The Reconquista Initiative
Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma: A Dialogue
In the previous essay titled simply “Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma”, it was argued that while the theist does indeed have to contend with the standard Euthyphro Dilemma—a dilemma which the theist has a number of ways of answering and which the theist has answered for centuries now—the fact remains that the atheist, or more specifically, the atheistic-naturalist—which is the most popular and coherent form of atheism—has to deal with a similar type of dilemma, but one which is more dangerous to the rationality of atheistic-naturalism than the standard Euthyphro Dilemma is to theism. And while in the aforementioned essay the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma was explained and articulated, the fact is that since the original Euthyphro Dilemma was presented in dialogue form, then, as tribute to this fact, I thought it fitting that the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma should also be presented in the same manner. And so here is the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma in dialogue form:
Richard (the Atheist): …so that is the Euthyphro Dilemma, and there is no way that the theist can get out of it.
Theo (the Theist): Actually Richard, the theist, especially a theist who posits a lower-case ‘g’ god, has a number of strategies to deal with the Euthyphro Dilemma, and so the theist as been able to answer this old dilemma for many years without too much problem. But let’s leave that aside for now. What I want to focus on for a few minutes is the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma.
Richard: The Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma? What are you talking about?
Theo: Well, it is a dilemma that the atheistic-naturalist is subject to and which, if not properly answered, essentially renders atheistic-naturalism irrational.
Richard: I’ve never heard of it, so why don’t you spell it out for me.
Theo: Alright. So the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma could be roughly stated as follows: If, at the fundamental level, all that we are, and all that reality is, is just matter-in-motion, as the atheist-naturalist believes, then it is absurd to posit the existence of any absolute moral rules and absolute moral duties on such a view, for immaterial and absolute moral rules and duties do not arise from mere particles banging around. After all, you cannot get a ‘should’ from an ‘is’ no matter how much you try. But, at the same time, if we do not posit the existence of any absolute moral rules or any absolute moral duties—such as, say, the moral rule that it is always and everywhere wrong for a human being to torture another human being purely for personal pleasure as well as the moral duty that every and all human beings, if they see another human being being tortured purely for the personal amusement of another human being, are always and everywhere obliged to at least do something to try to stop this from occurring—then this means that we must believe that in some circumstances, it would be impossible to morally condemn as absolutely wrong a human adult’s torture and rape of an innocent infant purely for that adult’s personal pleasure. But such a view is also an obviously absurd, and thus irrational, belief.
Richard: Wait, so are you trying to say that whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, his position is absurd and thus irrational.
Theo: That’s exactly right. If the atheist believes that at bottom, everything is ultimately just chunks of moving matter, and yet he also believes that absolute moral rules and duties exist, then he holds an incoherent and thus irrational position, for how can absolute and binding moral rules and duties—which are, if they exist, immaterial things—arise in a universe that is, at bottom, just matter and energy and combinations thereof. For again, immaterial things, especially of a moral nature, cannot arise from mere combinations of matter. So it’s literally an absurd mix of beliefs. But at the same time, if the atheist denies the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, then he must admit that such things as infant torture and rape, as well as not trying to stop infant torture and rape, are, at least in some potential cases, not objectively or absolutely wrong. And while the atheistic-naturalist may not like such behaviour in a personal subjective sense, he cannot call such behaviour morally wrong in an objective or absolute sense; nor can he claim that we have an actual absolute duty to at least try to stop such behaviour whenever it occurs. And yet this latter belief is also utterly absurd.
Theo: In fact, and perhaps ironically, via my moral intuition, I have greater certainty that it is absolutely wrong to torture an infant for pleasure than I have certainty that matter actually exists, and so if I believe that matter exists—which the atheistic-naturalist cannot coherently deny—then I have all the more reason to affirm the existence of absolute moral rules and duties as well. Or at least one such moral rule and duty, which is all that I need for this dilemma to have force. So the atheistic-naturalist is, for all intents and purposes, screwed!
Richard: But what if someone denies the existence of such a moral rule and duty like you just mentioned? What would you say to him?
Theo: Well, two points. First, such a person would be a moral monster, which is a problematic enough point on its own. But second, and more importantly, if someone denies the specific moral rule and duty which I hold with such certainty, then it is more likely that the person is cognitively-defective in terms of his moral intuition than it is likely that that particular moral rule and duty is false. Indeed, it is rational for me to treat someone who denies the moral fact that I mentioned like the equivalent of a deaf person; he is, essentially, cognitively-disabled in the moral realm, much like a deaf person is disabled when it comes to hearing sound. And just as the deaf person’s inability to hear sound does not negate the actual existence of sound, so to is it the case that the person’s inability to perceive the moral rule and duty does not negate the actual existence of that absolute moral rule and duty. And indeed, in my assessment, this is the rational stance for me to hold.
Richard: But what does this have to do with God?
Theo: Honestly, at this point, nothing. The argument has nothing to do with God right now, although it could be re-formulated into a stronger version that argues for God’s existence, but that is not the aim right now. Right now, this is just an argument to show the irrationality of atheistic-naturalism, not an argument for theism.
Richard: But what about Christianity or the Bible? After all, you are a Christian, so—
Theo: Again, those have nothing to do with the argument. They are red herrings and are irrelevant at this point, so I am sorry, but I not getting distracted by such unrelated objections.
Richard: Well, fine, so it’s not about God or the Bible. But then getting back to the dilemma, what about our development as evolutionary organisms? Doesn’t that give us a reason to believe, or at least feel, that there are absolute moral rules and duties?
Theo: Hmmm, see, first off, even if we evolved to feel like there are absolute moral rules and duties, this does not mean that these absolute moral rules and duties actually exist. Feelings do not make for objective existence.
Richard: Of course they don’t.
Theo: So that won’t work. But at the same time, there is another reason that appealing to our evolutionary development will not work. Namely, our existence as evolutionary organism may actually give us a reason to do the exact opposite of what we all take to be patently obvious absolute moral rules and duties.
Richard: What do you mean?
Theo: Well, consider the moral rule and duty that I have already argued all rational people know: namely, that it is absolutely wrong for a human being to torture an infant for fun and that we have an absolute duty to at least try to take some actions to stop this behaviour whenever we see it. Or, for a different example, take the idea that incest is wrong and that we have a duty not to do it; and this is a belief that all cultures have essentially had.
Theo: But now think of what would happen if we just looked at the issue from the perspective of an evolutionary organism striving to maximally propagate its DNA.
Theo: Yeah, so think of it as if those moral rules and duties I just mentioned just sort of developed in us as good rules of thumb from an evolutionary perspective because, on the whole, those rules helped human evolutionary organisms to maximize the spread of their genes. But now, consider the fact that while these rules of thumb might be sound in most cases and for most evolutionary organisms, in some cases they may be the absolute opposite of what an evolutionary organism should do.
Richard: What?! What do you mean?
Theo: Well, think about it. As disgusting as it sounds, say that you just happen to be one evolutionary organism who—and I shudder to say this but we have to think about it—only gets sexually aroused by torturing children or by engaging in incest. There are, after all, very deviant people out there. So in such cases, and looking at the issue only from the perspective of being an evolutionary organism, then that evolutionary organism would be perfectly rational in torturing a child or in committing incest in order to enhance its sexual arousal so it could then spread its genes. And this is not even considering how it might also be evolutionarily advantageous to commit other abhorrent and absolutely immoral acts, such as murder or rape. So the evolutionary perspective not only does not give us absolute moral rules and duties, but it actually provides us with a reason to break the moral rules and duties that we all essentially consider absolute to begin with. So appealing to evolutionary biology just isn’t going to do the work that the atheistic-naturalist needs it to do in order to avoid the horns of the Atheist’s Euthyphro dilemma. And remember that I could give many other such examples if I had more time.
Richard: Yeah, well, okay maybe. But what about something like Platonic forms? Couldn’t they provide a basis for absolute moral rules and duties?
Theo: I guess they might, but an atheistic-naturalism that appeals to immaterial Platonic forms seems to be a very strange sort of atheistic-naturalism, doesn’t it? In fact, it almost seems to make atheistic-naturalism so broad that it can accommodate almost anything!
Richard: Well, I can see your point, but couldn’t this be at least one way that the atheistic-naturalist could avoid your so-called dilemma, even if it is a very unorthodox method for the unbeliever to take?
Theo: Let me think for a second…
A short pause.
Theo: I just don’t see it, Richard. After all, even if the Platonic forms could somehow serve as the ground for absolute moral rules, why would I ever have an absolute moral duty to these impersonal forms? I mean, think about it. I have duties to fulfill towards other people, but do I have any duty towards an abstract form of something like “justice”, or the abstraction of “compassion”? Such an idea seems almost unintelligible. So I just don’t see how Platonism is going to help you here, even if you could combine Platonism with atheistic-naturalism in a way that was actually coherent, which I think would be difficult in and of itself.
Richard: Okay, but…
Theo: Anyway Richard, all I’m saying is that it seems to me that the atheistic-naturalist really is in a kind of bind. On the one hand, if the atheistic-naturalist decides to hold to the existence of moral rules and duties that are binding at all times and in all places and in all circumstances—and note what that really means: it means that if we were somehow teleported to the second after the Big Bang, it would still be just as wrong for me to torture a child then as it is for me to do so now—and if the atheistic-naturalist also believes that all of reality is fundamentally just particles moving around, then the combination of these two beliefs forms an overall worldview picture is just incoherent and absurd, for there just does not seem to be any way that matter-in-motion can give rise to anything like immaterial and absolute moral rules and duties. But, on the other hand, if the atheistic-naturalist denies the existence of absolute moral rules and duties then he must, at least in principle, concede that certain actions, such as torturing an infant for pleasure, are ultimately not wrong in the objective or absolute sense, which is itself obviously absurd. So either way the atheistic-naturalist turns, he runs face first into absurdity and irrationality. And so this is the atheistic-naturalist version of the Euthyphro dilemma. And quite frankly, I just don’t see how the atheistic-naturalist can get out of it.
Richard: Well…who caused God then?
Theo: Jeez, Richard, really!
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Anno Domini 2016 12 12
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
The Reconquista Initiative
There is Nothing Intrinsically Wrong with Slavery
One of the arguments that Christians routinely hear unbelievers make against both the Bible and against Jesus Himself is something along the following:
“Jesus and the Apostles never condemned slavery and the Old Testament actually encouraged both indentured servitude and slavery; and so, in light of these points, both Christian morality generally and Biblical morality specifically, as well as the personal example of Jesus Himself, are all suspect and unworthy of being fully followed.”
And indeed, I have heard an objection like this one being used as a moral indictment against both the character of Jesus and the moral code found in the New Testament, as well as serving as an objection against the Bible as a whole. As such, this is not some fringe objection to Christian truth but one which many people consider to be a serious issue for Christianity.
Now, in answer to this objection, many Christians try to explain that the commands of God in the Old Testament were unique to the Jews and were very specific to their particular circumstances, and so while slavery may have been allowed at that point in time, it no longer is. Or, alternatively, Christians try to claim that slavery was simply part of the ancient world and could not be easily or quickly changed, which is why Jesus nor the Apostles condemned it outright at that time, for to do so would lead to the end of the Christian message before it could even start. Or some Christians claim that opposition to slavery, and its condemnation as evil, is made implicitly through the other teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, and so these Christians argue that the New Testament actually does condemn slavery, but only via inference from other teachings. And finally, some Christians simply shift the discussion by pointing out that Christians, and primarily Christians, led the push to outlaw slavery, and so the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament ultimately did lead to the end of slavery, which thus points to Christianity’s ultimate opposition to the institution of slavery.
Now, while all the above responses have merit, and while they are all true to some degree, I wish to answer this objection in a totally different, and perhaps shocking, way. In essence, I will argue that the reason that Jesus never condemned slavery is because there is nothing intrinsically wrong with slavery; indeed, I contend that, in-principle, slavery is not necessarily immoral, and so there was no reason for Jesus to condemn it as such. And to explain why this is the case, a short thought-experiment can be made. But before that occurs, it needs to be clear that by slavery, or more specifically by the word ‘slave’, I mean “a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them”, which is how the online Oxford dictionary—accessed on the 5th of December 2016—defines the term. And the Cambridge dictionary online, accessed on the same day, defines a ‘slave’ as “a person who is legally owned by someone else and has to work for that person.” So this is what is meant by the idea of slavery. Additionally, note as well that some versions of slavery or bondage could be set for a certain period of time, such as with indentured servants, or they could be indefinite, such as with slaves or bond-servants. Thus, the length of time that a person serves in servitude can vary, but whatever amount of time this is would not negate one’s status as a slave during that time.
Note as well that, in this essay, it needs to be absolutely and categorically clear that I am not claiming that, say, the kidnapping or abduction of a person to make him into a slave is moral; indeed, such an action would be immoral. But the fact remains that there is no necessary connection between slavery and the kidnapping of people to make them into slaves, for while the latter action is indeed immoral, for no one should be taken against their will, that does not mean that slavery itself is moral. After all, it is true that a person could volunteer himself to become a slave, much like is the case with indentured servants, and so there is nothing which in-principle connects the idea of slavery with an immoral way of acquiring a slave. So it must be clear that this short essay is not arguing that all the means of acquiring a slave are moral, for they are not, but the essay is arguing that there are moral means of acquiring a slave—such as the slave consensually volunteering to be a slave, thus being an indentured servant—and also that the idea of slavery itself is not intrinsically immoral. And lest one think that no one would ever volunteer to be a slave, note, for example, that the Bible itself provides for just such a possibility in Exodus 21:5-6, and there are stories of freed slaves in the past who wished to stay with their masters even though they did not have to.
So, with all that stated, let us conduct the aforementioned thought-experiment to see why slavery is not, in-principle, immoral.
Imagine a society where everyone was free to quit the work that they had and move around at will, but, for nearly everyone, all the work offered in every place in that society was such that 1) people had to work like dogs just to make enough to survive to the age of reproduction and they would die a few years after, and 2) they were given no holidays, and 3) they were fired from their job if they had a conscientious objection to some form of their work or they complained about their conditions, and 4) they were fired from their work if they did not accept the advances of their superiors, and 5) they were fired for having the wrong religion or the wrong views, and so on. But now imagine another society where nearly everyone who lives in this second society is a slave bound to a master whom the slave ultimately has to obey, and yet, in this society, the masters 1) ensure that the slaves’ work hours are entirely reasonable, and 2) that the slaves are very well paid (based on merit) and have full health and retirement benefits, and 3) that the slaves can change to different jobs if they wish to do so and are qualified to do so, and 4) that the slaves have self-chosen holidays and family days and sick days, and 5) that the views and opinions of the slaves are listened to and respected, and 6) that the slaves can move elsewhere if necessary, and finally 7) that the slaves can freely worship, speak, complain, and so on. Now, in viewing these two aforementioned societies, both of which are possible, it is clear—at least to me—that the immoral one, and the one that truly denigrates people made in the image of God, is the former ‘free’ society, whereas the latter ‘slave’ society is quite moral and genuinely respects men as being human persons made by God. In fact, in a strange inversion, the in-principle “free” society is the in-practice slave society, whereas the in-principle “slave” society is the in-practice free society. And note that while such a free “slave” society would likely not exist in-practice—for humans, being humans, would very likely mistreat any people that they owned as slaves—the point is that, in-principle, a slave society could be much more just, moral, and free than a free society could be. And indeed, note that, under slavery, there is nothing, in-principle, that could stop a master, whom the slave must obey, from telling the slave that the slave is free to do whatever the slave wishes to do; in fact, if he so wished, the master could decide to not even give the slave any command at all for the slave’s entire tenure as a slave! Thus, in-principle, a master could command a slave to act freely and to be free in a practical sense, even though, by law, the slave would be bound to obey the master in all things. In fact, in-principle, a slave master could, in-practice, free a slave while still indefinitely supporting the slave and paying for his livelihood, much like a financial patron would; and such a life, for the slave, would not only be moral, but could be considered even more moral and beneficial than a life of ‘free’ toil. So the whole point here is to realize that, in-principle, there is nothing about slavery which means that a slave must necessarily be mistreated, nor that the slave must necessarily be less-free, in-practice, than a man who is ostensibly considered free; thus, in-practice, a slave could be better treated and more free than a man who is theoretically free but is actually little more than a wage-slave.
Thus, what this little thought experiment helps to show is that a good case can be made that slavery, on a theoretical level, is not, in and of itself, immoral. Furthermore, this thought experiment helps to bring out the point that what is potentially immoral about slavery is how the slaves are treated and dealt not, not the fact that they technically fit the definition of being a slave. However, it is also obviously understood that, in practice, sinful men, being fallen creatures, would readily abuse their authority and nearly always abuse their slaves, and so the institution of slavery should be abolished and remain abolished for pragmatic reasons; but again, this does not therefore mean that, theoretically-speaking, slavery as such is an immoral institution, but only that men cannot be trusted to faithfully institute such a practice here on Earth.
And so, the long and short of it is this: a solid argument can be made to show that slavery, as a mere concept, is not necessarily immoral, but rather that it is how slaves are treated in practice that is the immoral aspect of slavery. But, if this is the case, then we would expect that Jesus and the New Testament would not object to slavery outright nor condemn it directly, but rather they would focus on how the slave is treated; and lo and behold, note that in Ephesians 6:5-9 and in Philemon—both of which speak to the fact that a slave should be respected and treated like a brother—that is precisely what the New Testament does indeed focus on. Thus, when it comes to slavery, the New Testament actually does address the primary moral point which should be addressed concerning slavery: namely, the treatment of slaves. And so the ‘slavery’ objection against the New Testament is, in light of this fact, much weaker than is normally assumed.
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Anno Domini 2016 12 05
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
The Reconquista Initiative
Atheists Cannot Be Good Without Belief in God
In today’s day and age, it is often contended, and very often contended by Christians themselves, that while atheists might not, on their worldview, have an actual foundation that undergirds the objective moral rules and duties that they follow, they nevertheless can still be ‘good’ people without a belief in God. Indeed, it is argued that atheists are individuals who, though denying the existence of God and thus not having a sound basis for their belief in the existence of moral rules and duties, still feel the pull of morality on their hearts—for they live in a theistic universe, or so the theist contends—and so when atheists act in accordance with the moral law and do what is morally right, they can thus be counted as ‘good’ despite their lack of belief in God. And so, the thinking goes, unbelievers can be just as good as believers can be, despite their rejection of God and despite their lack of belief in Him.
Now, while this contention is often used as a means to build bridges with atheists by trying to placate the outrage that some atheists would feel if told that they are indeed not good due to their lack of belief in God, the fact is that a strong case can be made to show that atheists are not objectively good people, or at least not as good as theists are, precisely because atheists lack a belief in God and reject Him. Indeed, it is the atheist’s own willful atheism which ensures that he cannot be considered a ‘good’ person, or at least not nearly as good of a person as a believer can be. And the funny thing is that there is no way that the atheist can escape this conclusion, for it stays with him regardless of whether theism or atheism is correct.
Now the reason why the atheist cannot be considered good without a belief in God is two-fold. First—and for the sake of argument—consider what occurs if atheism is true. If atheism is correct, and if God really does not exist, then atheists cannot be considered good in an objective sense given that, on atheism, there are no objective moral rules and duties that would allow us to call atheists ‘good’ in some real or significant way. Indeed, as atheist Alex Rosenberg says in the first chapter of his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions, the reality of atheism means that there is no difference between right and wrong, and that, concerning the answers to moral questions, anything goes. That, Rosenberg contends, is the inevitable reality of atheism. But if that is the case then while atheists, on atheism, might be considered ‘good’ in a trivial and essentially tautological sense—because on such a view, anything that atheists do can be considered ‘good’ by them—the fact is that on such a view, neither atheists nor anyone else can be considered good in an objective sense, for there is no objective good that people can be compared to. Indeed, only if there was some type of external standard of goodness against which the actions and behaviors of atheists could be compared, could we determine if atheists were good or not in some non-trivial sense; but since there is no such standard on atheism, then there is no objective way to label atheists as good given atheism. So if atheism is true, atheists are not ‘good’ in the way that we normally use that term.
But now, consider what occurs if atheists are wrong. Consider that if God—the creator and continuous sustainer of all that is—exists, and yet willful atheists do not believe in Him and do not acknowledge Him nor give Him the worship that He is due from His creatures, then, in a very real sense, atheists are morally failures in a very significant way. Indeed, in such a case, atheists are not being good, or at least they are not being good about a very fundamental issue, for they are failing to fulfill the most critical moral duty and commandment that they should be fulfilling: namely, to love God with all their heart, and soul, and mind. Indeed, by failing to believe in God—so long as the lack of belief is willful and not due to some uncontrolled cognitive disability or ignorance—an atheist is morally deficient in such a vital and significant way that we would be very hard-pressed to call him ‘good’; and even if we could label the atheist ‘good’ in spite of his lack of belief, then, at best, he would most certainly be less good than a believer in God would be—all other things being equal, of course. Thus, if God exists, then the atheist’s wilful lack of belief in God is not a morally neutral issue, but rather it is a factor which gives us the grounds to question the atheist’s categorization as a ‘good’ human being, and it is also a factor that allows us to rationally see a believer as more moral than an atheist—again, all other things being equal.
And so, the long and short of it is this: whatever way that atheists turn, they cannot be meaningfully considered good without a belief in God, for if atheism is true, then their actions are neither good nor evil, and so it is essentially trivial to call them ‘good’; but if God exists, and atheists fail to give God the acknowledgement and worship that He is due as their creator and constant sustainer, then this is a moral failing of such significance that it is, once again, hard to label anyone who fails in such as way as ‘good’. Thus, whatever way the atheist turns, he cannot meaningful be defined as good, or at least not as good as a God-believer is. Consequently, Christians should stop conceding the point that atheists really can be good without belief in God, for, as seen, a strong case can be made that atheists simply cannot be considered good without such a belief. But lest some Christians suddenly think themselves ultimately better than atheists given this conclusion, they themselves should heed the words spoken by Jesus Himself in Luke 18:19 and Mark 10:18: “No one is good—except God alone.”
Anno Domini 2016 11 26
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
The Reconquista Initiative
Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma & the Irrationality of Unbelief
Atheists, when arguing against theists, like to bring up the Euthyphro Dilemma. This dilemma, which focuses on the connection between God and morality, seeks to undermine both a divine command theory of ethics as well as robust forms of theism by offering the divine command theorist and/or the robust theist with two undesirable choices. On the one hand, the dilemma asks whether God loves that which is moral because it is already moral, thereby undermining the sovereignty and supremacy of God by showing that something exists independently of God to which even God answers; and, on the other hand, the dilemma asks whether that which is moral is simply what God commands, meaning that if God, for example, commanded rape, then rape would be moral, which seems absurd. And so, as stated, the force of the dilemma comes from the fact that it seeks to force the theist into choosing one of these two undesirable options, which is something that the theist obviously does not wish to do. Now the Euthyphro Dilemma is easily answered, both on its own terms—meaning that a person could simply embrace one of the horns of the dilemma and still easily remain a theist of some type—and also because the theist can avoid the dilemma by simply noting that God’s commands necessarily flow from His nature, which is essentially loving, and so nothing that would be considered as morally egregious in an ultimate sense would ever be commanded by God. So, while the theistic Euthyphro Dilemma is easily answered without having to fall into its trap, in this essay I wish to argue that while theists have to deal with the Euthyphro Dilemma, atheists and atheistic-naturalists actually have to deal with a much more difficult moral dilemma which is similar to the Euthyphro Dilemma, and which is potentially fatal to the rationality of atheism.
So what then is this so-called ‘Atheistic Euthyphro Dilemma’ which is so dangerous to the rationality of atheistic belief? Well, it is, quite simply, this: on the one hand, an atheist, to be a rational and consistent atheist, should deny, or at best be agnostic about, the existence of absolute moral rules and duties; but, on the other hand, it is absurd to deny, or even be agnostic about the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, and thus no rational or sane person would deny or be agnostic about them. And so, if the atheist embraces the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, but remains an atheist, then he is not being a rational or consistent atheist; yet if the atheist denies the existence of absolute moral rules and duties in order to be a rational atheist, then he is not being a rational human being. So, whatever option the atheist chooses, he has a serious problem.
Now, although a comprehensive and detailed defense of the two horns of this dilemma are beyond the scope of this essay, let me simply make a few points in support of each one. Concerning the first option—which states that, at best, an atheist, to be rational and consistent, should be agnostic about the existence of absolute moral rules and duties—note that this option stems from the fact that it is extremely difficult to see how absolute moral rules, and especially absolute moral duties, can exist on something like the worldview that atheism entails. Indeed, in a world of mere matter in motion, the idea of immaterial and omnipresent absolute moral rules and duties existing is not easy to picture. And a number of prominent atheists agree with this point. For example, in the first chapter of his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions, atheistic-naturalist Alex Rosenberg immediately tells us that the reality of atheism means that there is no difference between right and wrong, and that, concerning the answers to moral questions, anything goes. That, Rosenberg contends, is the inevitable reality of atheism. And mirroring Rosenberg, atheist Joel Marks, writing in the 80th issue of the ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine, and authoring an article titled “An Amoral Manifesto: Part 1”, tells us the following:
For the last couple of years I have been reflecting on and experimenting with a new ethics, and as a result I have thrown over my previous commitment to Kantianism. In fact, I have given up morality altogether! This has certainly come as a shock to me…. I think the time has come, therefore, to reveal it to the world, and in particular to you, Dear Reader, who have patiently considered my defenses of a particular sort of moral theory for the last ten years. In a word, this philosopher has long been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely, that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t.
…The long and the short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality. I call the premise of this argument ‘hard atheism’ because it is analogous to a thesis in philosophy known as ‘hard determinism.’ The latter holds that if metaphysical determinism is true, then there is no such thing as free will. Thus, a ‘soft determinist’ believes that, even if your reading of this column right now has followed by causal necessity from the Big Bang fourteen billion years ago, you can still meaningfully be said to have freely chosen to read it. Analogously, a ‘soft atheist’ would hold that one could be an atheist and still believe in morality. And indeed, the whole crop of ‘New Atheists’ (see Issue 78) are softies of this kind. So was I, until I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.
Why do I now accept hard atheism? I was struck by salient parallels between religion and morality, especially that both avail themselves of imperatives or commands, which are intended to apply universally. In the case of religion, and most obviously theism, these commands emanate from a Commander; “and this all people call God,” as Aquinas might have put it. The problem with theism is of course the shaky grounds for believing in God. But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality. (https://philosophynow.org/issues/80/An_Amoral_Manifesto_Part_I)
So both Rosenberg and Marks believe that atheism entails amorality; and these are just two of the examples that could be brought forth arguing for this idea.
Thus, in light of the points above, and given the great disagreement that exists within atheistic ranks concerning the possibility of absolute moral rules and duties existing on atheism, then, as stated, a very strong case can be made that, to be consistent and rational within his atheistic worldview, an atheist should be, at best, agnostic about the existence of absolute moral rules and duties. In fact, it might even be noted that a popular claim often made by atheists, namely that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, might play a factor here as well, for, given what atheism entails, the idea that absolute moral rules and duties exist on atheism is an extraordinary claim; after all, absolute moral rules and duties are immaterial and omnipresent things, not physical ones, and so their existence on atheism and a materialistic worldview would indeed be something out of the ordinary. And yet, there is no physical, visible, empirical, or scientifically-testable evidence for their existence, which is precisely the type of “extraordinary” evidence that atheists routinely demand before they will accept the truth of an extraordinary claim. And so again, in light of this fact, at best, the atheist should be agnostic about the existence of absolute moral rules and duties given both the lack of so-called extraordinary evidence needed to substantiate a rational belief in their existence as well as given the various arguments that aim to show that absolute moral rules and duties cannot exist on atheism.
But now, note that if the atheist wishes to deny the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, then he is readily encouraged to do so, for his embrace of such a position makes atheism look entirely unreasonable and unpalatable. And indeed, the denial of the existence of absolute moral rules and duties is ridiculous, which is why the second horn of the atheist’s dilemma states that it is manifestly absurd to be even agnostic about the existence of moral rules and duties. After all, I know, with a certainty as great as that with which I know that other minds exist or that the world was not created five minutes ago with the appearance of age, that it is, for example, absolutely wrong for a human person to torture an infant for fun as well as that I have a moral duty to do whatever I can to prevent such an event from occurring. Indeed, I know, just as well as I know numerous other critical beliefs, that the aforementioned moral rule and duty—to pick just one example from many—is true and that I am both rational to believe that this is the case and that I would be irrational to deny it.
So, can the atheist overcome this dilemma? Perhaps, but doing so would be difficult. First, the atheist—as many atheists in the past have done—could simply embrace the absurdity of denying that any absolute moral rules and duties exist. But the problem here is that the knowledge that it is, for example, absolutely wrong for a human person to torture an infant for pleasure is more certain and secure than, for example, the knowledge that atheism is true; indeed, as stated earlier, it is a belief which is as certain and as rational to hold as the belief that other minds exist. Furthermore, if an atheist truly did deny the existence of moral rules and duties, this fact would actually serve as evidence not so much that absolute moral rules and duties did not exist, but rather that the person denying them was, in some way, cognitively and morally deficient, just as the existence of a deaf person does not disprove the existence of sound, but rather shows that there is a physical and/or cognitive problem with the deaf person, not everyone else. In fact, a person who would deny the absolute immorality of torturing an infant for fun would be morally monstrous, thereby providing us with a sound reason to disregard both his reasoning and his general understanding given that someone in error about such a basic matter would arguably have questionable judgement in other matters as well, such as his atheism.
Now, concerning the other horn of the dilemma, the atheist might claim that atheism is perfectly consistent with the existence of moral rules and duties and that it is rational to believe that such things exist given atheism; but again, given what atheism, or atheistic-naturalism, entails, then the existence of immaterial rules and duties that exist everywhere, always, and apply to every contingent being, and which deal with moral facts, and which have an obligatory force on human action, seems very far-fetched on any form of atheism or atheist-naturalism—the latter of which is arguably the most coherent form of atheism that there is. Furthermore, all our experience shows us that rules of a social or ethical nature require a rule-maker of some sort, and our experience also shows us that we have duties to and from people, not to inanimate things. So again, believing in the existence of absolute moral rules and duties on atheism is of questionable rationality given atheism’s lack of a moral rule-giver and its lack of an absolute individual to have a duty too. And this is why many atheists, like Joel Marks, reject the existence of such absolute moral rules and duties. So the reasons for denying the existence of absolute moral rules and duties on atheism are potent, and this is why the dilemma states that, at best, the atheist, to be rational and consistent, should be nothing more than agnostic about the existence of such things.
Finally, note as well that the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma could be formulated in a way that not only attacks atheism, but which actually supports theism directly. For example, while the second horn of the dilemma could remain as being the point that the denial of absolute moral rules and duties is absurd, the first horn could be changed to point out the fact that God is the best, or even only, rational explanation for the existence of absolute moral rules and duties. Thus, in this formulation, the atheist is either absurd for denying the existence of absolute moral rules and duties or, if he affirms the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, then he is irrational for denying the necessary component—namely God—that is an unavoidable part of the best explanation of the existence of absolute moral rules and duties. Either way, the atheist is in trouble.
And so, the long and short of it is this: the Euthyphro Dilemma is a challenge for theists, but it is one that is easily answered; by contrast, a similar moral dilemma can be made against atheism which is even more dangerous for the rationality of atheism than the Euthyphro Dilemma is dangerous to theism, for the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma shows that atheism’s attitude towards the existence of absolute moral values and duties is of such a nature that it makes any position that atheism can hold about the matter irrational. And so, the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma is a challenge that atheists must address, and it is a challenge that is not easily dealt with.
Anno Domini 2016 11 20
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam
The Reconquista Initiative
Sexual Morality & the Prescience of the Patriarchy
During the last century, one of the most controversial moral documents ever written was “Humanae Vitae”, a 1968 Catholic encyclical which banned the use of contraception among faithful Catholics and reinforced the practice of orthodox Catholic sexual ethics in an increasingly secular world. Of course, at the time it was written—meaning the sexually libertine sixties—the document was widely mocked and disdained, causing a great furor against it from both within and without the Catholic Church. And while opposition to the document was not unexpected, what was unexpected, and what is particularly interesting, is just how prescient the document was in its assessment of what would follow from the widespread acceptance of contraception in Western society. Indeed, consider this quote directly from the document itself:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue [namely, banning contraception] if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
Now, reading that quote, it truly is fascinating just how correct and how prescient the old Catholic patriarchs who wrote Humanae Vitae were. Indeed, in just a little more than one generation, this document, and the conclusions contained therein, has been thoroughly vindicated.
First, note how marital infidelity has publicly exploded since the advent of contraception and contraceptive abortion, evidenced by no less than the creation of popular websites literally devoted to spreading and supporting marital infidelity, sexual swinging, and spouse swapping. Frivolous divorce has greatly increased as well. And many an average woman now publicly dons the uniform of a whore and often openly acts like a stripper. Furthermore, even general moral standards concerning sexuality—at least when compared to the traditionally Christian standard of sex being bound to the confines of a faithful marriage—have sunk to a very low state of debauchery and depravity. Now you might like the fact that these standards have been lowered in this manner, but that is not the point; the point is that Humanae Vitae—a document written by a religious institution which many progressives regard as the epitome of the patriarchy—was entirely correct that the standards would lower from the Catholic norm when contraception, and last-ditch contraceptive abortion, became widespread.
Second, notice how correct the Catholic Church was when it charged that a man who becomes accustomed to the use of contraception will begin seeing women as little more than pieces of sexual meat for his use. For example, today, with “liberated” women, we have rappers and musicians acting as if the women in their videos are little more than sex toys. Furthermore, the porn industry—where “empowered” women are made to physically pleasure multiple men for the visual pleasure of multiple men—has exploded in ways readily predicted by the writers of Humanae Vitae. And women such as these are so “free” that they allow men to treat them like filth, even though they do not necessarily need to allow this to occur; but, of course, some men are quite happy to treat women in this way given that these women now readily allow men to do so. And yet these issues are not restricted to pornography, for many men now see women as little more than objects for male sexual gratification.
And note that even if someone objects that such treatment of women occurred in the past in the West, the fact is that such behavior was, at that time, understood to be morally repugnant and wrong, even if it was still practiced; indeed, the less savory sexual practices and immoralities were, in the past, done in the shadows and with shame, not proudly done in the open, as it is today. Furthermore, at least in the past, the vileness of some men was checked by the drive to be chivalrous, the unavoidable life-creating consequences of sex, and by the chastity of many women, thereby forcing men to treat women as reality dictated: namely, as the physically weaker sex, but as the sex that bears life and needs to be revered for this sacred act. But today, where many in Western society scorn the culture of life, women are still tacitly treated as the physically weaker sex—for they are—and yet they receive little of the chivalry or reverence that was previously given to them. And this is the consequence of contraception, for it has removed the consequence of sex from the man and has erased the fear in women that she might become pregnant if she has sex outside of marriage; and so now men use women as masturbatory toys and women, who think they are liberated, actually become emotionally and psychologically broken from being used in this way.
Finally, notice as well how the writers of the encyclical were also right about governments being more than willing to push, as well as force, contraceptive methods on the populace once they became accepted in society at large. A person need only think of China’s one-child policy to see the use of this force in effect. And the use of such tactics were employed by other governments as well, whether coercively or through the use of propaganda.
So the claim that Humanae Vitae was a prescient document is hard to dispute. And yet, even given all this prescience, the question might still be asked: So what? So what that some old men were right about what would happen when contraception became widespread in the culture? Well, the ‘so what’ that is important is this: if the patriarchal Catholic Church was right about the consequences that would arise from the social acceptance of contraception, especially given the ridicule that it endured for its position, then this fact gives us some grounds to trust the Church when it tells us about the potential consequences that will arise from other major social and cultural changes, such as the acceptance of so-called homosexual marriage or the decoupling of gender from biological sex. Now, while for some individuals, the degradation of our moral culture in the way that the Church warned about is exactly what they wanted to have happen, and so such people are happy that the Church was right in its prediction. But for those of us who did not wish these changes to occur, and yet who did not listen to the patriarchs in the Catholic Church, maybe, in the future, we should take the pronouncements of wise old Catholic men a little bit more seriously when they warn us of the calamities that will follow once we make a major change to the way that our culture operates.
And so, the long and short of it is this: the Catholic Church, in its encyclical Humanae Vitae, was right in its description of what would follow in the West once the contraceptive mindset permeated our culture, and the fact that such a patriarchal institution was correct should make us think twice before we dismiss the Church’s preaching on other cultural matters. And it should also make us think twice before accepting the prognostications of the academics and intellectuals who oppose the Church concerning the moral slide that our culture will endure once it drops the last vestiges of Christian morality.
Anno Domini 2016 11 16
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam