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« Atheists' Small View of Christianity | Main | Our View of Man Matters »

March 27, 2012


Sadly, Botton's symptomatic of an age-old human tendency--to want the goods of faith without having to acknowledge God's Lordship. In a way, he's merely being more honest than the Word of Faith heresies, or New Agers.

Didn't the French try something similar after the revolution?

I am curious, how is Christianity supposed to "make sense" of a given value? Is it not enough to merely value a thing? Do we need some kind of explanation or justification for that value?


It's sort of like saying that the theory of gravity "makes sense" of why things which go up then go back down. It's not a justification, but it is an explanation. Analogously, our value for human life, for example, makes sense in light of Imago Dei and Christ on the Cross. Without some grounding, it's just an arbitrary preference.


Thanks for the response. However it looks to me like you're talking about two different things here. In the first half of your response you suggest that Christianity provides an "explanation" for our values, in a similar way that gravity provides an explanation for the behavior of certain physical systems. But then in the second half of your response you talk about how we need a "grounding" for morality in order to prevent it from being "arbitrary."

These concerns seem to me to involve two very different notions.

In the first case, I don't see Christianity as very helpful in predicting what values we tend to have. So it doesn't work as a predictive explanation such as gravity. In the second case, I simply don't know what you mean by "arbitrary." We can always ask ourselves, "why value X?" But if X is a noninstrumental value, then this question needs no answer. We can value X just as we like, without any deeper justification---and this is so regardless of which if any religion out there is true.


Ben./..It is not so much the values we TEND to have but rather it fleshes out the vaklues we...OUGHT to have.

For example..TThe Christian view of human life.....Why OUGHT we to hold human life sacred? Beause if it is true that we are made in the image of the One who has given our very existence...that means God has decreed how we treat one another...and it is no small thing.

What basis could an atheist use to justify ...say, valuing the unborn? His sentiment, perhaps? What else?

What basis could an atheist use to validate or reject the death penalty for murder? His sentiment, perhaps? What else?

Where the atheist often sees contradiction in the christian worldview...there is no contradiction in either of the above examples...given the Christian view of the sacredness of human life. It is definitely more than just "helpful". It is the very basis for any "ought" or "should". The atheist has....nothing for a basis for belief...and a true atheist would admit it.


I can only make sense of terms like "ought" in the context of some given goals and/or values. But my value for human life (or, more accurately, human well-being) is noninstrumental, and hopefully so is yours. So there is no answer to the question of why I ought to value human well-being. That's just part of who I am.

Moreover, if a person only values human well-being instrumentally, i.e. to achieve some other end, then I submit that this is not a good thing. It is not moral, as I understand morality, to serve the well-being of others solely for the purpose of satisfying some other value one happens to hold. (It's okay to also have that purpose, but not solely.)

So by providing an instrumental motivation to value human well-being the theist has not contributed anything to morality.


Ben..Let me see if I understand you....So if your value or worth is truly "noninstrumental"... that would mean that are no "oughts" right and no wrong..and we are just who we are...right?

Now...thats easy to say but you do not believe that for a second...or at least you do not live your life as if therw was any "truth" to our being "noninstrumental"...I garantee you do not.

No one is "just who I am" with no epistimological basis. We ALL are searching for truth or denying that there even is such a thing. No one is neutral...ever.

Also..christians do not "provide instrumental motivation" for anything. That is not in our job descriptiion. We merely respond to reality as we find it.

What we di is admit:
Reality is real...and could not be so unless it was brought into being. (That in itself ought to be enough to prove that we are not "just is".)

We look around us and see that:

not one thing in this reality could create itself, come from nothing or be eternal. ...and yet here it all IS....and we see that WE had nothing to do with any of it. The rest is a piece of cake...if we are honest.


Remember, a person values an object X noninstrumentally if he values X for its own sake, apart from whatever else X gets for him. In contrast, a person values X instrumentally if he values X as a means (or "instrument") to another end.

That said, I don't see how it follows from the fact that I value human well-being noninstrumentally that therefore there are no "oughts."

As for reality requiring another thing to bring it into being, that doesn't seem coherent. If the cause of reality existing is part of reality, then that would mean it caused itself to exist, which is impossible. And if it is not a part of reality, then it does not exist to cause anything.

Ok fine Ben...I'll bite. You have 'oughts" just like I do. I've told you the basis for its your turn. Where do your "oughts" come from. Why should anyone csre that you think I "ought" to do something??

Again...I can tell you why you ought not to violate another person unjustly. I can tell you why you "ought not" cut in front of someone in the chekcout line. Can you?


You claim that you have a "basis" for your oughts. I assume that you are speaking of this example you wrote:

Why OUGHT we to hold human life sacred? Beause if it is true that we are made in the image of the One who has given our very existence...that means God has decreed how we treat one another...and it is no small thing.

So I guess you mean that God commands us to respect human well-being, and you want to obey God; therefore you must respect human well-being in order to serve your desire to obey God's commands. Your value of human well-being would thus be instrumental in serving your value of God's commands.

The thing is, I just value human well-being for its own sake, and not as a means to some other end (e.g. obedience to a divine autocrat). I don't need to have any external goal or value. In other words, I don't need anyone to convince me that I ought to respect human well-being, because that desire is already part of my character.

I assume it is part of yours as well. Even if you came to believe that God had not commanded you to respect human well-being (perhaps because he does not exist to give commands), I think you would go on respecting human well-being just out of your own noninstrumental value thereof.

So in answer to your question, I if you needed me to tell you why you ought not "violate another person unjustly," or "cut in front of someone in the checkout line," I would remind you of that part of your character which noninstrumentally values human well-being.

I think I've got it, Ben. You seem to be using this idea of "instrumentality" as a subsitute for value or worth..without amy particular basis other than what you "prefr".....for no particular reason. It just seems to be right for you...right?

Looks to me like you beg the question when you state that your "character" already has the desire for good..(without religion, I assume). But again ..whre does that "desire" for good come from? What makes you desire "good"? Would it be impossible for your "character' to enjoy evil? Why or why not?


Instrumentality is a feature of certain values, not a substitute for values. Instrumentality (in this context) doesn't make any sense without values.

But as to my "basis" for values, I'm not sure what Christians mean by such talk. I could have other values which move me to value human well-being instrumentally, but morality requires our value of human well-being to be noninstrumental. So that won't help.

Alternatively, we could ask about the causal origin of our values, which seems to be what you're getting at in the second paragraph of your latest post. The answer seems to involve our evolutionary origins, where we could point to the altruistic behavior displayed in primates and other mammals as just one line of evidence in its support.

As a Christian, you probably want to explain our tendency to have certain values by saying that God designed our species to have those tendencies. And while that's fine as far as it goes, it's hardly necessary for explaining morality or any other set of values.

What I mean by having a BASIS is ..A BASIS is the rationale for saying one thing is true and anotehr is not. I can see that you have no particular basis at all other than what you "prefer" or what feels good to you. For sure that is what drives a lot of the contemporary pagan worldview.

All i am saying is that you SAY that a basis is not important but you live as if Christianity were true. That can only mean you a slightly confused about reality itself.

Have you never even considered the imperical evidence that essentially proves that a Creator God not only exists but is soveriegn over all of it?? No I am not talking about bible verses for evidence, but rather a simple logical observation about trality itself.

Hey, Greg. I read "the ambassador's creed" and I wholeheartedly commend anyone who endeavors to follow it. I think this is a worthy goal for anyone who is an honest witness for Christanity, and I wish more Christians would follow it. This has not been my experience debating with Christians online -- they appear quite defensive and introduce Christian lingo as foregone conclusions. To be fair, many atheists are even worse and ridicule those who disagree with them.

In any event, I wanted to comment regarding being bolted to reality. I started out thinking that religion was simply a matter of faith, and therefore a personal choice. Like Stephen Jay Gould I thought science and religion occupied two different "magesteria".

As I researched Christianity and Judaism, however, I found that this was not the case. In the absence of evidence one way or the other, belief is a personal choice -- such is the case, for instance with Deism vs Atheism. But the Judaeo-Christian viewpoint affirms specific testable claims found in the Bible. I have looked at these claims, allowing for miracles and evaluating each worldview on its own terms, and seem to come to an inescapable conclusion that the supernatural stories in the Bible, although they are quite different from polytheistic mythology, are nevertheless fictional to a large extent.

I can bring a lot of examples but the most clear cut one would be the flood story. This is because it is taken SERIOUSLY by Jews and Christians, and Jesus Himself used it to illustrate what will happen in (what Christians believe to be) a very real apocalypse at the end of the world. The claims and worldview of Jesus as he is described in the New Testament are firmly part of the Judaic worldview of the time, which included the covenant at Sinai, the exodus, the flood, as being literal stories.

In this sense, Genesis 11 is one of the most problematic chapters in the entire Bible, as it serves as the fulcrum in the rift between the Bible and the various sciences. There is simply no way that I can see Genesis 11 being true -- even allowing for miracles -- as long as you maintain a consistent standard of what you will give the benefit of the doubt to, in your own religion.

This is getting long so I will just illustrate why I do not consider any version of the flood story as possibly true:

Problems with a global flood:

Why the flood must have been global:

Even a local, but universal, flood makes a testable scientific prediction: our Y chromosomes should show that we are all descended from one man who lived 2k-3k years ago. It also predicts we should not find continuous civilizations such as the egyptian pyramids both before and after the flood. And yet this does not match at all what we find.

Conclusion: the flood story, which the Bible devotes many chapters to, could not have happened. Yet the Bible claims that Abraham is descended from Noah. Biblical inerrancy can be disproven much more easily than this, but the problem here isn't merely inerrancy. A valid question can be raised -- we do not see any big supernatural events going on today, and we DO know that ancient people around the world attributed natural things to supernatural causes, and created legends. Could it not be that the Bible is an example of this?

So this causes me to doubt the whole thing. Yes, there is evidence for the historicity of the gospels, and yes there may be some C. S. Lewis type Christological argument from the historical evidence. But such a roundabout approach still is weaker than going the other way, and seeing all the problems with "The Bible" being a reliable account of how things really happened.

Greg (also) from Brooklyn

PS: Is there a good time to call into your program? I am in New York.


I don't know where you got the idea that a non-Christian like myself lives "as if Christianity were true." That is certainly not the case.

If you're looking for a rationale for moral behavior, again I would point you to your noninstrumental value of the well-being of your fellow human beings. If you don't already have that innate desire to see other people happy, and to avoid seeing them suffer, then appealing to religion isn't going to help. And if you do, then you don't need religion to justify it.

As for producing evidence that God exists, that is not possible. One cannot produce evidence for an entity which has as an essential property the power to violate the regularities of experience, since evidence only bears on those regularities. And a purely logical proof isn't going to work either, since logic won't get you external objects.

sorry I meant 4k - 5k years ago

You are still mising it Ben and i don;t anticipate it will get much better.

Ben...I am not arguing that atheists can wbnt to be good...and can even be better examples og moral goodness than some Christians. Thats not the point. WE ALL know right from weong pagan and what is the difference?

The differnce is that the atheist, according ot his own worldview COULD be another Hitler ..or worse...and there wolld be NOTHING truly WRong with that. He has no particulaR reason to BR good or bad.. again,,,other than hes preferenbce (at least you have presented no other so far) Itd just that some PREFER the accolades that can come with doing "good" as opposed to say spending life in prison for mass murder etc.

The Christian worldview says..."forget about what you prefer" Whar you PREFER may or may bit br truky good. That is irrelevant.

It has been said that we Christians are free to do anything we want long as God would approve.

Now I understand that is unacceptable to the pagan because tis too constrictive. But the pagans mistake is in believing he can be "
truly good' all by himself and that, my friend is never ever going to happen.

Vic - your debate is interesting but I think you both should consider that moral "oughts" are not absolute.

Instead of "X ought to Y"

Everyone really says "X ought to Y if X wants Z"

The Z is often not said. But what this means is:

"If X does Y, but Z doesn't happen, then it wasn't X's fault"

So: If you want to please God, then you ought to somehow find out what God wants you to do. If you want to be considered rational, you ought to avoid using irrational reasoning when discussing with others. And so forth.

The reason that relative morality works better is because some desires are stronger than others. You may want to be thought of as a rational debater, but you may also want to sleep with your wife even more, or escape an erupting volcano. Thus you will cut short the debate about whether the volcano is erupting, perhaps appearing to "irrationally cut and run" to the other person. But you accept this possibility because you think you SHOULD BE escaping the volcano. This is what people usually mean when they say SHOULD.

So you guys are both rather correct. Except for a religious person who is honest, the desire is to please God. They have this desire because of their beliefs!

Hi greg...

I think perhaps you are seriously mistaken to think that morals are not absolute....from several standpoints. Again...SAYING morals are whatever we prefer is easy...and I admit..very enticing (not to mention futile)...for those who wish to escape the scrutiny of God.

But as i mentioned to Ben.... we have to have more than what we "prefer" ...because what we can often "prefer" is horribly wrong...and we ALL know it. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ted Bundy, to name a few, All of these had "preferences" and if that was all that was needed to find truth we'd have a quite different world right now.

All I am saying is that Christianity, as a worldview, portends to describe or correlate with reality as we find it.

For example....A moral truth that we ALL know (no exceptions) is that it is always wrong to violate another human being unjustly. Do not think that I an suggesting we all OBEY that moral law...but only that we all know it.

...and the question for you skeptics is simple. Why is that true? If there were truly no law giver and all was simply a crap shoot you would think we would have to go on a quest or study reality for years to discover such truth. But we don't...we all have the moral law instilled in us.

Now if you folks wold like to suggest that the source of such moral "evolution" my guest. After we all have a good chuckle...we are still left with the basic question..Where DID we obtain this truth that is universally known??


The term "moral law" may be a bit misleading. Perhaps morality can be codified (though this is not clear), but it is not defined by a law code issued by any particular body (or divine entity, if you prefer). When I say, "it is wrong to murder," I am not referring to a command of God. Rather, I am referring to a shared stock of values as they are situated in society. This is clear from the fact that a statement like "it is moral to obey God's commands" is not a vacuous tautology.

So it doesn't help to posit the existence of an entity (namely God) commanding us to serve those values in the way we associate with morality. That's not going to make moral statements true or false, because we don't have God in mind when we express those moral statements. God's commands stand independent to what we actually mean by our moral language.

What we really do mean has a lot to do with human well-being and the conventions associated with serving it. So when we evaluate the truth or falsity of a moral fact, we usually must appeal to that picture in some way. In answer to your question, then, moral truth has the same "source" as ordinary truth---the way the world actually is, compared to what we mean by our moral language.

In other words..truth "just is"....and needs no source. Got it.


I don't know where you got that idea. I'm saying that there is a correspondence or divergence between what we mean and what actually exists, and this distinguishes truth and falsity. In other words, I am a correspondence theorist of truth.

My point is that moral truth doesn't enjoy any special exemption from this correspondence criterion. So if what we mean by our moral language is independent of God, then so too are moral truths independent of God.

Interesting. None of your arguments seem to back up your suggestion that all morals are absolute.

You say "we all have the moral law instilled in us" but certainly people behave according to different morals. Ancient Greeks used to kill deformed babies. Many societies were relatively fine with homosexuality. Many Christian societies killed people for believing Islam, or "witchcraft", or homosexuality. Catholics would kill protestants when in power and vice versa. Hardly sounds like everyone has the same ideas about morality, even having the same gospels.

You say:
"For example....A moral truth that we ALL know (no exceptions) is that it is always wrong to violate another human being unjustly. Do not think that I an suggesting we all OBEY that moral law...but only that we all know it."

But notice how you qualified it with "justly". Everyone has a different idea of what is just. Libertarians will tell you that taxes are unjustly robbing individuals by the state to pay for programs desired by special interests or a certain group of voters or political activists who were well organized. Killing homosexuals was considered just by Christians because of Leviticus, but apparently creating figurines and bowing to them was completely fine for Catholics. It's picking and choosing.

Justice and Morality is not something you can point to and say "it's objective." Even the atheist followers of Ayn Rand make this mistake. Morals can be objectively derived from a mix of values and logic. But the values are Subjective.

All humans share values such as personal well being. Therefore they can agree on basic notions such as "do not harm people for no reason." However, once various reasons enter the picture, things stop becoming objective.

So you still have not shown morality to be objective. I agree that saying "we should not punish an innocent man" is objective because it follows from the definitions by logic. We can oppress an innocent, but punishment presupposes guilt. Aside from logic though, people may disagree on whether someone is innocent.

Greg...You are mistaken. To suggest that we make up our own morals and that they have no correlation to a universal knowledge of right and wrong is not at all true.

What you suggest as "differences" in morals (what we know we OUGHT to do) is not differences in morals at all. The "differences" come only in ethics..(what we actually practice..regardless of the "oughts" we know).

Would you deny that all humans KNOW that it is wrong to violate anotehr person unjustly? Is that knowledge someting that has to be taught?

So... Ben...are you saying truth is relative?


You ask,

are you saying truth is relative?

No. The notion of "relative" truth is ill-defined, I think, as is the notion of "absolute" truth.

A better way to think about the situation is this: There is one and only one way the world actually is. If that corresponds to our statements about the world, then those statements are true. If not, then they are false. And this is so independent of what point of view you happen to hold.

But what if yout "point of view" actually does correspond to reality...and someone elses' does not? That was the whole point of the original blog. Truth exists because we have a Rational logicval God who has made the reality we live in...understandable and rationa. There would be NO trtuth possible without that overseeing force, if you will.

I think you are a closet relativist and do not even realize it.

Ben it can't be both ways no matter how nice and noncomittal that may sound. Eiter truth exists and we can know it as truth...or it does not.

No need to discuss YOUR truth and MY truth because truth has never depended upon our "preferring" one view over another. If something is true...its is true no matter what anyone else may think.

...I see that many relativists get a few miles out of saying that because we cannont know all there is to know that that neabns we can know nothing for sure. Pure atheist pappycock.

Vic you seem to be saying things but not really backing them up.

"Greg...You are mistaken. To suggest that we make up our own morals and that they have no correlation to a universal knowledge of right and wrong is not at all true."

Okay so you are saying that everyone has the same morals? Or that morals have a correlation to a universal "knowledge" of right and wrong? Who has this knowledge? If you are going to say that God has this knowledge, then you are assuming your conclusion ... that morals are absolute. Without proving anything.

"Would you deny that all humans KNOW that it is wrong to violate anotehr person unjustly? Is that knowledge someting that has to be taught?"

I have already told you that your example of an "absolute" moral statement contains a vague qualifier: "unjustly". Yes I would say that

A) Libertarians would believe that killing a person for engaging in homosexual sex is unjust

B) Many Christians throughout history believed it was just

So what is your point? People disagree on morals. I thought this would be obvious.

If you are going to claim that all morality is absolute then you had better back up that statement, don't you think?

Vic let me ask you a question. What if I simply claim there is "absolute humor"? Look I can prove it... doesn't everyone in the world agree that FUNNY jokes compel people to laugh? That is what your example sounds like.

Absolute humor? I think I like it! more time, Greg. Yes morals are absolute because all people universally know them. Now..just because they are known does not mean they are practiced. This is where ethics come in. Ethics describe what what people actually DO.

For example...child sacrifice can be found in more than a few civilizations...and to think that these people had no idea that this was perverted and wrong is plain silliness. In fact the whole reason for comitting such atrocity was to prove that you had "god" on your side and that you meant business.....and to heck with the harm this perversion caused the innocent.

Another example....Some tribes in Papau New Guinea actually placed value on being trecherous with other tribes. That was their got them esteen within their culture....EVEN WHILE KNOWING IT WAS WRONG. The proof that they knew it was wrong was that they never ever sought to allow thenselves to be the victims. If they had thought treachery was truly "good"...then they would have looked forward to being taken advantage of...and that never ever happeed.

Your two questions above ...BEG the question. We aren't concerned with what people "prefer" whether liberterian or Christian. What we want to know is...IS IT RIGHT?.....and upon what basis is it right....or wrong? Atheists, once again, HAVE no basis...other than what they prefer. And i've already harped on what happens when you try to answer the question by being a relativist.

If there truly is no transcendent law (and by defintion... a transcendent law..GIVER) then all you have is opinion and the one with the biggest club is naturally always right.

Yes I agree with you! That last paragraph is almost correct. Except if the last sentence says "everyone is right in their own club" hahaha

Is it morally right to kill animals to wear fur coats? Since we are humans, we are the ones whose opinions count!

And while we are at it can you tell me who is morally right about killing gay people - libertarians or the Catholic Church in 1500?

You said everyone KNOWS what's right. So people know the right thing to do in every situation and on every subject and yet are ready to die for the opposite? A libertarian might die defending the right of gay people to have sex. Do you seriously claim they KNOW that the right thing to do is to eradicate the abomination instead?


You write that

Truth exists because we have a Rational logicval God who has made the reality we live in...understandable and rationa. There would be NO trtuth possible without that overseeing force

I don't see how you could ever defend that position. I noted above that truth is just a correspondence of the meaning of statements to the way the world actually is. That correspondence exists independently of God.

You then go on and insist that I am a relativist, even though I expressly denied that truth is relative. I don't know what more I can say than to repeat that I am not a relativist. Hopefully you will believe me this time.


I defend this position from the logic God gave me.....and to you will use it.

Truth is NEVER a "correspondence" independent from God...because nothing...truth, pretty girls, rusting ford fairlanes, poetry,...or you is EVER independent. They all have a cause and could not possibly "be"...independently. Its the WHAT that caused this all to be that we are concerned with.

We KNOW none of the above ever:

"Just is"

created itself

or came from nothing

Yes sir...It really is just that simple.

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