Thoughts on a Debate

A: I would like to address your offensive “moral law” argument that says that without God as an objective moral standard atheists who do not have the influence of theism would be immoral beings.

DC: I never said atheists can’t be moral. I never said atheists don’t know morality. In fact atheists know morality just like everybody else. We know morality because it is written on our hearts. What I am saying is that atheists can’t justify morality. That is the point. What I am saying is that you cannot justify “why not murder innocent people to get what you want?” That’s the point. It is a point about ontology not a point about epistemology. It is not a point about “how you know the moral law.” It’s a point about “why does the moral law exist.”

A: The moral argument is not actually an argument for the existence of a God. It’s the argument for the fact that we should have an idea for the existence of a God. Because otherwise there would be moral basis from which we could stand. I disagree with that because I feel that humans are inherently altruistic and moral.

DC: What do you mean by “altruistic and moral?”

A: We are giving and we care about each other.

DC: Why is that good?

A: Why is that good? Because it helps our species survive.

DC: Why is it good to survive?

A: Because then we can propagate, move on as a species, and continue to exist.

DC: So, why is that a good thing? Who said?

A: Because… that is what is.

DC: Well that’s an “is”… That is not an “ought”. Stalin would say… “Fine, I’m gonna survive by killing you and taking your stuff.” Why is he wrong?

A: Because Stalin would have the initial urge not to. He would feel that the inherent urge of humans is to be caring for one another. There are situations where humans will not be caring about one another and those are exceptional. But, because humans are inherently altruistic his first urge to take care of the person or try and help them. But if he has some motivation against that then he would no longer have that urge. He would then decide that he wants to kill because he has a reason to.

(NOTICE: The attempt to avoid the question “Why is he wrong?” The A doesn’t address why Stalin would be wrong in surviving by killing and stealing.)

DC: You are again begging the question as to what altruism is. Why is taking care of others a good thing if there is no God? That’s your opinion. Is there an external referent an authoritative unchanging referent that you are getting that opinion from which makes it objective . Or is it just something you “feel” ?


A: If you take it from the stance that this is something that is consistent throughout humanity that we care about one another. Then we could superpose that as a moral impulse that we have.

DC: Ok, let me agree with you that we do have a moral impulse. That is exactly what C.S. Lewis said in the Abolition of Man . When he looked at all the diverse cultures and he said they agree on basic morality. Now how do you explain that basic morality? Well there may be different ways to explain it but some will say that is because God has written it on our hearts. But, the issue isn’t “how we know it.” The issue is why is “altruism” as you put it or caring for one another a “good” thing? Who said?

A: It’s not necessarily “who said” it is what is. We are altruistic there is no need for someone to say that it is a good thing. It is what we are.

DC: If Hitler, Stalin, or Genghis Khan came along and said I don’t want to be altruistic I want to be selfish and take everything for myself. If I have to kill you to do that then so be it!” Why is that OBJECTIVELY wrong?

A: Because he is not taking care of other people.

DC: Where are you getting this standard this OBJECTIVE standard that you ought to take care of people? Where does that come from if there is no God?

A: If we didn’t take care of each other as a social species we would have very limited capabilities. To exist we need to band together, we need to take care of each other, and we need to be friendly to each other.

DC: You are pre-supposing that survival is a good thing. Why is it a good thing? Why us surviving? Why not roaches or chickens or black rats?

A: Why do you need the concept of good? We’re still surviving, were still being nice and kind to each other. We’re being caring for one another.

DC: You’re stealing this standard of goodness from God’s universe to try and make your worldview work. But if there is no OBJECTIVE authoritative moral standard beyond us then atheism doesn’t work.

A: The idea of good and evil is a religious concept. Why do we need that?

DC: Let’s leave religion out of it. It is a loaded term . Let’s just say the source. ONTOLOGICALLY this means the study of being. Where does morality come from? How do you explain immaterial reality if there is no God?

A: Can you define immaterial reality?

DC: Let’s just take the laws of morality: It is right to take care of others, its right to love and it’s wrong to murder. WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM?

A: That is something that is ingrained in us. In our behaviors.

DC: That’s how we know it. Let me agree with you there are maybe different ways we can come to know it. If evolution is true then maybe evolution has helped bring it to us. Maybe our parents taught it to us. Maybe society taught it to us. However, my question isn’t how we know it. My question is WHY it is right to love and wrong to murder OBJECTIVELY . Because you know we went to the Nazis and they said “Oh, we were just obeying our government. Following orders.” We said that you had a “Higher obligation to obey the MORAL LAW rather than your government. You failed, and so you are guilty.” Where does this higher standard come from? What is it ONTOLOGICALLY?

A: Even if that is true that there is an outside source a higher standard than us. How do we get to it? How do we know it?

DC: You already know basic right and wrong. You know torturing babies for entertainment is wrong. I know it, you know it. Secondly why are you asking me? You should be the one asking yourself that question because if you are just a moist robot made of electric meat why should you believe ANYTHING YOU THINK?

A: Um, so…. This is an interpretation of why we exist. We come from a long lineage of life. So, in order to honor that we must continue to live. To be kind is to honor that life that we have. Life is all that we have.

DC: You are importing terms. Moral terms like honor and good into an atheistic system that has no way to ground those moral terms. That’s my point.

Aggressive secularism right there.

Are you debating an atheist who is engaged in the 10 steps process of this book :

“A Manual for Creating Atheists,” Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University,
He believes faith is a virus and compares reasoning people out of their belief in God, as akin to treating drug addicts.
Its a model proposed in his book called Street Epistemology. it is becoming very popular as a social media 15 minutes of fame.

There are 10 steps in his book that are taken up in this model. They start with 1. building a friendship and 10 part amiably. In the process of these 10 steps the atheist using this model attempts to reduce the confidence in the believer and thus reduce belief in God.

This has become a very popular model and is used quite a bit. People actually film these encounters and post them to the internet.

The argument heads towards a form of scientific reductionism.

  1. empiric verification, 2. form a hypothesis, 3. conduct an expeirment, 4 verify the experiment only corresponds to whats real. It is the scientific method but it exists in a very narrow space. There are many things that cannot be analyzed according to the scientific method, yet they bear the truth.

If engaging in this process the atheist is trying to push the believer onto the back of their hands so to speak. It is a manipulation. So push back, get them onto the back of their hands.

Ask why do you believe in objective moral values, why do you think moral values are objective. How do you explain a contingent universe (for example.)

Be aware of this street epistemology. It is anti evangelisation.

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I had no idea! That’s very interesting. When it comes to debating or discussing ideas with non-believers i think its always important to remember this

"No weapon forged against you will prevail. You will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD. This is their vindication from me declares the LORD." Isaiah 54:17

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Be aware of this method. Its really trendy. There are a couple of talks about it from a Catholic and an atheist perspective on the internet. Its almost like a game.
I was thinking of starting a thread on it to raise awareness of it.

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You should! I have a younger brother who is in high school and sometimes i worry about what kinds of things he runs into with kids these days.

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That’s it in a nutshell. And as to why we feel it’s right to help each other (technically ‘employing reciprical altruism’) it’s no more puzzling than why we avoid foul smelling food and jump when there’s a rustle in the grass. It’s no more puzzling than why we snarl when we’re angry and cower when we’re afraid.

If we’re threatened, we don’t consciously think ‘Now, if I curl my lip just so and show my left incisor that will be taken as a threat and the other guy might back down’. It’s instinctive. As is rushing forward to help someone up if they fall. Or feeling guilty by ignoring the homeless guy.

Almost all of us are empathetic to one extent or another. So couple that with an instinctive tendency to reciprocal altruism and you have a system that works. We don’t do it because it works. We generally do it unconsciously. But we then consciously call the actions we perform ‘good’.

So why did we evolve reciprocal altruism? Why not develop a system whereby might is right? Because reciprocal altruism allowed groups to form. It’s more efficient to help someone build a shelter for two rather than doing it individually. It’s beneficial to share excess food so that when someone else has excess and you are hungry, you still eat. So all those who happened to be genetically inclined (by chance) to be altruistic, they survived longer than those who didn’t. And so passed on the ‘altruistc gene’ down the line. Eventually it becomes the norm.

Do people take advantage of this? Yes they do. Will they gain an advantage by doing so? Often they can. But those people remain in the minority. If they didn’t, then society would collapse.

So it’s an evolved characteristic that we’re talking about. And did God put it there to help us survive? If you want to believe that then yes. He did. But He put it there because it worked. It helped us survive. And/or natural selection allowed it to evolve. Because it worked. And helped us survive.

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Uh? I just spent the whole post explaining that. Please read it again. Specifically the 4th paragraph.

I found the talk on this book by Bishop Barron. It is where I heard about this book.

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I think that existing is preferable to not existing. If you had the choice, which would you choose?

Why are you not reading what I write? And it definitely is important what you choose because it would indicate if you agree with me.

So one more time:

Surviving/living is good because…I think that existing is preferable to not existing. And again, If you had the choice, which would you choose?

You are free to end it if you think it best. You’ll be removing yourself from the gene pool. Just as the ones who thought it was a bad idea to share food. What we then have left is a society where everyone thinks it’s good to live. All the ones who thought that death was better are…ummm…dead.

I think you’ll find that that’s how it’s turned out. Ask one hundred people if they’d prefer to live or die. I’ll bet there won’t be many that choose death. So I guess it’s agreed that it’s good.

All the people left will have good reasons for choosing life. Not all will be the same. But they will all be valid to that person. Increasing knowledge, beauty, family, etc.

What you chose is only relevant to you. You might have had no family, no.friends and were living in constant and unbearable pain. So you might have argued that death was good.

In any case, this is truly a nonsensical part of tbe discussion. If you cannot agree on something as basic as ‘existing is better than not existing’ then you’re not going to understand anything following on from that.

Thanks for playing.

I don’t think it’s nonsensical. Agreement is easy, but we can agree and still be wrong. How do we know if ‘existing is better than not existing’ is true or just a biological preference?

Hi Freddy, always good to hear from you. Your responses never disappoint. You always bring your Best game. Respect.

However, I feel as though your response goes back to Epistemology again and it is a rewording of what “A” said in the debate. Which is what I think you were being criticized for by the others.

If you could read it again but this time zero in on Ontology rather than Epistemology.

I had more I wanted to say but the wife is hungry and it’s time for dinner. Lol. Anyways I will reply again to address your response in a more detailed way. But I would appreciate it if you take a look at the debate again. Thanks!

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You’re too kind, Duke. In passing, before I address your post, I might note that I have the book ‘Manual for Creating an Atheist’ - the one that Barron was discussing in that Youtube clip. I wasn’t overly impressed. It’s a good primer for someone who wants to learn about debating and it’s specifically about religion but it could cover other topics such as politics equally as well.

I was amused by Barrons cry that the tactics were unfair because they were described as ‘street epistomology’ and your average Joe wouldn’t have the nous to counter the arguments suggested in the book. As if most Christians would scatter as soon as someone approached them: ‘Look out guys, he’s got a copy of THE MANUAL!’

The ‘debating tactic’ could be summed up as ‘What do you believe and why do you believe it?’ That’s it really. Find some common ground, agree on definitions and have a friendly chat. Barron seems to think that’s playing dirty. It seemed he was making excuses for losing the debate before anyone has even introduced themselves.

As DC says: 'It is not a point about “how you know the moral law.” It’s a point about “why does the moral law exist.” ’

I thought I’d addressed that, but let me try again.

As I said above, it’s a good idea to find out what people believe, agree on definitions, find some common ground and move on from there. But we hit a problem immediately when we try to define good. Because it is being used in different ways in the conversation and I don’t think that’s made clear. ‘Good’ is generally being used in the meaning of ‘morally good’. Whereas when I used the word I meant ‘desired’ with no moral implications.

So having something to eat when you’re hungry is good. Not being in pain is good. And I would have thought that these are axiomatic statements. Including the one when I said that existence is obviously good compared to non existence. I really didn’t expect some push back on that. That was the common ground I was looking for. I wasn’t making a moral claim at all. I was simply stating that if you had the choice you’d prefer to stay alive rather than die (excluding extreme examples which would likely prove the rule in any case).

That said, here’s a tautology for you. How we have reached this point is by actions taken that have enabled us to survive. If we all hunted lions by hand or ate rotten fruit or had sex with close relatives then we wouldn’t be here. They are actions that would likely result in our extinction. So we can class those as undesirable. That is, not good. And we can class actions that enabled us to survive as desireable. Or good. But still with no indication that the acts are moral or not.

And the instincts that we evolved - to not eat rotten fruit and to not procreate with close family members etc were happenstance. Purely a roll of the genetic dice. Those that ate the fruit or had sex with kin were gradually removed from the gene pool. Leaving those that had instincts for actions that had a desirable result. In other words, were good. And they became, by the process of natural selection, fixed in the population.

Now I’m going to call these characteristics instinctive. Evolved characteristics. And others might call them truths that God has written on our hearts. Maybe as our conscience. But we now all call them good, both from a desirable aspect and from a moral perspective. Because hey, everything we class as morally good is actually good for us (well, we’d have some arguments about some details).

So we don’t do things because they are morally good in some platonic way. That is, because actions are good in themselves. We do these things because they are good in the sense that they allowed us to survive - a preferable outcome to not surviving. And have then classed them as good from a moral perspective.

To give an example of how this might have worked in a different way, if our genetic make-up was such that it was evolutionary beneficial to mate with close relatives, then that would be good - as in an action with a preferable outcome. And all those that didn’t follow this instinct would be removed from the gene pool and the instinct would become fixed in the population. And incest would be morally acceptable.

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That can only be used to justify self-existence.

I’m not making a moral claim or justifying anything at all. Only pointing out the fact that everyone would agree that existence is preferable to non-existence. And going back to my previous post, that’s an inbuilt instinct. You are free to remain in the burning building or stand your ground when a lion charges. But you won’t.

There is no moral aspect involved when I say that wanting to survive is good. I simply mean that it is preferrable to the alternative. No more. No less.

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