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November 02, 2011


Here are the atheist's ten commandments:


And what are these immaterial objective values in a purely material world? Evolution doesn't explain them because they're not physical.

That they are 'objective' is just an assertion.

That evolution can't explain them 'because they're not physical' is just wrong; evolution can explain any behavior that has implications for reproductive fitness.


We make our living, in part, by taking others into account - by being moral. It is our (evolved) nature to take others into account.

This is true. It's not just someone's opinion. It's not even merely everyone's opinion. It's objectively true.

You ask if it is ever moral to torture babies only for your own fun.

Well, if you define 'morality' in some way that doesn't at least include taking others into account, then torturing babies for your own fun would be 'moral' under that definition.

Maybe somewhere at some time somebody has or does use 'morality' in such a way.

But that is not the point.

The point is that such a definition disconnects the word 'morality' from the objective fact that we make our living, in part, by taking others into account.

Disconnecting 'morality' from the fact does not remove this fact and we can't understand our world without recognizing this fact. If we disconnect 'morality' we'd end up finding another word.

So I would re-write the famous grounding question as follows: Does torturing babies just for your own fun take others into account?

Clearly, the 'just for your own fun' part conflicts with taking others into account.

So the answer is No, torturing babies just for your own fun does not take others into account.



Thanks for the link. Nice.



Glenn Beck?


I realize his connection is incidental.

But still. Seriously?

Maybe this is a case of "Sure he's a xxx, but hes OUR xxx" - something that might or might not have been said somewhat more colorfully by FDR about Somoza.

Genetic fallacy notwithstanding, a piece of material would have to be pretty good before I would use the Glenn Beck of my side as a source of any kind. Who would that be anyway?



I don't think Glen Beck was being brought up for anything other than the purpose of talking about morality and atheism. Maybe I'm wrong.. But thats all I got from it.

Ron, I can explain it to you. Glenn Beck challenged Penn to come up with 10 commandments, so Penn created them. That's the story of how these came about, therefore that's the story Melinda explained. Then she explained why that was the wrong question to ask.

The source of this story is not Glenn Beck, the source is the Washington Post (see the link). I'm unclear why you think Glenn Beck was the source of this story, or why Melinda's critique of his question and the 10 commandments has anything to do with the genetic fallacy, or why you think Melinda was claiming she was "on Beck's side," particularly since the only person she expressed agreement with in this post was Penn.


I said realized Beck's connection was incedental because I read all you explained to me and that the ultimate source of the story is Penn.

My reference to the genetic fallacy was that he was the source of the question and I ought not reject the question for that reason. OK, I see why that might not have been clear.

In the OP Beck's role is merely to ask the wrong question - his motives are right, but his tactics are wrong.

But look, the guy is a phony and a blight.

I wouldn't want my feelings about him to be ambiguous.


Opps garbled.

I said realized Beck's connection was incedental because I read all you explained to me in the OP and the link.

I also read that the ultimate source of the story is Penn.

Oops :)

I don't know about his motives--they're not mentioned, and Melinda wasn't commenting on them.

I don't understand what you mean when you say his "role is merely to ask the wrong question." Role? Melinda is commenting on a story in the WP in order to discuss the issue of grounding morality. Beck happens to be in that story. So does Penn. Both are mentioned. There's nothing more to it than that.

It does seem odd to me that you have a problem with this.

Ron H,

You seem to be defining morality as something like - Acting in a way that takes others into account. If so, then it may have occurred to you that someone may ask, "Why should I act in a way that takes others into account?" How would you answer that question?


I think of it as an observation as well as a definition.

Yes, it has occurred to me that someone may ask me that.

In fact, it has occurred to me that someone did ask me that. Quite a lot.

And, I have heard others asked that.

And, I have seen a short film made solely for the purpose of asking that.

I would certainly make something up if you asked me why you shouldn't torture me.

But I don't believe that kind of 'should' is real so I can't tell you why you 'should' in the sense you mean.

But I can tell you why I do take others into account.

I like to do it! And I like to watch others do it too!

It's beautiful when people take one another into account. It's not just that I like seeing them do it - I love seeing the joy it clearly gives them to do it.

On the other side I am saddened and worse when people don't take one another into account. It's not just the pain of watching the selfish acts themselves - I find it painful to see the pain it gives both sides.

These are my reasons. I'm sure you claim to have bigger and better reasons. Mine are good enough for me.

Psst! I think they are good enough for you too. And, I think they are good enough to explain the whole phenomenon.

You might as well ask me why you should eat.


It's about Beck. He's revolting. A liar. A fraud. I do have a problem having him mentioned and not condemned. Call it personal.

It's not about y'all. I doubt you are informed fans of him.

Maybe you don't know him - haven't thought about it.

A conservative fellow traveler? Give him a pass?

Can you tell me?


I do have a problem having him mentioned and not condemned.

Ronh, do you think that whenever people say " Glenn Beck" they should include the phrase, "curse be upon him"?

There's a difference between having an answer and having a credible answer.

I agree that Christianity can say "You can't ground logic? We can!" or something similar. But that doesn't mean that there is anything behind that claim.

As for morality, again I'm not sure that Christianity brings anything to the table. We all have a shared moral instinct (shared because we're the same species). Add the moral customs that individual societies bring and I think you have a fairly complete explanation of morality with the benefit that no supernatural explanation is needed.

Sam, you are my hero. That just about sums up this bit of unreasonableness.

Mr. Seidensticker, You start with a requirement for having a credible answer. Then you move on with, “…I think…”, and “…I’m not sure..” and finally “…I think you have a fairly complete…”. So you set the stage requiring credible answers then offer unsure thoughts, unsure answers and only being fairly complete.

Please be so bold to take a stand meeting your own requirement for credibility and stick to telling us what you know to be true. In other words please forgo the rambling thoughts and lay out a rational explanation, which means you need a handful of credible reasons why there is no supernatural aspect to morality, if you can.

Bob, I think you are confusing moral epistemology and moral ontology. I would agree with you that we can account for moral beliefs without appealing to God. But I don't think we can account for moral obligations themselves without appealing to God. The grounding issue for Christians isn't meant to explain how we know about morals, but where morals actually come from.

Bob - thanks for posting. While we might disagree with you, nice to have you on board.

What was the motivation behind Glenn Beck, curse be upon him, presenting this softball challenge?

Arguments about Beck aside, while working night shift just recently I was listening to my favourite comedy show, Coast to Coast, where one of the multi-dimensional loving, New Age illuminati was discussing our soul and the universal non-god mind or some other nebulous Unity. It struck me that this was all a bunch of pseudo-scientific fantasy with about as much plausibility as the swords and sorcery world found in the Salvatore novels my son reads.

But this is also how, in general, atheists view Christianity. Some may be more vociferous in their denunciation of our Faith than others, but it all sounds the same to them. It's all gobblie-gook to their ears. So, asking an atheist a question about grounding morality inevitably leads to the evolutionary proposition as the answer. What else is there?

In many ways it becomes a fruitless argument as both sides quickly hunker down behind their respective positions. Where do we go from here? I find compelling evidence for God and less compelling evidence for evolution. I find a relational component informing my understanding of God that is both surprizing and compelling. No such relational opportunity exists in the context of a macro-evolutionary thesis. Therefore, I go with God.

But, to many committed atheists the idea of grounding morality in God is no different then George Norry's guest telling us that all our morality comes from an alien named Zenon from Plant Q. Atheists don't argue with us just to prove a point because it never occurs to them that we really even have a legitimate point; they argue because they want to disabuse us of our childish monotheistic notions but, at the same time, are constantly astounded they even have to argue about such a ridiculous notion.

So, yes, unequivocally, atheists can be, and are, moral people. We see this every day among our friends and neighbours and this fact is consistent with the Christian worldview. But, from the atheist worldview, I must respectfully disagree with Melinda here, morality is right at home because evolution is their bedrock. As Berlinski suggests, evolution seems sufficiently malleable to encompass virtually any requirement (even God according to Collins). Therefore, finding morality in the neo-darwinian expanse is no big deal and seems quite intellectually satisfying to the atheistic practitioner.

I have to agree with you. Stop and look at how you view other religions and how unbelievable they sound to you....that's how an atheist views christianity.

RonH, no offense with the Glen Beck comment, it just seemed funny to me at the time. I have read a lot of your post and I appreciate the diverse perspectives that you bring to this blog.

I agree that it is beautiful when people take one another into account, but, although this may come as natural as eating to you, I don’t believe it comes as natural to most. I certainly felt that I was a good moral person prior to becoming a Christian, but after becoming a Christian and no longer being able to move the moral goalpost (morality no longer became relative to how good I could rationalize my flawed decisions in my own mind) my opinion of myself changed. For example, I could rationalize that sex outside of marriage is good and that I would be taking my spouse into account by keeping it a secret from her (just an example, not an occurrence).

I have been pondering the idea that an evolved human society would hold to the moral principle “do to others as you would have them do to you”, which I think is consistent with your values, but in order for that principle to have objective meaning within the society, the society would have to at least believe it came from a higher power that they are accountable to in some way.

One of my favorite Bible events is when Joseph tells his master’s wife that he would not have an affair with her because his God, who sees all, would know of it. I don’t want to go tit for tat with you on who is more moral, Christians or atheist. But, if Joseph, a young man, could have rationalized that there would be no pain to anyone and only pleasure for the two of them, because no one else would know, as his master’s wife rationalized it, would the act have been immoral based on how you view morality?

I hope my questions made sense. Once again, I have read your post and I am not looking for a debate with you, but I would like to read your response.


There has to more than merely 'taking others into account.' What about them do we take into account? Their existence? That describes only pragmatic utilitarianism, not morality.

Do you mean something like, "doing things not only for our own benefit, but taking into account the benefit of others"?

I'm having trouble grasping what your basic premise ("It is our [evolved] nature to take others into account,") has to do with morality.

Hi. It occurs to me that the divine command theory doesn't offer a suitable moral system either. The cpm ands in the bible are 2000 years old, and new commands aren't forthcoming. Under DCT, if something isn't prohibited by the binlethen we can have no basis for saying it isn't moral.

For example, female genital mutilation is a horrible practice inflicted by both Muslim and Christian mothers on their daughters in Kenya and Ethiopia. the bible is silent on the issue.

Is FGM moral from a Christian point of view. If not, then why?

From a c

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