Christian Apologetics Ministries odds and ends

I suppose I’m nothing if not thorough, so let me respond to a last few errors and misconceptions in Anthony Horvath’s penultimate and final posts. Y’all are probably getting bored with this by now, so feel free to skip this one. :)

He now goes on to quote me as saying:

I thought it ironic that Herr Professor thought that Dawkins, a zoologist, was no longer speaking outside his field when he addressed religion, because, well, he wrote a book defending his views, didn’t he?

To which he replies:

That’s not ironic, it’s merely inaccurate. Perhaps he should re-read my post, and notice that it nowhere makes the claim that he attributes to me. But I suppose he has to criticize me for something, even if he has to invent it himself.

Yes, let’s quote his post, shall we?

The simplest and most accurate answer is that we’re not being asked to defer to them, except in their particular fields of expertise. And in the latter case, we should defer to them because they’ve learned more about it than we have. But Richard Dawkins doesn’t expect everybody to believe that God is a delusion merely out of deference to his status as a scientist. That’s why he wrote a whole book giving his arguments against God instead of just issuing a press release that said “There is no God and I’m a scientist so end of discussion.”

In the first clause he insists that we are not being asked to defer to scientists, except in their fields of expertise. The word ‘but’ in this context clearly indicates that he sees an exception in regards to Dawkins.

Well, no. The word “but” is a disjunctive; it indicates that what follows contrasts in some way from what went before. In the prior sentence, I had just finished discussing the circumstances under which we should defer to scientists. Dawkins, however, is not even asking anyone to defer to his status as a scientist, so it’s a different (disjunctive) case from the previous discussion. That is, (as I said before), Dawkins is not asking anyone to accept his conclusions without evidence just on his say-so as a scientist. He presents his evidence. He argues his case on its merits, not on an appeal to scientific authority. So, as I said, there are some circumstances in which we should defer to scientists, BUT that’s irrelevant to Dawkins’ case, since he’s not even asking for any special deference. He’s giving us the evidence which he sees as supporting his conclusion, and he expects us to read it and draw our own conclusions.

Some other silly remarks:

This is nonsense. Biology and ethics are separate fields, and are separately derived. His argument is like saying “If evolution is true, there is no place outside of Darwinism to derive tomorrow’s weather forecast.”

It isn’t like the weather at all. Darwinism does not concern the weather. Darwinism is allegedly the full account of how humans have come to be the way they are… in their totality. There is no way that in such a putative ultimate explanation of our entire nature that anything we do would be exempted from Darwinian analysis.

Darwinism does not concern ethics either. “Darwinism”–or rather, evolution–is the full biological account of how humans (and other species) have come to be the way they are, in their biology. Ethics is a different field entirely, just like meteorology is. Horvath knows that biology and ethics are independent fields, since his argument all along is that biologists are speaking outside their field when they make ethical pronouncements. It is self-contradictory for Horvath to announce so clearly that biology and ethics are separate when it comes to what scientists say, and then confuse the two so thoroughly when it comes to “Darwinism” (a sub-field within biology). Then again, he also seems to believe in a God who loves him enough to die for him, even though the real world plainly shows us a God who doesn’t care enough to drop us a Christmas card, let alone show up once a year to wish us a Merry Christmas. I suppose if you can swallow that kind of contradiction, the rest is easy.

Now let’s get to his ‘challenge.’

Morality comes from society’s experience of the consequences of certain actions. Bad consequences mean the action is bad, and good consequences mean the action is good.

And how does Herr Professor decide what consequences are bad or good? The level of cognitive dissonance here is astounding.

I’d agree with that last statement, though not in the way that Horvath thinks. Apparently, if someone punches a non-Christian in the mouth, the non-Christian is supposed to stand there thinking, “Gee, I wonder if this is bad or good?” He doesn’t have God to tell him what’s good and what’s bad, you see, so he has no way of knowing whether there’s anything bad about being assaulted or murdered or raped or kidnapped or oppressed or enslaved or what have you.

Sheesh.

Let’s try a simple exercise in ethical thinking. I have an eight-day-old son. If I mutilate his genitals, is that good or bad? Why?

We evolved, says the Professor. If anything is objective within that framework, it is that what is ‘good’ is whatever furthers our own genes and the genes most similar to our own.

But “good” and “bad” are not part of Darwinism. There’s no chemical formula for “good” like there is for DNA. We can’t observe “good” by tracking the distribution of alleles within a population across multiple generations. “Good” and “bad” are not the kind of biological quantities that make up part of the objective framework of evolutionary theory. “Good” and “bad” are entirely foreign concepts, and arbitrary at that. Why is furthering one set of genes more morally significant than love, or happiness, or justice, or any of a myriad other non-Darwinian factors we could, and probably should, consider? If “good” and “bad” were biological quantities, then biologists would not be speaking outside their field when discussing ethical questions, and we should defer to them. But Horvath says ethical questions are outside the field of biology. Why? Because “good” and “bad” are concepts that simply are not part of the objective framework of biology.

Apparently impressed with my performance thus far, Horvath awards me his own personal PhD, promoting me from professor to doctor.

The Doc closes with this challenge:

Show me your “objective” standard, which is not my secular standard of consequences, and is not merely a subjective interpretation of ancient writings (you did say “objective standard,” right?).

I don’t accept the terms of his challenge. I don’t at all agree that access to a standard should necessarily not be found described in ancient writings, nor do I believe that such analysis would be ’subjective’ without limit. This is all part and parcel of the notion that maintained by skeptics that you ‘can prove anything’ from the Scriptures. Not true, by any stretch of the imagination. But the true flaw in his argument is the contradistinction between objectivity and subjectivity. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that though Herr Professor denies that there is an objective morality he at least concedes that there is an objective reality. But how can he say such a thing? Can he show me evidence of an objective reality apart from his own subjective interpretation of it? No, he can’t.

In other words, when it comes time to put up or shut up, he shuts up (figuratively speaking, at least!). He claims to have an objective basis for rejecting racism, but it’s not the kind of objective standard you can actually show to other people. Notice I did not say that his justification could not be based on ancient texts, all I said was it had to be more than just a subjective interpretation of such texts. He did claim to have an objective standard, after all. Notice, too, that like so many other Christians, Horvath raises the flag of universal agnosticism rather than subject his own claims to objective verification. Can we show that objective reality exists? Not according to Horvath–it’s all solipsism, none of us has anything more than our subjective and possibly erroneous perceptions to appeal to.

Horvath is apparently unaware of how this situation is addressed by the principle that truth is consistent with itself. Objective reality is the truth, and is the infallible standard of truth. Any “truth” that is inconsistent with objective reality is at best a mere fiction, if not a lie or a delusion. The same self-consistency of truth that makes science possible also makes it possible for us to know what objective reality is, via the techniques and methodologies of science. And even Horvath agrees, really, though only in connection with arguing that an objective morality exists (and which he apparently would like to demonstrate by smacking me in the nose with a whiffle bat!).

This is why Christians inevitably have fundamental misgivings, at some level, about science. It’s too honest about objective reality, and the Christian God does not show up in the real world, for them or for anyone else. And that means that, in God’s absence, they have to option but to put their faith in fallible men, and what fallible men say and think and feel about God. The Gospel story about a God who loves us enough to die for us is contradicted by the reality of God’s unwillingness and/or inability to care enough just to show up now and then to say “hi,” and science only makes this self-contradiction unpleasantly obvious.

As I’ve said before, why do we even have a debate over evolution? Why do so many Christians feel a need to go back into the murky depths of prehistoric times looking for something ambiguous enough to be labeled as a possible real-world intervention by something or other somewhat like God? If God showed up in real life, they could base their faith on His visible, audible, and tangible interactions with reality instead of making hypothetical claims about something no human has ever seen. But He doesn’t show up, and Christians can’t bring themselves to hold Him responsible for His absentee behavior. So they make “Darwinists” the scapegoat.

Anyway, back to Horvath.

I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that … Herr Professor denies that there is an objective morality

As though he had not already read and responded to the paragraph in my earlier post where I said “Well of course there is an objective morality, and has been since before the Jews, let alone the Christians.” Perhaps in filtering out the last part he inadvertently filtered out the first part as well? ;)

[I]t would be much simpler to posit that there is an objective reality, just as the near universal rejection of racism is more simply accounted for by the existence of an objective morality.

It is not my problem that the atheistic position can not account for this

No, but it is his problem that he continues to deny that any secular explanation can account for objective morality even though I’ve already pointed out that this objective morality has been around longer than his religion has. Horvath even responded to my claim (without mentioning the part about morality predating the Judeo-Christian tradition), so I’m afraid at this point it’s simply dishonest for him to pretend that the atheistic position cannot account for morality. Disagree with my case if you must, but address it or at least acknowledge that it exists. Intellectual integrity demands nothing less.

Last one, from his allegedly “final” post:

I saw this nonsense, though:

if he weren’t so motivated to spread the slanderous insinuation that non-Christians have no ethics.

This shows, I think, that the Doc isn’t really reading my entries because I am not arguing that non-Christians have no ethics. Indeed, the sillyness of such an accusation is exposed by remembering that I advocate that there is an objective morality. That would mean that everyone does have ethics. The question is… can atheism explain why people do have ethics, and why the ethics are generally similar, and why we should consider them as anything more than the private judgments of the individual, like, say, the fact that I like broccoli and he doesn’t?

This is a semantic quibble. He’s saying he admits that non-Christians have ethical practices, therefore it’s unfair to say he’s insinuating that non-Christians have no ethical system. So I’ll rephrase what I said to make my meaning less ambiguous: he’s trying to spread the slanderous insinuation that non-Christians have no ethical system of their own that puts forth a coherent, non-Christian basis and standard for ethical behavior. This is a dishonest attempt to avoid addressing the alternative views by the simple expedient of denying that they exist.

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