Atheism’s problem of evil.

Posted on January 11, 2016 By

If there is a God, and God is good, why is there evil? The existence of evil is frequently presented as a problem for theism, but in reality, it is a problem for atheism…and a devastating problem. Evil can only exist as a deviation from good, much as crookedness can only exist as a deviation from straightness. But what is the source of goodness, and who or what determines just what good is? C.S. Lewis points how the need for a source of goodness poses a problem for atheism:

“My argument against God [when I was an atheist] was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

Morality cannot be derived from science

On atheism, there is no objective standard of good or evil, because atheism declares that the natural world is all that exists, and the natural world is valueless: There is no such thing as a good or bad bird, or a good or bad tree, etc. Therefore, one cannot use the study of the natural world (science) to determine right and wrong. As Albert Einstein put it:

“You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”

Here, Einstein is reflecting the age-old philosophical problem of how an ought can be derived from an is. Science can tell us what there is (in the natural world), but science cannot tell us how we ought to behave. But not so fast Einstein! Morality can have its foundation in science! (At least, so argues popular atheist writer Sam Harris). In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that science can give us moral guidance because that which brings about “the well-being of conscious creatures” (as defined in terms of positive states of mind) is morally good. Kwame Anthony Appiah responds in his New York Times book review of The Moral Landscape:

“But wait: how do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’s all-we-need-is-science argument must have nonscientific origins.”

Regarding Appiah’s above comments, one is inclined to wonder: How could science determine the correct definition of morality? With a chemistry experiment involving a bunsen burner and test tubes? With a biology experiment involving a microscope and a petri dish? The belief that science can define morality can only be the result of nonscientific reasoning, and is therefore self-refuting. This is yet another example of how atheists such as Harris confuse and conflate their naturalistic worldview with science.

Cognitive scientist and anthropologist Scott Atran points out how Harris fails to recognize the problems with trying to equate moral good with that which brings about positive mental states in humans:

“Nobel Prize–winner Daniel Kahneman studies what gives Americans pleasure—watching TV, talking to friends, having sex—and what makes them unhappy—commuting, working, looking after their children. So this leaves us where . . . ?”

Who is the judge of morality? If people, which people?

A necessary implication of atheism is nihilism, which is defined as “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” With no God to determine moral values, we are left with a meaningless and valueless natural world, in which humans are the only agents available to make moral judgements. But, if humans are the judges of right and wrong, we are left with the question of which humans get to be the judges. If the Nazis had conquered the world, then the Nazis would be the judges of right and wrong. Bo Jinn comments in Illogical Atheism:

“Truthfully, on the logic which follows necessarily from the nihilistic paradox of atheism, if the Nazis had conquered the world, then everything we recognize historically as humanity’s greatest shame would be at once transformed into our greatest triumph. There would be no disputing the marvelous splendor of the Holocaust or the great glory of the many prodigious massacres carried out on behalf of the Aryan descendants to Mother Earth. These immortal goods would be true for all, and therefore true in fact. As [the famous atheist biologist Richard] Dawkins himself said; there is no good and there is no evil, ‘DNA just is and we dance to its music.’ The same holds for the universe at large.”

Without an objective moral standard by which to judge the Nazis, we could only say that the Nazis went against our subjective moral standards in committing the Holocaust. By atheist logic, the Holocaust would merely be out of tune with the cultural preferences of non-Nazi cultures, as opposed to objectively morally wrong. This would be roughly comparable to a person who fails to adapt to local culture when visiting a foreign country. C.S. Lewis explains the need for a higher moral standard (and therefore, higher moral authority) by which one could judge humans such as the Nazis as objectively wrong, rather than merely wrong according to the subjective preferences of certain groups of people:

“Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? ….If ‘being good’ meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.”

“But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God.”

Without God, there would be no third power by which to judge the Nazis as wrong, and the allied powers right for opposing the Nazis. The defeat of the Nazis would merely be the triumph of one subjective human opinion over another, a case of might-makes-right.

Atheism is often motivated by the need to be free from moral restraints.

Indeed, a primary psychological motivator of atheism is the need to be free from having to answer to a higher moral power. If there is no God, there is also no right nor wrong, no good nor evil, and we can do whatever we want.* As famed Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky put it, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” In a stroke of commendable honesty, the English novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley admitted to the psychological motives behind his atheism (and nihilism):

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system, and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

Prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel is equally commendable for his honesty regarding the psychological motivations behind his atheism:

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that… My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.”

Nobody, including atheists, can live without objective moral truths.

But there is a big problem with removing the primary obstacle for doing whatever one wishes (God): Doing so also removes the obstacle other people have for doing whatever they wish. And this creates a state of affairs in which no atheist can live. For example, atheists such as Huxley and Nagel would no doubt agree that they have a basic human right to choose their own beliefs, rather than having beliefs imposed upon them by others (such as with a state-sponsored church). But if there is no higher moral standard to appeal to, how could an atheist declare it morally wrong for Christians or Muslims (etc.) to force their beliefs upon others? And basic human rights such as religious freedom are endowed by exactly who? Which humans get to determine what basic human rights consist of? What would make you or I more qualified to determine these rights than, say….the Nazis?

Maybe Thomas Jefferson was onto something when he wrote, in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights….”

———————————-

*Atheists reading this are warned to quit pursuing the fulfillment of desires, and to immediately adopt boring and unfulfilling lifestyles of self-denial and conservative politics. (Ok, not really, that was a joke.) In reality, God is opposed to our pursuing of base desires (sex, money, power, etc.) not because doing so causes us to desire too much. Rather, it is because doing so causes us to desire too little. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Please read my essay titled The No-God Delusion as well as Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters to explore this subject further.


34 comments


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    The Answer says:

    LOL. The great debate. Atheists make a claim and refuse to provide evidence for it, and then demand that you provide evidence for your own claims. There is universal truth. It is a fact of life. As Bob so eloquently stated, “1+1=2”. Just like numerology. For example, the number 3 is A. INTANGIBLE (show me the physical number 3) B. It is UNIVERSAL (Bob). 3 is 3, across all cultures and peoples C. It is TIMELESS (3 has always equaled 3 in every-time period) D. It is UNCHANGING (Has it ever meant something else?)

    This is true of the Laws of Logic, the Laws of Physics and the “Laws” of Morality (When, and by what people, was it ever ok to go around having anal sex with babies and accepted by that culture as a norm? Please let us know, otherwise you can start with that point alone as an OBJECTIVE MORAL TRUTH) Its not that difficult to consider unless you’re blind, ignorant or something far more sinister.

    All of these principles are found in the one CREATOR of the Universe. Intangible, Universal, Timeless, Unchanging. The proof of God is simply put, that without him, nothing can be proven. That’s it. You arrive at your point of Atheism. How so? Subjectively or Objectively? Yes, that does create a dilemma in the argument of the atheist and is also why it is rarely answered with any clarity.

    The claim that religion and science are incompatible is a lie. Look up the scientific laws of Bio-Genesis. Look up the First & Second Laws of Thermodynamics (Entropy) Look up the scientific classification of Energy, which cannot be created nor destroyed and has the following qualities, universal, intangible, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, etc., hmmm. Energy, according to the atheist’s god, science, seems to be describing “energy” as a guy I read about in a book.

    Simple question to all. If scientific “law” says that like forces repel, an if man is made of of atoms, and atoms are made up of neutrons (neutral) and protons (positive), then…WHAT IS HOLDING US TOGETHER??? For the answer to that question, read Colossians 1:17. You won’t find the answer in any science book guys, so don’t waste your time. Good luck in your searches for your “universal truths”.


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    I read a recent similar article of yours and was disappointed. I haven’t read this one yet, but it looks to be more of the same, a very tired and empty idea that I hear too much from Christians.

    I’ll try to read it soon, but what isn’t helpful is to say, “Atheists have no means for saying something is truly wrong!”

    (1) Duh. (2) Neither can you.

    But maybe that’s not where you’re going with this article. If not, good for you for trying to say something interesting.


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      Bob,

      You have characterized my arguments (“a very tired and empty idea that I hear too much from Christians.”) But please pay attention to the crucial distinction between merely characterizing an argument, on one hand, and actually furnishing a logically constructed, fact based rebuttal to an argument, on the other hand.


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        OK, now I’ve read it.

        There’s not much here to respond to. You say that atheists have no objective morality. Agreed. I was waiting for you to give evidence that Christians have reason to think that an objective morality exists but found nothing.


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          Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

          Bob,

          A moral value which is not objectively true is only a matter of individual preference, or personal taste. Therefore, without a standard of right and wrong which transcends (is external to) subjective human preferences, we have no basis for labeling anything as right or wrong. Rather, all that we have is a variety of subjective preferences, none of which are objectively right or wrong.

          If radical Muslims tried to force you to reject your atheism (and become a Muslim) or be severely beaten, would you object? I suspect that virtually all atheists would object. But by what moral standard would be objecting? Your personal, subjective standard? As this article from Salvo magazine puts it:

          “Under relativism, justice and fairness are two concepts that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. First off, the words themselves have no meaning; both suggest that people deserve equal treatment based on an external standard of what is right, and as I have already said several times, relativists can’t believe in right and wrong. Second, there is no such thing as guilt. Justice entails punishing those who are guilty, and guilt depends on blame, which…cannot exist.”

          Bob, I will ask you directly: To what external standard of right and wrong would you be appealing if you objected to being forced to reject your atheism? No external standard whatsoever? Then, in what sense can it be said that a radical Muslim who forces you to reject your atheism is doing something wrong? By your personal subjective standard?

          If so, how could you judge someone who tries to force their beliefs on you as “wrong” in an objective sense? And if such a person is not wrong in an objective sense, why would you protest?


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            Scott:

            A moral value which is not objectively true is only a matter of individual preference, or personal taste.

            A judgment about vanilla ice cream and one about the Holocaust seem to be quite different things (or at least a vastly different scale), but if you want to lump them all into the “just personal taste” bin, whatever.

            Therefore, without a standard of right and wrong which transcends (is external to) subjective human preferences, we have no basis for labeling anything as right or wrong.

            Oh? That surprises me. Show me that in the dictionary. I think “right” and “wrong” are well defined without any appeal to objective morality.

            If radical Muslims tried to force you to reject your atheism (and become a Muslim) or be severely beaten, would you object? I suspect that virtually all atheists would object.

            You suspect correctly.

            But by what moral standard would be objecting? Your personal, subjective standard?

            Is there another?

            My challenge remains: show me that objective morality exists. All you’ve done is whine about subjective morality without showing that it’s inadequate to label the things we see around us every day.

            “Under relativism, justice and fairness are two concepts that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

            Then either my position isn’t relativism (I prefer to simply say that I reject the idea of objective morality—anything else is freighted with too much baggage) or this is false. I use these two words just fine. And, most surprising of all, I use them the same way you do.

            Bob, I will ask you directly: To what external standard of right and wrong would you be appealing if you objected to being forced to reject your atheism? No external standard whatsoever? Then, in what sense can it be said that a radical Muslim who forces you to reject your atheism is doing something wrong? By your personal subjective standard?

            You’ve answered your own question. Good for you.

            If so, how could you judge someone who tries to force their beliefs on you as “wrong” in an objective sense?

            Obviously they’re not wrong in an objective sense because no one has given us any reason to believe in objective morality.

            And if such a person is not wrong in an objective sense, why would you protest?

            “If such a person isn’t wrong in a moral sense that doesn’t exist, why would you protest?” Uh … because he is morally wrong in a sense that does exist.

            When it comes to morality, the buck stops here. Are you saying that your morality is decided in some other way? You’ll say that you get it from the Bible … which is just a longwinded way of saying that the buck stops here with you as well. You decide what external standard to follow and you decide what that standards means … which means that you’ve got a personal subjective standard as well.


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              Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

              Bob,

              You say, I think “right” and “wrong” are well defined without any appeal to objective morality.

              Ok, then make your case for the absence of objective morals. By denying that there exist objective morals, you have made a truth claim. Truth claims require evidence and logical arguments to support them. If your denial that there exist objective morals is not a truth claim, then your stance cannot be true (or false)…much as the statement “wibble, wibble, wibble” cannot be true or false.

              You seem to be confusing your refusal to consider the evidence I present in favor of objective morals with a logical argument against objective morals. These are not the same thing, and you seem confused about this crucial distinction.

              Third party readers of these comments are not stupid. Merely trying to set the bar impossibly high for the demonstration of objective morals in no way constitutes a logical argument against objective morals.

              All humans are aware of the objective truth of statements such as the following:

              “It is wrong to commit serial rape and serial murder.”
              “It is wrong to torture babies.”

              If you deny that these are objectively true statements, then they must be subjective statements. Subjective statements are statements of personal opinion. But if these above statements are personal opinion, we are left with the question of why it is that every sane living person knows that these statements are true.

              An article in Salvo magazine the highlights absurdity of your stance:

              An ethical discussion involves comparing the merits of one view with those of another to find out which is best. But if morals are entirely relative and all views are equally valid, then no way of thinking is better than any other. No moral position can be judged adequate or deficient, unreasonable, unacceptable, or even barbaric. In fact, if ethical disputes only make sense when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. You can’t even say, “It’s wrong to push your morality on others.”

              So, Bob, my question is this: Do you think that your stance regarding morals is more valid than mine? If so, then you are trying to appeal to an objective standard of truth, which means that your stance contradicts itself. If you do not think that your stance regarding morals is more valid than mine, why are you at this website trying to sell your version of morality?

              This is the self-defeating incoherence in which atheism is caught.


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                Ok, then make your case. You have not made a case for right and wrong as subjective concepts.

                Huh? I just did. Look up “morality,” “right,” or “wrong” in the dictionary. Is there any reference to objective anything? If not, then you see my point.

                By denying that there exist objective morals, you have made a truth claim.

                I’m saying that I see no evidence of objective morality. I’m responding to (what I perceive as) your truth claim.

                You made the claim. I invite you to provide evidence for objective morality.

                You seem to be confusing your refusal to consider the evidence I present

                Is that the game we’re playing? Simply deny that I could’ve considered and rejected your argument? Your argument is so good that that’s impossible, I guess?

                I read your post. It wasn’t convincing. I’m doing my best to make clear my objections. This makes your argument better, no?

                a logical argument against objective morals. These are not the same thing, and you seem confused about this crucial distinction.

                Thanks for your concern, but I’m not confused. Nor did I make an argument, logical or not, against objective morals.

                But I believe you did make an argument. And if you didn’t, you should’ve. Your post relies on the existence of objective morality. All right—I’m a reasonable guy. I’d be interested to read it.

                All humans are aware of the objective truth statements such as the following:
                “It is wrong to commit serial rape.”
                “It is wrong to torture babies.”

                Be careful with the sweeping statements.

                I am using Wm. Lane Craig’s definition of objective moral values: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.” I think that rape and torture are wrong; I simply don’t see them as objectively so.

                But if these above statements are personal opinion, we are left with the question of why it is that every living person knows that these statements are true.

                Take this thinking for a test drive. We’re all humans, and it’s not surprising that the most extreme moral claims are universally accepted. Now let’s see if we can get something useful out of this view: what is the objectively correct view on abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Same-sex marriage? There are a number of moral issues that divide the country. Are there objectively correct answers to these? If so, are the answers accessible to all of us?

                If not, what good is it?

                ”No moral position can be judged adequate or deficient, unreasonable, unacceptable, or even barbaric.”

                But since you see atheists cheerfully judging others’ opinions as adequate or deficient, you need to go back and rethink this.

                On every single moral stand where you and I differ, I think you’re wrong. And y’know what? The reverse is true as well! You and I judge quite easily, which doesn’t leave your Salvo article giving us much of value.

                Do you think that your stance regarding morals is more valid than mine? If so, then you are trying to appeal to an objective standard of truth, which means that your stance contradicts itself.

                Hoist by my own petard, eh?

                Not really. I think my rejection of objective moral truth is better supported by the facts we see around us than your position. No, no contradiction.


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                  Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                  Bob,

                  You conclude your comment with, “I think my rejection of objective moral truth is better supported by the facts we see around us than your position. No, no contradiction.”

                  So you think that your stance on morality is superior to mine. But you are arguing for subjective morality, which means that no moral stance is objectively superior to another. So, apparently, your stance on morality is subjectively superior to mine. This means that your stance on morality is superior to mine only in your own head. Of what use is this?

                  Back to that Salvo magazine article:

                  “An ethical discussion involves comparing the merits of one view with those of another to find out which is best. But if morals are entirely relative and all views are equally valid, then no way of thinking is better than any other. No moral position can be judged adequate or deficient, unreasonable, unacceptable, or even barbaric.”

                  So I will ask you a simple question: Is your purported non-existence of objective moral truth an objective moral truth, or a subjective moral truth? Which is it?

                  Take the statement, “A truth is only true for those who choose to accept it.” If true, this statement would necessarily imply that this very statement is only true for those who choose to accept it.


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                    You should make the comments stop indenting after a while.

                    So you think that your stance on morals is superior to mine.

                    Obviously. If I thought yours was better, I’d adopt it. And, as I stated before, you surely feel that your stance is better than mine, for the same reason.

                    But you are arguing for subjective morality

                    No, I’m asking you to defend your argument in favor of objective morality.

                    which means that no moral position is objectively superior to another.

                    Not my position. I think that on every point where we disagree, I think I’m right and you’re wrong. That’s sounds pretty arrogant until you think about it for half a second. In the first place, you feel the same way. In the second, where I notice that your position is better than mine, I’ll just adopt it.

                    This means that your moral views are superior to mine only in your own head. Of what use is this?

                    Do you know how laws are made? People argue and compromise. Do you know how people change others’ positions on moral issues? They argue and compromise.

                    Are you new to this society?

                    An ethical discussion involves comparing the merits of one view with those of another to find out which is best. But if morals are entirely relative and all views are equally valid, then no way of thinking is better than any other.

                    I’ve highlighted the flaw in that claim.

                    So I will ask you a simple question

                    Yet more questions? When are you going to answer the one I’ve posed to you?

                    How many times must I ask you to provide evidence for the existence of objective moral claims? My suggestion: just give up. I’ve never seen such an argument.


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                      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                      Bob,

                      Can’t you see the futility and self-defeating nature of your stance? You state that there are no universal truths. But that statement itself makes a universal claim. Thus it contradicts itself.

                      Since you ignored my question, I will just copy and paste it again. No third-party viewer of this discussion is going to fail to notice that you are avoiding this question:

                      Is your purported non-existence of objective moral truth an objective moral truth, or a subjective moral truth? Which is it?

                      Take the statement, “A truth is only true for those who choose to accept it.” If true, this statement would necessarily imply that this very statement is only true for those who choose to accept it.

                      You write, “I think that on every point where we disagree, I think I’m right and you’re wrong. That’s sounds pretty arrogant until you think about it for half a second. In the first place, you feel the same way. In the second, where I notice that your position is better than mine, I’ll just adopt it.”

                      “Do you know how laws are made? People argue and compromise. Do you know how people change others’ positions on moral issues? They argue and compromise.”

                      Yes, people hold a variety of views, and people argue and compromise. But the very question we are exploring is whether or not there exist any morals which are true independent of the opinions of various people.

                      You write, “How many times must I ask you to provide evidence for the existence of objective moral claims? My suggestion: just give up. I’ve never seen such an argument.”

                      Bob, my argument for objective moral truths is that objective moral truths must exist because subjective truth is a self-defeating concept.


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                      Scott:

                      (2nd try)

                      Can’t you see the futility and self-defeating nature of your stance? You claim that there are no universal truths. But that statement itself makes a universal claim. Thus it contradicts itself.

                      Think about your refutations before you make them. This one in particular is annoying because it’s simply an attempt to disqualify my argument before it starts to save you the discomfort from actually replying to it.

                      I don’t claim that there are no universal truths. For example, “1 + 1 = 2” would be a good candidate for a universal truth. Respond to my actual arguments, please.

                      Since you ignored my question, I will just copy and paste it again.

                      Oh, so I ignored your question? That’s so weird, because I was sure that I had asked, several comments ago, the following challenge, for which I have yet to get an answer: show me evidence for objective moral truth or withdraw your claim that it exists.

                      True, your avoidance is the answer, but it’d be good to wrap up this matter once and for all.

                      Is your purported non-existence of objective moral truth an objective moral truth, or a subjective moral truth? Which is it?

                      What are you talking about? Here’s my position: I see no evidence for objective moral truth. Perhaps you can help me out and give me some? Your frequent use of the self-defeating fallacy is sad. Is that the only trick you have?

                      Your continual tap dancing away from tough questions is getting boring. Actually discuss interesting issues, or throw in the towel.

                      Bob, my argument for objective moral truths is that objective moral truths must exist because subjective truth is self-defeating.

                      I think that’s a hat trick—3 uses of the self-defeating concept. My position is: I see no evidence for objective moral truth; therefore, I reject the idea. No self-defeating anything, sorry.

                      Show me some examples. Show me the objectively correct answer to problems like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on. And show me that this objective moral truth of yours is reliably accessible (that is, useful). If objective moral truth exists but we can’t access it, it might as well not exist for all the good it does us.


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                      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                      Bob,

                      You write, “Show me the objectively correct answer to problems like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on.” Here, you confuse the application and expression of basic moral principles with the basic moral principles themselves.

                      This post lays down some of the evidence for objective moral truths pretty well. An excerpt:

                      When a person says, “Maybe murder or rape isn’t really wrong,” he does not need an argument. He is self-deceived. If he really believes this, he needs spiritual or psychological help because he is just not functioning properly. Even relativists who claim that someone’s values may be true for him but not for others are likely those who say, “I have rights” or “You ought to be tolerant.” But rights and tolerance do not make any sense if relativism is correct. Rather, they entail that objective moral values exist.

                      b. Just as we generally trust our sense perceptions as reliable (unless there is good reason to doubt them), we should treat general moral intuitions (aversion to torturing babies for fun, rape, murder) as innocent until proven guilty. Why do we trust our five senses? Most of us find they are regularly reliable. Even if we misperceive things once in a while, we are wise to pay attention to our senses rather than consistently doubt them. Similarly, we have basic moral instincts-for example, a revulsion at taking innocent human life or of raping (the “Yuck factor”) or an inward affirmation regarding self-sacrifice for the well-being of my child (the “Yes factor”). The burden of proof falls on those denying or questioning basic moral principles. We are wise to pay attention to these basic moral instincts – even if these intuitions need occasional fine-tuning.

                      Morally-sensitive humans can get the basics right regarding morality. In the appendix of C.S. Lewis’ book The Abolition of Man, he lists various virtues that have been accepted across the ages and civilizations (Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Native American, Indian, Hebrew, etc.). Stealing and murder are condemned in these law codes while honoring parents and keeping marriage vows are applauded.

                      Some might argue: Aren’t there moral conflicts as well? Some cultures permit polygamy, for instance. Yes, but marriage customs and vows that bind marriages together also prohibit adultery. While applications and expressions of moral principles may differ from culture to culture, there are basic moral principles that cut across cultural lines. What happens when we encounter (at least on the face of it) conflicting moral principles? We start with morally clear cases and work to the unclear. In light of apparent moral conflict, it would be a faulty jump to conclude that morality is relative. As lexicographer Samuel Johnson put it, “The fact that there is such a thing as twilight does not mean that we cannot distinguish between day and night.”

                      c. Moral principles are discovered, not invented. Moral reforms (abolishing slavery, advocating a woman’s right to vote, promoting civil rights for blacks) make no sense unless objective moral values exists. Even if creating the atmosphere for reform may take time (even centuries), this does not imply that morality just evolves during human history and is just a human invention. Rather, it more readily suggests that moral principles can be discovered and are worth pursuing, even at great cost.

                      Atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen acknowledges this point: “It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [wife-beating, child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil…I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”

                      Bob, you also confuse your refusal to acknowledge basic moral principles with a lack of evidence for basic moral principles.

                      If there were no such thing as objectively true moral principles, then the concept of moral progress would make no sense. In order for there to be moral progress, we would need to be able to progress toward an ideal.

                      How, for example, could we say that ridding our society of racism constitutes moral progress if there exists no objective basic moral principle which says that humans have equal rights, regardless of racial or ethnic background?

                      Without objective moral principles, there can be no moral ideal to progress toward. Rather, there can only be change in moral fashions. If morality is subjective, then ridding our society of racism would only be a change in moral fashion which could not be judged morally superior to re-instituting to slavery.

                      Ok, I have presented evidence in favor of objective morality. Now please supply your evidence in favor of subjective morality. By denying the existence of objective morals, you have made a truth claim. And truth claims require evidence and logical arguments.

                      You claim that your argument in favor of subjective morality is that you do not see evidence for objective morality. But merely assuming that subjective morality is the default position does not in any way constitute a logical argument in favor of subjective morality.


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                      Here, you confuse the application and expression of basic moral principles with the basic moral principles themselves.

                      The (1) ontology of the principles vs. their (2) epistemology? I’m quite clear on the difference, thanks. And, indeed, I’m asking about both: (1) show me that objective moral truths exist and, (2) assuming they do, show me that we humans can reliably access them. If only 1 is true, this is a pointless exercise. Only if we can access them is this exercise at all useful.

                      “we have basic moral instincts-for example, a revulsion at taking innocent human life or of raping”

                      How about that? Like you, he points only to the obvious moral ideas that we all share.

                      Is he also, like you, unable to make this thinking do anything useful like present a clear answer to a moral question like abortion that we can all agree is objectively true?

                      “While applications and expressions of moral principles may differ from culture to culture, there are basic moral principles that cut across cultural lines. What happens when we encounter (at least on the face of it) conflicting moral principles? We start with morally clear cases and work to the unclear.”

                      Help us out then, Dr. Copan. Show us the morally correct answer to abortion.

                      “Moral reforms (abolishing slavery, advocating a woman’s right to vote, promoting civil rights for blacks) make no sense unless objective moral values exists.”

                      Uh, no—the point about changing morality is that it is changing. So much for God’s immutable moral truth.

                      “Even if creating the atmosphere for reform may take time (even centuries), this does not imply that morality just evolves during human history and is just a human invention.”

                      Why must moral reform even have to take place? We should simply look at the moral truths we get from an all-loving, omniscient, unchanging God … until we actually read the Old Testament and find that it’s full of Bronze Age butchery. God demands genocide and supports slavery, just like he’s a product of 3000-year-old moral thinking. No, the Bible is a poor source of morals. What does it tell you that taking moral inspiration from the Old Testament would be a huge step backwards?


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                      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                      Bob,

                      You write, “How about that? Like you, he points only to the obvious moral ideas that we all share. Is he also, like you, unable to make this thinking do anything useful like present a clear answer to a moral question like abortion that we can all agree is objectively true?”

                      By admitting to “the obvious moral ideas that we all share,” you have just admitted to objective moral truth. Congratulations.

                      You write, “Show us the morally correct answer to abortion.” Abortion is wrong because it involves the taking of a human life. The existence of current controversy on this issue should not be confused with the lack of an objective moral standard to be reasoned toward.

                      To cite an example from history, there was much controversy surrounding slavery in the years leading up to the civil war. But the existence of this controversy did not mean that there did not exist the objective moral truth that slavery is wrong…underneath all of the controversy.

                      Again, if there were no such thing as objectively true moral principles, then the concept of moral progress would make no sense. In order for there to be moral progress, we would need to be able to progress toward an ideal.

                      How, for example, could we say that ridding our society of racism constitutes moral progress if there exists no objective basic moral principle which says that humans have equal rights, regardless of racial or ethnic background?

                      And, yes, there have been many societies which felt that people do NOT have equal and inalienable rights endowed by their creator. But this in no way means that people do not have such equal and inalienable rights. Rather, it means that the societies who did not acknowledge this objective moral truth were still in need of progress toward the objective moral standard.

                      Your accusations that “God demands genocide and supports slavery” constitute the Red Herring Fallacy since they are diversionary in nature. A copy and paste of the Wikipedia post for Red Herring Fallacy:

                      A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue.[1] It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion. A red herring might be intentionally used, such as in mystery fiction or as part of rhetorical strategies (e.g. in politics), or it could be inadvertently used during argumentation.

                      The origin of the expression is not known. Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.


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                      By admitting to “the obvious moral ideas that we all share,” you have just admitted to objective moral truth. Congratulations.

                      So in your mind “objective” in this sense only means “shared”? Why didn’t you make that clear at the beginning?

                      This then becomes a boring conversation where we both agree that some moral ideas are widely shared and some aren’t. If this is all you wanted to talk about, you should have clarified that after my comment two days ago where I said, “I am using Wm. Lane Craig’s definition of objective moral values: ‘moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.’”

                      Craig’s definition is indeed unsupported by evidence. Sounds like we agree.

                      But then later in your comment you unsurprisingly revert to the Craig definition:

                      Abortion is wrong because it involves the taking of a human life. The existence of current controversy on this issue should not be confused with the lack of an objective moral standard to be reasoned toward.

                      “Reasoned toward”? What does that mean if objective moral values (OMVs) are simply shared values? Some values are shared and some aren’t—that’s just how it is. There’s no reasoning going on here.

                      You want to pick and choose your definitions. When you can imagine you can make a gotcha comment like the “Congratulations” line above, you make it. But you still want the other definition, the one that WLC makes. And you scamper from one definition to the other depending on the circumstances. You think that there are fixed objective moral truths out there for us to discover and you can’t even keep your definitions from changing?

                      I doubt there’s any more for us to cover. If OMVs are shared, then there’s little to talk about. If OMVs are defined as Craig does, then that’s interesting, but you have never admitted the heavy lifting that you must do to show that they exist and that their existence means anything (that is, that we can access them reliably).

                      I encourage you to think about this and maybe write up something if you reach a conclusion. If that post is just more definitional games and empty claims of OMVs without answering my challenge, then I’ll be disappointed but not surprised.


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                      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                      Bob,

                      This is about more than merely shared moral values. The existence of a Moral Law points to a lawgiver.

                      Norman Geisler and Frank Turek tell a story in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist which illustrates the undeniable nature of moral absolutes:

                      ————–

                      A professor at a major university in Indiana gave one of his relativistic students [an] experience not long ago. The professor, who was teaching a class in ethics, assigned a term paper to his students. He told the students to write on any ethical topic of their choice, requiring each student only to properly back up his or her thesis with reasons and documentation.

                      One student, an atheist, wrote eloquently on the topic of moral relativism. He argued, “All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or rightness; it’s all a matter of opinion; you like chocolate, I like vanilla,” and so on. His paper provided both his reasons and his documentation. It was the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder.

                      After the professor read the entire paper, he wrote on the front cover, “F, I don’t like blue folders!”

                      When the student got the paper back he was enraged. He stormed into the professor’s office and protested, “‘F?! I don’t like blue folders?!’ That’s not fair! That’s not right! That’s not just! You didn’t grade the paper on its merits!”

                      Raising his hand to quiet the bombastic student, the professor calmly retorted, “Wait a minute. Hold on. I read a lot of papers. Let me see . . . wasn’t your paper the one that said there is no such thing as fairness, rightness, and justice?”

                      “Yes,” the student answered. “Then what’s this you say about me not being fair, right, and just?” the professor asked. “Didn’t your paper argue that it’s all a matter of taste? You like chocolate, I like vanilla?” The student replied, “Yes, that’s my view.”

                      “Fine, then,” the professor responded. “I don’t like blue. You get an F.”

                      Suddenly the lightbulb went on in the student’s head. He realized he really did believe in moral absolutes. He at least believed in justice. After all, he was charging his professor with injustice for giving him an F simply because of the color of the folder. That simple fact defeated his entire case for relativism.

                      The moral of the story is that there are absolute morals. And if you really want to get relativists to admit it, all you need to do is treat them unfairly. Their reactions will reveal the Moral Law written on their hearts and minds. Here, the student realized there is an objective standard of rightness by how he reacted to the professor’s treatment of him. In the same way, I may not think stealing is wrong when I steal from you. But watch how morally outraged I get when you steal from me. Our reactions also indicate that relativism is ultimately unlivable. People may claim they are relativists, but they don’t want their spouses, for example, to live like sexual relativists. They don’t want their spouses to be only relatively faithful.
                      ——————

                      And, Bob, there can be no such thing as human rights without a transcendent Moral Law. If we change, “All people have certain inalienable rights endowed by their Creator” to, “All people have certain inalienable rights endowed by some other people,” then we are left with questions such as:

                      1) Which people get to endow these rights.
                      2) How rights endowed by other people can be inalienable or transcendent.
                      3) By what third standard we could judge between those who believe that people do have basic human rights and those who believe that people do not. The third standard of a third group of people??

                      And without the Moral Law, there would be no way to know justice from injustice. C. S. Lewis put it well:

                      “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something—some Real Morality—for them to be true about.”

                      As Turek and Geisler point out:

                      If the Moral Law doesn’t exist, then there’s no moral difference between the behavior of Mother Teresa and that of Hitler. Likewise, statements like “Murder is evil,” “Racism is wrong,” or “You shouldn’t abuse children” have no objective meaning. They’re just someone’s opinion, on a par with “chocolate tastes better than vanilla.” In fact, without the Moral Law, simple value-laden terms such as “good,” “bad,” “better,” and “worse” would have no objective meaning when used in a moral sense. But we know they do have meaning. For example, when we say “society is getting better” or “society is getting worse,” we are comparing society to some moral standard beyond ourselves. That standard is the Moral Law that’s written on our hearts.

                      Bob, do you believe that ridding society of racism is morally superior to re-instituting slavery? If so, then you believe that the moral value that racism is bad is superior to the moral value that racism is good. But by what standard could we judge one set of moral beliefs to be superior to another? If there is no objective Moral Law, then saying that “racism is bad” has no more meaning than “chocolate tastes better than vanilla.”

                      One group of people may share the belief that slavery is good, and another group of people may share the belief that slavery is wrong. But by what standard could we judge which group is right and which is wrong? It would have to be by a third standard which transcends human opinions.


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                      Just as I expected, even after I lay out the moral question for you (see my last comment), you just ignore it.

                      I can imagine that you pretend it doesn’t exist because you don’t want to embarrass yourself in a public forum, but you really do need to have an answer, at least for yourself. If your claims of objective moral truth really can’t be justified, decide what that means to you rather than ignoring it.

                      Suddenly the lightbulb went on in the student’s head. He realized he really did believe in moral absolutes.

                      Moral absolutes? Fascinating—I await the evidence. This example looks like nothing more than shared morality.

                      Tip: Geisler and Turek’s book is aimed at children. It’s great for someone who’s never heard apologetics discussed before, but that’s not me.

                      if you really want to get relativists to admit it, all you need to do is treat them unfairly. Their reactions will reveal the Moral Law written on their hearts and minds.

                      Uh huh. We share moral values. We agreed from our first comments. Surely there is more to your claim of objective moral truth, though.

                      If we change, “All people have certain inalienable rights endowed by their Creator” to, “All people have certain inalienable rights endowed by some other people,” then we are left with the questions of:
                      1) Which people get to endow these rights
                      2) How rights endowed by other people can be inalienable or transcendent.

                      Welcome to reality, pal. Rights are given by people. Example: the rights in the US Constitution and its amendments.

                      then you believe that the moral value that racism is bad is superior to the moral value that racism is good.

                      Yes, I believe this.

                      But by what standard could we judge one set of moral beliefs to be superior to another?

                      Look up “morality” in the dictionary. There is no reference to any objective grounding. Morality works just fine, thank you, without any appeal to objective anything.

                      Evolution gives us moral programming. That (and our society) gives us our moral sense.

                      One group of people may share the belief that slavery is good, and another group of people may share the belief that slavery is wrong. But by what standard could we really say that the group that likes slavery is morally inferior to the group who opposes slavery? It would have to be by a third standard which transcends human opinions.

                      Wait … are you saying that there’s an objective moral truth, grounded outside of humanity, that can reliably guide us to answer the big questions that vex society? Questions like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and so on? And that humans can reliably tap into this source of morality so we can all understand it? This is exciting! Give me a demonstration (and not with something obvious like “Is slavery wrong?”).

                      But of course I’ve already asked this. Your silence makes clear your inability to answer. What does that tell you?

                      BTW, this conversation is getting boring. I have little interest in continuing. If you reply, try to think through your questions/comments to anticipate the answers that I’ll give. Maybe you simply haven’t thought this through, but I’ve given these responses to the same tired questions dozens of times. This all seems quite obvious to me.


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                      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

                      Bob,

                      You seem to not understand the crucial distinction between a logical argument, on one hand, and forceful assertions coupled with strident rhetoric, on the other hand. Logical arguments consist of logic, and do not use strident rhetoric and forceful assertions as crutches.

                      For example, you write, “I can imagine that you pretend it doesn’t exist because you don’t want to embarrass yourself in a public forum” and “Geisler and Turek’s book is aimed at children,” and “BTW, this conversation is getting boring.”

                      Bob, these are purely rhetorical flourishes which only distract from rational discourse and highlight the fact that you are angry because you realize that your argument has fallen apart.

                      Put another way, your use of strident rhetoric and forceful assertions is a “tell” that you realize that your argument has fallen apart…much as a nervous tick made by a poker player is a “tell” that he is holding a weak hand and is bluffing.

                      Bob, I assure you that absolutely no intelligent third party observer of this discussion will be fooled by your attempt to use forceful assertions and strident rhetoric to compensate for (and distract attention from) the deficiency of your argument. All intelligent readers know that forceful assertions and strident rhetoric are crutches which you use since your argument cannot stand up with bare logic.

                      Again, your refusal to acknowledge objective morality does not constitute a “lack of evidence” for objective morality. Nobody is going to be fooled by this. An atheist appealing to his right to choose his own beliefs (rather than having them imposed by a state-sponsored church, etc.) is appealing to an objective moral standard. If, say, radical Muslims took over the government and tried to impose their beliefs upon you with Sharia law, by what third standard could we judge whether it is you or the radical Muslims who is right on the issue of religious freedom?

                      Without a third, transcendent standard by which to judge between shared human moral values such as “religious freedom is good” and “religious freedom is wrong,” it would merely be a case of might-makes-right. The concept of moral justice makes no sense with only subjective morality because “right” and “wrong” aren’t really right or wrong without a transcendent Moral Law to distinguish between human opinions about right and wrong. Rather, right and wrong are really just personal preferences.

                      As I said before, but you failed to respond to, this is about more than shared moral values. If there is no transcendent source of morality (read: God) to judge between various shared human moral values, then there is no way to deem various shared sets of human moral values as anything more than personal preferences such as “chocolate ice cream tastes better than strawberry ice cream.”

                      A group of people who shares the moral belief that slavery is right cannot be judged morally superior to a group of people who shares the moral belief that slavery is wrong, unless there is a transcendent moral authority which establishes what is truly right and truly wrong.

                      “Slavery is wrong” cannot have any more objective truth than “broccoli is yucky” without an objective and transcendent source of moral truth.

                      You write, “Wait … are you saying that there’s an objective moral truth, grounded outside of humanity, that can reliably guide us to answer the big questions that vex society? Questions like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and so on? And that humans can reliably tap into this source of morality so we can all understand it? This is exciting! Give me a demonstration (and not with something obvious like “Is slavery wrong?”).”

                      Bob, I already answered this. Prior to the American Civil War, the question of whether slavery is right or wrong did not have an obvious answer to our society. This question vexed our society and it was debated at the highest levels of government. But now our society has found its way to the correct moral stance on this issue…slavery is wrong.

                      The same Moral Guide (God) who led us to objective moral truth on this issue can (with human cooperation) lead us to the correct moral stance with regards to other moral questions that you cite such as abortion, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, etc…

                      And, as I pointed out before, there can be no such thing as moral progress without a transcendent moral standard to progress toward. Without a moral standard to progress toward, moral progress such as getting rid of slavery could only be deemed moral change, not moral progress. Fashions in clothing, for example, change all the time, but we do not call the change in fashion “progress.”

                      Indeed, without a transcendent moral standard to progress toward, a return to institutionalized slavery would be little different than a “retro chic” trend in clothing…such as when 1960’s era suits worn on the hit TV show Mad Men became popular again.

                      Next, you write, “Evolution gives us moral programming. That (and our society) gives us our moral sense.”

                      Bob, the problem with this is that the natural world is valueless, and therefore, the natural world cannot give us moral values. There is no such thing as a good or bad tree, or a good or bad bird, etc. William Lane Craig writes:

                      “…take away God, and what basis remains for objective moral duties? On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals. And animals don’t have obligations toward one another. When a lion, for example, kills a zebra, it kills the zebra, but it doesn’t murder the zebra. Or when a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female shark, it forcibly copulates with her, but it doesn’t rape her. None of these things has any moral dimension to it. They are neither forbidden nor obligatory. There just are no moral duties to fulfill with regard to these things. If God doesn’t exist, why think that we have any moral duties to fulfill? Who or what lays these moral obligations and prohibitions upon us? Where do they come from?”

                      The fact that the natural world is valueless and that, therefore, morality cannot be derived from natural processes such as evolution is what led Albert Einstein to write:

                      “You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”

                      Finally, if evolution shaped our moral values, what survival value did the moral value “slavery is right” provide? And why do some groups of people share this moral value, whereas other groups do not? Did we not evolve from the same set of common ancestors? Your stance on the evolution of morals is incoherent.


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                      Scott:

                      Can’t you see the futility and self-defeating nature of your stance? You claim that there are no universal truths. But that statement itself makes a universal claim. Thus it contradicts itself.

                      Think about your refutations before you make them. This one in particular is annoying because it’s simply an attempt to disqualify my argument before it starts to save you the discomfort from actually replying to it.

                      I don’t claim that there are no universal truths. For example, “1 + 1 = 2” would be a good candidate for a universal truth. Respond to my actual arguments, please.

                      Since you ignored my question, I will just copy and paste it again.

                      Oh, so I ignored your question? That’s so weird, because I was sure that I had asked, several comments ago, the following challenge, for which I have yet to get an answer: show me evidence for objective moral truth or withdraw your claim that it exists.

                      True, your avoidance is the answer, but it’d be good to wrap up this matter once and for all.

                      Is your purported non-existence of objective moral truth an objective moral truth, or a subjective moral truth? Which is it?

                      What are you talking about? Here’s my position: I see no evidence for objective moral truth. Perhaps you can help me out and give me some? Your frequent use of the self-defeating fallacy is sad. Is that the only trick you have?

                      Your continual tap dancing away from tough questions is getting boring. Actually discuss interesting issues, or throw in the towel.

                      Bob, my argument for objective moral truths is that objective moral truths must exist because subjective truth is self-defeating.

                      I think that’s a hat trick—3 uses of the self-defeating concept. My position is: I see no evidence for objective moral truth; therefore, I reject the idea. No self-defeating anything, sorry.

                      Show me some examples. Show me the objectively correct answer to problems like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and so on. And show me that this objective moral truth of yours is reliably accessible (that is, useful). If objective moral truth exists but we can’t access it, it might as well not exist for all the good it does us.


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    SKL YJD says:

    Scott I will answer your other queries, I do not need a test tube to determine religion is not compatible with science, it is pure in your face logic.

    You say: “But by what standard can you say that such things as the abolition of slavery and an increase in the respect for basic human rights amounts to an evolution (or an improvement)?” Morality has evolved in the West and you are a sad person if you cannot figure that out for yourself.

    You say: “An evolution or an improvement according to who?”. You do not need to have someone to give you permission to work this logic out, this is why we have a brain. You have little faith in intelligence and humanity.

    We all know the Nazis were the bad people and of course they were morally wrong. The Nazis did lots of immoral things as did the allies. This was a war fighting to the death morals take second place, so what’s your point?

    You say “Which humans get to determine right from wrong”. The laws that are made for your country by your voted politicians determine right from wrong and we are all allowed to decide what we want to believe without pressure, including children.

    Laws may not change eradicate racial prejudice from human minds, however if the laws need change and they are for protecting human life I would think it is imperative the most influential people should speak out against these terrible atrocities. Something the loving God failed to do and provides evidence that the Bible was written for primitive people and definitely not meant for this century.


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      SKL YJD,

      You write, ” I do not need a test tube to determine religion is not compatible with science, it is pure in your face logic.” This seems like a pretty clear admission that your opinions about Christianity were not determined scientifically, but rather with nonscientific reasoning. Am I wrong? If I am wrong, then please cite for me the SPECIFIC science which you used to make this determination. Please cite the SPECIFIC research (whether it be a chemistry, biology, or physics, etc. experiment) which you used to determine that Christianity is not compatible with science.

      And you say that you use “in your face logic,” but what specific logic have you provided? What specifically have you provided that amounts to more than bald assertions? In order to demonstrate that Christianity is not compatible with science, you need to provide some sort of scientific research or a logical argument.

      I do not doubt that there is a deeply entrenched anti-Christian cultural context within much of academia. But citing a cultural context (i.e. “a large percentage of scientists do not accept theism”) does not constitute a logical argument. Rather, it just constitutes a logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority. The opinions of scientists would be valuable if you would also cite the reasoning behind their opinions. This would enable us to distinguish between the ideological preferences of certain scientists, on one hand, and the logically reasoned arguments of these scientists, on the other hand.

      You say, “Morality has evolved in the West and you are a sad person if you cannot figure that out for yourself.”

      Yes, I agree that morality has evolved (improved) in many regards. But the question that I am trying to get you to answer is this:

      By what standard can you say that morality has improved or evolved? The subjective standards of you and I?

      The Nazis did not consider getting rid of slavery and racial prejudice to be a moral evolution or improvement. Again, they used slave labor in their prison camps to force people to produce materials for the war, and their political ideology said that the “Aryan race” (blond haired, blue eyed white people) is superior to all other races. The Nazis considered ethnic groups such as the Jews so inferior that they don’t deserve to live.

      So morality has evolved or improved according to our subjective standards in non-Nazi societies? Who is the judge that gets to say that lack of slavery and racial prejudice is better than prevalent slavery and racial prejudice?

      Why do you and I get to be the judges of morality instead of the Nazis? Because our morality is better than that of the Nazis? Says who? (Or rather Who?)

      That’s right, the allied forces did some bad things too. But bad according to the standard of who? That C.S. Lewis quote again:

      “Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? ….If ‘being good’ meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.”

      “But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God.”

      Without a “third thing” by which to judge the Nazis (and allies), there would only be subjective human opinions. Without a higher moral standard which exists above and beyond the subjective opinions of humans, we could only say that the Nazis were only “wrong” according to our cultural preferences…like the person who belches loudly at the dinner table. In some cultures, belching at the dinner table is perfectly acceptable.


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        “This seems like a pretty clear admission that your opinions about Christianity were not determined scientifically, but rather with nonscientific reasoning.”

        Would very much like to see a definition of ‘scientific reasoning’ and then an scientific argument made that the spiritual basis of christianity is factual. I’m interested because in most conversations xtians get exercised when people start applying material logic to faith. Things of faith and spirit cannot be plumbed by natural explanations, they say. The spirit must open your eyes.

        Thanks in advance.


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          Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

          Dennis,

          I am not interested in which arguments are “scientific” and which arguments are not. Rather, I am interested in which arguments are TRUE.

          One can quibble all day about whether an argument is a “scientific argument” or not, but such quibbling misses the point entirely. Atheists often claim that they do not hold any views which have not been proven by science. But, as I have demonstrated, this is impossible. For example, consider the following statement:

          “We can only accept as true that which has been empirically verified by science.”

          How would one scientifically verify THAT statement? With a chemistry experiment involving a bunsen burner and test tubes? With a biology experiment involving a microscope and a petri dish? Because such a statement cannot itself be empirically verified by science, we cannot accept it as true, and therefore, it defeats itself.

          Atheists frequently confuse their non-scientific reasoning with science.


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    SKL YJD says:

    Scott, it is patently obvious to me that the good science tackles the problems and unknown aspects of human life that includes sickness and disease, technology, space travel, Global warming and the origin of life etc. The controversial effects of science involve military applications such as weapons of mass destruction, however all these things often effect our daily standard of living through life expectancy, communications, entertainment, security, mental health and human development etc. I expect you get the picture.

    The good side of religion often provides assistance through daily life, after death security of eternal life, brings out the benevolence in some people, has some psychological benefits, may foster community spirit, may have happiness and other benefits for some people. The controversial effects of religion involve superstition, indoctrination and radicalisation etc.

    I distinguish science as materialistic, realistic, logical and imperative for the future of mankind, whereas religion is a personal attitude to life that goes on inside a person’s head. Everything such as supernatural beliefs that include gods, ghosts, spirits, Satan possessing humans, demons, and much of the stuff involving aliens and abductions is all manifested inside the brains of the believers.

    If you believe something strongly enough it will be as real as anything you can physically touch. It is quite clear how powerful our brains are; people kill in the name of a belief that they hold so strongly they would put it before their own families lives. Most humans think their own beliefs and world views are the ultimate truth and one of the reasons I am both an atheist and a not a political party member even if I have some strong views about both religion and politics.

    As I have expressed before your morals on one side of the planet are often going to be different to others on the other side of the planet due to religious, political, environmental and social differences. If the West exported democracy to Saudi Arabia, the first thing that would be abolished is their laws and morals involving capital punishment to appease the morals we live by in the West. Either all-knowing God failed to condemn the current laws and uphold these simple morals or he and the writers had no idea the West existed where these type of laws were going to be appealed because they are offensive.


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      SKL YJD,

      You say, “I distinguish science as materialistic.” And this is one of your religious/philosophical presuppositions which is nonscientific in nature.

      One thing that I have been trying to get you to respond to is how you can believe in materialism in light of the insights of modern physics.

      Quantum physics shows that an immaterial conscious observer is required to collapse a possibility wave into material actuality. Please watch this video about the famous observer effect to see what I mean.

      Physicist Amit Goswami writes,

      “Now do you see why consciousness, to effect collapse, must be nonmaterial? A material consciousness arising in the brain is only a possibility wave. A possibility wave acting on a possibility wave just makes a bigger possibility wave. No actuality ever comes out of such an interaction (von Neumann 1955).”

      “You may not have noticed, but we can see paradox in the observer effect in another way. The observer chooses, out of the quantum possibilities presented by the object, the actual event of experience. But before the collapse of the possibilities, the observer himself (or herself) consists of possibilities and is not manifest. So we can posit the paradox as a circularity: An observer is needed for collapsing the quantum possibility wave of an object; but collapse is needed for manifesting the observer. More succinctly, no collapse without an observer; but no observer without a collapse. If we stay in the material level, the paradox is unsolvable. The consciousness solution works only because we posit that consciousness collapses the possibility waves of both the observer (that is, his or her brain) and the object simultaneously from the transcendent reality of the ground of being that consciousness represents.”

      The need for a conscious observer to collapse a probability wave into material reality means that matter is a construct of consciousness. Put another way, consciousness comes first and matter is produced by consciousness. This is why, for example, Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics, said:

      “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

      It is also why Erwin Schroedinger, who made crucial contributions to modern physics, said:

      “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”

      It is also why Nobel Prize winning physicist Paul A. M. Dirac, who made crucial early contributions to both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics, said:

      “God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”

      It is also why quantum physicist, John von Neumann, said,

      “All real things are contents of consciousness.”

      I have given my scientific reasons for believing in theism. Now please provide your scientific reasons for believing in materialism.


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        SKL YJD says:

        You say” I have given my scientific reasons for believing in theism. Now please provide your scientific reasons for believing in materialism.”

        Now I do not profess to be an expert on such a complicated issue but the answers to literally everything we believe is inside our heads and I am providing here not scientific reasons for what is materialism because it can be seen, touched and reasoned but the belief in theism among other things. Most of this is unaltered but cut and pasted from provided web addresses.

        Neuro-biologists have long held that the brain exclusively drives the mind, and that the mind serves only the individual self. But a new breed of medical scientists is challenging this linear approach to the relationship between the objective physical world and subjective mental life. Dan Siegel, a professor at UCLA medical school, argues that the mind can be shared with others, and that these inter-personal neural networks can in fact shape the brain. The brain and the mind obviously have an intimate relationship, but the mind is different: it is a collection of thoughts, patterns, perceptions, beliefs, memories and attitudes. As Siegel explains, “The mind can use the brain to perceive itself, and the mind can be used to change the brain.”

        Our cultural practices such as emotional bonds to family or religious devotion are themselves repetitive patterns of energy use that stimulate (from the outside) discernible neural firing patterns and synaptic connections. Our brains become used to, and even develop a preference for, certain patterns, meaning the brain can be trained to behave, and even gradually evolve, based on the activities of the mind.

        culture is literally a “state of mind,” a cluster of signals which believers of a certain faith share in common. By extension, cultural evolution is to some extent the mutation of patterns of mental signals shared by groups of people. For this reason, the Dalai Lama has embraced this research, and recently spoke at a prominent gathering of neuro-scientists and educators. Read in full here:

        http://bigthink.com/hybrid-reality/does-the-brain-control-the-mind-or-the-mind-control-the-brain

        Neuroscience is uncovering a bracing view of what’s happening below the radar of our conscious awareness, but that makes your life no more “helpless, ignorant, and zombie-like” than whatever your life is now. If you were to read a cardiology book to learn how your heart pumps, would you feel less alive and more despondently mechanical? I wouldn’t. Understanding the details of our own biological processes does not diminish the awe, it enhances it. Like flowers, brains are more beautiful when you can glimpse the vast, intricate, exotic mechanisms behind them. Read in full here:

        http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/apr/29/neuroscience-david-eagleman-raymond-tallis

        Science will prevail and establish what we are and the basis of our beliefs. I boldly predict the evidence will eventually explain faith in religious belief as just that “a belief” however there will always be some people who will not embrace scientific discovery as we have already witnessed since modern science began.


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          Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

          SKL YJD,

          I asked you to provide your scientific argument for materialism. What you have provided is an argument against materialism. If you believe that the brain (which is material in nature, of course) is governed and directed by the immaterial mind, then how can you say that you believe in materialism?

          Incidentally, I agree that the immaterial mind governs the brain. As Siegel puts it in the quotation you provided, “The mind can be used to change the brain.” This supports the view that the universe is the product of an immaterial mind (read: God). If mind directs and governs the brain, then immaterial mind precedes material brain. The immaterial mind that precedes the creation of the universe is what we mean by the term God.

          You write, “I boldly predict the evidence will eventually explain faith in religious belief as just that ‘a belief’ however there will always be some people who will not embrace scientific discovery as we have already witnessed since modern science began.”

          Well, if you still believe in materialism, then it looks like you are one of the people who “will not embrace scientific discovery,” such as the scientific discovery that consciousness precedes matter….as I discuss in God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism and There’s Nothing Random About Evolution.

          SKL YJD, you reflexively equate theistic belief with “religion,” but your atheistic, materialistic views as non-religion. But, as I mentioned, atheism fits many of the diverse definitions of religion present within religious scholarship. Science has already demonstrated your philosophical/religious belief in materialism to be wrong.

          If I am not correct in this assessment, then please provide your rebuttal to the point I make that the material world is a construct of consciousness…as presented in the two above mentioned essays.


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    Ricky says:

    My view on evil is its linked to the natural law.I believe something created the big bang(God) and nature is his greatest evangelist.Ultimately we are all here to flourish like nature.Hence that for me is where evil stands as it goes against the natural law For me its thats simple as you dont need complicated philosophy’s as truth lies in nature


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    I still like how Penn Jillette answers this question: Sure. I rape and murder and pillage just as much as I want to. I just don’t want to.

    The insistence on objective morals reveals the paucity of xtian ethics and the religion’s inborn love of violence. It’s not enough to show that an action is wrong – xtians want to know that the sinner will be tortured forever. To burn. To roll over the fire like a pig on the spit. The religion’s fascination with blood and sacrifice never died with the lamb of god.

    But the problem is not that evil exists but that it is celebrated so much by religious believers. How much mortal hatred has been stirred by religious belief? How many Hindis have diesdat the hands of Muslims? How many Muslims dead at the hand of xtians? How many dead are attributed to the Hebrew god? And not just warriors but women and children. What bloody and horrible legacies these gods have.

    Maybe even more horrible are the false platitudes of xtians. Your child was murdered? Don’t worry – god always has a plan even if we don’t understand it. Who would follow such a leader if they have the ability to stop it? Was it God’s plan to exterminate a few million unworthy Jews? Could god have stopped that? If not he’s no god. He chose not to? Then he is as evil as the perpetrators. He can’t intervene because we have free will? Then why invent the human if only to set them up to see dreams, family, health, and life die?


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      Dennis,

      Is Penn Jilette suggesting that he does not have control over his actions? Do you believe that you cannot freely choose whether to obey the law or not, for example?

      The accusations against Christians which you present here commit the logical fallacy known as a “red herring argument,” because they are diversionary in nature. Instead of presenting a logically constructed, fact-based rebuttal to the arguments I present, you have tried to create a distraction by making a bunch of accusations which are irrelevant to the issue being discussed. A copy and paste of the Wikipedia post for “red herring”:

      A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion.

      The origin of the expression is not known. Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.

      You point to hatred stirred by religious belief, but you are failing to notice that atheism fits many of the diverse definitions of “religion” present within religious scholarship. Everyone, whether Christian, Hindu, atheist or agnostic has a set of beliefs, or an interpretive framework. K.A. Smith comments in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church:

      “We all – whether naturalists, atheists, Buddhists, or Christians – see the world through the grid of an interpretive framework – and ultimately this interpretive framework is religious in nature, even if not allied with a particular institutional religion.”

      Therefore, a statement such as “religion is bad because it causes violence and strife” is every bit as ridiculous as the statement, “politics are bad because politics cause violence and strife.”

      Regarding this point is an excerpt from my essay titled Doesn’t Religion Cause Killing?:

      Religious scholar William T. Cavanaugh writes in The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict:

      “What would be necessary to prove the claim that religion has caused more violence than any other institutional force over the course of human history? One would first need a concept of religion that would be at least theoretically separable from other institutional forces over the course of human history. …The problem is that there was no category of religion separable from such political institutions until the modern era, and then it was primarily in the West. What meaning could we give to either the claim that Roman religion is to blame for the imperialist violence of ancient Rome, or the claim that it is Roman politics and not Roman religion that is to blame? Either claim would be nonsensical, because there was no neat division between religion and politics.”

      “It is not simply that religion and politics were jumbled together until the modern West got them properly sorted out. As Wilfred Cantwell Smith showed in his landmark book, The Meaning and End of Religion, religion as a discrete category of human activity separable from culture, politics, and other areas of life is an invention of the modern West.”

      “…The first conclusion is that there is no trans-historical or trans-cultural concept of religion. Religion has a history, and what counts as religion and what does not in any given context depends on different configurations of power and authority. The second conclusion is that the attempt to say that there is a trans-historical and trans-cultural concept of religion that is separable from secular phenomena is itself part of a particular configuration of power, that of the modern, liberal nation-state as it is developed in the West.”

      Thus, it is impossible to establish which conflicts were caused by “religion” and which conflicts were caused by “politics” or “culture” because such categories have no intrinsic meaning, but rather, are human inventions. Cavanaugh continues:

      “At first glance, this may seem like an academic exercise in quibbling over definitions, but much more is at stake. The religious-secular dichotomy in the arguments sanctions the condemnation of certain kinds of violence and the overlooking of other kinds of violence. …The myth of religious violence is so prevalent because, while it delegitimates certain kinds of violence, it is used to legitimate other kinds of violence, namely, violence done in the name of secular, Western ideals. The argument that religion causes violence sanctions a dichotomy between, on the one hand, non-Western, especially Muslim, forms of culture, which—having not yet learned to privatize matters of faith—are absolutist, divisive, irrational, and Western culture on the other, which is modest in its claims to truth, unitive and rational.”


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    SKL YJD says:

    You say: “On atheism, there is no objective standard of good or evil” This is a standard theist attitude to atheism. If we followed the letter of the Bible we would all be committing horrendous crimes against each other.

    In my opinion, Sam Harris makes it too complicated. Science is science and is the way to find out about our world and universe and every other application. Religious superstition simply cannot be compatible with science in any way.

    The Nazis that were caught who committed war crimes were judged by man using man’s moral standards and laws of the day. Many of the moral standards that we naturally develop would have been copied into the Bible stories from life that existed in those times. This is why you get slavery, stoning people, beating children etc. because it obviously was the moral standards of those days and of course must have been supported by God since the writers were supposedly inspired by him.

    I don’t agree completely with Richard Dawkins that DNA is the only answer. As individuals and communities many other aspects of our life influence how we behave. For example, cannibalistic practice may be evil by Christian moralistic standards such as the native people of the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea who were studied by scientists from Britain and Papua New Guinea. They have developed genetic resistance to a mad cow-like disease called kuru, which was spread mostly by the now abandoned ritual of eating relatives’ brains at funerals.

    Morality has evolved, it is learnt, adapted and practiced due to the superstitious beliefs, the situation at the time and the environment. These tribes existed and survived untouched by modern human intervention with their own indigenous beliefs and without the Christian God.

    I have never met or heard of any person wanting to become an atheist so they could be free of moral restraints. If God is all good then it holds to reason he created bad, so he has nobody to blame but himself. We are born naturally as unbelievers of anything including God and if religions were not invented by man we would not have atheists. Morality is not owned by Christians; it is used as a tool to hang onto a diminishing religion.


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      Scott Youngren ( User Karma: 43 ) says:

      SKL YJD,

      You write: “Science is science and is the way to find out about our world and universe and every other application. Religious superstition simply cannot be compatible with science in any way.”

      Please cite the science you used to determine that Christianity cannot be compatible with science in any way. How did you scientifically determine that Christianity is not compatible with science? Was it with a chemistry experiment involving a bunsen burner and test tubes? Or, perhaps, was it with a physics experiment involving a particle accelerator? Like many atheists, you apparently have difficulty distinguishing your extra-scientific (and therefore philosophical/religious) presuppositions from science.

      You say that morality has evolved. But by what standard can you say that such things as the abolition of slavery and an increase in the respect for basic human rights amounts to an evolution (or an improvement)? An evolution or an improvement according to who? According to humans? If so, which humans? Since the Nazis used slavery to make equipment for the war, I don’t think that the Nazis would call the abolition of slavery an “evolution” or an improvement.

      You have still not answered the question of which humans get to determine right from wrong.

      Were the Nazis objectively morally wrong for committing the Holocaust? Yes or no?

      Would a radical Muslim be objectively morally wrong for denying you your right to choose your own beliefs…by threatening to kill you if you do not renounce atheism and adopt Islam? Yes or no?

      And if no, then how could you possibly object if a radical Muslim did so?

      You write: “…this is why you get slavery, stoning people, beating children etc. because it obviously was the moral standards of those days and of course must have been supported by God since the writers were supposedly inspired by him.”

      But this is a complete non-sequitur. David Robertson writes in The Dawkins Letters:

      “…you need to learn the basic principles of reading the Bible. You must always read it in context – that includes historical, literary, theological and biblical context. To read out of context is to misread. Then you must recognize that much of the Bible is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, it is telling us what went on rather than what should have happened.”

      How are biblical events taken out of context so as to accuse God of such things as allowing slavery, killing, etc.? Paul Copan answers in Is God A Moral Monster?

      “Despite the North’s victory, the Emancipation Proclamation that preceded it (January 1, 1863), and the attempt at Reconstruction in the South, many whites did not change their mind-set in regard to blacks. As a nation, we’ve found that proclamations and civil rights legislations may be law, but such legalities don’t eradicate racial prejudice from human minds. A good deal of time was required to make significant headway in the pursuit of racial justice.”

      “Let’s switch gears. Imagine a Western nation or representatives from the West who think it best to export democracy to, say, Saudi Arabia. Think of the obstacles to overcome! A radical change of mind-set would be required, and simply changing laws wouldn’t alter the thinking in Saudi Arabia. In fact, you could probably imagine large-scale cultural opposition to such changes. When we journey back over the millennia into the ancient Near East, we enter a world that is foreign to us in many ways. Life in the ancient Near East wouldn’t just be alien to us—with all of its strange ways and assumptions. We would also see a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall. Within this context, God raised up a covenant nation and gave the people laws to live by; he helped to create a culture for them. In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures.”


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    Dubby Rodda says:

    Thank you, Scott, for collecting such an amazing set of quotes from some of the most unexpected people! I had never heard of any such prominent atheists being so honest! I am sure that I will use them in the near future!

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