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An Argument With An Apologist


Chris B Chikin
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The following is a dramatic re-enactment of an exchange that took place between me and a Christian on Atheism Rocks. It's an argument we've all seen before, but I just thought it was fun because it's the first time I've seen an apologist spot the trap I've laid before they walk into it. Problem was that he was still kinda screwed from his first post so by the time he realised it was already too late. The stage directions were added in later by me for comedic effect but aside from removing some irrelevant side chatter for continuity's sake and making smilies into actions quotes are introduced all quotes are original.

 

(The curtain rises on the bleak wasteland of the Internet. It is a quiet and desolate place, all but devoid of intelligent life. A pride of lolcatz scamper across the expanse looking for prey. The only notable feature is an obelisk of white marble carved with great knowledge. it is one of few such markers of wisdom to be found in a land such as the Internet. To those who can read the ancient intelligent tongues such as English, which pre-date internet slang and even text speak, the carvings upon the Obelisk reads 'Atheism Rock'. At the foot of the obelisk stands one of its guardians, Chris B Chikin. He studiously examines the wisdom of the stone. Reading it and correcting or adding bits where necessary. Occasionally he will converse with other passers by who come to learn from the stone's knowledge, imparting wisdom to them and learning from them in turn. Another figure enters. He has a narrow skull, and is dressed curiously, wearing earmuffs and sunglasses that will block out much of what he hears and sees. His demeanour is also curious, as though he possesses the mechanism for intelligence but has long forgotten how to use it and never read the user's manual. His name is Shane D. Chris knows his type; he has seen them often. This is an apologist, one who will read the runes of Atheism but will gather no knowledge from them. As the figure approaches Chris sighs, knowing what is about to take place. Perhaps this creature may garner some knowledge from the encounter)

 

Shane D: Is thers no god, whats wrong with rape??

 

(Recognising this argument, Chris nods and picks up a bundle of stick and some string. He begins to tie the sticks together into a crude box large enough to fit a man inside.)

 

Chris B Chikin: Shane, are you saying that if there was no God that you would commit rape?

 

Shane D: No chris im not saying that . if there was no god, there would be no right or wrong, no final judgement. rape murder and stealing would just be human instinct. Nothing could be considered wrong or bad, after all we'd just be meaningless pieces of meat and bones. Im sure you would find a lot of people dont steal or murder or perhaps commit a lesser crime because they know they will be judged for it when they die.

 

Chris B Chikin: (Adding more sticks to the box to strengthen it. He begins to work on a door which opens vertically but could be dropped rapidly to shut the box) Well, hang on a minute; let's follow your train of thought. If there is no God, then there is no morality. Therefore, one course of action is just as moral as another. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with rape, murder, etc. And so, I ask you Shane, if there was no God, and No morality, would you, personally, commit rape or murder? There is no threat of damnation or promise of heaven hanging over you. Would you commit rape or murder? A simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice for now.

 

Shane D: (Looks suspiciously at the box as though he nearly recognises it's purpose) Lovely Chris changing the matter to make me seem like an awful person. Look IF there was no god, then no i wouldnt because of course id go to jail and spead my days in a cell. im not saying id commit murder or rape but just that there would be nothing wrong with them.

 

Chris B Chikin (Ushering Shane towards the box) Right, let me rephrase. Let's say there was no punishment for rape, murder, etc. at all, not in this life or the next. There were no laws against it either earthly or celestial. If that were the case, would you commit rape or murder?

 

Shane D: (Edges toward the box until he is nearly inside it) To answer truthfully i dont know. because thats quite a far fetched situation. lets be honest here!!!

 

Chris B Chikin: I am being honest. I'll even answer the question myself if you give me a response first.

 

Shane D: (Now inside the box. Realising his peril he whirls round to face the door of the trap) You see i have a feeling that whatever i answer with youll be able to catch me out some how.

 

Chris B Chikin: (slamming the door of the cage shut and grinning triumphantly) Damn - you got me! It's true. If you answer yes, then I conclude that you are an evil person who is only held back from committing acts of wanton destruction through the threat of an agonizing eternity. In short, you're only good because you're afraid of what will happen to you if you're evil. If you answer no, then I conclude that even without a supernatural moral compass you would still act morally. Therefore, there must be something causing you to act morally, something other than God, and therefore God is not the sole source of morality. So really, the only way for you to argue that your God is the sole source of morality is to admit that you are a rapist who is too scared to actually do the deed. Since I'm hoping that is not the case, we can assume that man does not need God to act morally. And for the record, I would have said 'no'. After all, I know that god isn't the source of my morality. I am moral because I choose to be. I know right from wrong from seeing the effects my actions have on others. I don't need God to tell me that if I do a bad deed then people will be upset and hurt by it, or that if I do a good deed then people will be benefited and gladdened by it.

 

(The cage shakes pitifully as Shane attempts to escape)

 

Shane D: But you have to understand without god we are worthless(this doesnt mean i beleve in god to make myself seem important ) There would be no right or wrong we would just be animals. No god = no morality there is nothing but what we see.

 

Chris B Chikin: (looking obviously disappointed with Shane's weak escape attempts) You say 'There would be no right or wrong we would just be animals No god = no morality' We are just animals, albeit slightly more intelligent ones. We can create a moral code based on how our actions affect people. Like I said, 'I don't need God to tell me that if I do a bad deed then people will be upset and hurt by it, or that if I do a good deed then people will be benefited and gladdened by it.' All I need to know in order to act morally I can figure out completely without God's help, so why is it that you think mankind is too dumb to work this out on our own? You say 'there is nothing but what we see.' (laughs) That's a bit of an odd statement. We can't see God. I'm surprised that you would have shot yourself in the foot just then without any provocation.

 

(Shane does not reply, and the shaking in the box decreases. Chris tugs it a fair distance away from Atheism Rock before releasing Shane back into the wild. It looks like his attempts to educate the apologist have been in vain. He then travels to a nearby city, a seaside fishing port called Ex-Christian Net, where the people are intelligent, and have their own Obelisk of Wisdom. There he will chat and dine with the locals whilst recounting his encounter with the apologist)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Great story. I do have one question:

 

Ok, you have a sense of morality, if you do a bad deed people will be upset by it and if you do a good deed people will benefit...

 

I reject both of those premises. Most good deeds go unnoticed and unappreciated. More bad deeds bring wealth or power. In a world divided by language, politics, religion, economics and technology, our good deed might be someone else's bad deed, and vice versa.

 

What is your definition of good and bad? (Are rape, theft or murder bad? Why?)

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Anything that would cause harm or distress to another is bad. If you study animal behavior, you will find that humans aren't the only ones that have empathy and order.

 

 

Exactly. There are the precusors of our own sense of morality evident within similar social animal species. Groups who cannot trust each other to the needed degree do not exist as groups for long. Then the social orders are strengthened and added to as a successful group goes through the generations....in time, that group could be called a civilization.

 

 

Chris B Chicken, the damatization was pleasantly entertaining! You made me smile! :)

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Great story. I do have one question:

 

Ok, you have a sense of morality, if you do a bad deed people will be upset by it and if you do a good deed people will benefit...

 

I reject both of those premises. Most good deeds go unnoticed and unappreciated. More bad deeds bring wealth or power. In a world divided by language, politics, religion, economics and technology, our good deed might be someone else's bad deed, and vice versa.

 

What is your definition of good and bad? (Are rape, theft or murder bad? Why?)

 

 

(Barging into the conversation.) KC and others, you might enjoy this thought provoking article:

 

http://harvardscience.harvard.edu/culture-...moral-reasoning

 

And, I like what Richard Dawkins says about the topic (the following is a compilation of excerpts from The God Delusion):

 

"Does Our Moral Sense Have A Darwinian Origin?"

 

Several books, including Robert Hinde's Why Good is Good, Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil, Robert Buckman's Can We Be Good Without God?, and Marc Hauser's Moral Minds, have argued that our sense of right and wrong can be derived from our Darwinian past. This section is my own version of the argument.

 

On the face of it, the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness as we possess, or our feelings of morality, decency, empathy, and pity.

 

Natural selection can explain hunger, fear, and sexual lust, all of which straightforwardly contribute to our survival or the preservation of our genes. But what about the wrenching compassion we feel when we see an orphaned child weeping, an elderly widow in despair from loneliness, or an animal whimpering in pain? What gives us the powerful urge to send an anonymous gift of money or clothes to tsunami victims on the other side of the world whom we shall never meet, and who are highly unlikely to return the favour? Where does the Good Samaritan in us come from?

...

 

Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are "misfirings" -- analogous to the misfiring of a warbler's parental instincts when she works itself to the bone to feed the child of a cuckoo bird deposted in her nest?

 

The misfire idea, which I am espousing, works like this. Natural selection, in ancestral times when we lived in villages and small roving bands, programmed into our brains altruistic urges along with sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges, and so on. An intelligent couple can read their Darwin and know that the ultimate reason for the sexual urge is survival of the species via procreation. They know that the woman will not conceive because she is using a contraceptive. Yet they find that their sexual desire is in no way diminished by this knowledge. Sexual desire is sexual desire, and its force in an individual's psychology is independent of the Darwinian pressure that drives it -- it is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale.

 

I am suggesting that the urge to morality -- the urge to non-kin-based or non-reciprocation-based altruism, generosity, empathy, kindness, and compassion, also is a misfiring.

 

In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only toward close kin and potential reciprocators. Nowadays that restriction is no longer there, but the urge to altruism persists. Why would it not? It is just like sexual desire. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is not kin, and is not able to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for someone who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce. Both the altruism and the lust are misfirings.

 

Do not, for one moment, think of such Darwinizing as demeaning or reductive of the noble emotions of compassion and generosity. Nor of sexual desire. Sexual desire, when channeled through the conduits of linguistic culture, emerges as great poetry and drama: John Donne's love poems, say, or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

 

The best way for natural selection to 'build in' survival urges including the urge to altruism in ancestral times was to install rules of thumb in the brain. Those rules influence us still, not in a Calvinistically deterministic way but filtered through the civilizing influences of literature and custom, law and tradition -- and, of course, religion.

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Great story. I do have one question:

 

Ok, you have a sense of morality, if you do a bad deed people will be upset by it and if you do a good deed people will benefit...

 

I reject both of those premises. Most good deeds go unnoticed and unappreciated. More bad deeds bring wealth or power. In a world divided by language, politics, religion, economics and technology, our good deed might be someone else's bad deed, and vice versa.

 

What is your definition of good and bad? (Are rape, theft or murder bad? Why?)

 

 

(Barging into the conversation.) KC and others, you might enjoy this thought provoking article:

 

http://harvardscience.harvard.edu/culture-...moral-reasoning

 

And, I like what Richard Dawkins says about the topic (the following is a compilation of excerpts from The God Delusion):

 

"Does Our Moral Sense Have A Darwinian Origin?"

 

Several books, including Robert Hinde's Why Good is Good, Michael Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil, Robert Buckman's Can We Be Good Without God?, and Marc Hauser's Moral Minds, have argued that our sense of right and wrong can be derived from our Darwinian past. This section is my own version of the argument.

 

On the face of it, the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness as we possess, or our feelings of morality, decency, empathy, and pity.

 

Natural selection can explain hunger, fear, and sexual lust, all of which straightforwardly contribute to our survival or the preservation of our genes. But what about the wrenching compassion we feel when we see an orphaned child weeping, an elderly widow in despair from loneliness, or an animal whimpering in pain? What gives us the powerful urge to send an anonymous gift of money or clothes to tsunami victims on the other side of the world whom we shall never meet, and who are highly unlikely to return the favour? Where does the Good Samaritan in us come from?

...

 

Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are "misfirings" -- analogous to the misfiring of a warbler's parental instincts when she works itself to the bone to feed the child of a cuckoo bird deposted in her nest?

 

The misfire idea, which I am espousing, works like this. Natural selection, in ancestral times when we lived in villages and small roving bands, programmed into our brains altruistic urges along with sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges, and so on. An intelligent couple can read their Darwin and know that the ultimate reason for the sexual urge is survival of the species via procreation. They know that the woman will not conceive because she is using a contraceptive. Yet they find that their sexual desire is in no way diminished by this knowledge. Sexual desire is sexual desire, and its force in an individual's psychology is independent of the Darwinian pressure that drives it -- it is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale.

 

I am suggesting that the urge to morality -- the urge to non-kin-based or non-reciprocation-based altruism, generosity, empathy, kindness, and compassion, also is a misfiring.

 

In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only toward close kin and potential reciprocators. Nowadays that restriction is no longer there, but the urge to altruism persists. Why would it not? It is just like sexual desire. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is not kin, and is not able to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for someone who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce. Both the altruism and the lust are misfirings.

 

Do not, for one moment, think of such Darwinizing as demeaning or reductive of the noble emotions of compassion and generosity. Nor of sexual desire. Sexual desire, when channeled through the conduits of linguistic culture, emerges as great poetry and drama: John Donne's love poems, say, or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

 

The best way for natural selection to 'build in' survival urges including the urge to altruism in ancestral times was to install rules of thumb in the brain. Those rules influence us still, not in a Calvinistically deterministic way but filtered through the civilizing influences of literature and custom, law and tradition -- and, of course, religion.

 

This seems to be the prevailing thought in origin of morality studies... the proximity and familiarity of the object of our empathy is what appears to be relevant. Milgram and Zimbardo, also demonstrated that with their studies.

I love the comparison of Kant's rational explanation and Hume's emotional one... it parallels my ideas of world view evolving from a existential model that all things are, to rational enlightenment to romantic emotionalism to these modern efficiency models of philosophy. In other words empathy is useful if the object is close enough to be effected and prone to respond to us and inefficient if the object is distant and resistant to us.

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