If Theism Were Completely Different, It would be Unsupported

6a00e398244402883300e553e54ff88833-800wiIn discussing the moral arguments for God’s existence, J.L. Mackie takes what I find to be a reasonable approach. Still, I’ve had many criticisms of him–not the least of which is the fact that (like many atheists) he doesn’t seem to understand what theistic morality is.

That is, he repeats the long-discredited view that a theistic moral system is based on a reward-punishment system, then makes the obvious objections to that view.

But, while I’m sure that such people must exist somewhere, I can’t seem to find any real-live theist who has this as a moral system. Atheists who claim that this is what we believe, however, abound. This has always struck me as odd, and, whatever the reason for it, it remains a straw-man fallacy.

At least, I try not to draw the conclusion that people are remaining willfully ignorant of this point in order to make for better anti-theist memes. I hope this isn’t the case.

Either way, it bears repeating that theists view God as the paradigm of goodness–not unlike Plato’s form of the good. It is also the reason why the Euthyphro dilemma (which Mackie also sites against the moral arguments for God) is off-base (more on that later).

I suspect that this is an honest mistake on Mackie’s part. Still, it is a mistake, and I’d expect a better understanding than this from anyone offering a refutation of theism.

At least, it will take a stronger understanding to have any hope of a successful refutation. Since Mackie understands theistic morality this incorrectly, he is completely unable to construct a case against it. All the theist need do is say “that misses the point” to counter everything he’s said.


24 responses to “If Theism Were Completely Different, It would be Unsupported

  • hitchens67

    Religion is blindly followed unsubstantiated ancient bullshit crafted in an era when there was little science and all people believed the world was flat! I won’t operate on a person with the original version of Grey’s Anatomy so I don’t live my life by a book written and re written over the last 2000 years! The original bible wouldn’t even read the same as the newest version due to all of the omissions and re tellings.

    • Debilis

      As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with anything I’ve written in the post. Rather, it simply a bit of chronological judgmentalism.

      When one attempts to crowbar every field of study into the model of the physical sciences, one ends up making at least two mistakes:

      First, one thinks that there is nothing at all to be learned from reading past thinkers. Consequently, one doesn’t tend to read them, and remains ignorant about the intelligent things they’ve written (which perpetuates the false belief that they had nothing of value to say).

      Second, one remains blind to the fact that other fields (such as theology) have, in fact, changed a great deal in the interval. Again, one who is only interested in science will be ignorant of the advances in these fields, but this is not to say that they have not happened.

      This is why the comparison to Grey’s Anatomy is misleading at best. But the final question is this:

      How should one live one’s life, then? What approach to morality, meaning in life, etc. is more “up to date”? And, of course, what is the support for that view?

      I’d willingly abandon my view for a “modern” one if we can show why it is better supported by the evidence.

      • hitchens67

        Because morality is innate and requires no gods to be real. We atheists do good because it is the right thing to do, not because some overly re written book tells us that we will burn in Hell if we don’t. Also, it is insane to follow something without one shred of proof just because our parents were deluded by it.

        • Debilis

          Greetings, and otherwise diving right in here…

          This isn’t remotely the theist’s version of morality. It has absolutely nothing to do with “burn in hell”. You’re free to reject a theistic view, but reject it, not a horribly warped version of it.

          Likewise, I agree that atheists do good because it is right, but that doesn’t answer the question “why is it right in the first place?”. Of course people don’t need to know why certain things are right in order to behave well. But that doesn’t mean that there is no answer.

          As to the “without one shred of proof” comment, I simply disagree that this is the case. There are many good arguments for theism, and no one repeating the trendy “no evidence” meme has managed to defend it.

          Last, and most importantly, this simply ignores my real question. I’m serious when I say that I’ll abandon my view if someone can give me a better alternative.

          But, so far, passionate atheists have demurred at this point. If theism were so obviously wrong as you claim, it should be easy to present something with “one shred of proof”.

          Yet, no one seems willing even to try–and the less charitable part of me suspects it is because those demanding proof are aware that they have no proof whatsoever for their own views of morality and meaning in life.

          Whether that is the case or not, I need a better alternative. How do you live your life, and what is the evidence in support of that way?

        • hitchens67

          God doesn’t explain morality either, if HE did, then his orders of incest, rape, genocide and other murders would have NEVER occurred! God is a primitive bronze age construct that if studied from it’s inception, has spawned some of the most amoral behaviors known to mankind.

        • Debilis

          I’d say that this is a pretty distorted view of what the Bible actually says about God. But that’s not really the point.

          Rather, the point is that this doesn’t do anything to discredit theism.

          What if I were to tell you that I believe in a God other than the one you find in the Bible? One that does not make commands like that.

          This would make it pretty obvious that we should still be theists–regardless of whatever complaints we can raise about the Bible. They would have nothing to do with that God.

          So, while we can discuss whether or not Christianity is the most reasonable form of theism, we’ve already shown that atheism can’t be the answer to this question.

          That being the case, which version of theism do you think is the best answer to the question of morality? I’d be genuinely interested to know.

        • hitchens67

          Theism is discredited by being just a construct of simple humans. Not being able to prove ANYTHING supernatural also speaks volumes as to the idiocy of blind faith. Theism is discredited by the fact that the doctrine changes to be palatable for the times.

        • Debilis

          This is, again, simply throwing out wild accusations without answering any of my questions.

          Does the atheist’s utter inability to prove his secular view also “speak volumes”? If the answer were as obvious as this, it should be easy for you to offer a view of life that is supported by evidence. But no one hammering on the “no evidence” meme seems to be able to do this.

          Also, there is a strange “heads I win, tails you lose” argument going on here. You previously mocked theism for not changing, now you seem to be saying that it is false because it does change.

          Of course, you do claim that this is simply to match with “the times”, but could you provide some evidence for this assertion? How do you know that it has nothing to do with the work of theologians?

          If you fail to provide evidence, should I reply that this “speaks volumes”?

          But I agree that faith shouldn’t be blind–I have no idea what gave you the impression that I think otherwise. Rather, I take the fact that secular approaches to life are so much harder to defend than theism to be a good reason to take a theist approach. It is the failing to question these secular views that I consider to be blind faith.

          If you think this is wrong, let me know what the evidence is for your view. I’m willing to change my position if you can show me better evidence than I have.

          Likewise, I suggest that you be willing to do the same. Look at what evidence you have for your view, and be willing to drop it if it isn’t the best-supported of answers to life’s big questions.

        • hitchens67

          Utter inability goes to religion. Science always trumps myth.

        • Debilis

          Science isn’t an alternative to religion–secular views of morality and meaning of life are.

          That is why I’ve asked for a support for those views. So far, no one has been able to give me actual support–and this is what I’m requesting.

        • hitchens67

          I agree that science is not the answer when it comes to morality and meaning, but I have no answer on the latter. Morality, I believe, is innate and I follow a standard because I believe in what is right in a basic sense of the word. Anything that intentionally hurts another person, aside from medical procedures, should not be tolerated and that encompasses quite a bit down to stealing. I follow this because it is the moral thing to do, not because a book, or fear of Hell is held over me. I don’t believe that I need a watcher to make me do the right thing. As far as the meaning of life, we have so many complex thoughts but have no real idea of the true meaning of existence. The reason that I don’t put THAT into the hands of a god is because the god of Abraham is one of literally thousands of deities with the same amount of credibility. Also, I have read the Bible and interpretive literature and do not believe that the real text is in the hands of laymen today. The current book has too many contradictions and paints the deity as a jealous tyrant with the moral fiber of any king of the Bronze age. Please do not stop your search, I have not and actively search for it’s meaning everyday.
          My explanation for my existence is to do the best that I can in this life in case that it is as finite as strict atheism dictates. I have saved many lives over a 24 year healthcare career and hope that this is the purpose of my life. I continue to search, but see no answers in religion because it asks for blind faith. I do hope that some day my questions are answered at least a little, till then I feel that I am on a good and decent path.

        • Debilis

          I don’t follow my view of morality because of any threat of Hell. Really, I don’t think that all the emphasis on forgiveness in Christianity does a very good job at being threatening.

          Rather, the difference is that I say “morals are true, I wonder how that could be” and you seem to be saying “morals are true, and I’m not going to think past that”.

          So, we can discuss which particular view of God is the most supported (you might be surprised at how few of them are relevant to the moral argument). But, personally, I find it hard to believe that every form of theism would be less reasonable than a “let’s just not think about it” approach.

          Essentially, you’re describing a version of theism that I’ve never believed in (nor has anyone I know, but that’s beside the point).

          I’m giving you a specific argument, and you’re insisting that we not think about it. I don’t think it makes any sense to accuse religion of resting on blind faith. It seems to be the other way around.

          But, and I end on this intentionally, I’m very pleased that you believe in being a good person. That is definitely a great thing, and I respect any who are willing to be ethical–whether I agree with their reasons for being so or not.

        • hitchens67

          n this documentary, Richard Dawkins investigates the purpose of humanity and the meaning of life from a scientific and evolutionary perspective. In an effort to remain objective, Dawkins explores a number of religious ideologies in their attempt to assign meaning to human existence. Dawkins shows that, while religion may have been appropriate for less advanced societies of the past, religious mythologies utterly fail in the context of modern civilization due to their contradiction with rationality and contemporary mores.

          Dawkins goes on to entertain various religious assertions against evolutionary theory, namely the idea that evolution implies human beings are not unique or special, and thus life is a meaningless struggle for survival. Dawkins of course rejects this idea, arguing that it is the advancement of our species, as well as our keen ability to form abstract ideas, that inherently gives meaning to our lives in a way that transcends the mere survival value implied by strict evolutionary theory. For Dawkins, the awe-inspiring nature of scientific advancement proves that we are indeed a “special animal”, even without the metaphysical implications that are championed by various religions.

          – See more at: http://www.atheistrepublic.com/documentary/what-is-the-purpose-of-life-richard-dawkins#sthash.7FJqxcgd.dpuf
          This series of videos posted on my blog gives me the most insight as to the meaning of human life on Earth as explained by one of the greatest minds of our time.

        • Debilis

          I’ve seen the documentary.

          The fact that Dawkins’ approach is biased is, at this point, an open secret. His arguments are only ever against a God that no one I know actually believes in.

          His work is very popular in the freshman dorm room, but demised by people who have actually read the literature. He’s simply attacking straw men.

        • hitchens67

          O.K, your opinion, but on the contrary, Prof Dawkins is one of the most esteemed people in his field and intellectuals of all expertise defer to him very frequently. I NEVER listen to college kids on these things because college kids research experts, not pedantic learners, to construct their papers. And if Prof. Dawkins is such a hack, then why does he have so many best selling books to his name? Your EVIDENCE, or lack thereof, is showing greatly and shows why atheists think the way that they do, logically and critically.

        • Debilis

          Dawkins is indeed well respected within the field of biology. I think he’s a very legitimate source of information about evolution.

          With respect to theism, he’s a novice at best. When he makes claims about what particular religions do or don’t teach, he really doesn’t have much of an idea what he’s talking about–this is the criticism that has been made of Dawkins.

          And, as if to drive the last nail in the coffin, Dawkins himself agrees with this, dismissing the need to learn what religions teach before presuming to make declarations about the same.

        • hitchens67

          I understand that you have a different take on life and all that it encompasses, but I must remind you that religion is, in fact, a matter of geography, and the fact that if you were born in India and would most likely be a Hindu takes the bluster out of the Christia reveals to me the n sail. The mere fact that I, as an ex-Christian, have read the Bible from cover to cover with interpretive text, allows me to say that I have more than an excellent grasp of the religious dogma. I have lacked faith since 12 years old because it was at that point that I started to really use critical thinking skills to analyze that which people were telling me to follow blindly. I used a voracious appetite for anthropology, sociology and the other sciences to finally come to the conclusion that if there were a higher being, then human beings sure as Hell had no idea how to quantify it.

          Blind faith without proof is only due to early indoctrination, ( brainwashing ), and serves as no basis for accepting something on faith alone. The fact that there are only prehistorical second hand accounts for the Bible suppositions reveals to me the folly of actually taking it at face value, that and the published outcomes of many linguistic and handwriting analysis studies proving that the Bible was NOT authored by the credited individuals. There are thousands of gods with just as much credibility as Yaweh and some with much cooler powers than He. Thor for example, great fucking hammer! Zeus, lives on a palatial mountain and throws around lightning bolts, uber awesome! So you see, if it comes down to belief, I would probably pick a god with a bit more flash! Also, the god of Abraham didn’t even have the foresight to let his followers know that the Earth was round! THAT little omission seems to paint a glaring reality that the Bible is nothing more than a Bronze Age tome containing the events of a people led by a god that I am morally superior to! Really, I don’t find it wise to follow the god of war, genocide, infanticide, rape, plunder, misogyny, debauchery, pride and jealousy. These are all human failings, leading me to the conclusion that MAN created GOD in his image, not the other way around!

          As long as there is not a shred of proof for the existence of a god, then I will adhere to reason, logic and critical scientific thinking over obvious myth. GOD explains NOTHING useful and to follow because there is an infinitesimal chance that He exists is not logical in the least, as a matter of fact it is ignorant and short sighted. The biggest problem that I see in Christians/Muslims etc. is that they are so fearful of entertaining the possibility that they may be wrong, mostly because their books of myth state that the god in question will be pissed if they do, which in itself raises the red flag of doubt. I have heard absolutely NO compelling arguments as to why I should abandon atheism, NONE! The religious rely on fear mongering and quotation of myth to bully those non-believers only to find that it is the same as threatening an adult that Santa Claus won’t bring him any presents. We do not buy it period, and we are the FASTEST growing demographic in the world! How many thousands if not millions say that they are spiritual of agnostic or both? These people openly say that they don’t accept the dogma so they are non-Christians. Do you understand what the implications of this is? Definition of atheism; I don’t believe in Gods or God. Guess what? Whether Christians like it or not, these people are ATHEIST!! Openly atheists make up approximately 18% of the population, if you factor in those who have already stated that they don’t believe in God, then you are talking more like 40% of the population! Christians are losing ground rapidly and thankfully will be a minority very soon. The comedian John Stewart once said “Agnostics are just atheists without balls!” And he is right. These people don’t drink the Kool-Aid either! They don’t believe. I’m spiritual but identify absolutely as atheist because I am not so arrogant as to put a label, a very primitive, ape-like label, on that which I do not understand. Reference ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ where Carl Sagan asks NASA to turn the Pioneer 1 space probe around to look at the Earth from 3.7 Billion miles away. You soon realize that we are indeed insignificant in the scheme of things and that all of our history is important to us alone on this little blue speck!

          I have had theists question how an atheist can be one and be spiritual at the same time and I reply that atheists don’t solve their problems with ancient outdated contradictory pre historic books. We just don’t know and don’t suppose that the unknown is an amoral barbarian who throws tantrums when HE doesn’t get his way! I also state that most atheist are way to smart to just believe because Momma an’ Daddy believed. For us, entertaining belief in such a closed minded way of thinking stunts mental growth and leads to the foolish notion that we didn’t evolve or that the Earth is 6.000 years old. I have rocks in my fucking back yard that are eons older than that! Pure simple minded foolishness,like believing in Noah’s Ark, the Great Flood, Revelation, Rapture, Jesus walking on water and turning water into wine! PROVE IT and you’ve got me! Until then, I will find my wonders in the discoveries of science and critical thought.

        • Debilis

          Religion isn’t any more geographical than secular worldviews. The relativistic materialism espoused by Dawkins, Hitchens, and others is even less likely to be believed by someone born in India than Christianity.

          That is simply not a reason to be an atheist.

          Nor does reading the Bible mean that one is an expert on Christianity. It could mean that–and it certainly means that one knows more than someone who hasn’t even done that much.

          Still, it’s entirely possible to misunderstand any book. I’ve met ardent young earth creationists who think that they are experts on evolution because they read “On the Origin of Species”. This is no different.

          But I’m curious as to why you think I’m advocating blind faith. I’m advocating the act of questioning all views, both religious and secular, equally.

          I’m going to skip over much of the talk about the Bible, as I’ve never advocated theism based on appeals to it. I’m not much interested to get into my objections to thoughts there.

          Instead, I’ll skip to the fact that you boldly assert that God explains nothing. I’m not sure what your evidence for this is. But I take that assertion as evidence that you are not an expert on Christianity. Experts realize that God is meant to explain metaphysical issues, such as morality and meaning in life, as opposed to being some kind of proto-scientific hypothesis.

          Nor is fear of punishment the reason to believe in Christianity I’ve ever given–or the reason given by any theologian I know. This is more lack of expertise about what Christianity actually teaches.

          Nor am I impressed by the demographics issues. Whether or not these numbers are accurate, this tells us nothing about the truth of the situation. Nor does Jon Stewart count as an expert. I enjoy his show (it’s playing right now, actually), but I suspect that the fact that he mocked the American Atheists doesn’t mean much to you.

          Nor do I see any reason why you think I believe that the Earth is of central importance in the universe. I don’t seem to find that anywhere in the Bible; that seems to be more non-expertise talking.

          But you do get the next thing right. I do wonder how atheists can be spiritual when they don’t believe in spirit. When I was a non-Christian, I believed that one could be good, and care much about the world, but I didn’t believe that one could be spiritual–that’s a religious term.

          I would, however, like some evidence that atheists are any more open-minded than theists. That’s not been my experience (they simply seem close-minded in a different direction) did you get this conclusion from a study, or is this simply conjecture based on your personal view of things?

          Really, if you think Christianity requires belief in a 6,000 year-old earth, you are dealing with either a lack of information or a very close-minded look at things. There has never been a time in history in which that was an established view of Christianity.

          In short, the debate isn’t between Christianity and science. The debate is between religions and secular worldviews.

          And I’ve never been given evidence for the latter–meaning that all the demands for evidence from people committed to them seems a bit out of place.

        • hitchens67

          By the way, Dawkins wouldn’t be so biased if Christianity actually made any sense.

        • Debilis

          His version of Christianity definitely doesn’t make any sense.

          Of course, I’d never even heard of that version until I started reading his books, but there you are.

        • hitchens67

          Christianity doesn’t make any sense to the critical thinker.

        • Debilis

          I’m not yet convinced that you’re talking about anything like Christianity as it is actually understood by theologians. Certainly what Dawkins calls Christianity is anything but.

          But it’s hard to say more than this, because I don’t have a reasonable argument to respond to–only a meme/slogan that seems to completely ignore the points I’ve just made above.

          The fact remains that there are many critical thinkers that can make sense of Christianity, the fact that Dawkins, in his self-professed ignorance, cannot doesn’t tell us anything other than that Dawkins is ignorant of theology.

  • Carl-John X Veraja

    Einstein also felt theistic morality was based on a reward-punishment system. I think all morality is.

    • Debilis

      I hadn’t heard that about Einstein; thanks for mentioning it.

      As to the idea in general, I know that some believe that this is the basis of morality. It is a minority view, but could be advocated intelligently.

      My main difficulties with it essentially come down to two questions:

      1. On what basis do we say that a thing is good simply because it is rewarded, and bad because it is punished?

      2. Who or what is to do the rewarding and punishing (that is, why is this system of consequences the basis of morality, rather than some other)?

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