2nd debate, Atheism and Morality, 6th Round, Atheist's Post

Sixth Round: Atheist's Post

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Let’s start with actions following from beliefs. Your original post on this dealt entirely with one sub-set of beliefs: beliefs about what exists. Your whole focus was on whether atheists actively believe God doesn’t exist, and you claim to be able to conclude that they do because so many of us act, as you put it, in ways that are inconsistent with “mere” lack of belief: “I conclude that actions follow beliefs and I further believe that atheists, in general, believe there is no God and their actions follow their active denial of God.”

My counter was that many things drive our actions, including stakes, preferences, etc. Your most recent reply was:

A risk is a risk because there is a comparison of value and consequences. Values related to belief's. Someone "risks" based upon a set of beliefs and values according to those beliefs, not because they have no belief in something. The desire/hope to affect a future outcome means that you believe you can indeed affect a future outcome. If you did not believe you could, why would you even try to do anything? Therefore, "the ability to affect future outcomes" is reducible to set belief statements; namely, that you believe you can affect change which is why you seek to affect change. Likewise, the "cost of engaging" can be stated in value terms; the latter being a subdivision of belief, since value (cost), is related to what one believes, not what one does not believe.

I don’t know whether I misunderstood you originally or whether the goalposts have moved, but the problem with your line of reasoning is fairly obvious. If, by beliefs, we mean not merely beliefs about what exists but also about what is important, about our ability to do things, about future consequences, etc., etc., then of course we can say that all actions follow from beliefs--but at the same time it becomes ludicrous to claim that you can determine which specific belief atheists in general have from the data you cite.

Let’s take me, for example. I lack belief in space aliens observing our planet from cloaked ships and I lack belief in the Christian God. In both cases, I lack belief not because of specific evidence against the proposition but because of lack of evidence (as I see it) for them. In both cases I have a working assumption that they do not exist, based on the lack of evidence and the extraordinary nature of the claim.

Your objection seems to be that I must have a more active disbelief in God, as evidenced by my presence and activity on CARM. But in making this claim you ignore all of the other possible explanations, including many that I have personally cited as why I come to CARM. Putting them in the language of beliefs:

I believe that many Christians misunderstand the thinking of atheists and that I very likely misunderstand the thinking of many Christians.
I believe that it is preferable for Christians to know more about how atheists think and also that it is preferable for me to understand Christians more than I do.
I believe that by posting on CARM I can help some of them understand me and other atheists better than they do now, while learning more about them.

I believe that I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy intelligent debate on philosophical issues.
I believe that some of the arguments put forward as evidence for God’s existence are fascinating.
I believe that I have found very enjoyable debates on CARM and will continue to do so.

I believe that I have “met” many nice people on CARM.
I believe that I enjoyed meeting HRG in person, would have enjoyed meeting unfusilier had timing allowed, and that I will enjoy meeting others (both Christian, atheist and “other”).

All of these beliefs are explanations of why I spend time discussing atheism on CARM. None of them apply to the “cloaked aliens” question. And yet you ignore them as even possible explanations, and insist that the evidence points clearly to a different level of disbelief. In doing so you are being illogical and are mistaking the conclusion you want to reach for where the evidence points.

Further on this:

Chad5: Unfortunately this ignores my question. I agree that if we think a question is important we should expend more thought on it...but what I asked is whether her non-belief (or disbelief if you prefer) in the reliability of her husband's vision/intuition regarding the wheel is necessarily stronger when he wants to bet their life savings than when he wants to bet $10?

Matt5: She believes that the risk is too high. The truth is that she believes his judgment is in error, and she believes he is not trustworthy in that judgment. She is not acting because of a lack but because of belief. This is the point I'm going to continue to make: actions follow beliefs--not lack of beliefs.


But what are the beliefs driving her actions? The only difference in the two scenarios is that in one she believes her husband is betting a tiny amount of money and in the other she believes he is betting a large amount of money--the loss of which would have serious consequences for their lives.

If we were to apply your reasoning (re: atheists and their beliefs) to the wife, we would conclude that she must believe more strongly that her husband’s hunch/vision is false in the latter example. But that’s clearly not the case--she could hold the same skepticism or lack of belief in both cases and yet act strongly only in the latter because of what is at stake.

Chad5: I submit that while she might do some quick thinking and reflection and conclude more strongly that her husband's vision is unreliable, this is not at all necessary for her different actions in both stories to be sensible. The increase in "stakes" alone is plenty to explain why she might indulge the bet when it's $10 and argue strenuously against it when it's $10,000.

Matt5: I thought you said you were married, so I think that it would be safe for me to say that your spouse would consider your actions in light of you past actions. This is a natural phenomenon that we husband's experience with our wives. They remember things. So, I don't think your illustration helps you if you're trying to make it a point that the wife would not consider the past actions and behaviors of her husband when considering whether or not to trust him in serious decisions. Nevertheless, she is your fictional character, and you can do with her as you wish. But I would suspect that any rational woman would believe that the consequences involved in the loss of a large some of money, would be greater than the consequences of the loss of a little money, and that her beliefs/values would definitely affect her actions with her husband in that regard.


At the risk of going into another sideline, I must say that I’m completely confused by your inference that the wife would ignore past actions and behaviors, since I’ve said nothing to imply that. The whole point of the story is that the only difference between the two scenarios is what the husband wants to bet, and that it is completely reasonable for the wife to indulge him if the bet is small but protest if the bet is large even if her beliefs about the reliability of his judgment are identical in both cases. Her actions still follow from beliefs in the broadest sense, but the difference is in beliefs about what is at stake rather than about the validity of his hunch/vision.

Matt5: But you want me to accept your notion that you refute theistic proofs because you lack belief in God. To me, this is a grave inconsistency between claims and actions.

And:

Chad5: If you look at what I and many, many other atheists have written in response to the (roughly monthly) question, "Why would an atheist come to CARM?" you would see ample reasons…none of which depend on your presupposition that we are here in an effort to maintain or spread atheism.

Matt5: So, are you trying to convince me that because of the atheists' lack of belief, that you atheists (in general) are motivated to come here and refute theistic evidences, blatantly break CARM board rules (not you specifically) and that by so doing you are not trying to promote the atheistic position when you defend it, attack Christianity, undermine Christian evidence, and try and refute theistic proofs?


No, and this misrepresents what I’ve said. I have given you very specific reasons as to why I invest time on CARM, and “because I lack belief in God” is not one of them. You continue to ignore those reasons and act as though the only possible motives up for discussion are “Chad actively believes God doesn’t exist” and “Chad finds the evidence for God lacking and considers the claim extraordinary”.

Chad5: I have no need to "further" this lack of belief. If God does exist (in one of these forms or in some other) I certainly want to believe in him. If God doesn't exist, I do not want to believe in him - I would rather not have a false belief.

Matt5: How do you further a lack of something?


I have no idea…you are the one who has asserted that I am trying to further it.

Matt5 (contd.): Anyway, I see a problem. You have stated above "I want to believe in God if and only if God exists." But since you have a working assumption that God does not exist, then logically speaking, you do not want to believe in God since your working assumption is He doesn't exist.

You’ve taken a statement, “I want to believe in X if and only if X exists” and twisted it into saying that I actively don’t want to believe in X if I currently don’t believe X. By your logic it is virtually impossible to be an honest seeker of truth, because if you wish only to believe in true statements (which is what the above quote means), you must actively want not to believe in things you currently don’t’ believe in.

Now, if someone came up to me with a red pill and said, “Take this and you will believe in God,” I wouldn’t take it. But if someone comes to me with persuasive evidence that God exists, I will believe. Same for anything else.

The fallacy is one you’ve committed all through our discussion – treating “working assumption” like a presupposition or ironclad conclusion. A working assumption by its nature waits for evidence to prove it wrong.

Matt5: So, I can conclude that you believe it is wrong to be made to pledge the allegiance using the reference to God? Is that right? Or do you lack an opinion on the matter?

I would rather no child be forced to pledge allegiance to a deity they may or may not believe in.

Apparently, you also believe it is wrong to teach "nonsense" in science classes (I consider evolution to be nonsense, by the way).

To be clear, I think that public school science classes should teach the major consensus theories of the various sciences. What you or I personally consider nonsense shouldn’t enter into it.

I don't know what you're talking about regarding the Constitution. But I'm concluding that you do not want your daughter to be told she is going to hell. So, I assume you believe this is wrong.

I do not want anyone telling my daughter she is going to Hell, although I recognize that the person doing so might have the best possible intentions – i.e. saving her. (BTW, the Constitution reference is about the proposed amendment regarding same-sex marriage.)

In all of your statements, I see no lack of belief or opinion regarding saying the word God and the Pledge of Allegiance. I see no lack of belief or opinion regarding nonsense in science classes. I see no lack of belief or opinion regarding the issue of hell being described as your daughter's destiny. What you're telling me is that you, a loving father, act out of your beliefs and have definite opinions based upon those beliefs.

Yes, but the beliefs are about civil society, the importance of science, and the harmfulness of telling a child she is going to hell. My lack of belief in God (and that same working assumption) is no different than my lack of belief in space aliens or multiverse theory.

What I find interesting is that you apparently want to impose your moral values upon others.

I find it interesting that you interpret me coming to CARM and sharing my views in the hopes of effecting change as a wish to impose my values on someone else.

Chad5: If someone offers up an unsound argument for something, I will challenge that argument. I have challenged arguments from atheists and evolutionists as well, by the way.

Matt5: Do think that I would be inconsistent if I said I don't try and disprove illegal aliens enter America, yet I try and refute arguments that they do? Or would you think I was illogical if I said I don't try and disprove that cancer exists, but I try and refute all arguments that support its existence?


Once again you are responding to something other than what I wrote. I said that I challenge arguments that I believe to be unsound. I have challenged arguments from atheists and evolutionists as well, by the way. Nor do I challenge all arguments supporting God; I have often said that I consider the personal experience of individual theists to be a very reasonable basis for their belief and faith. I also understand completely how some people consider it more extraordinary to think that the universe wasn’t created and thus conclude that God (in some form) must exist.

Chad5: With respect to atheism, the basic principle is that extraordinary claims should be assumed false unless and until there is sufficiently compelling evidence supporting them.

Matt5: Why should you assume them false? The odds of a particular individual winning the lottery, are extraordinarily slim. Yet when it happens, you easily believe it. Do you denying individuals one because the extraordinary claim of having won requires extraordinary evidence? Is you watching TV and extraordinary event? Is watching the newscaster say an individual won also on extraordinary event?


Before I answer your question, I must point out that you are revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics and odds. There is nothing extraordinary about someone winning a lottery. An after-the-fact claim that the person who did is Joe Smith is not extraordinary. A before-the-fact claim that he would win would have been, as would an after-the-fact claim that a particular person knew in advance that he would win.

Now, why do we assume extraordinary propositions to be false unless we have evidence that they are true? We have to in order to function at all. The set of extraordinary propositions is unbounded. I have a glass of water sitting beside me as I type this. Lacking any evidence that it has turned to acid, I assume it hasn’t and drink without fear. A horoscope says that I should avoid taking risks this month; lacking any evidence that it is reliable I act as though it is not.

Every day of our lives we reject extraordinary possibilities because we lack evidence that they exist or are true.

Before we go on into the subject of morality, it is imperative that we clarify the definitions of absolute/relative and objective/subjective, as evidenced by your comment:

Matt5: So, let me get this straight. You are trying to convince me that you have an absolute moral standard that is subjective? I have a problem with that. I don't know how you see absolute and subjective, but I understand them to be as follows: To be absolute is to be true, unchanging, without variation, certain, etc. To be subjective is to be illusory, nonobjective, fanciful, dependent, uncertain, etc. (Definitions from the dictionary)

I must admit that I’ve never seen a dictionary define subjective as “fanciful” but wrt the discussion of morality the meanings I am using are:

Subjective: Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world.

Objective: proceeding from or taking place in the external world.

Morality, IMO, is subjective because it is derived from values which are by their very nature subjective – they exist only in minds.

Absolute vs. Relative involves who a given moral axiom applies to. An absolute moral axiom applies to all moral agents (i.e. all entities that are self-aware, volitional and intelligent). A relative moral axiom applies to some but not others. As an example, “It is wrong for us to take life but not wrong for God because we are His creatures.”

The subjective/objective and absolute/relative dichotomies are, IMO, orthogonal. To quote HRG:

Absolute objective: a single valid morality (no other one exists), which applies equally to all moral beings.

Absolute subjective: one of several existing moral systems, which applies equally to all moral beings.

Relative objective: a single valid morality which makes the morality of an act depend on the actor.

Relative subjective: one of several existing moral systems, which makes the morality of an act depend on the actor.


Hopefully this explains how a moral code can be subjective but still absolute. Most of my own moral code is absolute subjective. The moral values by which I conclude that rape is wrong are subjective – they exist within my mind. But the conclusion that rape is wrong applies equally to all.

You have asked on several occasions whether I (or other moral subjectivists) have a “right” to impose our morals on others? The problem with this question is that it contains a hidden word – you’re really asking if we have an objective right. The answer to that is no. The right to do so is entirely subjective.

Chad5: I do believe that the phrase "objective moral code" is about as meaningful as "objective standard of beauty" or "objective value". However, some atheists do believe in objective moral codes. Also please note that even if I came to believe in God I would not believe in objective morals, any more than I would start believing in square circles.

Matt5: If you came to believe in the God I believe in, you would believe in objective morals. That is part and parcel of believing in an absolute and unchanging God.


If God exists, God’s values are God’s values, which make them subjective by definition. Moral laws derived from those values would likewise be subjective.

Now let’s get on to part B where you indict atheism and offer the actions of many atheists as evidence. I hope that what I say here won’t do more harm than good, but I feel compelled to respond strongly. While you are unlikely to credit my opinion on this, I sincerely believe you are damaging your ministry and the community that has developed on CARM. I hope you will take what follows in the constructive spirit with which it is intended.

You say:

Matt5: So Chad, given the evidence and the presuppositions that the great majority of atheists hold to subjective morality, (I have not yet encountered an atheist who claims absolute morals), what can you offer us as a vindication that atheists are trustworthy sin they apparently blatantly violate the rules.

You also offer an extensive list of violations.

My first response is that I think it is very dubious to make sweeping assumptions about a group of people based on the actions of specific members. You have asserted that there is an atheist morality but you have certainly not proved it. Meanwhile, you have generalized to “they” from the actions of some. In short, you have given no reason (other than your assertions of moral vaccuums) to conclude that atheists in general are untrustworthy.

Let me make the following counterpoint, regarding a Christian who operates one of the many discussion boards found on the Internet. I’ll call her Jane (not his or her real name) for the sake of convenience.

A poster on Jane’s discussion board wrote some posts challenging some essays Jane had written. Jane removed the threads from her boards, explaining that she wanted time to read over them but promising that she would respond to the poster. She never did.

Now perhaps she simply forgot, or changed her mind. But we can certainly infer some lack of commitment to keeping her promises from the fact that she didn’t.

Jane wrote many essays. One of them was an attempt to defend her belief that the Earth was young. In it she made false claims, such as:

Atomic clocks, which have for the last 22 years measured the earth's spin rate to the nearest billionth of a second, have consistently found that the earth is slowing down at a rate of almost one second a year,

and

The atmosphere has less than 40,000 years worth of helium, based on just the production of helium from the decay of uranium and thorium. There is no known means by which large amounts of helium can escape from the atmosphere. The atmosphere appears to be young.

While she may simply have been ignorant when she wrote this essay, even that would show a reckless disregard for the truth (by any academic standards). The information was out there and easily accessible, so if she cared enough about the truth to research her own claims (rather than simply citing the claims of someone else without checking them) she would not have made them.

By the way, Jane has taken that essay down but still has other essays with factually false claims about science on them on her site, even though experts in the field have pointed out the factual errors. What should we conclude from this? Could we not conclude that Jane does not consider truth to be nearly as important as persuading people to her view? Her actions suggest this, since she evidently hopes that Christians with little scientific background or familiarity with the topics will read false claims on her site and be persuaded (based on their trust in her) that they are true.

Jane, by the way, has a right hand man who handles much of the day-to-day management of the boards. I’ll call him Dave. Now Dave makes it quite clear that the rules on the boards are enforced equally and without bias. Dave has said, “You are not permitted to post an attack on a board poster. If you want to discuss a person that posts on our boards, take it to pm. It is gossip, wrong and against our rules....always has been.”

A noble sentiment. And yet, Jane’s site has a special board which atheists aren’t allowed access to. And on this board, one of Jane’s and Dave’s volunteers launched a clear character attack on one of the board’s most popular atheists. (We’ll call that atheist limana, although her real name is something in German. We’ll call the volunteer Princess.) Princess said of limana, “Limana has proven herself to be a wealth of helpfulness whenever she is able. Limana is an amazing person and everyone likes her. I hate to reveal my suspicions because I know she has devoted fans even in here, but I believe this is exactly the picture she has painstakingly painted of herself in order to subliminally "prove" that Christians have nothing on Atheists.”

Now as an atheist I don’t have access to this board. But as a result of some recent statements by Jane and Dave, more than one Christian who does have access was sufficiently offended by what they see as hypocrisy that they quoted this passage and furthermore indicated that Dave had participated in the gossip/slander of limana himself. Eventually the thread was altered to replace “limana” with “Edit” but was otherwise left intact and no warning was issued. Princess was not rebuked, according to reports, and was in fact later given special recognition.

Of course, this mystery board is CARM. Jane, Dave and Princess are you, Diane and Carol. Hopefully since I have followed your own standard of quoting what people have said, these references will not be seen as a rules violation. And, of course, since you do have access to EVAN and the rumors of an atheist spy seem greatly exaggerated, you are welcome to clarify or correct what I’ve written here.

Moving on, I would also say that it is dangerous to judge a person’s character by looking solely at one data point or set of data points. This is especially true if one has a bias towards finding a specific answer. Another very relevant data point for judging the behavior of a person or group on CARM would be the way they are judged by their peers, i.e. the ranking system.

I take some pleasure in having received 54 positive votes and not a single negative. To me, that says that while I’m sometimes aggressive and won’t hesitate to criticize an argument I’m doing so in a way that is generally respectful and received as intended – in the spirit of constructive dialogue. Of course, most of these ratings have come from Christians, including Christians with whom I’ve had extremely strong disagreements, e.g. FoolForChrist who wrote that in a just society I would be put to death.

I’m not alone. Limana has the highest ranking of any CARMite. While this may explain why she was singled out for attack by the person with the second-highest ranking, I submit that it accurately reflects her contribution to the community and the trust she has earned in it. She has spoken with many young Christians who come to her with problems and has yet to even suggest to any of them that they give up their faith. She has supported you personally, she has invested her time keeping FACES alive when not enough Christians would volunteer, and she has been a wonderful member of the CARM community. Sadly, her life on CARM may be at an end given recent events, but do you deny that limana has been a shining example of good behavior?

When someone recently posted a list of the 15 CARMites with the highest rankings, I noticed that 40% of them were atheists: limana, Paignman, Ice Monkey, TinyCrabbieThingie, garthoverman and HRG. Some of them, along with at least one theist on the “top 15 list” have recently been banned. But their peers have consistently found them to be among CARM’s top contributors. And again, the majority of their votes are from Christians.

Matt5: Are you trying to tell me that you do have a moral right to impose your moral standard on the other atheists who have broken the rules here on CARM and condemn them for so doing? Great! Please do so. Please act according to your beliefs. I've provided an ample list of rule violations. Perhaps you could publicly condemn each one of them. Since you claim to have that right, then why do you not exercise it? Or have you and we just don't know about it. Please get on the CARM boards, and impose your moral standard on the other atheists. Please condemn them for their blatant rule violations that I have listed above. I would love to see you excercise your claim.

Condemn them? Perhaps this is another instance of us having different definitions of a word, but I very rarely condemn anyone…certainly not for breaking the rules of a bulletin board. Similarly, I don’t condemn you for writing things that were factually false, even though in my opinion you had a moral obligation to do the basic fact-checking that would have shown the statements in question to be false. Condemnation is something I reserve for far more serious wrongs.

If you mean something milder, like you want me to say that I don’t agree with what they did, I can do that in at least some of the cases above, as I can wrt your young-earth essay. But I don’t know what reasons they had, and in my opinion those reasons could be relevant. (As an example, I consider it a moral imperative to stand up to bullies – to the extent that some of them felt they were doing so, that would be a mitigating factor.)

I also think the lengths you have gone to “prove” your point are noteworthy. Some of the violations you cite are quite old. How many Christians were warned or suspended during that time? Others are from ratings – and I have yet to hear of anyone being warned or suspended for a rating. And others clearly represent momentary losses of temper for which the poster apologized – hardly a glaring indication of untrustworthiness. As we look more closely we see that one, by your own admission isn’t a rule violation at all but is in your opinion not an accurate representation of the facts. Another is an attack on something you said rather than you as a person.

Matt5: You have not given me any logical reason for moral absolutes to exist inside an atheistic position. I think you keep missing the point here. I am not contrasting Christianity with atheism in this discussion. You are. The debate topic was atheism and morality. If you want to discuss the issue of who is more trustworthy statistically, then find someone to discuss it with.

This is quite ironic from someone who talks about unassailable positions. You may not be contrasting atheism with anything but you are saying that atheism leads to certain behaviors. For this claim to have any power, it must be the case that ~atheism leads to a superior set of behavior. Does it?

We’ve already seen that CARM’s leadership does not have a perfect record of honesty. Do we see similar examples of “rulebreaking” from rank-and-file Christian CARMites? Of course. Individual people sometimes behave badly. Individual people sometimes lose their tempers. Individual people sometimes break rules they have agreed to uphold.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that many people, both Christian and atheist, believe that you began the current conflagration with a clear violation of rule 28. As one Christian and prominent CARMite privately described your post and subsequent actions:

It was intentionally divisive and inflammatory, and should have been removed immediately. Had anyone else posted it, it would have been. Not surprisingly, the intentionally divisive and inflammatory post caused division and flames. Rather than 1) live with the obvious results of the actions, or 2) apologize for an apparent misunderstanding, the poster continued along the same trend, intentionally baiting his opponents. (See the several posts about a proposed debate). This was totally uncalled for, and an embarrassment to Christians.

This is from a post that he decided not to make on the grounds that it might get him banned and would certainly be censored within minutes of coming up. Several Christians have echoed these sentiments; some publically, others by pm. You can ignore those voices and these will always be your boards of course…but that doesn’t make you right.

One final point regarding your assertion that our behavior deteriorated when moderation was lifted.

If I have the timeline correctly, you say that you told the moderators to stop moderating the ATH board as of September 18 and that our behavior deteriorated – proving your point that we cannot be relied on to behave morally if unchecked. You and I clearly disagree over at least some behavior by atheists and by some behavior of your own, but fortunately the CARM community has been watching and has presumably “voted” via the alert system.

Now I don’t have access to your records of alerts. What I do have, however, is a knack for noticing patterns. One of yours is that when you believe the facts are on your side you list them in great detail (as above, with the quotes from atheists). When you are short on supporting facts, you tend to make sweeping statements but leave any references out (as with your semi-regular claims on EVO that ID “cometh” or “has great power” without any follow-ups on just what is comething or what that power is).

With that pattern in mind, I’m betting that the alerts don’t back up your assertion. My challenge to you is simple. Take the alerts from when you took off the moderators (September 18) until October 1 (which is when I think you first made the assertion publically) and break them down into the following groups:

Atheist alerts regarding you.
Christian alerts regarding you.
Atheist alerts regarding other Christians.
Atheist alerts regarding other atheists.
Christian alerts regarding other Christians.
Christian alerts regarding other atheists.
Other uses of the alert system.

Let’s see if the data backs up your claim, in the opinion of the community.

At this point I will end my post. The body content is now close to five and a half thousand words which is long enough even if I have (happily) reversed the trend of ever-exploding posts.

Much is left to be said regarding objective/subjective morality, but before we can have a sensible conversation on it we must once again agree on terms. If subjective means, “fanciful” or “illusory” then I certainly don’t agree that morality is subjective!

It was not an easy decision posting some of the more aggressive material here. I don’t like the idea of giving you more reason to think I or other atheists have access to EVAN – to my knowledge, none of us do. And I would not normally bring up writings from your past. I felt compelled to do so both because of accusations you made that needed a response and because of my honest concern that you are doing great harm to your ministry. If you will not hear this from me, ask the Christians around you – preferably those who are not in your inner circle and who are thus unbiased.

Regards,
Chad

 

 

 

 
 
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