Category Archives: Atheism

Why Does God Not Give Justice to the Wicked?

Some wicked people do receive justice while they live. Think of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, as recent examples. They both were forced into hiding and died violent deaths. However, Job is correct that many sinful people seem to live a perfectly comfortable life and die peacefully.

If you are an atheist, the fact that evil people never face justice is a real problem for your worldview. Once a person dies, after all, there is no further chance for justice to be done. If you are a Christian, though, there is an afterlife and God promises that justice will be done.

So it is only in the Christian worldview that justice is guaranteed to be done for both the wicked and the righteous. God promises that each person will face the judgment seat and their thoughts and actions will be assessed by the Almighty Himself.   Whether a person receives justice during his earthly existence is, therefore, not the end of the story.

#2 Post of 2014 – What Is a Step by Step Argument Showing that Christianity is True?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Anyone who has read my blog for the last several years knows that I am a big fan of the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. I have quoted from the book many times and pointed my readers to it again and again.

One thing that I haven’t done, though, is given an outline of what the book is actually trying to accomplish. What Geisler and Turek attempt to do in the book is lay out a methodical, step by step process for arguing that Christianity is true. Here is the 12-step argument:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of true is false.
  3. It is true that the theistic God exists.
    1. Beginning of the Universe (cosmological argument)
    2. Design of the universe (teleological argument/anthropic principle)
    3. Design of life (teleological argument)
    4. Moral law (moral argument)
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
    1. Early testimony
    2. Eyewitness testimony
    3. Uninvented testimony
    4. Eyewitnesses who were not deceived
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by:
    1. His fulfillment of many prophecies about Himself
    2. His sinless and miraculous life
    3. His prediction and accomplishment of His resurrection
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Notice that these 12 steps marshal evidence from philosophy, science, and history, and they all work together to build a logical argument which leads to the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God. I am always bewildered when skeptics claim that Christian beliefs are based on nothing but wish fulfillment when books like this fill Christian bookshelves.

I have used this basic 12-point framework for many years and it has served me well. Most everything you learn about apologetics fits into this 12-point argument. In fact, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, where I received my Master’s degree, you had to take a class on these 12 points and your final exam was to write down the 12 points and briefly defend and explain each point.

If you have never purchased and read this book, do it today. You won’t be sorry.

Are We Just Meat Robots?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I have an interest in psychology and behavioral economics research. That’s why I write posts on books like Predictably Irrational and Thinking, Fast and Slow. But as I read these kinds of books, I am always keeping an eye on the big question.

Will the author say that human beings are completely irrational in our  thoughts and behavior, completely rational in our thoughts and behavior, or a combination of the two? By rational I mean the use of reason, evidence, and logic to draw true conclusions about reality.

There are atheist thinkers such as Alex Rosenberg who argue that humans are completely irrational, that we are meat robots whose thoughts and behavior are 100% determined by physics. Physics knows nothing of reason, evidence, and logic. Rosenberg says that once you take science seriously, there is no other possible conclusion.

The problem with Rosenberg’s position is that it is hopelessly self-contradictory. He is saying, in essence, “I know rationally that nobody knows anything rationally.” If he knows that rationally, then his statement is false. If he doesn’t know anything rationally, then his statement is irrational and can be safely ignored.

In the world of psychological and economics literature, though, I see flirtation with Rosenberg’s position. Let’s look at two examples.

Michael Sliwinski, an entrepreneur and creator of the software application Nozbe, said this about the latest online magazine  issue of Productivity:

Reading this issue provoked deep reflection within myself, and I hope it will do the same for you, too. Practically every article shows the well-known and scientifically proved (but often forgotten) fact that psychological mechanisms—usually unconscious—rule the human world.

Sliwinski says it is a fact that “psychological mechanisms—usually unconscious—rule the human world.” Is he taking Rosenberg’s position? Probably not, but he’s leaning in that direction. If he said that only psychological mechanisms rule the human world, his position would be self-contradictory as well. There is enough ambiguity to avoid the charge of Rosenberg-ism.

Dan Ariely concludes his book Predictably Irrational:

IF I WERE to distill one main lesson from the research described in this book, it is that we are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend. We usually think of ourselves as sitting in the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we make and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires— with how we want to view ourselves— than with reality.

Let’s stop here. Ariely is skating on the edge of self-contradiction. He says that we are pawns without ultimate control over our decisions. But clearly Ariely believes that he was not a pawn when he wrote this sentence or the rest of his book. He believes that he did have control over the decisions he made to write about predictable irrationality, did he not? If he was able to pull this off, then why can’t we?

He continues:

The point is that our visual and decision environments are filtered to us courtesy of our eyes, our ears, our senses of smell and touch, and the master of it all, our brain. By the time we comprehend and digest information, it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality. Instead, it is our representation of reality, and this is the input we base our decisions on. In essence we are limited to the tools nature has given us, and the natural way in which we make decisions is limited by the quality and accuracy of these tools.

Ariely almost goes Rosenberg on us again. He says that when we comprehend and digest information, “it is our representation of reality” and not “necessarily a true reflection of reality.” If he is saying that every time we digest information, we are not getting at true reality, then how is it that Ariely has managed to bypass this problem and get at true reality?

It is helpful to re-write his statement in the following way: “By digesting information, I have arrived at the true reality that nobody who digests information can arrive at true reality.” If his statement is true, then it is false, unless he doesn’t want to include himself in the population of all human beings.

In closing, consider the following:

  • If we are irrational meat robots, then we can’t know rationally that we are meat robots.
  • If unconscious psychological mechanisms control our every thought, then we can’t consciously (or rationally) think that unconscious psychological mechanisms control our every thought.
  • If we have no control over our decisions, then we can’t control the decision to think that we have no control over our decisions.
  • If we can’t comprehend true reality, then we can’t comprehend that true reality is incomprehensible.

Rosenberg self-contradiction syndrome is always lurking. We have to be careful not to stretch the findings of psychology and behavioral economics beyond where they should go. If you ever want to make any claim about reality that you think is true, then you cannot hold that we are merely meat robots. That, my friend, is a flagrant contradiction.

Why Don’t We Trust Atheists?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Atheists often complain that they experience prejudice directed at them by theists. Theists, they claim, accuse atheists of being immoral because atheists have no transcendent standard of morality. There is a level of distrust, at least for some theists, that exists.

So why do some theists worry about the ethics of atheists? Is this worry warranted?

Recently I finished a book written by Dan Ariely called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. In this book, Ariely chronicles numerous psychological studies intended to discover how human beings react to a wide range of situations (very similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow).

Ariely is very interested in business ethics and he reports on several experiments that shed some light on human dishonesty. Based on these studies, Ariely concludes that “when we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.”

He goes on to recommend that the ethical crisis he sees in America can be turned around by people regularly reading the holy books which codify their moral values. This is because his research shows that those people who are reminded of their moral values frequently act more ethically.

There is nothing new here that hasn’t been recommended by great thinkers for thousands of years. Moral virtue is a practice. You don’t just wake up every day and act with high moral integrity. It takes effort.

Herein lies why I think atheists are not trusted. Theists wonder, “When is the atheist reading his holy book?” Never, because he doesn’t believe in holy books. Is the atheist regularly being reminded by a pastor how he is supposed to behave? Is he studying the words and deeds of moral saints? No and no. These things usually happen in religious gatherings which most atheists avoid.

Speaking personally, I don’t go more than a week without reading or hearing about moral duties and virtues because I am reading the Bible and listening to godly men and women teach the moral precepts found in the Bible. I am also watching men and women of great moral character at my church every week. I am soaking it up.

Now, before I get a bunch of nasty comments, let me say that I know many atheists who are decent, law-abiding citizens. I even know some atheists who go above and beyond to help other people. So this is not meant as some kind of blanket indictment.

But, I am asking some hard questions of atheists. If you are an atheist, when are you soaking up moral teaching? How are you learning to be virtuous? Who is challenging you, week after week, to act with the highest integrity and morality? These are important questions for you to answer. The Christian who goes to church and reads her Bible regularly has a real advantage over you.

#5 Post of 2013 – How Does Atheism Answer Our Most Important Questions?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Old-school atheists like Friedrich Nietzsche recognized that atheism utterly failed to answer the most profound of human questions, and thus atheism, he believed, led inexorably to nihilism.

Nowadays, most atheists are very uncomfortable with nihilism and want to distance themselves from their intellectual forefathers. Just because God doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that life can’t be vibrant and meaningful, right?

Well, it seems that not every atheist has abandoned Nietzsche’s insights. Atheist professor Alex Rosenberg provides the following summary of atheism’s answers to life’s most profound questions (as quoted from the Reasonable Faith website):

Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

Why am I here? Just dumb luck.

Is there a soul? Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance!

What is the difference between right/wrong, good/bad? There is no moral difference between them.

He concludes, “So much for the meaning of history, and everything else we care about.”

Rosenberg left out other depressing atheist answers like the following:

Will there be justice for all those who have been wronged? No way.

Is there life after death? Are you joking?

Where did mankind come from? A prebiotic slime.

Wow! What a positive outlook on life! No wonder more people don’t become atheists. It casts such a stunning vision for mankind, doesn’t it?

#6 Post of 2013 – Can We Know Moral Values Without Knowing God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Clearly the answer must be “yes.”  In fact, the apostle Paul teaches this very truth in the book of Romans. There are some moral truths that can be known without a person ever acknowledging God’s existence. In fact, the world would be a complete disaster if everyone had to agree on the existence and attributes of God before anyone could know moral truths.

But it seems that atheists often think that Christians are making this claim. They think that Christians are saying a person cannot be moral or know right from wrong without believing in God. No Christian thinker of any stature has ever said this, though.

When Christians present moral arguments for God’s existence, or when they argue that moral values cannot exist unless God exists, they are making a very different point. David Baggett and Jerry Walls explain what is going on in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality:

[I]t might seem inconsistent to argue that moral truth is dependent on God if we can know it without even thinking of God. This alleged inconsistency can be dispelled if we recognize, as numerous classical thinkers have pointed out, that the order of being is different from the order of knowing. That is, the order in which we come to know things might be different from the order in which things exist, or have come to exist.

The order of being has to do with metaphysics and the order of knowing has to do with epistemology. Christian arguments about God and morality are almost always about metaphysics (the order of being) and not about epistemology (the order of knowing). Baggett and Walls add:

Certain moral truths might be as evident to us as anything can be, but may still leave unanswered the question of where morality came from. Likewise, the foundations of morality might be at a greater distance from us in terms of immediate knowledge than morality itself. This is a fundamental distinction, but one that is often missed, resulting in needless confusion.

Baggett and Walls point out that many atheists just seem to completely miss this distinction:

Recent books defending atheism have perpetuated this confusion, unfortunately, but not surprisingly. For instance, Richard Dawkins seems to ignore this distinction when he asks, “if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?”

Nobody disagrees that we can gather a bunch of people from different worldviews together in a room and agree on a basic set of moral values.  This simply is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the question of where these moral values come from. Answering this question is what atheists need to work on.

How Does Sam Harris’s Metaphysical View Undermine His Moral Landscape? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 3 we continue our analysis of Sam Harris’s “moral landscape” in view of his metaphysical naturalism, a worldview which denies the existence of anything that is timeless or transcendent in any sense.

We note that even after identifying moral values with well-being, Harris concedes that his moral landscape may not be good after all.  He explains:

It is also conceivable that a science of human flourishing could be possible, and yet people could be made equally happy by very different ‘moral’ impulses. Perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good— and, therefore, no connection between moral behavior (as generally conceived) and subjective well-being.  In this case, rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints.  This scenario stands the greatest chance of being true, while still seeming quite far-fetched. . . .

However, if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it.  It would no longer be an especially ‘moral’ landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks.

Harris is quick to suggest that because of human evolution and the fact that we all live in the same physical world, this scenario is highly implausible. However, his allowance for the possibility that the good of rapists, liars, and thieves is equivalent to the good of saints, as mapped on his moral landscape, surely indicates that his metaphysics is a disaster for his moral theory.

In this single passage, Harris has completely undermined his identification of the good with human well-being. William Lane Craig revealed this inconsistency during his debate with Harris.  Craig argued that “by granting that it’s possible that the continuum of well-being is not identical to the moral landscape, Dr. Harris’s view becomes logically incoherent.”

Since Harris’ metaphysics fail to provide him a source of moral values which transcends all conscious creatures, another problem surfaces for his moral landscape.  Harris considers the following scenario posed by Robert Nozick: “Nozick . . . asks if it would be ethical for our species to be sacrificed for the unimaginably vast happiness of some superbeings.”

Incredibly, Harris answers,

I think the answer is clearly ‘yes.’  There seems no reason to suppose that we must occupy the highest peak on the moral landscape. If there are beings who stand in relation to us as we do to bacteria, it should be easy to admit that their interests must trump our own, and to a degree that we cannot possibly conceive.

Because there is nothing ontologically greater than the physical brain states of conscious creatures, Harris simply must admit that as soon as a greater conscious creature arrives on the scene, then that creature’s well-being becomes identified with the good, and the well-being of human beings falls by the wayside.

Contrary to Harris, it surely is not easy to admit, nor is it intuitive, nor is it even remotely plausible that the wanton destruction of human beings by a superior alien race would ever be good.  Instead of abandoning his naturalistic metaphysics, Harris arrives at the totally counter-intuitive idea that human well-being is good only until a superior conscious creature appears.  I pray that when the aliens ask to be taken to our leader, Harris is nowhere around.

It should be abundantly clear that Harris’ naturalistic metaphysics leads him to a completely inadequate account of the source of moral values.  The well-being of conscious creatures fails to provide an unchanging, transcendent ground for the good.  The good is apt to be different for each person, depending on what gives him feelings of well-being. For Harris, cruelty and generosity could both be good; saints and sinners can both occupy peaks on the “moral landscape.” The fact of the matter is that nothing in Harris’ metaphysics guarantees what seems completely obvious to all of us: moral values are timeless and transcendent.

How Does Sam Harris’s Metaphysical View Undermine His Moral Landscape? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 we looked at some serious difficulties that Sam Harris’s metaphysical views cause his “moral landscape” to have. We continue with that analysis in part 2.

Recall that we ended part 1 by noting that Harris’s identification of the moral good with that which brings individual human flourishing and well-being is inadequate. Harris admits that the well-being and flourishing of a psychopath such as Ted Bundy is not morally good, but he can’t know this based on his identification of the good, so he is appealing to moral knowledge outside his own metaphysics.

Harris’s emphasis on the well-being of the community over Bundy still does not save his definition of the good.  What if someone like Ted Bundy lived in a community that generally valued rape and the occasional killing of women as fulfilling?  Harris, himself, sees this problem.  He asks:

But what if advances in neuroscience eventually allow us to change the way every brain responds to morally relevant experiences?  What if we could program the entire species to hate fairness, to admire cheating, to love cruelty, to despise compassion, etc.  Would this be morally good? . . . Is this really a world of equivalent and genuine well-being, where the concept of ‘well-being’ is susceptible to ongoing examination and refinement as it is in our world?  If so, so be it.

Harris concedes that what constitutes well-being could very well change in the future, and that the good could, conceivably, be identified with cheating and cruelty. If you’re scratching your head, join the club.

Surely Harris has misidentified the source of moral values if his source allows for cheating and cruelty to become moral values.  Moral values are, after all, timeless.  We routinely morally judge people who lived centuries ago because we know that moral values do not change over time; they transcend time.

Harris, himself, seems to take for granted that moral values are timeless as he refers to moral progress: “Despite our perennial bad behavior, our moral progress seems to me unmistakable. Our powers of empathy are clearly growing. Today, we are surely more likely to act for the benefit of humanity as a whole than at any point in the past.” Moral progress without timeless moral values would be simply incoherent, yet Harris’ metaphysics leave no room for timeless values.

As a metaphysical naturalist, Harris cannot identify the good with a timeless source that transcends the subjective feelings of individual human beings currently living. Thus metaphysical naturalism acts as universal acid which eats away the foundation of Harris’s moral landscape. In part 3, we will continue to watch the acid do its work.

How Does Sam Harris’s Metaphysical View Undermine His Moral Landscape? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Given Sam Harris’s metaphysical naturalism, how is it that Harris will identify the good? How is the good defined given his metaphysics?

Harris, in line with other moral consequentialists, defines “good” as “that which supports well-being.” Harris further claims that “it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is ‘good.’” The good, according to Harris, simply is that which is conducive to well-being, and nothing else.

Thus moral values are “the set of attitudes, choices, and behaviors that potentially affect our well-being, as well as that of other conscious minds. . . . Given that change in the well-being of conscious creatures is bound to be a product of natural laws, we must expect that this space of possibilities— the moral landscape— will increasingly be illuminated by science.”

Harris’ metaphysical naturalism, then, draws strict boundaries around where he can locate moral values.  Brain states, the physical world around us, and the laws of nature as described by physics, chemistry, and biology exhaust Harris’ ontological resources.

Is Harris’ account of equating moral values, and thus the good, with that which supports well-being, adequate?  The answer is negative as Harris’s metaphysics undermines his moral theory in several different ways.

First, although Harris, in his book, claims to have dealt with G. E. Moore’s “open question argument,” he has not.  Moore argues that, on metaphysical naturalism, properties of the natural world cannot be equated with the good, because it is always an open question whether that property is always good.

Moore argues, “We must not, therefore, be frightened by the assertion that a thing is natural into the admission that it is good; good does not, by definition, mean anything that is natural; and it is therefore always an open question whether anything that is natural is good.” To assert that because something is natural, or part of the natural world, that it is therefore good, is the naturalistic fallacy.

Although human well-being (described in terms of physical brain states) is a property of the natural world, Harris claims that he nonetheless avoids Moore’s open question argument.  But does he?  It is not at all clear that the well-being of a particular conscious creature is always good.

What about a psychopath?  Some psychopaths gain tremendous pleasure, and thus well-being, from torturing other human beings.  Can we say that the psychopath’s behavior is then morally good?  Harris considers this exact scenario, using serial killer Ted Bundy as an example.

Harris complains that Bundy’s “raping and killing young women was a poor guide to the proper goals of morality (i.e., living a fulfilling life with others).” But notice that now Harris has shifted his definition of the good from Bundy’s personal well-being to Bundy “living a fulfilling life with others,” a tacit admission that moral values cannot be identified with the mere well-being of a conscious creature (e.g., Bundy). It seems that the well-being of some creatures are more important than others. This is a classic thorn in the side of all consequentialist moral theories that Harris has not escaped.

Think about this. Bundy would have said that he was flourishing and living a fulfilling life while raping and killing young women, which would seem to make his behavior good and moral under Harris’s system. In order to save his identification of the moral good, Harris calls an audible and de-emphasizes Bundy’s well-being and instead says that Bundy must live a fulfilling life with others in order to be moral.

Here is the problem. Harris wants to sell us a vision of science studying human well-being as a way of determining what is moral. But when we ask science to study Ted Bundy, Harris concedes that Bundy is a poor guide to morality. So obviously studying the well-being of a conscious creature does not always yield moral guidelines. But how does Harris know this? It seems he is invoking a higher source of the moral good by which to make that call, but he denies that there is a higher source! Something is amiss.

Bottom line: Harris has not escaped the naturalistic fallacy. What is natural (e.g., the well-being of a conscious creature) is not always good. What produced well-being for Ted Bundy was not good at all.

In part 2, we will continue to see how Harris’s metaphysical naturalism fails to ground his moral theory.

What Are Sam Harris’s Metaphysical Presuppositions?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

It is impossible to ground a theory about the source of objective moral values and duties without recourse to metaphysics. Philosopher David Oderberg reminds us that it is “impossible to know how the world ought to go, more specifically how one ought to act (or what makes a state of affairs or action good, or worthwhile, praiseworthy, etc.) without prior knowledge of how the world is.” Metaphysics tells us how the world is.

So what are Sam Harris’s metaphysics? How is the world, according to Sam Harris?

Rather than argue for his metaphysical view, Harris, for the most part in his book The Moral Landscape, merely presupposes that his ontology is correct.  Harris’s worldview can be best described as metaphysical naturalism, which is roughly the view that what exists is that which can be described by physics, chemistry, and biology.  Harris reveals that he is a metaphysical naturalist in several ways.

First, recall his thesis summary statement: “Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end).” Second, Harris claims that the well-being of conscious creatures “must lawfully depend upon events in the world and upon states of the human brain.”

In one particularly telling passage, Harris asks the reader to imagine a world where only two people existed, a fictional Adam and Eve.  How might the moral landscape look in that situation?

In fact, there are, by definition, paths that lead to the worst misery and paths that lead to the greatest fulfillment possible for these two people— given the structure of their respective brains, the immediate facts of their environment, and the laws of Nature. The underlying facts here are the facts of physics, chemistry, and biology as they bear on the experience of the only two people in existence.

For Harris, the ontological foundation of ethics consists in brain states, the physical world surrounding human beings, and the natural laws which constrain the physical world.  Again, all of these aspects of reality fit comfortably under the label of metaphysical naturalism.

Might Harris allow other aspects of being into his metaphysics?  How about the notion of a Creator-God?  Harris rules out the existence of God almost immediately in his book as he explains that one of his primary goals is to provide a moral theory which has no need of God.

What about immaterial human souls?  For Harris, the existence of a soul, which is “metaphysically independent of the brain, seems untenable given that damage to the relevant neural circuits obliterates these capacities in a living person.” In other words, neuroscience has shown that the “soul,” and thus consciousness, really just is neural circuits.

How about the existence of metaphysical principles such as nature, form, or essence?  Harris seems to disavow the existence of essences when he says, “I am certainly not claiming that moral truths exist independent of the experience of conscious beings— like the Platonic Form of the Good— or that certain actions are intrinsically wrong.”

It seems that Harris’s ontology allows nothing beyond what physics, chemistry, and biology reveal.  It remains to be seen whether Harris’ metaphysical views can provide an adequate ground for the good.