Thursday, October 08, 2009


Materialism and Morality: If the One, Then How the Other?

At today’s Uncommon Descent, attorney Barry Arrington posed a couple of intriguing questions in his post "Child Rape in a Materialist World ":

Here’s today’s question: “Is it wrong in all times and at all places (even Hollywood) for a 44 year-old man to drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year-old girl?”

For our materialist friends who answer “yes” to the question (as I hope you will), I have a follow-up question: “How can you know that you are right and Polanski’s defenders are wrong?”

In no short order, he received a number of responses (65 as of the time of this post). Most respondents simply got themselves distracted with the wrong question, namely, whether or not such a thing is wrong, which only answers the first question and ignores the second, such as in this response:

Even if the legal age of consent was 13, rape is still rape and a violation of the victim’s right to liberty. I don’t see how anyone could defend Polanski of the young woman was 20, never mind 13!

To which I reply: of course it’s wrong. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether a materialist—that is, one who believes that the universe can be explained strictly in terms of the matter which comprises it, and that appeals to supernatural forces such as God are at best unnecessary and at worst completely false—having answered “yes” to the first question, can adequately explain how he KNOWS he is right and that Polanski’s defenders are wrong. In other words, can the materialist come up with an adequate rationale for saying that the rape of a 13-year-old is absolutely wrong without making an appeal to any non-materialist force such as God?

The answer is: Nope. He can’t, no matter how hard he tries or how refined his argument.

Here’s BA’s assessment:

After reviewing nearly two dozen comments, the response from the materialists was exactly as I predicted: When confronted with the ethical poverty of their worldview, they instinctively attempt to change the subject. I will not allow it. Some of the braver materialists [including a functional materialist who claims to be a diest], have attempted to defend their ethics. However, NOT ONE OF THEM has even attempted to answer the last question I posed. Their silence speaks volumes.

Never mind that he misspelled “deist.” His assessment is 100% spot-on correct. No one ever answered the question.

Instead, all they had to offer were various rhetorical strategies, such as:

1. Pretending the question is invalid:

How many times can you ask an atheist “where do you get your ethical guidelines if you have no ultimate moral framework (ie the Abrahamic god)to hang them on??” before you get tired of it and move on.

[Answer: we’ll keep asking until either we get an answer or the materialist realizes his ethical guidelines are illusory, in which case he has no adequate response even for the first question, let alone the second.]

2. Answering with a non-sequitur (in this case, proffering a legal, emotional, or teleologic (ends-oriented) rationale rather than a moral or ethical one):

Because the society in which I and Polanski (at the time) live in define it as such. Had Polanski lived in 6th century Arabia, he probably would have been treated differently, no?

[Anyone who responds “yes” to the first question has already acknowledged that raping a child is bad “in all times and at all places.” The 6th century and Arabia are not germane to the second question.]


1. US laws are very clear on this. He broke laws. I think it’s sick how people are defending him and wanting to let him off the hook.
2. Empathy. I have a daughter, a mother, a wife and a sister, etc. Something like this would have ruined their lives, so it’s easy to assume this made the 13 year old’s life very hard. (not to mention how her parents must have felt)
3. Logic. His actions had negative consequences toward himself and a non-developed human. (a child)

[If rape is always bad, then the issue is one of morality, not of laws or ethics or even logic. Laws can be changed. One person may feel empathy to the rape victim; others not (the rapist, for example). What is logical to one individual may not be logical to the other. “Wrong at all times and in all places” means always and everywhere, without exception or a differing point of view.]

3. Begging the question:

because, by acting without consent, he violated her liberty.

[The theist can say the girl has liberty because it is an unalienable right endowed to her by her Creator. The materialist, however, can't use that argument; he has to explain how liberty is something that she HAS intrinsically, given a material universe. Saying that she has liberty is simple bluster, which begs the question of how the materialist KNOWS that Polanski’s defenders are wrong.]


Lets say I’m a atheist materialist that favors property rights. No god, I just like my stuff. The first and foremost property is one’s own body. Violations to that right (and particularly minors who are less able to defend their right) should be prosecuted.

[Uh-huh. And by what materialistic principle can we claim that the first and foremost property is one’s own body? How can we, as material entities, “own” ourselves, or, for that matter, any part of the universe? One sort of material owns another sort of material? By what logic? And how does the one sort of material have property rights, while the other sort of material doesn’t? Doesn’t the other sort of material have a right NOT to be owned? Human beings claim that right, so why can’t a waterfall or a grassy meadow?]


In practice we cope by appealing to common grounds such as fairness and compassion. If we tried to solve ethical problems by agreeing the fundamentals [sic] of morality then no ethical disputes would ever get settled.

[Well, in that case, no ethical disputes ARE ever settled. We just think they are. So maybe we just think that Polanski did a bad thing, and maybe we’re wrong. And, by the way, how does matter explain the existence of fairness and compassion?]

4. Changing the subject:

I have followed the ongoing discussion, spread now over 4 blog posts, and I never saw any of the materialists supporting sexual slavery or pedophilia.

[Any materialist who supports sexual slavery and pedophilia has already answered “no” to the first question and therefore is not being asked to answer the second. It’s those materialists who DON’T support sexual slavery or pedophilia that concern us here. At any rate, the question is NOT whether materialists support slavery or pedophilia; the issue is: can the materialist formulate an argument showing that Polanski's defenders are wrong? It's a red herring to say you've never seen materialists supporting slavery.]


Given that the Bible has this piece of advice…

[Just because you think the Bible is wrong, that doesn’t mean you’re right. Answer the question, please.]


May I remind you that Mohamed…

[Just because you think Mohammed etc, etc.]

5. Fluffy non-answers:

I struggle to think of extenuating circumstances. I guess it depends on what happens if he doesn’t. Imagine a scenario if an evil tyrant will nuke New York if doesn’t.

["Guess?" That's an argument? Secondly, even if you truly believe that someone might choose to rape a child in hopes of preventing some evil tyrant from nuking New York, that’s only saying that the end justifies the means. The question is not whether the rape may be justified; the question is whether the rape can be considered absolutely immoral. Even to save a life, the rape itself is still bad. And then there's the more telling point, to quote Inspector Sidney Wang from “Murder by Death,”: “Is stupid. Is most stupid theory I ever heard! HA!]


My answer is that most people have a natural moral compass that helps them decide, and there seems to be considerable overlap between the compasses of different people from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds.

[“Considerable overlap” is no means of establishing an ethos.]


Since morality is a subjective term…

[Ditto my previous reply.]


When we refer to an action as good or right we are blending an implied description of the facts of the case with an exhortation to others to do similar things and applause for the doer – plus other elements.

[Exhort all you want. I’m sure, had Roman Polanski been on the phone with his attorney while raping a 13-year-old, his attorney would have exhorted him to cease and desist. It’s still up to Polanski to heed the exhortation or to ignore it. Are you saying Polanski’s rape of a child was permissible, so long as no one exhorted him not to? Otherwise, how is the exhortation even relevant to the moral issue of whether rape is ever permissible?]

In summary: In every case, no materialist was ever able to answer the question adequately. The reason is: a materialist CAN’T answer the question adequately, because the only possible way of answering it is to speak in terms of moral absolutes; to say ABSOLUTELY that the rape of a 13-year-old is wrong and is ALWAYS wrong, regardless of whether society condones such a thing, or our laws forbid it, or what the Bible or Mohammed have to say, or if we have a "natural moral compass" (whatever that is). Appeals to legal codes or social mores are inadequate precisely because of their fluidity: what is legal or socially acceptable in one part of the world can be illegal or socially unacceptable elsewhere, or in other times in our history. A prime example would be slavery. Is slavery right or wrong? The legalist can only say that slavery is wrong because at present it is illegal. But slavery WAS legal in the United States in 1832. Was it right then? Oh yeah, who says?

And poor Roman Polanski! Had he only drugged, raped and sodomized a 13-year-old in some society where that sort of thing is acceptable or there weren’t any legal codes forbidding it. Then he’s be off scot-free.

Materialists can’t appeal to moral absolutism, because this implies the existence of You-Know-Who (or some other cosmic, supernatural entity like Wotan or Baal or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster), a supreme authority of what is right and what is wrong. As Norman Geisler put it in his essay “Any Absolutes? Absolutely!”, “Only an ethic rooted in a Moral Law-Giver can be truly prescriptive in any objective sense of the word. A descriptive ethic is no ethic at all.”

Score one for Norman Geisler. Zero for the materialists.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 05, 2009


Ricky Gervais and His Pants Afire

Went to see "The Invention of Lying" yesterday. Wife liked it; I hated it. She thought it was a rather cute romanitic comedy about a luckless sap who finally manages to win the girl of his dreams. I found it mildly humorous but not nearly as funny as it could have been, and was mostly put off by the story's clear anti-religious theme. Ricky Gervais is a funny guy, but he's also yet another smug atheist dimwit trying to sell the other 90% of us in the world that we're wrong to believe there may be more under Heaven and Earth than is dreamed of in his philosophy—and he KNOWS that we're wrong because... well, just because. Ipse dixit.

Gervais started to lose me before he even appeared on screen. In the opening narration, he begins to tell us that the story is set in a world "where humanity never evolved the capacity for lying." Hooboy, that old chestnut again. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a result of evolution. Evolution is why men chase after women, especially blonde women with huge knockers. Evolution is why humans can swim and why apes can’t. And, mais bien sur, l’evolution is why there is conceivably a world in which people tell the 100% truth. Evolution simply makes it so. Never mind that a theory that explains everything is really a theory that explains nothing.

And, prithee, just HOW is evolution able to produce a society that in all other respects in identical to our own, with the only principal difference being the inability to lie? Seems to me, lying is just a manifestation of our ability to think in abstractions. If you only have $300 in your bank account and you need $800 to pay your rent (as RG depicts in his film, which, by da way, he co-wrote), you can still CONCEIVE of having the $800 you need; you can imagine yourself in that abstract world in which you actually have your $800; you can share that abstract idea with others; and you can even—evolution forefend!—pretend that your imaginary world is the ACTUAL world, and should you share that pretense with others… Behold, the lie.

But if human beings were unable to lie, they would be equally unable to think in such abstractions—mental constructs that do not harmonize with imminent reality. In such a world, human beings would be unable to envision, say, yesterday’s mammoth hunt and depict it in two-dimensional characters on a cave wall. They would be unable to watch a bird’s flight and wonder if man could imitate it. They would be unable to watch an apple fall from a tree and envision gravity. They couldn’t even anticipate the harvest available from planting a field of wheat. For that matter, they wouldn’t be HUMAN, just a bunch of forest-dwelling apes rutting around amongst the trees in search of food—most definitely NOT the sort of creatures capable of building roads and huts and war machines and pop-up toasters—oh, and civilizations.

So if we lack the ability to lie, and if lying is contingent upon our ability to think in abstractions, just how does evolution drive us from the trees and into cities? Short answer: it can’t.

But never mind all that, says Little Ricky. Let’s naught ge’ owl cought oop in deet-els (you have to imagine him saying this in that quirky li’l British accent). Gor! Whu are you on aboot, anyway?
All right, so give him his premise. Let’s not be distracted by the fact that evolution not only wouldn’t produce a world like he depicts in his film, but COULDN’T produce one, even if evolution were real. Give him his ball, and see where he runs with it.

All over the field, actually. Had he simply stuck with the aforementioned romantic comedy in which the hapless shmuck wins the girl of his dreams, that would have been enough. But no, he had to play the smug atheist dimwit, as all smug atheist dimwits are wont to play. Put a smug atheist dimwit in front of a camera, and he won’t be able to resist the urge to speculate as to why all the rest of us aren’t smug atheist dimwits like himself. Just what’s WRONG with the vast, vast majority of you? Why, it’s like you’re all crazy but for me!

So, midway through the film the story comes to a screeching halt so that RG can speculate on that very question.

Thus, he is called to the hospital, where he finds his mother dying. He takes her hand, and she trembles in fear of dying, saying “Ooh! An eternity of nothingness!”

Remember, now—this is a woman who is INCAPABLE OF TELLING A LIE, so “an eternity of nothingness” has to be the unblemished truth. And never mind just how a person incapable of lying would be compelled to believe in the absolute finality of death. At any rate, for whatever reasons, she is afraid. And so our Hero, in an attempt at assuaging his mother’s fear and making sure her last moments are peaceful and happy, “invents" the notion of an afterlife. “Naw, Mum,” he tells her, “ye go’ it all wrong. It’s naught an eternity of nothingness. You actually go to a wonderful place, where you live in a mansion, surrounded by everyone you’ve ever known and loved!” Riiight. That's all Heaven is, y'know—just a lie we tell ourselves because we're afraid of death.

Though what most smug atheist dimwits fail to realize is that Heaven is only a lie if it's untrue that there's a Heaven somewhere. If there's really a Heaven, then saying there’s a Heaven is not a lie. But in true smug atheist dimwit fashion, RG is certain he knows better than the other 90% of us. And he knows with one hunnerdmillion percent certainty there’s no Heaven, because otherwise he might have to admit to himself that he doesn't really know. And that ain't NEBBER GONNA HAPPIN!

Unfortunately, for our Hero, he neglects to see all the hospital staff listening in on him, and since any human being without the capacity to lie is, by extension (according to this film), also gullible and stupid, everyone believes him. So, to cover up his lie about there being an afterlife, he concocts a tale about there being a Great Big Man in the Sky, one you can’t see but who made everything and is directly responsible for every little thing that ever happens to you.

And if you think I don’t have a problem with this notion, you don’t know me at all.

First, there's a BIG difference between saying you have $800 in the bank when you know you only have $300, and saying there's a Great Big Man in the Sky when you can't say for sure that there's NOT a Great Big Man in the Sky. If there’s a God, the only thing you could ever prove is that He IS; you can’t prove that he ISN’T because it’s impossible to prove a negative. If you know for certain you have only $300 and you say you have $800, that’s a lie. Lying, by definition, is intentionally saying something you know isn’t factual, and, by extension, excludes the saying of things whose truthfulness hasn’t been established. If I were to say that the last thought going through anyone’s mind just before he dies is “Corn and cotton are two crops indigenous to North America,” even if it’s untrue, it’s not necessarily a lie because it would be something impossible to prove or disprove.

Second, presuming there is a Great Big Man in the Sky who made everything, just how does it follow that if you get cancer that he is the one who gave it to you, and that if you’re cured of cancer then he’s the one who cured you? This is just bad logic, borne from an inability to distinguish primary from secondary causation. Sure, God created planets and meteors, but if a meteor crashes into a planet, it MIGHT be because God woke up that morning and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to crash a meteor into that planet over there?” But it might also be because God created gravity and physics which, working together, caused the meteor to crash into the planet. In this case, the primary cause would be gravity and physics; God would be secondarily responsible. If you rob a bank, do the police arrest your parents, because if your parents hadn’t conceived you, you wouldn’t have been around to rob the bank?

Third, even presuming that there could ever be a society composed of human beings who are incapable of lying, how by what logic do we presume that such a society would be devoid of religion? For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that in this society’s history, there was a guy, let’s call him, oh, “Moses.” Suppose one fine morning this “Moses” character is walking along and finds a burning bush that tells him “I am the LORD Thy God!” Let’s further suppose that he relates this event to a bunch of people—call them, oh, I don’t know, “Jews.” If he tells them the whole truth about what he saw and heard, and since no one would ever have a reason to doubt him, once the story got out, religion would take hold. And even if what actually happened were that this Moses guy drank some soured goat’s milk for breakfast which caused him to hallucinate a burning bush claiming to be God, he would still THINK he saw what he only imagined seeing and would still truthfully relate his encounter as he perceived it; in either scenairo, you’d get religion.

This movie isn't so much about the invention of lying as about the invention of saying things that are contrary to one's own beliefs—which isn’t necessarily lying, as anyone has the capacity for believing something which isn’t true. Darwinism, for instance.

And, to my thinking, it demonstrates—contrary to what RG thinks it demonstrates—the scads of nonsense you have to make yourself believe if you want to tell yourself that God doesn't really exist. When the Psalmist says "The fool says in his heart there is no God," he's not saying the fool's a fool for SAYING so, but for telling himself something he knows in his heart of hearts isn't true.

Ricky Gervais is a fool. And that's no lie.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?