REPLY #46a TO|
Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).
This is the first of a five-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.
So, you are equating non-belief in God with immorality?
(R) No, not really. I think many atheists try to do right, they simply have no
moral compass on which to base their actions.
(MB) This statement again presupposes that there is some sort of absolute
morality that is an inherent part of the universe. If not, there is no basis
for any claim of a "moral compass". Morality is nothing more than the majority
opinion in any given group about the "right" and "wrong" of any given behavior
or action. There are as many different moralities as there are groups which
decide upon them and those moralities are always changing over time. That fact
pretty much quashes any notion of an "absolute" morality. If there's no
absolute morality, then there is no basis upon which to denigrate others as
being "immoral" or pass judgments about "trying to do right" outside of the
observed consequences of the action in question.
(R) I take this to be an expression of disgust.
(MB) It's meant as the sound made by someone whose mind has been boggled by an
exceedingly illogical statement.
(R) You are disgusted by the idea there is no morality without
(MB) Not at all. It's just another positive existential claim that bears the
burden of proof and for which there is no evidence with which to support it. It
is interesting, however, to see you first deny a connection between non-belief
in God and immorality and then to see you turn right around and agree with that
connection. Just what do you truly believe here?
(R) You are in a small minority there – most would not find this idea even
surprising, let alone disgusting.
(MB) Yes, I'm in the minority here (since the majority are believers) and I
don't doubt this claim for a minute. However, the claim is meaningless since,
as has been pointed out before, truth is not based solely on the number of
people who believe something.
(R) Anyway, disgusted isn't the right word to describe the way I feel about your
opinions. I would have to go with "appalled."
(MB) You can go with any level of righteous indignation
that floats your boat and your arguments won't gain any validity nor will mine
be refuted. To achieve either of those will require supporting
Or, are you saying that one cannot be moral without believing in God? Double Yeeeesh!
(R) The second statement is merely a reversal of the first and is equal to it.
(MB) The two statements are equal only if they say the same thing -- and they don't.
Equating immorality with non-belief does not imply that all non-believers are
immoral. It implies only that there is a strong positive correllation. On the
other hand, claiming that one cannot be moral without believing in God *is* to
infer that all non-believers are immoral. This implies an *absolute* positive
correllation to which there are no exceptions. Which position do you wish to
uphold and how will you support it?
Your "experience" sounds like the sort of groundless innuendo that you like to
accuse me of.
(R) I don't accuse you of innuendo, I simply point it out when you engage
(MB) Uh-huh. This is, of course, why you said (in Reply #17b) that much of
what I say is "unsubstantiated innuendo", right?
(R) My "experience" is exactly that, experience. Most of the atheists I have
met have been of the "if it feels good, do it" variety. "Don't be silly, there
isn't any God. If I get drunk, or smoke pot, or sleep around, I'm not hurting
anybody, so why shouldn't I."
(MB) This smacks of the common psychological phenomena where people only notice
certain behaviors because they are expressly looking for them. In other words,
you notice when you see atheists rationalize questionable behavior because
that's what you expect to see, but you don't take special notice when atheists
behave in a way in which you would approve. In fact, it's a certainty that
there are many people who don't engage in questionable behaviors and
rationalizations who are still atheists -- and you don't even realize it. Why
would you even think that such a person was an atheist if you are presupposed to
believing that all atheists behave questionably?
So, your "experience" is skewed by what you notice and not balanced by
everything else. I'm sure you also know a fair number of Christians who use
similar rationalizations for similar behaviors (BTW, it's called "cognitive
dissonance"). Do you accuse them of being atheists when they do so?
(R) I've seen this kind of rationalization dozens of times.
(MB) Christians, of course, would never do such a thing,
Morality is the determination of which behaviors are "right" and which are
(R) A rather simplistic definition of a quite complex subject.
(MB) A "simple" definition and a "simplistic" one are different animals. Simple
definitions (like the one I just gave for "morality") are general truths drawn
from all the subject's details. Simplistic ones (like "God is infinite") are
blanket statements made without consideration of the details. Elsewhere on this
site is my essay on Morality in which I take up the subject in more
(R) Morality can imply simple conformity to standards of right and wrong, or can
involve more difficult and subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or
(MB) I'd agree with that, of course, since it says essentially the same thing as
my simple definition. Notice that my definition didn't include the details of
*how* the determination of "right" and "wrong" was to be made.
(R) Truly ethical behavior requires deep thought, not simple rule
(MB) I agree completely. However, don't believers in a absolute morality which
descends from God engage in nothing more than simple rule following if they
blindly and unquestioningly adhere to that morality?
Religion's contribution to morality is to set its own standards for making that
(R) Someone who is truly religious strives to please God in thought, word, and
deed. Religion's purpose is to aid in discovering what is pleasing to God, not
merely to set rules.
(MB) How does religion go about discovering what will or will not "please God"
and how do they know whether or not they are right? What is religious doctrine
if not a set of rules for the behavior of believers? Are these rules
Also, I'm curious about why it is necessary for poor, pitiful creatures like
us to "please" a supposedly omnipotent God?
You missed the point again. I stated how intellectuals arrive at non-belief in
God. I didn't say that all intellectuals are non-believers.
(R) Glad to hear you say that. I agree, not all intellectuals are
non-believers. Which leads to the conclusion it is intellectually valid to
believe in God.
(MB) No, my statement does not lead to that conclusion at all. It only leads to
a conclusion that intellectuals are also subject to presuppositions which can
cause them to reach incorrect or unsupportable conclusions. A conclusion is
intellectually valid only when it derives from a valid premise and valid
argument. A conclusion is not intellectually valid simply because an
intellectual might arrive at it. Even Einstein was wrong on
There are several and most arise from the notion that God is omnipotent and
omniscient. One is the question of whether or not there is such a thing as "free
(R) "Free will" is the freedom to do as you choose. Each of us have this
freedom, even though the decisions we make are already known to God and
accounted for in His plan. The decisions we make are ours and ours
(MB) It is impossible for there to be any such thing as "free will" for any
creature who was created by an omnipotent, omniscient God. "Free will" means
that an individual creature may make any possible choice in response to any
possible situation. But, this can't happen in any scenario which includes an
omnipotent, omniscient God since such a being will already know the outcome even
before the creature faces the situation. That means that there can be only one
possible choice. The creature may well feel that he can do anything he wants,
but he can never do anything other than what has already been preordained.
Since the creature can not make a choice that will change the predetermined
future, his choice is forced upon him and he can never exercise true Free
Since this is true, the omnipotent, omniscient God can never be surprised or
displeased no matter what happens in his universe or what any of his creatures
does. He has already decided what will happen! Call it "God's Plan", if you
will. In such a scenario, any thoughts we might have that we actually have any
control over anything or can change anything would rank somewhere between
mistaken and delusional. So, we can have "free will" or we can have an
omniscient, omnipotent God. But, it is impossible for both to exist.
Another is why anything should happen that would get God angry or be any way
other than what he intended.
(R) Nothing ever is any way other than how God intends it. His "anger" is a
matter of human perception.
(MB) Did the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah or the victims of the Deluge
perish from mere "human perception"? Is the threat of eternal damnation for
those who are not "saved" a mere "human perception"? If God never gets angry,
then why is it necessary to try to please him?
Then, there's the old question about whether or not an omnipotent God could make
a rock so big that he couldn't lift it.
(R) A fine example of pseudo intellectualism. The power of God is infinite.
He could also make a rock which is infinitely large.
(MB) It's a legitimate question. Anybody who has more than a trivial knowledge
of mathematics understands the problems inherent in any consideration of
infinities. Consider, since a rock is a physical object, for it to be "lifted"
implies a non-zero amount of physical space through which the rock can be moved
and some reference plane from which to judge a "lift".
If we grant the ability to make an infinitely-large physical rock, it should
be obvious that this would leave no room for the space through which to lift the
rock nor for the reference plane. From this we can conclude (1) that only a
finite physical rock can be lifted, and (2) that an infinite physical rock can
not be lifted. Since you have stated that God can make an infinite rock, such a
statement combined with (2) leads to the conclusion that God cannot lift an
infinite rock. But, since you have also stated that God's power is infinite,
you are saying that there is nothing he cannot do. So, we arrive at the paradox
that is the reason why the old question is so famous.
The only solution to the paradox is to abandon the premise that the power of
God is infinite. In this case, the answer to the question is a simple "No" and
no paradoxes or other problems are introduced.
(R) What sense is there in comparing two infinite qualities?
(MB) There are many mathematical reasons for doing so -- including showing how
reasoning which is carelessly based on premises which contain infinities can
lead to paradoxes.
(R) Which is greater, an infinite number of apples or an infinite number of
(MB) An infinite number of apples is exactly equal to an infinite number of
oranges. Apples and oranges are each discrete, physical objects. A basic
principle of mathematics is that any quantity is always equal to itself.
Therefore, any infinite quantity of physical objects is exactly equal to any
other infinite quantity of physical objects.
(R) From the aspect of physics, what happens when an irresistible force acts on
an immovable object?
(MB) It is impossible for both to exist in the same physical universe. If any
given force is equal to or less than the resistance of any given object, the
object will not move and, therefore, the force cannot be "irresistible". If any
force is greater than the resistance of any object, the object will move and,
therefore, cannot be "immovable". There are no other possibilities.
Actually, this provides another argument against any claim of infinite power
for God, since it would not be possible for him to create both an irresistable
force and an immovable object in the same universe.
(R) Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
(MB) Clearly, the egg came first. Chickens are egg-laying birds. Such birds
are the evolutionary descendants of a line from egg-laying dinosaurs. It is
obvious, therefore, that the first chicken was hatched from an egg laid by one
of its evolutionary ancestors.
(R) Such questions have no answers and it is pointless to ask
(MB) On the contrary, it is clear that these questions have definitive answers
and can raise important points. To claim otherwise is merely an indication of
insufficient thought and/or knowledge.
Also, why would such a being permit beliefs in other deities (or no deity at
all) or even allow his creation, Man, to conceive of such things?
(R) These differing beliefs result from mankind's attempts to know God, which
can be achieved only imperfectly.
(MB) Why does such knowledge have to be "perfect"? Can't we get close enough to
be confident in our knowledge (either in whole or in part)? Your answer still
doesn't address the question of why an omnipotent God would even permit
imperfect or substandard knowledge of what he wants to the point where his
creations could even conceive of other deities (or that there might be none at
Certainly, it would be within the power of an omnipotent God to make his
creations such that they could only conceive of or believe in him -- no matter
how imperfect that knowledge might be. If he chose not to do so, it must have
been for a specific reason. What is it?
(R) If God revealed Himself completely, then there truly would be no free
(MB) What would change if God revealed himself completely? He would still be
the same God and his creation would still operate under the same set of rules,
right? It would have no effect whatsoever on Free Will. Consider, you would
still have all of the options that you always had even though you might be more
or less inclined to select any particular set of them. But, the basic ability
(or lack of) to make your choice would be unchanged.
(R) I see no contradictions whatsoever in any of the things you've mentioned.
All that is required is an open mind and a little thought.
(MB) Exactly. Try applying a little of both to the things
that have just been discussed and you will see.
What would be the problem with acknowledging that there is no inherent meaning
to the universe or anything within it?
(R) It is possible nothing has meaning. In which case, anything we claim to
have meaning is in fact meaningless. Even the statement, "The universe is
meaningless," would have no meaning. This is the contradiction.
(MB) That's not correct. Your conclusion is based upon the presupposition that
the universe is the designed and purposeful creation of an omnipotent God who is
the reference frame for any "meaning". In any universe where that is not the
case, the reference frame for "meaning" is at the level of the individual
intelligent creatures within that universe. Therefore, while such a universe
would have no inherent meaning at the physical level, that doesn't mean that its
creatures couldn't discover meaningful truths via the process of reasoning.
For example, the basic principles of mathematics are truths that derive from
the laws that govern our universe and which have unmistakeable meaning. This
includes the principles of Boolean algebra (also known as "truth tables"). If
somebody makes the statement, "The universe is meaningless", it can be concluded
that such a statement is either true or false. In either case, the conclusion
will have meaning in that it will describe a quality of the universe (or its
lack of that quality). Therefore, even though the universe itself may be
meaningless, the fact that everything within it follows a finite set of physical
laws indicates that individual things within it can have meaning. Such meaning
does not necessarily correllate with the needs of human emotion, however.
As a footnote to this, let me quote a subtly brilliant line from Kafka.
"Life has meaning because it ends". 'Nuff said...
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