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August 05, 2008

Comments

Keith wrote: "Without God's involvement, we would have analiated one another centuries ago, like Cain took out Able. I attribute all good found in this world to God."

Just as any proponent of any religion would attribute "all good" in the world to their god, too.

Considering the amount of evil that has been done throughout history in the name of the Christian God — the wars and crusades, the pogroms, the punishment of heretics, etc. — it certainly seems that not only do the most devout believers in God do their fair share of annihilating, but that the God to whom you attribute "all good" hasn't seen fit to put a stop to any of it. (This is not to say that plenty of wars haven't been fought for non-religious motives, far from it. It's just to point out that the religious aren't in any way less likely to be warlike.) Also, re-read some of your own scriptures to get your God's perspective on annihilation. I have a feeling the Midianites would hardly agree that God has brought peace.

Quite a lot of annihilating has been done in the name of God, Keith, and it's folly to think otherwise. If you're going to attribute all good in the world to God, you'll need to explain why God has never intervened to put a stop to the evil done in his name. I'd suggest that without the arrival of the secular Enlightenment several centuries ago, with its principles of human rights at the fore, humanity would have been very likely to have annihilated itself by now, indeed.

Also, this point: "You have to admit, the relatively low recitivism rate does point to the fact that Prison Fellowship must be doing something well when compared to other programs. What is that something?"

As has been pointed out at the link below, Colson's prison ministry has apparently been fudging the numbers to exaggerate its claims of success:
http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2008/05/chuck-colsons-dubious-prison-statistics.html

Martin: I'm not disputing history; the relationship between war and religion is a no brainer. It's also a no-brainer that messed up people will do things in the name of a god that are contrary to the teachings of that god. Also, to claim God has not intervened to stop some evil is not provable. I stand by what I wrote.

The questions of evil and why God annihilated people groups in the OT are challenging. Christians have been debating these questions for centuries (see "Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide" for more on part of this debate).

I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers (not even close). But perhaps allowing evil to exist serves a greater purpose? Perhaps evil is allowed to exist as long as there is hope for the perpetrators of evil? Perhaps there is a line, that once crossed, requires swift justice to preserve the lives and futures of others?

Perhaps there were some mistakes made with the stats. I'll have to check it out.

Thanks again for the comments.

Keith: "Also, to claim God has not intervened to stop some evil is not provable."

Only insofar as God himself is an unfalsifiable and unprovable concept. But still, God's missed some remarkable opportunities to show humanity he's got our backs, hasn't he? The Holocaust, 9/11, earthquakes, tsunamis. The list is huge. A huge glowing disembodied hand blocking the airplanes from colliding with the WTC towers would have gone a long way towards shutting up the atheists of the world, let alone saving 3000 innocent lives.

Keith: "Perhaps evil is allowed to exist as long as there is hope for the perpetrators of evil?"

If evil acts only caused direct harm to their perpetrators, then a lot of this sort of theodicy would be on better footing. Unfortunately, when you bring the fact of innocent victims into the picture, it's harder to swallow the idea that, say, God allows a child to be raped so that there may be hope for the rapist.

Martin: You raise difficult and legitimate questions. And, as I said before, I don't have all the answers. All I can say is I believe the God of the Bible is love and goodness personified. There are many things I don't understand or find it difficult to understand, but I believe it's possible that my finite mortal brain can't see all reasons behind why an eternal, infinite being who transcends time and space does or doesn't do some things.

I could get into the whole discussion of what constitutes “evil,” and how you’ve somehow arrived at an objective way to identify it, but I'm wondering ... have you ever asked “God” to reveal himself to you? Not in a demanding sort of way, but in a sincere, I'd-like-to-know-if-you're-really-there-and-if-you're-really-who-Christ-followers-say-you-are way? Perhaps it’s anathema to even ask the question, but I’m going to ask anyway. No offense intended, and you don’t need to respond.

"You have to admit, the relatively low recitivism rate does point to the fact that Prison Fellowship must be doing something well when compared to other programs. What is that something?"

Getting people a job.

Keith, if the God of the Bible is "love and goodness" personified, why does he condemn people to eternal torment for failing to love him back? It seems to me that you're working on a definition of "love and goodness" that denudes those concepts of meaning. And these shouldn't be things beyond the grasp of "mortal, finite" minds (don't sell yourself short, guy!). Indeed, if there were aspects of God's character and behavior that required a hyper-advanced mind humans don't possess to comprehend, and yet we were all at risk for rather harsh, infinite penalties for not comprehending them, I don't see how that would redound to God's good and loving nature either.

I'm not trying to pile on, Keith. I just want you to be versed in some common atheist objections to Christian apologetics. Later.

Keith:
I asked you to explain, "On what basis do you claim that if there is no God, then life is a meaningless, amoral existence?"
I turned around your hitherto unsupported assertion by asking, "Conversely, if God exists and created us for his own inscrutable purposes, what meaning is there to life?"
I asked a series of questions regarding your inexplicable dismissal of things that I consider very meaningful in life.
In the context of the Problem of Evil and its impact on the relevance of all logically possible deities, I asked, "What is the functional difference between an irrelevant deity, and one which does not exist?"

You addressed none of my questions. Instead, you sought to sidetrack the conversation by asking, "Stephen: How have you objectively identified what is moral? How have you objectively identified what is meaningful?"

Although I have no obligation to answer your questions (as you have not extended the courtesy of addressing mine), I will do so anyway, if only to illustrate to other readers that I am more thoughtful and considerate than you are.

I do not believe morality and meaning are objective at all, or can be objectively identified. Meaning is something each of us assigns to our own lives, so it is necessarily subjective. Unimaginative people often adopt meanings that others assign to them instead of coming up with their own, but they, and they alone, are ultimately responsible for the meaning they accept for themselves.

Morality, however, is an inherently social phenomenon. A man stranded alone on a desert island has no use for morals or morality. If there is even one other person with him, however, they will have to come to some agreement about how they expect to treat each other and be treated. This social contract is the basis for morality, and it changes from place to place and time to time, depending upon the pressing needs of each society in each place and time. Case in point, the Bible condones pillaging, genocide and slavery (provided, of course, that the enemy is "wicked"), whereas today, these things are broadly frowned upon. Different time, different circumstances, different morality.

Now please address my questions before asking any more, or I will deem you immoral, on the basis that you are not willing to do for others as they are willing to do for you.

Keith:
I apologize for being a bit testy in my last reply. I sometimes become frustrated when my side of a conversation appears to be cavalierly ignored or dismissed. I would still like to know your answers to the questions I previously asked, though.

This question wasn't directed at me, but I'd like to provide my answer for it anyway: "I'm wondering ... have you ever asked “God” to reveal himself to you? Not in a demanding sort of way, but in a sincere, I'd-like-to-know-if-you're-really-there-and-if-you're-really-who-Christ-followers-say-you-are way? Perhaps it’s anathema to even ask the question, but I’m going to ask anyway. No offense intended, and you don’t need to respond."

Like many (perhaps most) of the atheists I know, I grew up in a Christian family, and was a devout believer for most of my childhood and all of my adolescence. During my college years, I served in several ministries, including counselor at a Christian summer camp, and missionary work in Mexico and Papua New Guinea. In addition to the usual recitations during Sunday school, sermons and Bible study groups, I read the Bible cover to cover, twice. During that roughly two-decade span, I asked God to reveal himself to me many, many times. As such, the short answer to your question, as it applies to me, is "yes".

Despite this Christianity-saturated background, I suffered from the same haze of uncertainty and mystery and finite mentality that you seem to be experiencing. While serving in the jungle, it occurred to me that if I was going to be a missionary, it was very, very important to have a solid grasp of the Truth, whatever that turned out to be, before attempting to relay my beliefs to others. I prayed sincerely for wisdom and guidance in this pursuit of greater understanding. I summoned the courage to tackle the difficult questions with honesty and integrity, fully confident that doing so would ultimately corroborate the beliefs I already held. (Arguably, everyone who has been a believer for more than a couple of years should have that degree of faith.)

Thus, I embarked on a long, tortuous spiritual journey that unfolded over the course of about eight years. My quest was successful; my prayer for wisdom and guidance had been answered. I discovered the Truth about God. The thing is, the conclusion was not at all what I expected it to be at the outset.

I won't step you through the reasoning which led to my atheism; it's a journey you'll have to take yourself when you gain enough faith to tackle the difficult questions with honesty and integrity. That was a one-way road, in that the reasons I stopped believing are different from the reasons I continue to disbelieve. Those who would seek to change my mind about God must address the latter, starting with the Problem of Evil. I regard the fact that crimes and prisons exist at all as very compelling evidence that an "all good, all powerful" God is not a relevant component of the real world.

If you lean on a God who isn't there, you'll fall right through. Rather than distracting ourselves and diverting our resources in the name of bogus entities, realms and events, I think our time and effort would be better spent developing real-world solutions to real-world problems.

Helping former convicts find jobs appears to be a somewhat effective method of reducing the recidivism rate. If the entire religious portion of Chuck's program was discarded, and it focused on simply helping convicts reintegrate themselves as productive members of society, I would expect to see no loss of efficacy whatsoever, and maybe even some improvement.

Martin: Understood. And I will explain from the perspective of the Christian world view as best as I can. I don’t consider myself an apologist, but I can address my faith and reasons why I believe what I believe.

Justice is also part of God’s nature. In the Christian world view, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Like many inmates in today’s prison system, we tend to minimize our crimes and justify our attitudes and actions. Every part of our being is tainted by sin, and, in the Christian world view, we need to saturate our thinking in God’s word to help us better “see” (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:19-21). Christians are in a constant battle with the old nature (Ephesians 4:22-24), yet striving to become more like Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8; Ephesians 2:10) through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You may debate the harshness of the penalty for rejecting God’s rule, but I’m convinced we don’t fully understand how utterly sinful sin is, and how utterly beyond hope we truly are outside of Christ. We were created to exist for eternity, so if we choose rebellion, there is no place for us in the kingdom of God outside of Christ.

So it’s not a matter of minimizing the gift of the mind and reason. Rather, for the Christian it’s a matter of keeping the mind and reason in perspective. As Paul said, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith....” (see Philippians 3:7-11).

So it’s not a matter of grasping every aspect of God. Rather, it’s a matter of grasping the essential elements and accepting them by faith. If the gift is to be for all people, then the essential elements need to be simple enough for a child to grasp.

Again, I’m not trying to win an argument here, I’m just trying to explain what I believe as best as I can.

Stephen: Apology accepted. I chose to address what I saw as surprising to me. It was hard to distinguish the rest of what you wrote as genuine questions or merely rhetorical, which is why I did not respond to the questions. I apologize if this offended you.

Stephen wrote: “On what basis do you claim that if there is no God, then life is a meaningless, amoral existence?” The logical conclusion of atheism is no ultimate meaning. As you mentioned in a later comment, you can have a system of meaning and morality, but it’s entirely temporal and subjective. Therefore, if I determine killing other people makes my life meaningful, you have no objective basis for challenging my moral system, regardless of how superior you believe your system to be. Honestly I didn’t think I needed to support the statement.

Meaning for the Christian comes in overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21), doing good works (Ephesians 2:10), encouraging others to become followers of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), and seeking to build God’s kingdom and walk in his commands (Matthew 6:33). Morality comes from the commands found in the Scriptures, as I’m sure you’re aware having read the Bible yourself.

I believe I have tried to addressed the problem of evil in an earlier comment (not in depth, of course). Suffice it to say, it’s a problem for the Christian, but it’s not a deal breaker for me as it is for you. I’m a bit surprised, however, at your comments about personal responsibility, which is supported by the Scriptures. Perhaps it’s a matter of extent or degree of responsibility.

As far as the question, "What is the functional difference between an irrelevant deity, and one which does not exist?" is concerned, there is no functional difference. But I don’t see the God of the Bible fitting into either category.

Thank you for sharing your journey. My journey has been quite different. Although I was raised in a nominal Christian home, I was a self-described agnostic, doing very well in college, achieving all the goals I had set for myself, and partying hearty. However, I found no fulfillment or happiness in my achievements or antics, which led me to serious questions about the meaning of life. I reasoned that if there was a God and he created me, he should have some say as to what I do with my life. So as an experiment, I tossed up a prayer that went something like this, “God, if you’re there, show me what you want me to do with my life.”

Shortly thereafter, I asked a female co-worker to accompany me to the company Christmas party (I had a part-time job at a garment manufacturer while going to school). I had the opportunity to go with the hottest girl in the place, who had shown considerable interest in me, but I inexplicably asked another girl (if you had know me then, you’d have thought I’d lost my mind not jumping at the chance to go out with the hot girl). That night my date told me about her Christian faith. I thought she was wacked out. But there was something different about her life that attracted me. She had a sense of purpose, a peace, and an inexplicable joy. So, I asked her to accompany me to a concert later that week. She, however, had tickets to hear some Christian band (The Imperials) the same night. So, I returned my symphony tickets and went with her.

At the concert I spotted an enemy from high school (no small feat in a 5000 + seat auditorium). This guy was known for pulling stunts, and I figured he was there to disrupt the concert. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the guy spotted me and came over. The first thing he said to me was, “Praise the Lord, Keith, when did you get saved?” I had no clue what he was talking about. Today I know he was asking me when I had become a follower of Jesus. I was stunned by how the guy had changed. That night we left the auditorium as friends.

One other peculiar thing happened that night. I was often put off by different Christian groups claiming to have “the truth” or claiming to be the “true church.” That night I saw people from many different slices of the Christian pie all there under one banner. I was perplexed.

That night my date asked me if I wanted to go with her and her roommate to a Christmas presentation at her roommate’s church. I accepted. But as the day approached, I was getting more and more unsettled about this whole experience. It was all too weird, nonsensical, and internally disruptive. When the night arrived, I determined that I would not go to the presentation, but that I would stop by her apartment. In my mind I had no intention of hanging out with this girl or her weird friends beyond that night.

Just as I was about to leave her apartment, her roommate called and said that she was in trouble in a local store parking lot. My date’s car was broken down, so we jumped into my car and raced over to where my date’s roommate was at. She greeted us carrying bags of groceries with tears streaming down her face—she had locked her keys in the car.

Okay...no problem. I’ll just do the coat hanger trick and we’ll be on our way. Well, the new-fangled lock mechanism wasn’t well suited to my skill, so I took the girls back to their apartment and suggested they call a locksmith in the morning (it was Sunday evening). As I was leaving for the second time, I overheard the girls express their disappointment at missing the Christmas presentation. So, I offered to take them.

Soon I found myself sitting in a church sensing a presence I had never sensed before (yes, I know there’s a lot of subjective stuff here, but please bear with me). It was a Christmas musical program called The Singing Christmas Tree. During one of the songs, the name “Jesus” appeared in the star above the center tree. All I knew at this point is that I stood in rebellion against God, and that Jesus was the only one who could help me (later I learned about the theological details of my experience from the Bible). I walked out of that church a changed man. I had an inexplicable hunger for reading the Bible, my family was freaked out, and I lost a lot of old friends, but I consider it all a small price to pay.

That was 28 years ago. Life hasn’t been a walk in the park by any means, but over time my faith has deepened, my relationship with God has become stronger, and I’ve become a better, more productive member of society. Not perfect by any means (never will be in this life), but heading in the right direction. I’m still leaning, and I haven’t fallen through yet. On the contrary, I’ve been kept from falling through.

Keith:
You're still making the false and unsupported assumption that atheism necessarily leads to meaninglessness and amorality. "The logical conclusion of atheism is no ultimate meaning." My personal experience, and eight years of careful logical reasoning as an atheist, have not led me to this conclusion. You said, "Honestly I didn’t think I needed to support the statement," but you do. You really, really do.

Your source of meaning and moral standards are no more objective than mine, you just don't realize it yet. There's nothing inherently wrong with personally-assigned meaning, or morality based upon social agreement. If your Bible says pillaging and genocide are acceptable (Numbers 31), and instructs you in the proper method of raping your enemy (Deut. 21:10-14), it is still up to you, with your entirely subjective sense of compassion, coupled with sound reasoning, to accept, ignore, deny, dismiss or reject these kinds of passages according to prevailing social standards of morality, for your own, entirely subjective purposes.

This gets into what is known as the Euthyphro dilemma: http://www.moralphilosophy.info/euthyphrodilemma.html
The question is, does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God? If the former, then the good exists independent of God, and he is just a messenger of sorts. If the latter, then God's commands are completely arbitrary, such that rape and genocide would be entirely morally acceptable if and when God commanded them.

So you see, when you say atheism leads to meaninglessness and amorality, you have no idea what you're talking about. There's no more objective, ultimate meaning to be found in praising mythical figures or propagating the underlying myth than in simply enjoying the company of fellow human beings. The moral dictates of the Bible are no more objectively correct than the legal dictates of a secular government, as both are the products of social consensus. (Do you have any idea how many fallible human beings had a hand in the production of the Bible?)

Go back and re-read your story. Notice that the series of events and observations that led you to believe were not at all objective. You asked a girl out, but don't know why. You perceived the name "Jesus" in the star at the top of the tree, but don't know why. You judged for yourself that you stood in rebellion against God, and that Jesus could help you. You felt a hunger to read the Bible. All of this happened within the confines of your own mind, subject to your own imperfect thoughts and subjective feelings, even though, at the time, you claim you were an amoral agnostic with a meaningless existence.

Are you starting to see how ridiculous your assertion is? Are you starting to realize just how thoroughly you need to support it?

Stephen: I don't think the statement I've made is false at all: it's a logical conclusion. but I can see that I'm wasting my time (and you are probably wasting yours). I was hoping to engage in a civil discussion, but I can see that's not going to happen. I genuinely wish you the best.

Keith:
By the way, I think you also owe me an apology, for asserting, sight unseen and without supporting evidence, that I am immoral and my life is ultimately meaningless.

I should also mention that your offhand dismissal of the Problem of Evil, right after I said, "Those who would seek to change my mind about God must address... the Problem of Evil," demonstrates that you are not really serious about encouraging others to become followers of Jesus. Do you really think you can fool your God into believing you care about the fate of unbelievers, when it's so obvious to unbelievers that you don't? That your attempts to proselytize are just a dog and pony show to make yourself look better? I suppose you can probably fool yourself and/or your fellow Christians. Is that your real motive?

When you take the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Peter 3:15-16) as seriously as I did in Papua New Guinea, then you might have some basis for claiming that encouraging others to become followers of Jesus is part of what you consider the ultimate meaning of life. Until then, you're just in it for yourself.

Keith/Editor:
"I don't think the statement I've made is false at all: it's a logical conclusion."

Can you please provide the logical argument that led you to this conclusion, then?

Keith:
Yet again, I find myself having a lot of follow-up thoughts to your last post. When you have asked questions, I have answered them. When I have made appeals to logic, I have laid out the logical arguments behind them (Problem of Evil, Euthyphro's Dilemma). Getting you to support your assertions about "logical conclusions", however, is like pulling teeth. If there is any limitation in our ability to engage in a civil discussion, it is wholly your doing. If you can't back up your "logical conclusions" with a logical argument, I, and anyone who happens to be following this thread, is free to assume you don't have any logical basis at all for your claims. Again, you might be able to fool yourself, but you will find it harder to fool me. If your intention was to try to fool me into believing in God again, or accepting that you might have a rational, objective basis for doing so, then you're right - that's not going to happen. Not until you step up to the plate with a logical argument to back your "logical" conclusions.

Keith:
I think I can make an even stronger argument. The claim I disputed was, "If there is no God, then life is a meaningless, amoral existance."

Let's apply the principle of reciprocity, also known as the Golden Rule. Suppose I were to assert, "If there is a God, then the meaning of life is to rape and kill." How would you feel about that? Would you be offended?

Suppose you objected, saying, "You're wrong. I believe in God, but I don't rape or kill. Why would you say something like that?" Suppose I then responded, "It's a logical conclusion. I don't have to support my claim." How would you feel? Respected? Valued as a person? Would you be swayed by this "logic"?

You may not fully appreciate the degree to which your statement insults non-believers. When you want to know what atheists think and how they feel, you should ask an atheist, not brazenly dismiss their thoughts and feelings as irrelevant and continue to assert your prejudices. That's not logic. That's bigotry, rooted in ignorance. It is a dangerous lie, which promotes an unwarranted distrust of unbelievers, including me.

I conclude, therefore, that your beliefs have done nothing to teach you the value of understanding or compassion. Your beliefs don't make you any better than the rest of us, so it's incredibly insulting for you to go around pretending that you are. I think I have been remarkably patient with you, given the circumstances. I await your apology, and your promise to catch yourself before spreading such hateful lies in the future.

It appears to me that Stephen took this more seriously than Keith did.

Stephen has asked good questions and has responded to the issues in well articulated and direct responses (sometimes very pointed respones).

Keith, on the other hand, indeed had to be pushed into answering questions --- and even then, despite claiming it is all "logic", it really was subjective analysis from his biased point of view. For example, I also take issue with Keith's subjective claim "If there is no God, then life is a meaningless, amoral existance." --- perhaps Keith would feel *his* life is meaningless and he would live an amoral existance, OK, but *Keith* is NOT everybody. Most people, including atheist, enjoy life and find meaning in their family, friends, work, sports, music, hobbies, etc. Addtionally, people considering their lives can find moral systems that can enhance their enjoyment in life while enhancing enjoyment others can find in life at the same time very naturally (i.e. civil societies can happen!). Other posters here have expressed it better than my poor attempt.

Stephen asked earlier:

"In the end, though, what sacrifice did Jesus really make? He supposedly resurrected and went back to being God. One of the defining characteristics of death is, it's permanent. If it's not permanent, it isn't death. So, either Jesus really died, in which case he's not God, or he resurrected, in which case he didn't sacrifice himself through death. At most, he suffered a weekend of inconvenience."

I would have thought a Xian, such as Keith indicates seems to have indicated he is, are any Xians that are serious, would have jumped *all* over this pointed question and would have provided a thoughtful and reasoned reply thus perhaps saving a "lost" atheist. But alas, none have. I'm not surprised really --- this is not the kind of questions Xians, like Keith, for example, get exposed to in "Bible Study" classes. "Bible Study" is less critical analysis than it is just indoctination and brain-washing. That is also true of the other "Holy" texts like in Islam, or Hinduism, Scientology, etc.

Thanks for the comment, rx314. My intention was never to get pulled into a debate, nor was it to engage in a bashing session. Therefore, I’m not going to address Stephan’s statements and questions. There are volumes of material written over the centuries that address many of the questions Stephan raises.

I will concede one thing to Stephen, and that is in all fairness I should provide a logical framework for the statement that I made about atheism. I realized after reviewing what I wrote that I left out a key concept in my statement. I apologize for that, and for the role my statement played in turning the discussion into a debate.

Statement: Atheism has no universal framework for meaning
1. Meaning is determined by the individual or by a society
2. Individuals often have vastly different views of what is meaningful
3. Societies often have vastly different views of what is meaningful
4. What is meaningful often changes in both individuals and in societies over time
5. Therefore there is no basis for defining what is meaningful to an individual or a society outside of a single individual or a single society at a particular point in time.
6. Therefore, there is no universal framework for defining meaning in the atheist worldview.

Statement: Atheism has no universal framework for morality (i.e., is amoral)
1. Morality is determined by the individual or by a society
2. Individuals often have vastly different views of what is moral
3. Societies often have vastly different views of what is moral
4. What is moral often changes in both individuals and in societies over time
5. Therefore there is no basis for defining what is moral to an individual or a society outside of a single individual or a single society at a particular point in time.
6. Therefore, there is no universal framework for defining meaning in the atheist worldview.

So I should have said, “If there is no God, life is a meaningless, amoral existence outside the confines of an individual or a society at any particular point in time.”

Is this accurate from your perspective?

To discuss worldviews and why one believes in a particular way has some value in the context of a blog, and I am willing to answer the best I can as to how I address these from the Christian worldview, as I did with Martin.

Keith, the problem you have with your above syllogisms (both of them) is that point 5 does not necessarily result from point 4. The fact that whatever moral precepts or concepts of "meaning" people live by may only be applicable to the standards of their present society or culture does not mean those precepts have no basis. They may have a basis we disagree with, and even find appalling and evil (and when we do, we fight them, as happened in WW2). Moreover, point 1 ignores a salient fact, which is that the moral precepts a society adheres to are most often determined by that society for reasons having to do with the success and survival of that society. People don't just make up laws and apply them whether they work or not. Actions have consequences, and if your laws aren't contributing to your society's success, they get changed.

This can and does lead to societies where great evil is done, to be sure, but those kinds of societies usually collapse (as with modern communist countries) or evolve into something better (as happened when the theocratic control the Church had enjoyed through the Middle Ages gave way to the Enlightenment).

The conclusion that there is no "universal framework for defining meaning in the atheist worldview" is a big red herring, as it assumes, falsely, that a "universal framework" (which you leave undefined, but which I think I can safely conclude leads to "a God handing you a list of do's and don'ts") is needed to determine meaning or morals. I don't think the word "meaning" means what you think it means. And the sentence “If there is no God, life is a meaningless, amoral existence outside the confines of an individual or a society at any particular point in time" is absurd, considering that "outside the confines of an individual or a society at any particular point in time," there is no life at all. You've ironically conceded that societies and individuals do not, in fact, need a God to enjoy a moral, meaningful existence.

I would suggest even Christians do not have a "universal framework" to determine their morals, since many Christian societies in the past freely engaged in practices like slavery which civilized people today consider the greatest possible evil. Also, you would probably call the cops if a 50 year old man showed up at your door to propose to your 14 year old daughter. But in medieval Europe, these kinds of marriage arrangements were the norm. And these were the most hardcore Christian societies the world has ever seen. Even "godly" morals have a habit of adapting with the times.

Finally, Keith, let me suggest that if you don't intend to get into debates, be careful about making assertions regarding what you think atheism is or is not, if there are atheists around who will challenge you and you're not prepared to address their challenges. We represent the real "No Spin Zone," and we will be pretty relentless in asking you to support any claims you make we take issue with. Yes, sometimes we can get heated if we think our questions or points are being dodged or ignored (we're only human), but we're really only trying to get at answers.

Martin,

Thanks for the comments. Yeah, 20-20 hindsight says I should not have made that assertion, and I did (and do) take responsibility for that. I, too, am human.

Thank you also for your insightful comments on my assertion. I've learned a great deal about atheist thinking in this exchange. I may follow with additional thoughts/questions in the future, but right now I've got some work to get done.

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