) we are essentially loving God.

But still the question remains to some degree "how can I respond to God's love if I don't feel it?" I guess I'm not perfectly sure. All I know is that for me it's been a process of erasing lies about Him in my head and learning his truth. It's taken years and will take many more. Find those who you can see obviously living in his love and hang around them. I listen to Greg every week. The man has something I want. He has a joy and honesty... It's infectious. I wish I had a real easy answer for you but it's complicated.

Greg Boyd has written a book called Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus through Imaginative Prayer From what you are telling me I believe this book would be very helpful for you. I haven't read it yet, but I've heard him touch on the topic in his sermons. I cannot recommend him enough.

The answer I was always given to your question was "go read the bible more and pray" There's truth there, but I believe given the culture we live in, there's much more to be said on the topic.

9:21 AM

Blogger Matt M said...


If that's really how you feel, then all I can say is thank God you have religion to keep you in check! ;-)

I know a lot of non-religious people, ranging from the agnostic to anti-theist. All of them are rational, compassionate human beings. Most of whom would go out of their way to help a friend in need and expect little or nothing in reply. This isn't because of any particular belief they have, but simply because, like most human beings, they have a deep-seated empathy for others.

9:29 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

Who is experiencing them?

Me. This bundle of thoughts, feelings, memories and sensations who thinks he's sitting at a keyboard right now.

9:30 AM

Blogger Matt M said...


Looking back, I realise I phrased that really badly. I wasn't trying to suggest that the majority should determine morality - in fact, I find that thought quite terrifying.

I believe that it's up to each and every individual, through the combination of instinct and reason, to determine their own moral stance. If we feel that the majority is in the wrong, it's important to argue our case to try and change their minds.

However, in order to such a change to be possible, we need to see the world in fairly similar ways. If someone fundamentally disagreed with me on important matters, then no appeal or argument would be possible. The reason such arguments can be made is down, in my opinion, to a shared human nature, by which I mean only shared attributes. Most human beings feel compassion, of empathy, or anger at the same kind of things. We feel pain, we chafe at oppression, etc.

Now, you could say that if someone truly disagrees that killing people is wrong, I'd be screwed - there's nothing I can say to them. But, a religious approach merely shifts the argument sideways: if someone truly disagrees that God or your objective morality exists, you'd be screwed.

9:38 AM

Anonymous Moe said...

Thank you again for that poetic response, I find it hard to believe that you are one of those arts-ey graphic people and not some teacher or philosopher of some kind since you seem to have a truley gifted way with words.

Back to business. I think I have to go back to my comment earlier about the ah-ha moment. I honestly believe that my image of Jesus is quite close to yours from the way you have been speaking to all of us here. That being said where is my passion? Why dont I have the drive to seek Him in that manner? Even if our images were EXACTLY the same, you have that fire that burns deep down that I dont seem to have. Shouldnt my brain say 'hey you stupid heart look here, I have the facts, its completly clear'. Why? Why? Why?

Sorry Matt if I am butting in on your time with Alex.

9:45 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

Sorry Matt if I am butting in on your time with Alex.

The only people who should apologise are those who aren't butting in. :-)

9:47 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Good grief man, I'm going to have to get a seperate office for my head if you keep this up! Us artsy folk are quite often amature philosophers. Not sure why that is. Thanks though. I'm glad you have been enjoying our ramblelings over here.

Much actual work to do today. Will have to pick this up later.

10:12 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Is it actually wrong to be a homicidal killing machine, or is it just the majority of organisms shouting this it’s wrong?

My whole point is that if there be no God, you can not say anything is truly wrong. All you can say is ‘the majority of us feel such and such’ or ‘I feel such and such’. To which the accused would reply, ‘What if you’re wrong?’ Then all you can say is ‘nu uh’

You have nothing concrete. You have personal experience and the thoughts of the group. As you said yourself, the ‘morals’ of these two examples change over time. Nothing is sound. You are adrift. There is no anchor.

11:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Psychology shows that a person's ability to believe something is closely tied to how their personality operates. Some people just don't have the ability to believe with their heart. In a way, that is a form of gullibility. Think of your head as the bullshit detector for your heart. You are not passionate in what you "know" because you haven't been conditioning yourself to believe. Science is starting to show that some people have a genetic predisposition towards belief, or to be clearer, to be more gullible.

Alex is right, what you are missing is the long term conditioning to truly feel what you believe. Unfortunately, there is a term for that and it is called brain washing. Look at the techniques he offers up. You can do it to yourself or let others do it to you. Either way, I guarantee that you will eventually have results. It is the only way that you can get your head to disconnect from your heart. The military figured that out years ago and use it extensively in basic training, "don't think with your head." Modern protestantism uses brain washing extensively to solidify it's converts. Hypnotic sermons, testimony pressure, Meditation, prayer, devotion, group pressure, isolated life (mountains or whatever)

QUOTE "(It's a process) Then meditating on it. Practice using the imagination God gave you to see him, to feel his presence. Create a substantial reality in your mind and seek to see him. Let him speak to him through this experience."

Soon you will believe with your heart I guarantee it. It really is quite effective since the old catholic method, fear, just doesn't work on all people.

But alas, in the end, programming your brain to believe doesn't make it any more real.

12:30 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Is it actually wrong to be a homicidal killing machine, or is it just the majority of organisms shouting this it’s wrong?

I think we probably differ over the concept of "actually" - for me, yes, it is actually wrong, because my moral instinct and reason are in complete accordance. Intuition and pragmatism in perfect synchronicity.

There's always the possibility that I'm wrong though, but that applies to everything.

Nothing is sound. You are adrift. There is no anchor.

Only instinct, reason and the collective wisdom of human beings throughout history.

In terms of my moral sense, I'm quite sound and satisfied with it. It seems more or less realised, though there are a number of grey areas which may never be fully resolved. It's enough for me, and, I suspect, others as well.

In terms of convincing other people that something is wrong (which is perhaps what you're really concerned about), I have no absolute, unopposable arguments. But then, if our psychopath refuses to accept the idea of obeying your objective morality, neither do you.

12:41 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Right on! So let's get back to the business at hand!!! That being, living the life we never asked for, suffering the pains we never hoped for, while watching our bodies decay around us as we wait for the only release this life can promise — the death of us all. Enjoy.

12:42 PM

Anonymous brad said...


You're full of crap!

There, I posted to your blog.

12:46 PM

Blogger Alex said...


12:49 PM

Blogger Alex said...

F.Y.I. Anon = Brad, my godless heathen friend at work that I spoke of when I started this whole blog in the first place. ;-) After I smoked him out we had a good old fashioned argument in his office. Now I suppose I'll have to respond to him since he does raise some good points as usual. Jerk though he may be, he's a good friend. He just tends to get a little emotional at times.

1:50 PM

Anonymous brad said...

That would be godless baby-eating heathen to you.

Let's get it on!!!

Thanks for discrediting me as an emotional girly man. Although I'll take the total jerk wrap.

Oh, and I am not every anonymous post. Thought Matt M could use some backup.

2:29 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Why dont I have the drive to seek Him in that manner?

It would seem that you do have that 'drive', otherwise you wouldn't be at all interested in these conversations let alone moved to post anything. I think what you are referring to is 'feelings'. That's a complicated topic. There's a lot of psychology involved. Perhaps Revvvvvvd will jump in and explain that a bit.

As for me I guess I've done the best I can to explain it. Brad seems to have gotten what I was saying pretty clearly. Feelings take time and need to be nurtured and lived in for awhile. I wouldn't get to worked up that you aren't having strong feelings. I'd be more concerned that you are seeking to find the truth about what you believe and letting that impact how you live. Feelings may follow, unless of course you are simply not a very emotional person.

2:37 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I'm deign to respond to the posts concerning this heart-head dichotomy. From a social cognitive (or a cognitive neuroscience) view, the dichotomy is rather bunk. Look up a recent cognitive neuroscience textbook and read about the relationship between emotions and rationality. Plus, from a social psychological perspective, religious experiences should not count as evidence for a belief. Or at most, it may count as very weak evidence.

2:38 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for discrediting me as an emotional girly man.

And a women hater too it would appear. That's a new low even for you Brad. Sigh...

2:40 PM

Blogger Alex said...

I'm a smart fellow. but could you dumb it down a bit for me? I limit myself to only looking up one word per post and you used that up with 'deign'.


2:43 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...


I'm going to try another route, to see if this works better. We have 4 propositions,

a. God exists.
b. God doesn't exist.
c. Morality has an objective basis.
d. Morality doesn't have an objective basis.

such that a and b are mutually exclusive, and c and d are mutually exclusive.

I propose that the question to ask is two-fold. Firstly, "Does a or b allow make c more likely?" Secondly, "Does c or d makes a more likely?"
I would suggest then, that if we assume that there is an objective basis for morality, then it is more likely than not, that God exists. And I would also suggest that if we assume that God exists, then it is more likely than not that there is an objective basis from morality.

But of course, you see the trick. I've just made some a priori assumptions. I really haven't proven anything about the real world. And I think that's OK. All I want to say is that if we want an objective basis for morality, we should believe in God, because the existence of God increases the likelihood that such an objective basis exists. Of course, if (like you, Matt) we are brave enough to admit that there isn't any objective basis for morality, then the God-question is irrelevant.

At the end of it, I will (I think) agree that the argument from morality fails once an atheist (e.g., Matt) denies that there is such a thing as morality apart from individual human choices and feelings. If one is willing to sacrifice the belief in an objective basis for morality, we can no longer use morality to talk about God.

As it turns out, very few people were converted by appeal to the argument from morality. I think Francis Collins (former head of the human genome project) is an exception. I was personally convinced by the likelihood that Jesus rose from the dead. Humean a priori rejection of miracles notwithstanding, I think the chances are good.

2:54 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...


Looks like we're online at the same time. My point was that from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, the "head" and "heart" cannot be separated. For example, damage to the "emotion" parts of our brain causes massive deficits in rational decision-making. My second point, this time from a social psychological perspective (this is more my field, as a social cognitive student), religious experiences shouldn't count as evidence for beliefs. Or it should count very little.

2:58 PM

Anonymous brad said...

Why do you say I am a woman hater now too ?????

Must you always attack? Where's the love? :()

3:06 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Do you need a hug or something? Come on over you big lug!

3:16 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Wow. I'm away for a few hours and look what happens. Seems like the party is really getting going now.


I'm not sure I agree that God and objective morality can really be considered one and same thing - I have no trouble accepting that one could exist without the other.

Why is it that God is necessarily a moral being? It's possible that He exists - though obviously not in the form we assume - but hasn't set a universal standard of right and wrong.

I also think it's possible for an objective system of morality to exist, without God to back it up. I'm not quite sure what form it would take, but were we suddenly to discover that objective standards of right and wrong did exist I wouldn't immediately start to believe in God.

I think it's fair to say that if your conception of God exists, then some form of objective morality is highly likely. But, as you say, this doesn't get us anywhere nearer to establishing whether your conception of the God exists.

3:29 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Thought Matt M could use some backup.

It's always nice to see another hell-bound heathen around here. :-)

3:30 PM

Anonymous Moe said...

Alex, arent thy christians supposed to be against that manlove thing?

3:38 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Brad is a unuch.

3:50 PM

Anonymous brad said...

Geez man, you're kind of a bastard all of a sudden.

Show up to a party and get flamed all afternoon.

3:54 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...


If I ever implied that God = morality, or that the (assumed) existence of objective morality necessarily requires the existence of God, I must apologize. The latter part of your response was more accurate: I think that if an objective morality exists, it is more likely than not that God exists. Similarly, if God exists, it is more likey than not that morality has an objective basis.

And all things being equal, we're no where nearer to increasing the probability of God's existence for you. However, other atheists reading who want to hold on to the conviction that morality has an objective basis, then theism is a more plausible option than atheism. Like I said, the argument from Morality (with a big M) only works if one believes a priori in Morality. If one is a moral relativist, then there's no need to posit a supreme divine moral arbiter.

At a personal level, I don't think any of the classical proofs for God's existence work. There are no knockdown arguments for (or against!) the existence of God. More likely, the verdict of each argument (ontological, cosmological, from morality, from evil, for/against miracles, etc.) leads us closer to an informed decision. But the verdicts for each of these arguments are influenced by some presuppositions (e.g., that objective morality exists). So, the argument builds up. All these separate "proofs" for God and the "proofs" against God should be weighed up, for us to be able to say, "Chances are, God exists/doesn't exist." As it stands in modern philosophical circles, it looks like the official verdict is something like, "Belief in God is a warranted, but not compelling belief."

3:56 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Not all Christians are against homosexuality. I just wrote at some length to Alex about this.

I know it's all in jest, but atheists have feeling too. :D

3:58 PM

Anonymous Moe said...

Rev and Alex,
I would agree to a point about what you said that it takes conditioning and time for the 'feelings' to set it. But then I guess not really. For example, I have always enjoyed the 60s muscle cars (someday I will own one), probably because my father did also. But I dont feel emotionally attached to them. That was years and years of my father telling me which one was better and which ones he recommends. Again years and years. Now when my son was born and I met my wife, that was INSTANT feeling and love. So can you still say the head/heart are together? Maybe that feeling doesnt exist and maybe I am just dreaming here. If it does exist (and it seems you both have it) then maybe there is some middle ground somwhere. You have your deep love/passion for things like your family. You have your, i'll call them feelings, for muscle cars. Then you have somwhere in the middle that is a mixture of both.

I just want the quick answer here! none of this it will take years to get to stuff. Is there a cliff notes version, or a DVD i can rent that will tell/show me where that passion comes from?

Also Touche Alex
"It would seem that you do have that 'drive', otherwise you wouldn't be at all interested in these conversations let alone moved to post anything."

4:03 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


As it stands in modern philosophical circles, it looks like the official verdict is something like, "Belief in God is a warranted, but not compelling belief."

As I think I've stated elsewhere, I'm open to the possibility to some kind of divine being, I simply consider the evidence I've seen to be rather weak. And, given the completely non-miraculous nature of my everyday existence I think it makes sense to assume that the universe as a whole is largely non-miraculous as well.

When you say that "There are no knockdown arguments for (or against!) the existence of God" it leads back to a question I raised earlier: Given all that rides on it, why would any loving God allow us, through no fault of our own, to (seriously) doubt His existence? I can't believe in God and be honest to myself (that spark of belief just isn't in me). Now, if belief is important, then, because of my God-given attributes, I've been tricked into purgatory or worse. If belief isn't important (and God loves us regardless), then surely someone's religious beliefs become unimportant.

4:05 PM

Blogger Alex said...

And here I was just about to declare that Jon had put a tidy end to our discussion of morality seeing as how you recently admitted you had no need for an objective standard outside of your own feelings and those of general humanity. (sigh)

Alright then: Matt: Why is it that God is necessarily a moral being?

By saying that God is a moral being all I would mean is that God has the attributes God has. He just is. Our conceptions of morality are simply how well we conform to his attributes. It's not that he is conforming to a set of rules better than we are. He doesn't set the rule. He is the rule.

So by saying that he Matt: hasn't set a universal standard of right and wrong. You would basically be saying he has no characteristics for us to conform to. You essentially end up with a god who is not 'more' than human. He would be 'less'.

Matt: I also think it's possible for an objective system of morality to exist, without God to back it up. I'm not quite sure what form it would take, but were we suddenly to discover that objective standards of right and wrong did exist I wouldn't immediately start to believe in God.

I think we can both agree that moral standards are not the result of anything physical. For instance I doubt we would discover our morality stems from a lime stone quarry in Siberia. Morality requires a mind to conceive it and a personal being to be compared to. You cannot make moral statements against a piece of plywood. However you can make them against your uncle or in my case God.

4:10 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Read any undergraduate textbook's chapter on emotions. Look up Gleitman et al., "Psychology." Or better still, any book specifically on Emotions. I don't keep up to date with research in this area, so I can't recommend any particular academics. There are some pretty good psychological explanations for phenomena like "falling in love." I'm not much of a behaviourist, but I am biased towards explaining things in terms of conditioning. Such is my training as a psychologist.

4:13 PM

Blogger Alex said...

My apologies for hurting your feelings. I'd suppose it doesn't always come off the same over the net. For the record Brad is not a unuich. (so far as I know) I will comment on that no further.

4:14 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...


Being in the psychology department makes it difficult not to understand that some people simply cannot believe in God. And I can respect that. I don't think Pascal's wager works as a road to Christian faith. I don't think talking about Heaven/Hell is beneficial in this kind of dialogue. My own eschatology borders on universalism, but I'm more a reverent agnostic: I don't know what happens to non-Christians , but that's really God's problem anyway. What I'm trying to say, is that I'm not really out to convert you. I'm just putting my cards on the table, hoping to show that Christian theism isn't irrational and stupid.

You ask why God makes it so hard for us to belieive in him, and in a sense he didn't. The majority of people, in the majity of history have believed in some sort of divine being. Religion and culture go hand in hand. It's sort of imbued in us. If anything, we've made it difficult for ourselves to believe in God. With the rise of science (and with Stephen in Nacho Libre, I proudly proclaim my belief in science), we now want every belief to be quantifiable and reducible. And if God isn't empirically verifiable, then so much the worse for God.

By the way, why should we be surprised that miracles are uncommon? Isn't that the definition of a miracle? But this is a very complicated topic. We have to ask if science makes descriptive laws or normative laws. We have to ask if the natural-supernatural dichotomy is a false one. I don't think speaking for "miracles" as a category is helpful in theist/atheist dialogues. More useful, I think, is to talk about specific occurences like the resurrection. How likely is it that Jesus rose from the dead?

Finally, perhaps contrary to Alex, I will agree with you (Matt), to say that it's possible that God is amoral. I don't think this makes God less human. My Old Testament training wants to say that God is amoral in most of the Hebrew Bible.

(Yes, I'm a psychology major...but I also do theology, philosophy, and biblical studies on the side.)

4:28 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Matt: why would any loving God allow us, through no fault of our own, to (seriously) doubt His existence?

Not sure Matt, but he does. Also something to consider... Your not dead yet.

Matt: I can't believe in God and be honest to myself (that spark of belief just isn't in me)

Yet... =)

Hey I think I'm going to try and move this along with a new post. It may take a while to craft, but I'd like to strike out in a new direction. I really do think Jon has done a terrific job at putting our positions in perspective. Feel free to carry on with the morality bit. I still find it facinating.

4:29 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


One more comment, then I'm calling this a night.

Our conceptions of morality are simply how well we conform to his attributes.

So, when you say that something is "right", you're simply saying that "God wants this", as it were.

Morality and God's will are the same thing. To be good is simply to be God-like. Though, this means that you can never call His behaviour good or bad - He simply is, and any judgments of his character are meaningless. Either contradictions or tautologies.

The problem that I have with this is that my morality operates separately from any knowledge of God - I can make moral decisions based on non-religious factors. Though I suspect you'd argue that this represents some subconscious understanding of God's will.

However, it would mean that in order to be moral you'd need to understand God's true nature, something which has proven extremely difficult over the centuries.

Morality requires a mind to conceive it and a personal being to be compared to.

By a Godless yet objective system of morality I had in mind something along the lines of Kant's Categorical Imperative. Which, to my mind, was certainly objective (grounded in reason, not emotion), but lacked any motivating force. Besides, I don't see any reason why right and wrong couldn't be seen as qualities of an object, similar to colour. Though, given the amount of disagreement on such matters, we'd all have to possess a certain degree of colour-blindness.

To turn your own question back at you: If you state that God is X, and the psychotic murderer says that God is Y, you're in pretty much the same position as I am trying to argue it on naturalistic grounds. So is there any more than a semantic difference between us? I call it moral instinct, you call it knowledge of God's will/nature.

(It also means that in order to make a moral point, you first need to establish the existence and nature of God - by the time you get round to determining right and wrong, we atheists would have made our appeals to reason and compassion, defused the situation, and all gone off for a nice cup of tea!)

4:31 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


I'm just putting my cards on the table, hoping to show that Christian theism isn't irrational and stupid.

Both Alex and yourself are doing an admirable job in that respect. I don't so much have a problem with the ideas here, just the leaps of faith required to accept them.

The majority of people, in the majority of history have believed in some sort of divine being.

But, and I'm not saying this is necessarily true, human beings have a tendency to anthropomorthise (sp?) everything, and its easy to see how this could be applied to the world and explain the persistence of such a belief. The diverse nature of these beliefs (thrown together under the label of Gods or spirits), and the fact that the more we learn about the world (generally) the weaker they become for most people, for me, suggests that it can't be seen as a strong argument for the existence of God. It's too easily explainable in naturalistic terms for me.

We have to ask if science makes descriptive laws or normative laws.

This is an area that you know far more about than I do, but I'd say that scientific laws are descriptive. The existence of miracles, like the existence of God, can never be fully ruled out, but, given their rarity, and the fact that many can be explained in naturalistic ways, I think the probability of a genuine miracle is extremely low. And even then, they'd simply show that wired stuff can happen, nothing more. In order to interpret them as the work of God you need to have some belief in Him to begin with.

Okay, that's it. It's getting late over here in the UK, and I have a fairly early start. So, I'll see you all in about twelve hours or so.

4:42 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Your not dead yet.

Heh. I can just imagine it as I stand before St Peter: "(Annoyed tone) Right. So let me get this straight!"

4:44 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Two things:

1. More useful, I think, is to talk about specific occurrences like the resurrection.

Good call. I’ll start a new thread. This one is getting awfully long.

2. I will agree with you (Matt), to say that it’s possible that God is amoral. I don’t think this makes God less human. My Old Testament training wants to say that God is amoral in most of the Hebrew Bible.

Gwaaah!!! Okay I admit. I’m not studied in this field of OT. I read it and have a pretty hard time understanding just what exactly is going on. I have some vague notion of God’s justice, and his desire to impress upon us the severity of sin, but that’s about as far as I get. But to say that he is amoral? Sounds a bit harsh.

However isn’t that basically what I’m saying in my previous post? For humans to be considered moral (in the Christian sense) we must high degree of conformity to the moral law. So we compare ourselves to God’s character as he reveals it to us.

Now with God he doesn’t seek to conform to a standard. Like I said he just ‘IS’. So you really can’t call God moral or immoral, since you can’t measure the standard by the standard it’s self.

Or am I totally missing the point you are trying to make?

4:46 PM

Blogger Alex said...

FYI New Thread started.

4:48 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Speaking for physics, colour is not a quality of an object.

Speaking for neuroscience, the emotion-rationality dichotomy is bunk.

So, you (Matt) might want to re-consider that last comment.

I doubt very much that atheism can give us a robust (or objective) morality/ethics. (The suggestion that reason can provide us with ethics is dubious. The reference to Kant should be checked with Kant's other ethical and theological convictions.) Theism can, but that does not mean that theism is true. It's possible that there is no objective morality to be had, and no God. The existentialists might have been right after all. But do we really want to join Sartre and Camus?

I have to go now. Word to the wise: My blog currently contains very little by way of theologizing. The older posts are a safer bet. And I'm more than happy to entertain e-mails and IMs.

Might be back later today. We'll see. I don't visit blogs much, but I'll try and pop in here to chip in once in a while.

Ah, Matt's replied. Let's see...

Evolutionary psychology is right up my alley. I don't deny that there are purely naturalistic explanations for religion. But that does not negate the fact that we find it easy to believe in God. the fact this is due to our anthropomorphic tendencies (or anything else) is irrelevant. And your appeal to naturalistic explanations are also irrelevant to me. I don't see how naturalistic explanations deny the existence of God or miracles. As a scientist, I use naturalistic explanations to talk about the existence of life (I'm a hardcore evolutionist), falling in love (I'm a social cognitivist), miracles (Statistics is core to my discipline), and religious experiences (I'm a social psychologist). But these are levels of explanation. This issue is the heart of the naturalist-supernaturalist problematic. Is it a false dichotomy? As a Christian scientists, I must answer in the affirmative.

I don't think the belief in miracles requires a presuppsition of theism. At least not in practice... I'm not familiar with the literatue on whether or not there's a causal priority of one or the other in theory. But in practice, many individuals are faces with the plausibility of miracles first (e.g., of the resurrection) and then appeal to the existence of God as explanations of these phenomena.

Anyway, like I said, I too have to go.

Matt, Alex, this was fun. I'll leave you with my University's motto: Sapere Aude.

4:50 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

OK OK, last comment.

Alex, I see where you're coming from. It's the Platonic question, "Is a deed good because God does it?" or "Does God do it because it is good?"

4:53 PM

Blogger Alex said...

See you tomorrow. It's been swell, as usual.

4:56 PM

Blogger Alex said...

The supposed passion I project on here from time to time is not the end goal. It's the result. Don't focus on finding passion. Focus on finding truth. I don't feel like I am helping you here at all, but unfortunately there is no DVD you can buy.

G'night man... 12:30 here. It's been a long day.

12:35 AM


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home