Saturday, July 29, 2017

This is What a Typical Christian Rebuttal Looks Like

It looks like I got a response to my video presentation on the Moral Argument for the Existence of God. It comes from a guy who calls himself Maximus Confesses and represents one of the higher-quality examples of feedback I've received on my videos. Unfortunately, that's not really saying much, since practically everything this guy says is just wrong. However, I'm going to do a public analysis anyway, just to give you all a taste of the bizarre philosophical nonsense I have to put up with from Christians. Let’s take a look!

For convenience, I have placed Maximus' quotes in bold-italics. Whenever he cites my own writings, I also underline them.

My capacity to respond to videos is often halted by my inability to watch and rewatch videos, while typing up a transcript. However, I am fortunate that the YouTube user AntiCitizen X (henceforth ACX) decided to publish a transcript of his video on his blog.  

You’re welcome.

Before I begin, I want to draw a distinction between the moral argument as I’ve often come across it online, as opposed to Moral Argumentation for God’s existence in general. The formulation that people like ACX and I are acquainted with is the formulation provided by William Lane Craig, which is,
  1.     If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2.     Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3.     Therefore, God exists.
However, this is not the only formulation of the argument, I provide my own here. So, even if one does have reason to object to the validity of this formulation, it does not rule out other formulations of the moral argument.

I was actually quite clear in my presentation that there are “dozens of variations floating around” with respect to the moral argument for God’s existence. However, it is important to realize that I actually made very little effort to attack the formal structure of the argument itself. Instead, the overwhelming majority of my criticism was levied at the ideas required to state the argument in the first place. Those fundamental ideas, including divine command theory, moral realism, and moral objectivity, are almost universal across the entirety of Christian moral philosophy. So yes, Maximus, any criticism I offer against Craig’s version of the moral argument does indeed transfer quite happily to all other variations you could possibly hope to offer. Unless you hold to a fundamental conception of morality that wildly differs from the overwhelming majority of mainstream Christianity, then this comment of yours is completely false.

With that point out of the way, I will begin by first addressing the greatest flaw of my interlocutor’s post, namely, that it is composed of a slew of irrelevant observations. Take for example the following,

Religions work very hard to intertwine themselves with the perception of absolute moral authority, such that giving up one’s faith is often seen as the equivalent of giving up all sense of human decency at the same time. Why else would believers consistently view atheists as the least trustworthy minority group in all of America [3]? It’s another deliberate psychological ploy designed to manipulate the believers into remaining believers, and not necessarily to build a viable case for God’s existence.

Maximus doesn’t seem to appreciate the basic, running theme of my videos. It’s not enough to merely refute some random philosophical argument. I like to present some of the relevant psychology that compels people to embrace bad arguments in the first place. I also like to present big picture information as to why such an argument is actually worth responding to, given the huge variety of nonsensical claims that we could be spending out time on. To that effect, I cited a study wherein atheists actually ranked lower than rapists on a perceived measure of distrust. I did this specifically to emphasize the broader social impact of this subject, yet Maximus is summarily dismissing the whole thing outright as “irrelevant observations”---as if such information couldn’t possibly inform the discussion in any capacity whatsoever!

Good grief, it’s called “context,” you moron. It’s what good writers do to invite their audience into the discussion. You don’t just dive head-first into nuanced philosophical essays without first introducing the topic a little. That would be boring. Your comments on this matter are completely pointless, except to take a cheap shot at my character.

First off, let’s disentangle what the word ‘religion’ from the context of the moral argument. 

Dude, it’s called “The Moral Argument for the Existence of God.” In what logical universe are we supposed to disentangle religion from a literal argument for God’s existence? 

The main thrust of moral argumentation for the existence of God is that the truth of objective morality requires the existence of God. One need not be religious to believe in God, so, as far as I’m concerned, this is mere virtue signaling to other atheists that they’re special snowflakes, freed from the psychological ploys of the religious.

So the fact that atheists are considered less trustworthy than literal rapists is an entirely irrelevant point in your mind? Do you really fail to see how this little piece of information might have some relevance to the way people respond to the moral argument? Come on, Maximus. You can’t possibly be that dense.

Here’s is another one,

But even ignoring all of that, the one thing that makes this argument such a truly spectacular failure is the fact that Christians are specifically trying to prove the existence of Yahweh, the God of the Bible — the very same god that has openly and proudly endorsed some of the most unspeakable moral atrocities we can possibly imagine. We’re talking about a God that actively encourages:

1. Slavery (Exodus 21:20–21, Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5)

2. Blood sacrifice (Genesis 8:20)

3. Human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1–18, Exodus 32:27)

4. Misogyny (Genesis 3:16, Exodus 21:7–8, Corinthians 11:8–9)

5. Genital Mutilation (Genesis 17:10–14, 1 Samuel 18:27)

6. Genocide (Genesis 6–9, Numbers 21:3, Numbers 21:33–35, Deuteronomy 2:33–34, Joshua 6:21–27, Joshua 10)

7. Infanticide (1 Samuel 15:3, Exodus 11–12)

8. Thought crimes (Matthew 5:27–28)

9.Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)

10. and death penalties for trivial offences! (Exodus 35:2, Numbers, 15:32–36, 2 Samuel 6:6–7, 1 Kings 13:15–24, 2 kings 2:23)

The very idea that the Biblical God is supposed to serve as the ultimate standard of moral goodness is patently ludicrous. It practically gives a free-license to engage in the most destructive, antisocial behaviors in human history.

Again, irrelevant. Moral argumentation need not be used for the God of Christianity. Even if it were, the Christian need not commit themselves to Biblical inerrancy. Further, even Christians who do accept inerrancy, there is still an apologetic offered (for example, my own defense of Biblical slavery). Sometimes, the apologetic is as simple as pointing out that one’s interlocutor is too stupid to read.

What a wonderful tool of argumentation. Simply dismiss a monumental observation as merely “irrelevant” and don’t even bother addressing the key point at hand.

Look Maximus, this is really simple. If you are Christian, then it stands to reason that you worship the deity known as Yahweh. If you are also a supporter of the Moral Argument for God’s existence, then it necessarily follows that everything you believe about the relationship between God and morality must also apply to that very same Yahweh character described in the Holy Bible. If you actually bothered to read your Bible, you would further find several records of Yahweh happily endorsing all kinds of horrible things like slavery, genocide, and rape. Therefore, if you believe Yahweh is the standard for all moral perfection and goodness, then you are also implicitly arguing for the moral goodness of slavery, genocide, and rape! If you cannot wrap your little brain around the fatal problems this might present for your entire moral philosophy, then you’re quite literally too stupid to be involved in this conversation.

For example, Matthew 5:27–28 reads,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

However, since a thoughtcrime is an Orwellian neologism used to describe an illegal thought, and nowhere is Jesus proscribing some form of punishment, it does not fit the category. Granted, Jesus does suggest that it’s sinful, but to be sinful is not necessarily to incur some punishment.

Let me get this straight. Jesus states flat-out that lust is a sin of the same magnitude as adultery. However, since Jesus didn’t explicitly prescribe a punishment for that particular act, that somehow makes it all okay? As if I can lust after women all day long and God will not hold a single one of those sins against me in the afterlife? Do you even know what you’re saying? And how does any this comment even come close to addressing the issue at hand?

Jesus also says

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Notice, Jesus says divorce is and was sinful, but permitted (and hence, did not incur punishment) under the law of Moses. It’s quick observations like these that expose such lists as less daunting than they appear. I could go on, but I’d like to go to the meat of the argument.

First off, Jesus never says that divorce is permissible in any objectivist sense of the word. He simply says that “Moses permitted” divorce for various reasons. So your comment doesn’t even jibe with the quoted facts of the Bible as you just barely stated.

Secondly, Jesus also goes on to say that divorce is still sinful except for very specific conditions. It is therefore a complete mystery to me what Maximus is even trying to argue with this point. If the Bible does not explicitly prescribe some direct punishment for a given sin, is that supposed to automatically mean everyone is free to engage in such behavior without any consequences whatsoever? Where is he even going with this? This entire comment from Maximums is just a giant non-sequitur.

The first objection is that,

But what is morality, really? Because for all this talk about morals and values, it’s surprisingly rare for anyone to actually break them down into rigorous, coherent terms. So let’s begin with the simple observation that the core of all morality is implicitly defined by choice. That’s why we only tend to punish people for things they consciously decide to do or not do, and never for things that just happen. But it’s also equally important to realize that choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome. “Good” and “right” choices are those which can reliably produce a specified result, while “bad” and “wrong” choices ultimately fail in that goal.

I agree that morality first has to be defined, and I think morality necessarily concerns the choices of agents. However, the notion that “choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome” is contentious.

So you agree that morality is implicitly defined by choice, but you dispute the idea that choice has any logical connection to actions and consequences. Okay, fine. Name me a single example of a choice that is morally good, in and of itself, independent of any goals or consequences. Go.

Some things should be recognized as a good in themselves. Take for example reason itself, it could not be solely valuable because if its practical outcome because knowing any practical outcomes presupposes the value of reason in the first place.

First off, you don't have to "presuppose the value of reason" in order to observe that reason tends to help actualize desirable, pro-social outcomes by properly informing social decisions. That's just a completely false proposition on the part of Maximus.

Secondly, it's important to point out that Maximus hasn’t actually bothered to define morality yet, and already he is making bare assertions that certain things are just good. How does he pretend to know that? What does goodness even mean? What rules does he apply when assigning that label? What is it about reason that makes it a good thing and not a bad thing? Maximus haven’t even bothered to address these questions in the slightest shred of detail, but instead just asserts his position outright (something he is ironically about to accuse me of doing very shortly!).

As far as I can tell, Maximus seems to think that goodness is just some inherent metaphysical quality of reason itself. So even if, by some happenstance, reason were to result in the consistent propagation of pain and suffering on a global scale, that aura of goodness would still surround every act of reason anyway. It's very frustrating to have to respond to this kind of criticism, given that my video already explains these exact problems in painstaking detail. All Maximus is doing is reasserting the very thing I went out of my way to debunk.

It is from this point where ACX sneaks in consequentialism,

How it is sneaky to state openly and proudly that consequentialism is a logically necessary component of all coherent morality? For fuck’s sake, Maximus, I even wrote the word “consequentialism” in giant orange letters on the screen! In what possible context is that being “sneaky?” Morality implies choice, choice implies goals, and goals imply actions and consequences. This is not a subtle train of thought, you jackass.

I apologize in advance for my growing impatience and profanity, but Maximus is being completely disingenuous with his choice of words here. I have no patience for people who have to deliberately lie so brazenly when engaging in basic philosophical discussions.

So which goals are specifically “moral” in nature and which ones are not? This is another one of those sticky philosophical issues that sparks all kinds of academic debate to this day. Yet despite all the contention, most people do tend to agree that any coherent concept of seemingly “moral” behavior must revolve around some kind of ultimate, social interaction. Morally “good” choices tend to manifest through desirable, pro-social consequences while morally “evil” choices are those which tend to do the opposite. But no matter what the specifics may be, it’s important to always bear in mind that the whole notion of morality itself is utterly meaningless and irrelevant without some form of consequentialism at its foundation.

And just like that, with no argument made, another assertion is just thrown out there, and ACX just expects us to swallow it whole.

Maximus doesn’t seem to realize that all I’m doing here is stating a definition. I am simply explaining what the word “morality” seems to entail as a basic concept within the English language. I therefore don’t need any heavy-handed arguments to support my position, because all definitions are little more than “bare assertions” at the end of the day. All I have to do is show how my definition is more coherent and functional than the alternatives, which I spend a great deal of effort on in the following paragraphs. Not only that, but Maximus spends a great deal of his essay responding to those very paragraphs, which means on some fundamental level he has to know that I’m not just throwing shit out there and expecting you to swallow it. This whole comment is therefore yet another example of Maximus’ deliberate dishonesty.

It’s as if virtue ethics or deontology aren’t viable eithical frameworks.

During my video, I went out of my way to compare and contrast consequentialism against the standard Christian perspectives on morality. I elaborated in great detail how consequentialism provides simple, intuitive interpretations for various propositions, while Christian moral realism simply collapses under its own incoherence. Again, Maximus knows this because he spends a huge chunk of his essay engaging with those very arguments. This comment is therefore yet another lie, in that he acts as if I’ve casually disregarded such views without a second thought.

However, let’s agree with ACX, could not a Christian be a consequentialist?

In principle, yes. But the overwhelming majority of Christians adhere to divine command theory (DCT), which is logically incompatible with consequentialism. This isn’t just my opinion, either, but the general consensus of practically every Christian philosopher I’ve ever talked to, listened to, or read about. Christians are the ones who will go out of their way to reject consequentialist viewpoints as “moral relativism” and therefore unfit for Christian moral philosophy. Therefore, no, if you are anything like most Christians, you cannot be both.

 If God’s will determines right and wrong, then what has greater consequence than heaven and hell?

This is a point I actually went out of my way to belabor during later sections of the video, so it’s kind of weird that Maximus decided to bring it up. It’s as if he either didn’t watch the video all the way through, or he honestly doesn’t understand the implications of what he is suggesting.

As I already said in my video, the concepts of heaven and hell only make sense when viewed through the perspective of a self-interested, consequentialist morality. If you desire heaven, and if there are certain actions that will get you there, then it is a "good" decision to engage in those actions. Such behaviors are the “right” things to do and you “ought” to do them. Under DCT, however, heaven and hell are irrelevant. God gives us commands, and we simply ought to follow those commands irrespective of whatever personal gains they may produce. DCT is therefore logically incompatible with consequentialism, and obviously so.

The problem for Christians is that divine punishment for our sins is a core doctrine of all Christian religion. That means the very nature of Christian theology strongly urges you to adopt a consequentialist view on morality. After all, if “evil” decisions were guaranteed to produce admission into paradise, what possible reason could you give me to engage in “good” behaviors? No matter what arguments you have to offer, I can immediately destroy them with a casual statement of “Fuck your morality.” I want to go to paradise. Now what? It’s as if Maximus hasn’t even thought about the catastrophic implications of the very argument he’s just presented.

The final problem with this whole line of reasoning is that the statement "God's will determines right and wrong" is simply question-begging. Remember that the whole point of the Moral Argument is to prove God's existence in the first place. That means you can't claim the existence of objective morals and values without first proving the existence of God. Yet the existence of objective morals and values is already a necessary premise in the argument that proves God's existence!

HELLOOOOO? Earth to Maximus? That's circular logic, you dumb ass!

If this makes God a moral monster, with no virtue, then I have to ask why isn’t ACX a virtue theorist who thinks that it’s manifesting proper character in an agent which makes something ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?

I’m not a virtue theorist because I’m a consequentialist. I was nothing but clear and open about this from the very beginning. Consequentialism is meaningful and functional. Virtue theory is not. I don’t have to be a virtue theorist in order to claim “Person X is evil.” If God’s commands are not conducive to a productive, safe, healthy, flourishing society, then God’s commands are “evil.” This isn’t hard to grasp. Just because words mean different things to me as they do to you, that does not forbid me from using them in sentences.

Strangely enough, however, most Christian philosophers actually reject this principle outright, claiming instead that morality is an objective feature of the universe itself, like the law of gravity or the charge of an electron; that even if the entire human race went extinct today, then certain laws of morality would still be absolutely true and universally binding on all sentient beings across the cosmos.

It’s at this point that ACX slips from normative ethics and into meta-ethics. For those who don’t know, meta-ethics concern the nature of ethics (what does it mean to say X is right or wrong), and normative ethics concern methods of figuring out what is right and wrong.

No, I’m contrasting the consequentialist view of morality against the moral realist view as described by standard Christian philosophy. This comment is also somewhat weird, in that Maximus is basically accusing me of “slipping” into something that I was doing very deliberately. Not only that, but even if we accept his accusation at face value, Maximus seems to be under the bizarre impression that transitioning from a discussion on normative ethics into meta-ethics is somehow a bad thing---as if those two topics have literally nothing to do with each other and don’t ever belong in the same essay. This comment is yet another pointless jab at my character for no good reason.

Consequentialism is a normative theory, and while one can be a moral anti-realist and a consequentialist, it is not necessary. G.E. Moore is one such example of a realist, and a consequentialist.

First off, just because some famous guy held to a particular view, that does not automatically prove the view to be logically consistent or coherent. Maximus is just appealing to authority like a brainless idiot.

Secondly, if Maximus were half as educated on this stuff as he claims to be, he would know that there is no single, unifying school of moral realism in the world of philosophy. All I can say is that, in this context, I am specifically addressing the dominant Christian perspectives on moral realism, and that such perspectives are most definitely incompatible with consequentialism. 

ACX then proceeds to attack moral realism, but is fully unconvincing.

It’s another one of those tempting philosophical views called moral realism, and while it may appeal to certain naive intuitions, it utterly fails before it even begins. Because to say that anything is morally “good” or “evil,” in and of itself, without any reference to goals or consequences, is just incoherent gibberish. For example, just stop ask yourself: what on Earth is an objective moral value supposed to look like? Like if some guy were to say to you that, “human life has objective value,” or that “human life is objectively good,” what does that even mean?

Again, the realist can be a consequentialist, so this does not preclude moral realism from being true, even if ACX’s assertion regarding the necessity of consequentialism was the case. ACX also provides us little reason to think that saying something is good in itself is gibberish. The only argument is that it isn’t susceptible to our senses. But so what? ACX has not given us any argument which commits us to empiricism. Asking what an “objective moral value supposed to look like” makes little more sense than asking what does green taste like, or what does sour look like.

I issued you a challenge, Maximus: explain to me the meaning of the phrase “Human life is objectively good.” This has nothing to do with empiricism and nothing to do with susceptibility to our sense. Those are all red herrings and you know it. Stop beating around the bush and explain to everyone what the fuck that expression means. Every interpretation of that sentence I can possibly think of is gibberish nonsense---all except the interpretation given by a consequentialist perspective.

It’s little more than a category error. Objective values are picked up by our moral intuitions.

Wait, what? Did you just say moral intuitions? Do you mean to tell me that every time you assign labels like “good” and “evil,” you’re doing so entirely by gut-feeling? This guy is actually trying to tell me that the proposition “human life is objectively good” is only true because his moral intuition says so!

Okay, seriously, if this is the road you want to go down, then you might as well just raise the white flag of philosophical surrender right now. You’ve just lost the argument via sheer force of your own idiocy. I should not have to explain to you why this is a terrible foundation for any moral philosophy.

That is human beings have a cognitive predisposition to believe in the rightness or wrongness of some action. Can these intuitions be wrong, or even naive. Sure they can, but so can our senses (for example, most solid objects are made of empty space, a fact which our senses speak to the contrary). However, this doesn’t entail we abandon our senses, and deny the existence of the external world. 

Okay, just stop. When your entire argument starts revolving around “cognitive predispositions” and “moral intuitions,” then it’s safe to say you have no clue what you’re talking about. You’re basically grounding your entire sense of moral philosophy on the subjective intensity of warm fuzzies you get whenever someone behaves nicely or meanly around you. How on Earth that little tingling sensation is supposed to lead us to “therefore, god exists,” is completely beyond me.

The thing that’s really bizarre about this comment is how Maximus went out of his way to bash on empiricism as a viable path for understanding morality. Now here he is, grounding his entire argument in pure sense perception of some mystical moral essence surrounding human actions. That’s an empirical argument, you idiot. What’s worse about this line of thinking is that it forces us back into the same conundrums I mentioned earlier. If human beings possess some kind of innate moral sense that allows to perceive goodness, then what physical mechanisms govern that perception? Light carries information to our eyeballs, pressure waves in air carry sound to our ears, and chemical reception carries information about scent to our noses. If Maximus is right about this, then in principle I ought to be able to artificially replicate that perception in some kind of moral thermometer. Yet Maximus himself has already rejected that possibility outright in his earlier comments!

I’m sorry, Maximus, but this is just asinine. We’re barely halfway through your essay, and you have yet to offer a single point of criticism that contained any merit whatsoever. You contradict yourself constantly, you take embarrassingly clumsy jabs at my character and competence, you make constant non sequitur arguments, and you have yet to even attempt a coherent definition of morality that might compete with consequentialist views. I don’t have the patience to slog through such amateurish nonsense anymore. Come back when you can write a criticism that isn't childish and stupid.

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