Thursday, November 09, 2006

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Secularism (Index Page for Dave Armstrong)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): combination of his portrait and death mask (Snark International)


Dialogue With an Atheist on the "Problem of Good" and the Nature of Meaningfulness in Atheism (+ Part Two) (The Flip Side of the Problem of Evil Argument Against Christianity) (vs. Mike Hardie)

God (Atheist Obsession With the Supposedly Nonexistent)

Dialogue With an Atheist on the Epistemology of Disbelief in God and the "Demonization" of Opponents (Including Appendices on Conscience and Disproofs of Worldviews) (vs. Sue Strandberg)

 Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies?
 [contains many hundreds of technical links explaining matters of science and providing biographical information, in both the PDF and ePub versions]

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Dialogues With / Critiques of "ProfMTH" / Mitch

"The Butcher and the Hog": The Atheist Approach to the Bible

[see also related papers in the "Alleged Biblical Contradictions" section of The Bible, Tradition, Canon, & Sola Scriptura Index Page]

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Atheist "Deconversions"

Famous Atheists (Real and Imagined)

[For related reading, see: Philosophy, Science, and Christianity Page]

Last updated on 19 July 2013.



Phil said...


First of all I would like to apologise if I seemed rather harsh in my last post, in reference to having to "read your debates several dozen times" in order to understand them. I believe that your reply was short because my chosen language was offensive. The fault lies not in your articles themselves but in mine own stupidity, they are amongst the most well written on the web.

With that out of the way I would like to state more civily what I was trying to ask the last time. You have done a great job in critiquing the fundamental premises of atheism and showing how they require much more blind faith than than Christian doctrine. But what about entire systems of thought based around the concept of atheism? Lately I have had a lot of Hobbian (if that's the correct term) moral philosophy hammered into me, and it has left me floundering like a fish as to how to answer it.

I'm sure that you are familiar with his premise: that human beings are inherently selfish and completly egotistical, yet if they were allowed to behave in that way the world would soon become uninhabitable. Therefore a "moral contract" is drawn up and a civil authority set in place to ensure that all stick to it. Several secualrists and fellow determinalists like Gauther have criticised this view, but in its place they seem to offer nothing but flimsy liberalism. So my question is how would a philosophical Catholic refute Hobbes and others like him who propose "ethical egoism"? Thomas Aquinas never mentions it because, obviously, this strain of though didn,t exist in the 13th century, and Catholic Answers seems to ignore it completly.

Martin said...

I think the proper term for the system is "Hobbledygook".

Dave Armstrong said...

Too broad of a question. I have various papers about atheism that deal with these sorts of questions.

And what is your religious affiliation? Are you a Christian; a Catholic Christian? Why are you always asking about atheism? Because that is your position?

Who were these people you said were asking all the questions and saying silly things about me? Where can their writings be found on the Internet?

Phil said...

First of all I am Orthodox Catholic. Secondly the person (not people) who said all the weird stuff about you is a family member with whom I often debate, and who holds that you defend the midianite passage because you are American and are trying to find religious justification for the Iraq war (which I know that you oppose).

The reason that I ask about atheism is, to put in the most ambiguous terms, because unlike John W. Loftus, I try as hard as possible no to lose my faith in college. The vast majority of Philosophy class (also broadly speaking) deals with Philosophers who were militantly atheistic, and like many young christian students the pressure begins to mount after a while.

I ask about Hobbes because his system of thought has been presented to me as being almost completly watertight, which I know is not the case but am unable to prove so. The argument goes more or less that ALL moral actions, even apparently selfless ones can be seen as containing elements of self gratification. And as long as this remains the case then Hobbes and others like him have got the upper hand.

Now to be fair, critics of Hobbes have been brought up. But they are all also atheistic or purely empiricist, or downright disturbing like Peter Singer. The "moral contract" given by Hobbes is held as a matter of fact through most of the lesson.

Dave Armstrong said...

I favored the Iraq War. I like the idea of liberating people from tyranny and oppression. I'm weird that way.

I think I get at some of the issues you are grappling with in the following paper (which I consider one of the most challenging debates I was ever in: with a very friendly and articulate atheist):

Dialogue With an Atheist on the "Problem of Good" and the Nature of Meaningfulness in Atheism (+ Part Two) (The Flip Side of the Problem of Evil Argument Against Christianity)
(vs. Mike Hardie)

Also, this one:

Dialogue With an Agnostic Concerning Relativist vs. Absolutist Morality and the Natural Law (vs. Dr. Jan Schreurs)

Phil said...

Alright, let's see if I've got this clearly. Any system of morality that is based on the premise of atheism will eventually devolve into nihilism and despair because it has no objective criteria for which to base itself upon. Plus the only way in which an atheistic morality could be propagated would be through a dictatorship not unlike old style Soviet goverment.

Funnily enough Hobbes himself in his work Leviathan calls for an absolute dictator who can impose the social contract that keeps society in order. Seems like your inference is true!

I can see from the first paper why Utilitarianism (itself just an updated form of ancient Epicureanism) is so easy to refute. If all morality is based upon the maximisation of pleasure and minimalisation of pain,without God it still boils down to a kind of ridiculous relativism where gross immorality can be justified. But this damned Hobbes buisness seems to follow me like an annoying toddler.

Just how can one disprove that all morality is merely a social "contract between villains", who would only destroy each other if not hindered by some civil power? How can one prove that not all actions derive from selfish desires? I have had it told me that even a seemingly "kind" and "altruistic" person like Mother Theresa would still be classed as selfish because she might get "self gratification" from performing charitable acts.

Dave Armstrong said...

May we all be as "selfish" as Mother Teresa then. The world would be a better place, and the motivation is the love of God, shown by loving persons, "the least of these."

Dave Armstrong said...

The book you want to get is A Refutation of Moral Relativism, by Peter Kreeft:

Randy said...

I have had it told me that even a seemingly "kind" and "altruistic" person like Mother Theresa would still be classed as selfish because she might get "self gratification" from performing charitable acts.

If one gets satisfaction from obeying God does that make anything you do out of that obedience selfish? It is true to an extent but why does it matter? If the social contract cannot be understood or lived out apart from God then what has the atheist gained by describing it that way?

Phil said...

Thanks for that, your papers have given much food for thought.

Dave Armstrong said...

Cool! Glad to be of some help.

Justin said...

Phil you want a refutation to the idea that:

1) We all tend to be selfish. Public morality (and the feeling of right and wrong) derives from a social contract instead of God-planted conscience. Thus, the phenomenon of behaviourial norms is actually the result of 100s of years of societal evolution, the fundamental thinking being that "we are subject to these societal norms of good behaviour because that is essential for society to function". The cause for our feeling of right and wrong is the evolving of this fundamental thinking into our sub-conscious.

2) all selfless actions have an element of self-gratification or selfishness and are thus not 100% selfless

I'm a student with no training in philosophy. But I'll take a shot at it.

Re 1): imagine a society 200 years from now, when world population has exploded and there is great food shortage. Society's morality now is that there is much less respect for human life- 1 dead person is 1 less mouth to feed. Consequently, abortion is greatly encouraged.

Now imagine the food shortage becomes so terrible that the democratically elected government has a referendum, and people overwhelmingly vote that from date x, no other baby must be born ie all fetuses must be aborted. This is a well-meaning law- people intend it to be only temporary until the food shortage passes.

Now further imagine you are a government officer tasked with the unpleasant job of forcing parents to abort their fetuses. You fully believe this law is necessary for society to continue functioning. Now as you force the woman to tearfully abort her baby, will you not feel a touch of sympathy for the couple?

So you have this feeling of empathy, of putting yourself in the parents' shoes and thinking, no I wouldn't want that to be done to me. But if I tend to be selfish, if I believe that morality derives solely from the what is best for society, then I shouldn't feel any sympathy at all. So this is my illustration of how idea 1) does not adequately explain empathy while the presence of conscience does.

* Perhaps a counter-argument would be that feelings of sympathy are a result of a guilt complex- "look at the child and see your own child, see in an old person you own parents" which was necessary for society to develop to take care of its old and sick. But how about those who are born handicapped? Surely they are a burden to society in an objective sense and so it isn't necessary for society to accommodate them to survive? If so then why do we feel sympathy for the parents if the law commands that all such babies be killed? Furthermore, we could reply that empathy should not have evolved in a survival of the fittest society- it might be a liability and lessen the society's chances of survival (I don't know if we can measure the "usefulness" of empathy in societal survival and progression).

Justin said...

...following from above

Re 2): Perhaps we should distinguish between the goal and the side-effect. The goal of selfless acts is to grow in Christ-likeness. If the "side effect" is pleasure or heaven, does that make it selfish? If my parents take care of me and as a side effect feel good that they "acted responsibly", is that selfish? In fact, I would argue that if Mother Teresa finds pleasure (as a side effect) living among and helping the poor, that is an argument FOR God, since it shows she finds meaning in her work. And that throws a glimpse on our ultimate meaning in life- to love and serve God. We find contentment there precisely because that is what we are created for (our ultimate meaning in life).

We also know from human experience that it is much easier to do bad than good. Temptations are everywhere. I think its simplistic to say that we can't REALLY be kind because pleasure is a side-effect of being kind. If pleasure is a side-effect, it certainly is a very very much smaller pleasure than the pleasure of indulging myself. With the great disparity in pleasure, the will (in its better times) chooses to be kind not because of the pleasure of doing so, but despite of the far lesser pleasure in doing so. But I think there is a Christian paradox here- in that the real pleasure can only be found by submitting to God's will and and commands. And this requires training- as a pianist trains for hours to achieve the perfect rendition of Beethoven. He could have preferred watching TV rather than more unpleasant task of practicing, but then he would never have gotten the real pleasure from that perfect rendition.

Morris said...


I liked the title of your article "Jittery John" Loftus Again Throws a Hissy-Fit When I Simply Critique His Argument Against the Biblical, Timeless, Transcendent God". It cracked me up. Atheists often do act like prima donnas. Also, if you could offer this comprehensive article on atheism in your resources on atheism above, it would be much appreciated.

Dave Armstrong said...

Mistakenly deleted the post on the deconversion Rook Hawkins from Pito: weird stuff going on with this Blogger sometimes.

If you see this Pito, please re-post. I actually wanted to get into some of these deconversion stories again in the near future. Good timing!

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Morris,

Glad you liked it! I don't have links to other sites on this particular web page, but if you make a link to my atheist page (or my overall blog) I'll be glad to reciprocate with a link on my sidebar, under the appropriate category. Just let me know where the link to mine is posted (with URL) and I will respond in kind.

Sophia's Lover said...

Hi, Dave, it's Pito.

I was online reading atheist de-conversion stories some time ago.
One story that tickled me, particularly b/c of its' many epistemological (and potentially factual)holes was that of Rook Hawkins, the biblical scholar, historian and member of the Rational Response Squad.

I was interested in learning how you'd respond to his story, hopefully in your typical ''Socratic'' fashion. In fact, I will even outline some of its' problems similarly myself eventually. If you're willing, here it is:


Sophia's Lover said...

Here it is again:

Morris said...

Dear Dave,

You seem like a reasonable and flexible guy. Is it possible we could discuss an alternative proposal via private email? I do think that both of us want to advance the cause of Christian apologetics on the internet and I think my proposal would benefit your blog, the article in question, and the internet as a whole. I could provide you a private email without the bots picking it up using an address similar to this morrisATgmailDOTcom



Dave Armstrong said...

You can write to me anytime. My email address is available in an icon-link in the sidebar.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Pito,

Rook Hawkins denies that Jesus existed:

"I write a lot about how the figure of Jesus never existed historically, so often I do not need to touch on this subject. This is because I don’t hold to any of the story containing any elements of historicity . . ."

I hold that such a position is utterly ridiculous and intellectual suicide, and I don't waste time trying to argue with atheists who hold it.

If they can at least admit that Jesus existed, then there is some hope for sensible, constructive dialogue.

But I plan on finding some deconversion stories and Bible "contradiction" claims to critique in the near future.

Dave Armstrong said...

I glanced at the link you provided, and he doesn't seem to present any rational reason why he is an atheist. He was talking to his dad one day and flipped on a dime. Looks to me that it wasn't a rational decision at all (more of an emotional, spur of the moment thing: how ironic: I thought that was what religious conversions are supposed to be, according to these guys), and as such, can be dismissed.

Sophia's Lover said...

Well, ok; thanks and happy belated Easter!

Sophia's Lover said...

Everyone, I have a question for you, if I may.

I have often noticed the tendency in many nontheist ''de-converts'' to almost immediately adopt relativism, particularly of the moral (and religious) variety, as a worldview upon making the decision to leave theism of whatever sort.
My view concerning this however, being a weak agnostic, ''Catholic sympathizer'' (I share many of the same epistemological and moral views, and was baptized one) and ''ecumenical'' nontheist if you will myself, is different from what some on this blog may think in that I do not believe the reason for this to be their loss of faith, but rather the apparent notion (concious or not) that objectivism is the sole domain of the religious. I myself am an objectivist, and therefore understand the fallacious nature of this assumption, as well as having noted the false dichotomy inherent therein.

Have any of you found the above to be true to any degree? Why or why not?

I hope I have given you all much food for thought.

Thank you.


Adomnan said...

Pito, what do you mean by "objectivism"? I know that Ayn Rand gave her philosophy this name. Are you using the word in her sense?

Sophia's Lover said...

No; rather as a synonym for absolutism, Adomnan and all. My apologies for not having clarified that.

Sophia's Lover said...

Everyone, I'd like some help locating a website. If I remember correctly, it was a site devoted exclusively to the video of a debate with Richard Dawkins, I think.

Could someone please provide a link, if possible?