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« A Look Inside: Lent | Main | A Meeting of Great Minds »

March 19, 2009


While I agree that a rejection of human worth (per a strictly materialist worldview) may lead inevitably to all sorts of evils (especially where one decides to be consistent with said rejection of human worth), I do not agree that such rights cannot continue in a "post-Christian culture."

"Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere." (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

"You will see them take care ... of old men." (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

"Nature produces a special love of offspring" and "To live according to Nature is the supreme good." (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

I copied the above examples from the appendix to C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man (

Additionally, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Book V:
"And the law bids us do both the acts of a brave man (e.g. not to desert our post nor take to flight nor throw away our arms), and those of a temperate man (e.g. not to commit adultery nor to gratify one's lust), and those of a good-tempered man (e.g. not to strike another nor to speak evil), and similarly with regard to the other virtues and forms of wickedness, commanding some acts and forbidding others; and the rightly-framed law does this rightly, and the hastily conceived one less well."
(By saying the rightly-framed law does this "rightly", the pagan Aristotle affirms an objective standard.)

Christianity is not necessary for an understanding of inherent human rights or the duty to protect the weak. If it were otherwise, how did pre-Christian societies come up with these truths?

Of all the points ever made from an athiestic perspective, I simply cannot be in more agreement on any of them than this one, and I cannot for the life of me understand why naturally you would atleast admit that this is infact, very consistant with an atheistic worldview.

Im not suggesting that every athiest throw out morality simply on principle, not at all, but gosh, singer's (and nietzhe's) allegations make perfect sense.

In regards to this, I mean.

I think the point here Nat is that without the biblical framework (or what we would say is a result of the Law being written on mens hearts), none of these values have any real grounding, aside from their observable effects. They would be at best, well agreed upon, but deeply frivolous in premise.

And maybe ive understated, "aside from their observable effects". lol

Naked Music: there are other options besides Christianity and atheism.

While I am a Christian, I believe human dignity pre-dates Christianity. In other words, humans don't have dignity because Christianity teaches it; Christianity teaches it because it was already true.

"without the biblical framework . . . none of these values have any real grounding"
Are you suggesting that there were no well-grounded values before the New Testament was written? Does it not strike you as an extreme coincidence that so many cultures came up with values similar to Christianity's without the benefit of ever knowing Christianity existed?

I submit to you that if you tell a story of a man who runs into a burning house to save an infant, at grave risk to his own life, people the world over would agree that that's an excellent deed even if they've never read a page of the Bible.

>>In other words, humans don't have dignity because Christianity teaches it; Christianity teaches it because it was already true.

Very true.

>>Christianity is not necessary for an understanding of inherent human rights or the duty to protect the weak. If it were otherwise, how did pre-Christian societies come up with these truths?

Thanks for those quotes, NL. I think they were able to recognize moral truths because those societies were open to the idea of transcendent moral truths. The problem with a materialist society is that they are not. They decide on views based on pragmatism, and pragmatism (i.e., things that are pragmatic for the people in power) doesn't always end up on the side of the good. That's really what I was referring to when I used the phrase "post-Christian," since that is the direction in which we seem to be going. Again, I don't think it's impossible for people to hang on to goodness--maybe they'll come up with a materialist explanation that will encompass true morality, and thereby be willing to embrace it. But I've been seeing a lot of bad signs lately of people willing to bite very disturbing bullets.

Yes I agree, im not saying... explicitly, that its true because Christianity teaches that (And by christianity, I mean Judeao-Christian, if i spelled that right lol), but what I would call into question is why saving an infant from a burning building is good in and of itself, or why it wouldent be just as good to salvage your own life -- and by what standard we are measuring this alleged "Good".

Im a really short on time and thats a somewhat sloppy rendition of what im trying to say, but hopefully I can continue this discussion later

and i ment to throw an "lol" in at the end.

NM: the action in my story was self-evidently good. The standard is rationality itself. Any rational person would recognize the goodness of rescuing a baby from a fire, the heroism of doing so at risk of life and limb.

Amy: I agree with you that if one adopts a strictly materialist worldview, there is no room for metaphysical values or human rights. And people that adopt such a worldview may do very scary things. However, I remain confident that those people will come up with convenient excuses for invoking moral truths in the name of self-preservation. It is at that point that we jump and show them their inconsistency.

To quote C.S. Lewis yet again, in the Abolition of Man he analyzes a children's book that he calls "The Green Book" which suggests that values are merely feelings (sounds like materialism to me):
However subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all. They write in order to produce certain states of mind in the rising generation, if not because they think those states of mind intrinsically just or good, yet certainly because they think them to be the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable. It would not be difficult to collect from various passages in The Green Book what their ideal is. But we need not. The important point is not the precise nature of their end, but the fact that they have an end at all. They must have, or their book (being purely practical in intention) is written to no purpose. And this end must have real value in their eyes. To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as 'necessary' or 'progressive' or 'efficient' would be a subterfuge. They could be forced by argument to answer the questions 'necessary for what?', 'progressing towards what?', 'effecting what?'; in the last resort they would have to admit that some state of affairs was in their opinion good for its own sake. And this time they could not maintain that 'good' simply described their own emotion about it. For the whole purpose of their book is so to condition the young reader that he will share their approval, and this would be either a fool's or a villain's undertaking unless they held that their approval was in some way valid or correct.
. . . Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'sentimental' values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that 'real' or 'basic' values may emerge.

I think that there are few Peter Singers out there that would so deeply hold to materialism that they would make no pretension of having any rights of their own. To be sure, the common man is prone to propaganda campaigns and denying his conscience (as in Nazism), but I believe that conscience will generally remain (at least somewhat) effective as a means of discussion and persuasion.

By the way, if Singer truly didn't believe any human life had inherent value, why would he set the line at 28 days? Why not allow *all* killing? It's not as though he can say there's anything "wrong" with killing adults. Yet he won't go that far; he'd like to draw a line where he's safely on the other side from those who can be killed.

If Singer was consistent, he would have no moral argument against a law that permitted us to kill university professors who publicly say that it's ok to murder infants. Somehow I think I'd find a way to object to such a law other than saying "I prefer that you don't pass that law."

Singer wasn't able to go through with euthanizing his mother when she was terminally ill- he's not actually capable of dealing with the consequences of his ideas except in the abstract. I think he's admitted as much. The problem, as Naturallawyer alludes to, is the people who are. I think, however, that people tend to underestimate the ability of those people to force a full abandonment of conscience. Or how willing regular folks are to allow that.

Humans are, on average, smarter than animals. Yes, sometimes individual humans are dumber than the smartest animals. But the human species, taken as a whole, is smarter than animals, again taken as a whole. And therefore, humans are more worthy of protection than animals.

Did you catch that? It's easy to see why humans are worthy of protection. No god is needed to tell us that.

Judd: why does "smart" = "worthy of protection"?

How rational or conscious is someone who is sleeping? Is it open season on anyone who sleeps through their alarm clock? Is it that a sleeping human has the potential to wake up and be rational and conscious that their rights are then protected in light of this potential? A fetus has the potential for even more consciousness and rationality (statistically and quantitatively speaking) than anyone one of us "full citizens" who nods off for a nap and loses consciousness and rationality.

If by Christianity Naturallawyer you mean the life of Christ you are right; human rights do pre-date the incarnation.

Yet that was not the point. The point is they are nonsensical without a good God who grounds the right. These rights, and nothing for that matter, pre-date God.

I haven't read Abolition of Man, but from what I remember of Mere Christianity, I think CS Lewis may be trying to get at the moral argument for God's existence. The very foundation of the argument, it seems, is that there is no proper grounding for a moral law aside from a moral law-giver. Then he proceeds to show that everyone (Christian and non-Christian) agrees generally on the moral law.

So if Lewis believed morality could be grounded in something other than God, then why would he have gone through the trouble to present the moral argument for God's existence?

My point is not that morality can be rationally grounded in an atheistic worldview. I contend that it cannot.

However, like Lewis, I believe that everyone knows that morality exists, whether or not they consider themselves "atheist", and whether or not they are Christians. Furthermore, to the extent that an atheist comes up with a theory of rights, he/she will be borrowing from a non-materialist worldview of some kind. But it is not necessarily Christianity that such a person must borrow from.

Thus, the rejection of Christianity specifically (such as, say, Thomas Jefferson did) does not prevent one from coming up with a theory of rights. That's my point.

And ryan: I was reacting to the assertion that a "post-Christian" society that could not come up with a theory of rights. Amy has since narrowed her claim to the materialist worldview. While I agree with her position with that qualification, I still contend that most people with materialist worldviews will think inconsistently so they can keep morality, which they already know to be true (see Richard Dawkins).

Jesse: the Abolition of Man is not an argument for God's existence; it is an argument about what happens when someone rejects all theistic values (deeming all religions and non-materialist worldviews to be superstition) and tries to build his/her own system of values.

Smarts=Moral Grounding?

Well, doesnt that exclude mentally handicapped, comatic, and perhaps even sleeping people?

And what would be the IQ threshhold for human rights?


Lewis efforted that "moral argument for God's existence" because of the existence of the soul...

insofar that there is a day of judgment and reckoning for that soul.

Morality grounded in something other than a Creator God only touches on the condition of living within the vehicle of flesh, i.e. while we are spending time here on the earth - how we act, treat one another, et al.

"Common moral law" (intrinsic or not) without God can only address our behavior and its consequences from conception to casket.

If indeed there is a soul, the need for morality (whilst in the flesh) shifts significantly (i.e. drastically more important) if that soul is:

A. Eternal
B. Going to be judged

(Sidebar: In Lewis' words we are still "a hundred miles away" from the God of Christianity at this point. This discussion of morality is more aligned with the Noahic and Mosaic Covenants. Salvation, mercy, grace, and redemption are not quite yet considerations. That's the "Mystery" forthcoming.)

Christainity allows for the inherent value of humans?? As long as you arn't gay or haven't committed any one of the numerous other sins in your little book.

You all seem to make the assumption that you know what your god means when you read the Bible and believe that you are on a solid moral foundation. Yet there are so many different styles of Christian ethics, some with huge gaps between their beliefs-ie there are pro-life Christian and pro-choice Christians. Seems to me that your moral foundations can crumble at any moment just like the moral foundations of the atheists that you so readily attack.

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