Saturday, November 22, 2008

More on human rights

I'm sick today and so don't have the energy to get deep into the issue of abortion. Some other things have come up, so I may have to leave that issue where it stands. I'm happy to leave it where it is anyway, given Jason Streitfeld's response on the topic. I don't think he has exhibited a particularly strong understanding of my rebuttals anyway.

Today I'd like to delve further into this issue of human rights, if atheism is true. Hopefully my explanation will help Jason understand my position a little better. In his response to my last post, he consistently confused internal and external critiques, so hopefully he'll be more careful about that in the future.

He begins by complaining that I have misunderstood atheism's stance on these issues. In this he makes a surprisingly common error, along the lines of "are you saying that atheists have no morality?" No, of course not. Atheists, or most atheists anyway, hold to some system of morality, and usually it conforms in general to the Judeo-Christian framework, which serves to illustrate their suppressed knowledge and latent hatred of God. But in my last post I wasn't arguing that he explicitly believes what I was saying. Rather, I am arguing that atheism leads logically to conclusions that are different than what he explicitly holds. There is no reason beyond wholly arbitrary, human-based reasons to hold to ANY morality, really. But, by contrast, he DOES hold to a system of morality that looks suspiciously like a Judeo-Christian one. Why?
It's b/c he is made in the image of God. He doesn't have a good reason to hold to the morality he does, and that could be said about ANY morality he might choose to follow. Since nothing is ultimately good nor bad on atheism, the most rational answer to any moral claim is: So what?

I will guess what he will say, given what he implies in his post (and I invite him to correct me): This morality is that which is generally good for society and civilisation. This is fraught with problems, however, which I'll draw out more later. But for now, let's consider that there is a big IF involved here. **IF** your goal is the "advancement" and "well-being" of society, then this morality is the way to get there. However,
1) there are plenty of people that don't want that. What makes their opinion invalid?
2) just who defines what advancement and well-being are? Let me guess - Jason and his fellow apparatchik do. Might makes right, apparently.
3) this changes all the time, depending on the society and the surrounding circumstances.

It doesn't matter whether Jason agrees or not. He needs to tell us WHY this claim is wrong. Let's see what he offers in this post.

Justice, beauty, truth, rights . . . these are human values. We all have them because we have working human brains and because we are actively involved in the world around us.

Which does not respond at all to my argument in the first post.

You don't need Christianity to appreciate beauty, truth, justice, or nobility. You don't need to be Christian to have honor.

Which is, of course, not my argument. Rather, you need Christianity to ACCOUNT FOR, to EXPLAIN the existence of truth, beauty, justice, and honor. What reason would we have to think or judge those things on atheism? Don't just make naked assertions, like he's doing: "But *I* recognise them!!" And I'm happy for you. But I'm asking you to show me how those things would reasonably exist in an atheistic universe.

I will explain what an objective moral authority is.

OK, I'm ready.

The term “objective” refers to that which can be observed and measured by anybody (in theory, of course), and not what is only available for a single person...
An objective moral authority is one that provides authoritative answers to moral questions in a way that can be observed and measured by any properly situated person.

I find these statements very strange for two reasons:
1) Where, then, is it, that it can be observed and measured? What does it mean to "measure" a morality? Its length? Its mass? The number of neurons in which places in which brains it might provoke to fire? The amount, frequency, amplitude, and kind of energy waves it emits? The elements of which it is composed - perhaps barium, lead, mercury, calcium, carbon, silicon?
2) The Bible seems to fulfill this quite well - it CAN be measured and observed by anyone. Indeed, it has been. It's the most popular book in history. But of course Jason doesn't accept this answer. That's why the statements are a little weird.

people react differently to objective events

Uh oh - that's trouble for him. Hopefully he won't mind if I quote him later...

Authority is granted by convention, of course.

1) Now, let's not forget that he just told us that people react differently to objective events. He seems not to realise that this has serious problematic implications for this statement.
2) Notice that he's committing the same old error - confusing IS and OUGHT.
Let's just grant that this is indeed the way it goes. A person or a group of people get together and imbue authority to shape morality to another person or group of people. The question is not whether this is how it usually goes in the world, however. The question is - is this right?
3) As I've observed numerous times before, this is a statement pulled out of the air. 2 questions:
a. How does Jason know that authority ought to be granted by convention?
b. How does Jason know when authority has been granted? He goes on to say:
a moral authority is a person or body of persons whose decisions on moral questions are respected within a community.

I'd like to ask Jason to identify the community in which he lives. How that authority is granted. When it was granted. Where. By whom. Surely not by every single person living in the community, right? Who is excluded? On what basis? Who was out of town when the vote was taken? Why didn't I ever get a ballot? Did they survey all the criminals too? Either way, what % of the votes was necessary to grant that authority? Such questions must be known before we can accept Jason's standard.

Another question on IS/OUGHT, for Jason's edification - how does one go about proving a moral question right or wrong? What experiment(s) must be run? The decision - since it is material, what does it look like? Where does it grow? Of what elements is it composed?

All that to say, no, given the numerous and elementary problems with Jason's statement of morality, it is not to be taken seriously. Thus, Jason may not like the alternative of following the morality of TGOTB, but we do know that what he has presented here is no alternative at all.

If you want objective moral authority, it has to be at least theoretically available to everyone in the community.

1) I'd love to see you answer this for your own worldview.
2) There is no argument made for this assertion; I assume Jason won't mind if I deny the assertion just as gratuitously as he made his own.
3) On Christianity, the Bible is indeed available to everyone in the community. It can be read silently and also read aloud in the case of the very young, the blind, the illiterate, etc.
4) As far as being defined "out of comprehension", maybe Jason has only visited liberal or Emergent churches or known liberals and Emergents, but there are an awful lot of Christians that DO know the morality of the Bible, and know it well. So one can only guess what Jason means.

My position is based on the needs of civilization and the demands of reason.

1) Once again, we are not informed how Jason knows what the "needs of civilisation" are. Or what they are. Or what % of people = "civilisation". Or what studies he can cite to back all this up.
2) He denies it's arbitrary, but how can it be anything but? There is no overriding authority for him - God doesn't exist, remember? There is nothing to tell him what is good and what is bad. Millions of people, billions even, have differing conceptions of what good and bad are, what needs are necessary and what needs are peripheral, and to what extent those needs extend to affect Jason's own circle, so he can't just claim that it's all based on one's own limited circle/community. The global village is indeed a global village. This argument might've worked better back in the Dark Ages. How about that - an atheist caught in the Dark Ages!

I do not postulate any secret knowledge, any wholly subjective information, or any other-worldly, ultimately unknowable realm,

On Christianity, the knowledge is not secret, but available to everyone and anyone; it is not subjective since it is based on an objective text that does not change, from God, Who can communicate to people just fine; it is not ultimately unknowable at all, since God has made these things known to humanity. So maybe there's hope for him - all this rejection is based on a total misconception of the Christian position.

You claim to have a moral authority when you clearly do not.

This is an external critique. Jason believes that God does not exist, so given that, it would be true that I don't have a moral authority, since the God to Whom I appeal does not exist. But as we've seen, NOBODY has a moral authority at all.
On Christianity, as an internal critique, of course I do have a moral authority. I invite Jason to explain, using biblical exegesis, how it would be that I don't have a moral authority.

If you want to use quotes from the Bible, fine. But the Bible itself is not an argument. It's just a collection of really old stories.

Again the external critique. On atheism, yes, he's right, but he doesn't tell the whole story, b/c there is no objective moral basis at all on atheism.
On Christianity, the Bible is God's very revelation to humankind. God has the right to command His creation to do whatever He wishes, and so what the Bible says is indeed an argument.

Now you want to avoid the issue of rights by talking instead about God's commandments.

I feared this might happen when I modified the thrust of my argument. I admit that it is a bit of a shift, but to my advantage and in my defense, I shifted to a more biblical position.
So, to review, on atheism there are no rights at all. On Christianity, there are no rights per se but rather a set of commandments on how people are commanded to treat each other given a set of circumstances. And "human rights" are generally shorthand for "how humans are supposed to treat each other" - God's commandments function just fine for that purpose.

Who decides what is a capital crime?

On atheism, people do. And that can change any time, and there is no rational reason either way.
On Christianity, God does.

Jason now moves on to specific questions about abortion. I'll deal with that which is really illustrative of the points here.

why give some rights to humans, but not to chimps?

On atheism, as we've seen and as Jason has not rebutted, there is no reason to grant rights to either.
On Christianity, it's b/c humans are made in the image of God. Chimps are not. God has commanded us to treat animals with reasonable kindness, but there are limits and their mandated treatment is not comparable to humans. It is licit to trap and kill monkeys when they are a pest and threat to farmland, etc, but illicit murder to kill young babies when they are an inconvenience to their parents.

By your account, the Nazis had a rational standard of human ability. Their attitude towards the Jews was thus based on a rational standard. Are you taking that comment back now, or what?

Jason misunderstands. My point has been that:
1) the Nazis had made an unreasonable, arbitrary distinction of human/not-human - that which is Jewish is not human.
2) similar to Jason's position on abortion, it is arbitrary - that which is below a certain age (whatever Jason thinks) and in a certain location (in the womb) is not-human
3) given that distinction (though it is irrational), the Nazis acted consistently with their irrational distinction. More consistently than most atheists (though the Nazis were pagans, not atheists).
Hopefully that helps Jason understand.

I don't think you could find one atheist who would tell you that you've accurately represented their views here.

I agree - I haven't met too many atheists who think very freely at all, who embrace their atheism to any real and extended sense. The closest to doing so that I've ever met is the Jolly Nihilist.

Please produce a coherent argument for your infallible moral authority

As I mentioned, Jason confuses internal and external critiques.
*If Christianity is true*, here it is. If it is not, then there is, as we've seen, no objective authority, no morality beyond "I like it/I don't like it", let alone any infallible one.
And again, if Jason is inclined to disagree, I invite his exegesis of the relevant biblical passages.


Jason Streitfeld said...


Before I just thought you were confused and ignorant. Now I think you're also scum.

Here's my elaboration of this point:

Why Rhology Is Scum, And How Biblical Innerancy Is A Form Of Fascism

Jason Streitfeld said...


I've added a few more thoughts for you and your readers to chew on:

Warning To Those Who Follow Rhology