bookmark_borderNaturalism, Theism, and the Meaning of Life

In the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there is a funny scene in which an artificial intelligence is tasked with figuring out the meaning of life or, as it is called in the book, the Great Question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” The AI spends 7.5 million years working on the problem, until it finally reveals the answer is “42.” The AI says, “I think the problem, to be honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” Like many others, including philosopher Erik Wielenberg, I suspect that the question, “What is the meaning of life?”, is actually several questions in one.
Let’s start with some definitions, which we can use to make some distinctions. First, let’s consider “value.”
intrinsic value: something is intrinsically valuable if the thing’s value is inherent to the thing’s own properties, as opposed to its value being derived from the properties of another thing.
extrinsic value: something is extrinsically valuable if the thing’s value is derived from the value of another thing.
Something can be intrinsically valuable or extrinsically valuable, but not both.
 
Next, let’s move onto “meaning.” Following Wielenberg, one way to think about the concept of a “meaningful life” is to apply the intrinsic vs. extrinsic distinction.
intrinsically meaningful life: a life has intrinsic meaning if the life is good for the person who lives it overall.
extrinsically meaningful life: a life has intrinsic meaning if the life if it enables other people to engage in intrinsically valuable activities.
A life can be intrinsically meaningful, extrinsically meaningful, both, or neither.
 
Another way to think about the concept of “meaning” is to think about the placement of a life within the timescale of the universe. For lack of better labels, I shall call the options “intermediate meaning” and “final meaning.”
intermediate meaning: A life has intermediate meaning if the activities of a life contribute only to outcomes somewhere during the intermediate events of the universe, as opposed to events at the end of the universe’s existence.
final meaning: A life has finite meaning if the activities of a life contribute to the final series of events.
I don’t claim the above three distinctions are exhaustive. If I’ve missed any other relevant distinctions, please let me know in the comments box.
 
With these distinctions in mind, then, consider the following claim.

(1) If naturalism is true, then life has no meaning.

But the word “meaning” in this context itself has several meanings. (1) could be interpreted as any of the following.

(1.1) If naturalism is true, then life has no intrinsic value.
(1.2) If naturalism is true, then life has no extrinsic value.
(1.3) If naturalism is true, then life has no intrinsic meaning.
(1.4) if naturalism is true, then life has no extrinsic meaning.
(1.5) If naturalism is true, then life has no intermediate meaning.
(1.6) If naturalism is true, then life has no final meaning.

Let’s go through them one by one.
(1.1) If naturalism is true, then life has no intrinsic value.
Even if we clarify (1) by replacing it with (1.1), we’re still left with a muddled statement which blurs together crucial distinctions.
First, an objectivist about value (aka a ‘value realist’)–whether a theist or a nontheist–would almost certainly say that if anything has intrinsic value, life has objective intrinsic value. And notice that the truth of naturalism has no bearing on whether anything is objectively, intrinsically valuable. The concept of “objective intrinsic value” is either:
(a) coherent (and it is necessarily true that some things have it); or
(b) incoherent (and so it is impossible for anything to have it).
But neither of these possibilities have anything to do with whether naturalism is true. Naturalism (as I define it) is compatible with both of these options.
Second, a life can be subjectively intrinsically valuable, both to the person who lives it and to the people touched by it.
Furthermore, lurking in the background behind statements like 1.1 is a corresponding positive claim about theism:

If theism is true, then life has intrinsic value.

This statement has essentially the same problems as (1.1). First, if, as I think, life has intrinsic value, its intrinsic value does not derive from God’s existence. This follows from the definition of intrinsic value: if life is intrinsically valuable, its value lies in its own intrinsic properties, not the properties of God (such as God’s valuing life). Second, if value realism is true, then it seems highly plausible that life is objectively intrinsically valuable and, again, this value doesn’t come from God. Third, whether or not value realism is true, on theism life can still have subjective intrinsic value. In short,in the context of of whether life has intrinsic value (in any of the senses I’ve defined), naturalism vs. theism is a red herring.
(1.2) If naturalism is true, then life has no extrinsic value.
This version of (1) suffers essentially the same problems as 1.1: life can have extrinsic value, objective and subjective, whether or not theism or naturalism is true.
(1.3) If naturalism is true, then life has no intrinsic meaning.
As stated, (1.3) is false. A life has intrinsic meaning if the life is good overall for the person who lives it. Life can be good overall for the person who lives it, if theism, naturalism, or “otherism” are true.
But there is a more interesting version of (1.3) which cannot be so easily dismissed:

(1.3′) If naturalism is true, then a person’s life might have no intrinsic meaning.

Some lives can be overall bad for the people who live them; such lives could be said to have no intrinsic meaning. In contrast, if theism is true–more precisely, if certain versions of theism are true–then certain doctrines about the afterlife might make it the case that some of the lives that would be intrinsically meaningless on naturalism would be intrinsically meaningful on theism.
(1.4) if naturalism is true, then life has no extrinsic meaning.
It follows from the definition of “extrinsic value” that life can have extrinsic value, objective and subjective, whether or not theism or naturalism is true. Accordingly, (1.4) is false.
(1.5) If naturalism is true, then life has no intermediate meaning.
I don’t know of anyone who believes 1.5, but 1.5 is false. The activities of a person’s life can contribute to outcomes during their lifetime. By definition, such a life has intermediate meaning.
(1.6) If naturalism is true, then life has no final meaning.
This version of (1) is true. If naturalism is true, then nothing I (or anyone else) does during their lifetime will affect the extinction of our sun, the possible annihilation of Earth, any other astronomical event which might happen billions or even trillions of years from now, or change the ultimate fate of the universe, which many scientists believe will be the heat death of the universe.
I’ve had theists tell me that this is supposed to be a “bad” consequence of naturalism, but it’s never bothered me for one moment. Why should it? Putting aside the impossibility for any human to wrap their mind around just how far off into the future such events are, it’s not like I’ll be around to experience them. When I use this reply, the theists (mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph) seem to just repeat (1.6). It’s as if they want to me to believe that, on the one hand, “Absolutely nothing matters (if naturalism is true),” and, on the other hand, “The fact, ‘nothing matters (if naturalism is true),’ itself matters” and so I should be upset about that, not noticing the inherent contradiction in their message.
 

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 3

Question 1: What are Hinman’s Central Claims about Polycarp?
As with his discussion about the external evidence of Papias,  Hinman begins his discussion of Polycarp with some strong claims:
III. Polycarp:
Knew the Apostle John and studied with him. He speaks of where the apostle sat when they studied together.
The first sentence is lacking a subject.  But the heading just above the sentence implies that the subject of the sentence is Polycarp.  The first sentence uses the pronoun “him”, and this pronoun clearly refers back to the phrase “the Apostle John”.  So the first sentence makes two strong claims:
A.  Polycarp knew the Apostle John.
B.  Polycarp studied with the Apostle John.
The subject of the second sentence of Hinman’s article is “He”,  and once again the heading over the first paragraph (as well as the content of the sentence) implies that the subject of this second sentence is Polycarp.  The phrase “the apostle” in the second sentence is a clear reference back to the fuller phrase “the Apostle John” in the first sentence.  The pronoun “they” in the second sentence presumably refers to the only two people that have been mentioned so far: Polycarp and the Apostle John.  Thus, the second sentence makes a third strong claim:
C. Polycarp speaks of where the Apostle John sat when Polycarp and the Apostle John studied together.
Most of my post here will be concerned with claims (A) and (B).
Claim (C) can be immediately dismissed, because Hinman provides ZERO evidence in support of this strong claim, which seems odd given that he makes the claim in the second sentence of the opening paragraph of his article about Polycarp.
Perhaps Hinman believes that he has provided evidence in support of (C), because in the quotation he provides in that first paragraph, we find the following words:
…I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse…his [i.e. Polycarp’s] general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he [i.e. Polycarp] delivered to the people…  (emphasis added)
The quotation that Hinman provides in his first paragraph is from Eusebius, who is himself quoting from a letter written by Irenaeus to Florinus.  Given this context, it is clear that the pronoun “I” refers to the person who wrote this letter, namely to Irenaeus.  So, this quotation shows us that Irenaeus “speaks of where” Polycarp “sat when they [Irenaeus and Polycarp] studied together.”
It looks suspiciously like Hinman has misread the quotation that contains the key evidence for his claims.  Hinman appears to be confused about the reference of the pronoun “I” and seems to be mixing up the student/teacher relationship between Irenaeus and Polycarp with an alleged student/teacher relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.
Interestingly, this sort of misunderstanding and the confusion of people, names, and relationships that Hinman’s confusion illustrates  might well explain the very evidence that he provides in this key quotation.  Many scholars believe that Irenaeus could have misunderstood or misremembered his childhood experiences of Polycarp and became confused and mixed up people, names, and/or relationships, and thus failed to accurately characterize Polycarp (in the above quotation).  Hinman’s confusion illustrates why we should be cautious about accepting Irenaeus’ characterization of Polycarp.
You can find plenty of articles on Polycarp on the internet that agree with Hinman’s other strong claims about Polycarp, claim (A) and claim (B).  For example, one article that came up near the top of a Google search on “Polycarp” is an article on the “Christian History Institute” website:
https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/
The article “#103: Polycarp’s Martyrdom” asserts the following as if it were an historical fact:
Polycarp was an old man, at least 86…, and probably the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of St. John.
However, it is NOT a fact that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle (i.e. it is not a fact that Polycarp had “known an apostle” named John, that he had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle).  The problem with this article, and many other similar articles, is that (despite the official-sounding name of the website “Christian History Institute”) this is simply religious propaganda masquerading as objective history.
Scholars who study the issue have significant doubts about whether Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle.  Just as in the second and third centuries,  Christians are still hard at work lying to, and deceiving, uncritical thinkers and true believers about the history of Christianity.  Facts don’t matter; truth doesn’t matter; scholarship and objectivity don’t matter: just say whatever it is that will strengthen the faith of Christian believers, and that will suffice to justify any lies or deceptions or misinformation that one wishes to promote.
Some websites avoid engaging in outright deception by using hedging phrases.  A good example of this is on the Christianity Today History website, which is one of the top sites that came up in my Google search on “Polycarp”:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/polycarp.html
This article supports the claim that Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, and that Polycarp “was personally discipled by the apostle John”, but it does so with the use of the hedge “Tradition has it that…”:
He [Polycarp] lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles. (emphasis added)
The use of this hedging phrase gives the author an escape hatch: “I was just describing the content of a tradition, not asserting that the tradition was true.”  But, an obviously important question is begged:  IS THIS TRADITION TRUE OR FALSE?  The author of the article never indicates whether these claims are true or false.  The author never indicates whether these claims are probable or improbable.  The author never discusses any evidence for or against these claims.
So, it appears that the writer of this “historical” article on Polycarp at the Christianity Today History website does not give a damn about whether these claims are true or false.  What kind of historian does not give a damn about the truth of such obviously significant claims?  I  know who does not give a damn about the truth of obviously significant historical claims: a worthless pseudo-historian who cares more about promoting Christian propaganda and pleasing the sheeple in the pews than about what actually happened in the past, that’s who!
It is possible that the author of that article on Polycarp did care about truth and objectivity to a degree, and did express some doubts about these claims in an earlier version of this article (e.g. “but this tradition is probably false, because….” ) but then the editors at Christianity Today objected and demanded that expressions of such doubts be removed from the article before it was published.  But if that were the case, the author is still to blame for caving in to pressure to conform his/her scholarly opinions to the goals of some Christian propagandists.  It would be better for the article on Polycarp not to be published, than to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity and objectivity to make the article more pleasing to Christian propagandists in order that the article would be published.
Joe Hinman, of course, is not to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of numerous Christian psuedo-historians or of modern Christian propagandists, any more than I am to blame for the stupidity, ignorance, bias, and dishonesty of Atheist pseudo-historians or modern Atheist propagandists.  Hinman and I are only to blame for our own stupidity, ignorance, bias and dishonesty, not for that of others who happen to share a similar point of view about God or Jesus.  I’m simply pointing out that there is a whole lot of bullshit about Polycarp on the internet, and that some of this bullshit is presented as if it was scholarly historical writing, when it is simply religious propaganda: BUYER BEWARE.
 
Question 2: What is the Logic of Hinman’s Argument from Polycarp?
As with Hinman’s argument from Papias, my initial guess at the logic of his argument focuses on the idea of a chain of face-to-face relationships:
(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
(2) John the Apostle had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.
THUS:
(3) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth.
(4) If Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with someone who had personal, face-to-face conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, then Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(5) Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
Premise (1) is highly questionable, as I will argue for most of the rest of this post.
But, as with my attempt to summarize Hinman’s argument about Papias, there is a premise in the above argument that clearly begs the question:  premise (2).   In order to determine that (2) is true, one must first determine that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, i.e.  that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.  Thus, to assert that premise (2) is true involves ASSUMIING that the conclusion (5) is true, which begs the question at issue.
Because premise (2) so clearly begs the question, and because Hinman did not clearly and explicitly lay out this argument, I hesitate to attribute this obviously bad argument to Hinman.  Perhaps he had some other line of reasoning in mind,  some other bit of logic that connects the basic factual premise (1) to the conclusion (5) about Jesus.   The problem, therefore, with Hinman’s argument from Polycarp, is that his argument is incomplete.  There is a logical gap between his factual premise (1) and the implied conclusion (5).
I can provide a generic “warrant” premise to fill this logical gap, but Hinman needs to provide some line of reason or argument in support of the generic “warrant” premise:
(1) Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
(W) IF Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, THEN it is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
THEREFORE:
(5A) It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, flesh-and-blood historical person.
I will focus my remaining objections on the factual premise (1),  but I also have serious doubts about the warrant premise (W).  Hinman has not provided any reason or argument to believe that (W) is true or correct, and the most obvious way to support (W) begs the question.  It is not clear to me that there is any good reason to accept (W).  Apart from a convincing reason to accept (W),  Hinman’s argument fails even if the basic factual premise (1) was proven to be true.
 
Question 3: Was Polycarp a Student of John the Apostle?
Hinman quotes from Eusebius, who quotes from the contents of a letter from Irenaeus to Florinas:
For, while I [Irenaeus] was yet a boy, I saw thee [Florinus] in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court, and endeavouring to gain his approbation. For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in—his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God’s mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God’s grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind. (AnteNicene Fathers, Volume 1, Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeusemphasis added)
Note that Irenaeus does not here speak of “John the Apostle”.  However, he does imply that Polycarp knew a person named “John” who had “seen the Lord”.  But many Christians claimed to have “seen the Lord” long after Jesus had been crucified.  So, this “John” could have been just a Christian believer who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (perhaps in a vision, like Paul “the Apostle”).
The additional comments about Polycarp learning about the miracles and sayings of Jesus from “those who had seen the Lord” does, however, indicate that Irenaeus is talking about literally seeing a flesh-and-blood Jesus prior to the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.  In that case, “John” could be the “John the Apostle”, but it is also possible that this “John” was some other follower of Jesus, outside of the inner circle of “the twelve” disciples of Jesus (perhaps the “beloved disciple” mentioned in the Fourth gospel).
Since “John the Apostle” was a central figure in the early church,  let’s grant the assumption that IF the above words are an accurate representation of the words of Irenaeus, then it is probable that Irenaeus intended to assert that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle, and that this was intended to mean or imply that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
Granting this assumption, however, does not mean that it is probable that Polycarp did in fact have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, because Irenaeus might well have been mistaken (or possibly dishonest) about this matter.
Instead of turning to Christianity Today’s propaganda on Polycarp, let’s turn to a more scholarly and objective source: The Anchor Bible Dictionary (hereafter: ABD)one of the best Bible reference works in the English language.
In his argument based on Papias, Hinman quoted from an ABD article by William Schoedel, a scholar who specializes in the study of early Christianity.  In the article quoted by Hinman, Schoedel asserted that Eusebius was probably correct about the meaning of the preface of the book by Papias, namely that Papias was NOT an “eyewitness of the holy apostles”, and thus that Papias did not have face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle.
Hinman does not quote from Schoedel’s article relating to Polycarp, but if he had, he would have seen that Schoedel also supports my skeptical view about the claim that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle:
In spite of all this [evidence like the letter from Irenaeus to Florinus], a link between Polycarp and John [the Apostle] is not assured.  Irenaeus was young when he heard Polycarp and may well have taken references to John the elder (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7) as references to John the apostle.  Polycarp himself certainly makes no appeal to having known any of the disciples of the Lord, and he does not claim to have been appointed by one of them over the Church in Smyrna.  He does not even lay claim to the title of bishop….Yet even Ignatius makes no use of the idea of apostolic succession in this connection.  When he writes against Docetism on Polycarp’s behalf (Ign. Smyrn. 1-9), he never appeals to the special authority of John [the Apostle].  A link between Polycarp and John, then, seems about as unlikely as a link between Papias and John.  In any event, Irenaeus evidently remembered very little of what Polycarp may have said concerning his mentor John.  For it is significant that he presents the story of the encounter between the apostle and Cerinthus–a high point of his account of the bishop of Smyrna [i.e. Polycarp]–as derived from others. (ABD, “Polycarp (Epistle Of)” by William Schoedel, emphasis added)
Schoedel is a serious scholar who cares about the truth and who does not sugar-coat his findings to please Christian propagandists or the sheeple in the pews.  Schoedel is very much aware of the passages attributed to Irenaeus about Polycarp’s alleged relationship with the apostles, and with the apostle John in particular, but his considered and well-informed judgement is that it is UNLIKELY that Polycarp had personal, face-to-face contact with John the Apostle.
If you read the letters of Ignatius, you will see that he was obsessed with the importance of the role and authority of bishops in Christian churches.  Ignatius repeats over and over how Christians must respect and obey and follow the bishop of their local church. But when Ignatius writes to the church in Smyrna, he says nothing about their bishop (allegedly Polycarp) having been appointed by Apostles, or having personally known and conversed with various Apostles, or having been a student of John the Apostle.  Any one of those points would have helped Ignatius to convince the Christians at Smyrna to respect, obey, and follow Polycarp, but there is no mention of any direct relationship between Polycarp and any of the Apostles.  Similarly, Ignatius makes no mention of any such relationship with any of the Apostles in his letter addressed to Polycarp (which was also intended to be read by Christians who belonged to the Church in Smyrna).
There is only one document that exists that is believed to have been written by Polycarp: The Letter of Polycarp to Philippians.  In that letter, Polycarp makes no mention of having had been appointed bishop of Smyrna by some of the Apostles, there is no mention of his having personally known and conversed with various apostles, and he does not mention having been a disciple of John the Apostle.  Any one of these points would have helped Polycarp to persuade the believers in Philippi to take his moral guidance and his theological teachings seriously.
Although mentioning that Polycarp had been appointed by Apostles, had personally known and conversed with some of the Apostles, or had been a student who had face-to-face conversations with John the Apostle, would have clearly provided support and authority to Polycarp and his words, neither Ignatius nor Polycarp mention any such relationship between Polycarp and the Apostles.
This casts doubt on Irenaeus’ claims that Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, and that Polycarp had face-to-face conversations with various other Apostles, and “how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance.”  In the one letter we have from Polycarp, where speaking about such relationships and conversations with John the Apostle and other Apostles would have clearly helped him to persuade his audience to take his guidance and teachings seriously, Polycarp says nothing about any such relationships and conversations.
 
Question 4: Was John the Apostle a Teacher of Polycarp?
This is basically the same question as the previous question: “Was Polycarp a student of John the Apostle?”  The difference is that Question 4 is focused primarily on John the Apostle rather than on Polycarp.   William Schoedel is an expert on Early Christianity, especially on Papias, Ignatius, and Polycarp.  But other scholars have expertise on John the Apostle, so we can flip the question around and see what scholars who focus on John the Apostle have to say about the alleged relationship between Polycarp and John the Apostle.
The Encyclopædia Britannica has an article called “Saint John the Apostle“.  The article was written by Henry Chadwick, who was “Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Cambridge; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1987–93. Author of The Early Church and others.”  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this scholar:
Henry Chadwick, … (23 June 1920 – 17 June 2008) was a British academic and Church of England priest. A former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – and as such, head of Christ Church, Oxford – he also served as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, becoming the first person in four centuries to have headed a college at both universities.
A leading historian of the early church, Chadwick was appointed Regius Professor at both the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. (emphasis added)
Here is an important conclusion that Henry Chadwick asserts in his article about John the Apostle:
John’s subsequent history is obscure and passes into the uncertain mists of legend. (emphasis added)
According to Chadwick, at a certain point in time, historical data on the life and activities of John the Apostle become “obscure” and any further events in the life of John the Apostle beyond that point in time pass “into the uncertain mists of legend.”  In other words, up to a certain point in time, there is sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle, and after that point in time, there is NOT sufficient historical data to use as the basis for probable claims about the activities of John the Apostle.
But what IS that point in time, when, according to Chadwick, the life and activities of John the Apostle pass “into the uncertain mists of legend”?  The word “subsequent” in the above sentence, refers to an event described in the previous paragraph of the article:
John’s authoritative position in the church after the Resurrection is shown by his visit with Peter to Samaria to lay hands on the new converts there.  It is to Peter, James (not the brother of John but “the brother of Jesus”), and John [the Apostle] that Paul successfully submitted his Gospel for recognition. What position John held in the controversy concerning the admission of the Gentiles to the church is not known; the evidence is insufficient for a theory that the Johannine school was anti-Pauline—i.e., opposed to granting Gentiles membership in the church. (emphasis added)
This event when a decision was made by the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem to grant Gentiles membership in the church is known as the “Apostolic Council” or the “Jerusalem Council” (see Acts 15:4-29).  This event is usually dated to 49 CE.  Thus, Chadwick’s Historical Principle (hereafter: CHP) about the history of John the Apostle can be re-stated as follows:
(CHP) Claims about any activities of the Apostle John that allegedly occurred after 49 CE cannot be determined to be probable based on the availavble historical evidence.
But, according to Hinman,  Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  So, if Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle, that means that the alleged face-to-face conversations between Polycarp and John the Apostle would have occurred in the 80s or 90s, when Polycarp was a teenager or a young man and John the Apostle was a very old man.  This alleged activity of John the Apostle is well beyond the year 49 CE, and thus this alleged activity of John the Apostle has, according to Chadwick, passed “into the uncertain mists of legend”.  In other words, the claim that John the Apostle engaged in teaching Polycarp is a claim that cannot be determined to be probable based on the available historical evidence.
Chadwick is not the only scholar who accepts (CHP).  John Meier is a leading Jesus scholar, and he has carefully investigated the history of Jesus’ disciples.  In Volume III of Meier’s multi-volume work about the historical Jesus (A Marginal Jew), Meier discusses the various people and groups with which the historical Jesus allegedly interacted.  One chapter is on “The Disciples”; another chapter is on “The Existence and Nature of the Twelve”, and another chapter is on “The Individual Members of the Twelve” (John the Apostle was one of the members of the Twelve).
Here is the skeptical conclusion that Meier reaches about our knowledge of the Apostle John:
In fact, all we can say of John the son of Zebedee after Easter is that he remained in Jerusalem in the company of the Twelve in the early days of the church (Acts 1:13),  was active with Peter in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (Acts 3:1,3-4,11; 4:13,19; 8:14,17) and that, along with James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter he was considered a leader (“pillar”) of the Jerusalem community as late as the “Jerusalem Council” held ca. A.D. 49 (Gal. 2:9).  After that, we must admit total ignorance of John’s life and fate.  (A Marginal Jew, Vol. III, p.219-220, emphasis added)
Henry Chadwick and John Meier both agree with (CHP).  Both are highly-respected N.T. scholars and historians, and both have carefully studied the historical data concerning the life and activities of John the Apostle.
Because Hinman’s claim (A), and his claim (B),  and premise (1) of his argument imply claims about alleged activities of John the Apostle which occured (if they did occur) long after 49 CE,  Chadwick and Meier would clearly reject these claims by Hinman as not capable of being shown to be probable based on the available historical evidence that we have about John the Apostle.
There is another problem that puts the final nail in the coffin of claims (A), (B), and premise (1).  In all likelihood, John the Apostle would have died before Polycarp became old enough to become a disciple of John the Apostle.
Hinman suggests that Polycarp was born about 69 CE.  We don’t know when John the Apostle was born, but John was probably in his twenties when he was a disciple of Jesus,  so if John was in his mid-twenties when Jesus was crucified (around 30 CE), then when Polycarp turned 16, the year would be 85 CE, and John the Apostle would have been about 80 years old.  A scenario in which Polycarp became a student of John the Aposlte in the 80s is not impossible, but it is very unlikely, given that people usually did not live very long back in the first century.
The skeptical historian Richard Carrier writes about this issue in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter: HOJ):
Even in the best of times, no more than one in three people made it to 55 or above.  Yet if anyone started in the apostolate at, for example, age 15 in the year 30, they would be 55 in the year 70.  And it is far more likely the first apostles were in their 20s or 30s, not teenagers, which would make them around 65 or 75 in the year 70.  Teenagers would have incredible difficulty earning the respect or deference of those in their 20s or 30s, much less of elder folk, and therefore would be ineffective as evangelists.  So it is very unlikely the first apostles were of teen age.  Indeed, such a thing would be so remarkable it could not have failed to have been remarked upon in the sources we have.  Yet only one in five teenagers would reach age 65, and barely one in twenty would make it to age 75–and that’s without wars, famines, and persecutions reducing their survival rate.  Factor those in, and we can expect none of the original ‘twelve’…will have made it much beyond the year 75 (to which age the chances of a 25-year old surviving are one in eight in normal conditions).  Combine these prior expectations with the lack of any reliable evidence of anyone so surviving, and the silence of the evidence against it…, and we must conclude that in all probability all the original leaders were by then dead.  (HOJ, p.151-152)
NOTE: Carrier’s statistical remarks above are based on “the data provided in T.G. Parkin, Demography and Roman Society…Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992…You can see some calculations for survival odds at http://www.richardcarrierinfo/lifetbl.html…” (footnote #207).
If “only one in five teenagers would reach age 65”, then even if John the Apostle was only 15 years old when Jesus was crucified (about 30 CE), then John would have beeen about 65 years old in the year 80 CE and Polycarp would be only about 11 years old that year.  Although this is a possible scenario (Polycarp becoming a disciple of John the Apostle in the 80s) the probability of this scenario is significantly less than .2  (less than one chance in five), because (a) John the Apostle was probably in his twenties or thirties when Jesus was crucified (not a teenager), and (b) this survival rate does not factor in wars, famines, and persecutions, which did happen in the first century.  At best the probability of John the Apostle teaching Polycarp in the 80s or 90s is .1  or one chance in ten, based on survival rates.
Given that we have insufficient reliable historical evidence to support a claim that John the Apostle lived beyond the year 50 CE, let alone that he survived beyond the year 80 CE, and given that the rate of survival makes it IMPROBABLE that someone who was a teenager or in his twenties in the year 30 CE would have survived beyond the year 80 CE, we must conclude that in all probability John the Apostle died before he had an opportunity to become a teacher of Polycarp.
 
Q5: How Reliable is Irenaeus Concerning John the Apostle?
In the above discussion, we saw that three scholars with expertise on this issue (William Schoedel, Henry Chadwick, and John Meier) clearly do NOT view Irenaeus’s assertion that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp as constituting significant evidence for that claim.  Thus, these well-informed scholars do NOT view Irenaeus as a reliable source of information about John the Apostle.
According to Irenaeus, the following are true claims about John the Apostle:

  1. John the Apostle was the “beloved disciple”. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  2. John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John(Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1, Section 1)
  3. John the Apostle wrote the 1st Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 16, Section 5)
  4. John the Apostle wrote the 2nd Epistle of John. (Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 16, Section 3)
  5. John the Apostle wrote Revelation. (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 11)

Each one of these claims is probably false, so it is very probable that at least three of these claims are false.  Thus, it is very probable that Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle.  But if Irenaeus asserted at least three false claims about John the Apostle, then Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle.
In the ABD article on John the Apostle, Raymond Collins makes the following relevant comment:
The [ecclesiastical] tradition maintained that John was once banished to the island of Patmos, an island not far off the coast of Asia Minor relatively near Ephesus, but that he later returned to Ephesus where he lived until the time of Trajan.  Since the [ecclesiastical] tradition ascribed all five books in the NT’s Johannine corpus (John, 1-2-3 John, Revelation) to John, the Patmos exile allowed for John’s presumed composition of Revelation (Rev. 1.9).  Historical criticism has, however, convincingly shown that all five works could not have been written by the same author and that it is highly unlikely that John, the son of Zebedee, was the author of any one of them.  (ABD, “JOHN (DISCIPLE)”, see section E. Ecclesiastical Tradition, emphasis added)
Just as scholars have generally set aside “Ecclesiastical Tradition” about the authorship of the Johannine corpus (which includes Irenaeus’s assertions about the authorship of those writings), so we should set aside the assertion of Irenaeus that John the Apostle was the teacher of Polycarp.
Given all of the above reasons in this post to doubt the truth of premise (1) of Hinman’s argument, and given that Irenaeus is an unreliable source of information about John the Apostle, we ought to reject premise (1) on the grounds that it is probably false.

bookmark_borderA Layman’s Thoughts about Christian Theism and Gender Identity Disorder

(Note: I’ve titled this post “A Layman’s Thoughts” to reinforce the fact that I am neither an expert on human sexuality in general, gender identity disorder in particular, nor Christian doctrine on gender identity. If someone who reads this wants to “school” me on the errors in this post, I won’t be offended in the least.)
The evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, ran a story about a bill in the California Assembly which would require many/most (but not all) religious institutions of higher education to make accommodations based upon a person’s gender identity. (Note: my goal here is not to comment on the pros or cons of that bill.) The CT article was yet another reminder that many or most Evangelicals, if not Christians in general, are opposed, not to the fact that there are individuals with Gender Identity Disorder, but to the idea that said individuals might transition from gender to another through hormones, medication, and surgery, including Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS), also known as having a “sex change operation.”
I find it fascinating that so many Christians believe that their faith requires them to oppose certain accommodations for trans people. I get the Christian opposition to homosexual activity — from a layman’s perspective, it certainly appears that the Bible teaches that God forbids homosexual sex — but I don’t get the Christian opposition to allowing individuals to bring their gender identity into alignment with their anatomical sex.
I can even understand why Christians feel required to defending gender binarism: the Genesis creation story–with Adam and Eve, not Adam, Eve, and “Pat“–is a gender binary story. But why the opposition to sexual transition?
I could be wrong, but it is as if these Christians believe there cannot be ‘birth defects’ relating to gender identity. But this seems false. First, there are intersex people, where the ‘birth defect’ is in the genitalia. Second, there are people who were exposed to too much of the wrong hormone in the womb, resulting in what you might call a ‘birth defect’ of the brain. It appears that abnormal hormone exposure can masculinize the brain of a fetus in the womb with female genitals and feminize the brain of a fetus in the womb with male genitals. Once this has taken place in the womb, there is no known way to reverse its effects.
It’s not obvious why people in either situation who undergo sex change surgery are doing something wrong, while people who get any other kind of surgery are doing something right or at least permissible. It’s as if these Christians are fixated on non-intersex transsexuals whose genitalia is fully functional, ignoring the fact that transition–up to and including sexual reassignment surgery–is the only known way to bring their gender identity, most likely the product of abnormal hormone exposure  in the womb, into alignment with their physical genitalia.

bookmark_borderEuthyphro Dilemmas

As I explained on page 25 of my Primer in Religion and Morality I think there are multiple dilemmas floating around under the name “Euthyphro Dilemma” (hereafter, ED).

ED: The literal, original formulation of the ED is this: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it loved by the gods?”

In that formulation, it’s argubaly not really applicable to any contemporary discussions of theistic metaethics.
In order to make it applicable, people often revise it. For example, ED is most often presented in a revised version so as to be applicable to Divine Command Theories of right and wrong (DCT-D):

ED-D: “Is something morally obligatory because God commands it, or does God command it because it is obligatory?”

Theistic philosophers are well aware of ED and ED-D, and so they have formulated sophisticated responses.
First, they make a distinction between moral axiology (moral goodness and badness) and moral deontology (moral right and wrong). This allows theists (who are so inclined) to take different horns of the dilemmas posed by ED-D. For example, some theists say that moral axiology is independent of God, but moral deontology is dependent upon God.
Second, in the last fifty years theistic philosophers have formulated metaethical theories to avoid those dilemmas. Regarding moral value, some theists defend what I call the Divine Nature Theory (DNT-A): axiological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s nature (or character).
Regarding moral obligation, some theists defend a Modified Divine Command Theory (MDCT-D): deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in the relevant commands of a loving God. MDCT-D successfully avoids ED-D, as defined above.
Of course, just as theistic metaethicists have formulated sophisticated metaethical theories in response to ED and ED-D, critics can and have formulated revised versions of their dilemmas.
In response to DNT-A, we get the version I call ED-A:

ED-A: Is God’s nature good simply because it is God’s nature, or is there some independent standard to which God’s nature conforms?

In response to MDCT-D, we get the version I call MED-D:

MED-D: Is something morally obligatory because a loving God commands it, or does God command it because it is the loving thing to do?

(See pages 20-25 of my Primer.)


As an aside, if I were a theist, I might subscribe to Adams’ Modified Divine Command Theory of right and wrong (MDCT-D), but I am certain that I would consider moral axiology (value) to be completely independent of God and His nature. Although I’ve read most of the secondary literature in the last 40-50 years on theistic metaethics, I’ve always considered it odd that some (not all) theists are not satisfied with
D: Moral obligation is somehow dependent upon God
but also want:
A: Moral value is somehow dependent upon God.
For those theists who want to affirm both D and A, I’m assuming the motivation is the desire to preserve divine aseity. I can understand that motivation, but I think it is misguided.

bookmark_borderAtheist ‘Safe Zones’: A Solution In Search of a Problem

I just became aware of this website: “Secular Safe Zone.” Why are secular safe zones needed?

“The number of nontheists in America is rising rapidly and there is a growing body of research that is beginning to explore this once-invisible and amorphous group. While tolerance for minority religions is growing around the country, discrimination and harassment of nontheistic Americans continues to be a problem. Everyday American institutions and customs can be exclusionary to nontheists.  Beyond being alienated from civic life, nontheists in America are also often looked upon with suspicion and treated as outsiders, untrustworthy, and immoral

Along with these attitudes and discriminatory behaviors, nontheists lack the community, institutions, and support that religious Americans can readily rely upon.”

I don’t know if this a real effort or a Poe, but I will say this.

If there is anywhere in the world that needs ‘safe zones’ for atheists, it’s Bangladesh, where several atheist bloggers have been hacked to death for their blogging. But the idea of ‘secular safe zones’ in America seems, frankly, ridiculous.

In fact, the explanation quoted above seems self-defeating: if the number of nontheists in America is “rising rapidly” in the absence of ‘safe zones,’ that would suggest that the ‘safe zones’ aren’t needed. What is needed is for atheists to come out of the closet so that theists who’ve never met an atheist can meet one in real life (not on the Internet), analogous to how homosexuals coming out of the closet has been accompanied by an increase in societal acceptance of their orientation, even if not also always accompanied by an acceptance of their lifestyle.

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Post on Part #3 Coming Soon

I am working on Part 3 of this series of posts about external evidence for the existence of  Jesus.  Part 3 will focus on analysis and evaluation of Joe Hinman’s third argument for the existence of Jesus, which is based on historical claims about Polycarp.
I have written the opening section of Part 3, and have an outline for the main points I plan to make.  So, I hope to publish Part 3 of this series on Saturday, July 9th.

bookmark_borderChristian Charity on Display

Yesterday (7/5/16) The Houston Chronicle published my letter below:
The 5-3 Supreme Court ruling against Texas’ oppressive abortion restrictions is a rebuke to extremism. It is also a rebuke to dishonesty. The purpose of the legislation, indeed its sole purpose, was to restrict access to abortion. When they take office members of the Texas State Legislature swear an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution of the United States, and women in this country have a constitutional right to unhampered access to abortion. Sponsors of the restrictions could not admit that they were violating their oath of office, so they claimed that their aim was to “protect the health of women.” This clumsy sophistry fooled absolutely no one, except perhaps the three dissenting Supreme Court justices. Of course, as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has already promised, opponents of abortion will redouble their efforts. They believe that they have God on their side. What they do not have on their side is truth.
 Today I received this e-mail in response:
Hi. So if abortion is so great, then even you could have been aborted with no repercussions?   Yeah?  Sure.  Think about it.
Keith. Your lack of logic about the democrat side and supposedly supporting truth?   I can’t laugh loud enough – at you or for you?   Don’t put your faith in men or women.
God IS on the anti-abortion side.   GOD is Truth! Also.  No matter what you say!!   God created ALL things.  Even you.
Dan Patrick has more morality in his pinky than than ALL democrats combined in their collective bodies.   He is human and a sinner like I am.
The basis of how Planned Parenthood was started was obvious genocide. Check out the videos.
Dan Clayton
Here was my response to Mr. Clayton:
Dan,
 I would like to personally thank you for your demonstration of Christian charity. Clearly, your faith has so filled you with love and tolerance that you can recognize that even someone who strongly disagrees with you can be an honest and rational person. Thanks also for your demonstration of logical thinking and rigorous reasoning about difficult issues. Clearly, you are a Christian gentleman and a scholar. I am humbled by your charitable and calmly reasonable response. Since I am sure that I will never receive a better response from you, I am blocking you to keep from cluttering my inbox. I am sure that you will understand, being the understanding person you so clearly are.
 
 
 

bookmark_borderAre Atheism and Moral Realism Logically Incompatible?

I am a regular reader of Victor Reppert’s blog, Dangerous Idea. In the combox for one of his recent posts, Steve Hays claimed that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. I wrote a lengthy reply to Hays in the combox and have decided to republish it here.
Before I republish my comments, I will make one general observation about moral arguments for God’s existence.

  1. Theists often claim that the so-called ‘problem of evil’ (read: arguments from evil for atheism) and the ontological foundation for morality are linked: one cannot ‘consistently’ run an argument from evil without having an ontological foundation for morality; morality somehow requires a theistic ontological foundation; therefore, arguments from evil are really arguments for God’s existence.
  2. In the context of arguments from evil, it is standard to make a distinction between logical arguments from evil (i.e., arguments which claim that God’s existence is logically inconsistent with some known fact about evil) and evidential arguments from evil (i.e., arguments which claim that some known fact is either improbable on theism or less probable on theism than on naturalism). Theists will often argue that there is no good logical argument from evil, based upon Alvin Plantinga’s famous critique of J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil. (These same theists often seem to be unaware that philosophers J.L. Schellenberg and Quentin Smith, among others, have formulated new versions of the logical argument from evil, or they are aware but assume that Plantinga’s critique of Mackie also applies to Schellenberg and Smith. But that’s another topic for another post.)
  3. In general, there seems to be a double-standard on the part of theists (not necessarily Steve) who try to link arguments from evil for atheism with moral arguments for God’s existence: these theists do not apply the same degree of skepticism to what I will call logical arguments from moral ontology (i.e., arguments which claim that atheism is logically inconsistent with moral realism) and logical arguments from evil. Just as many atheists incorrectly assume that defending a logical argument from evil is much harder than it actually is, I believe that many theists incorrectly assume that defending a logical argument from moral ontology is much harder than it actually is.

I want to emphasize that, in our exchange, Steve Hays did not employ this double standard. I mention this double standard in this introduction because, in my experience, many theists (not Steve) who claim, “atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible,” are guilty of this double standard. This is where my my recent interaction with Steve Hays becomes relevant: I think my interaction with Steve Hays shows that it much harder to adequately defend claims of the logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism, than it is to make such claims.
 


LOWDER
Steve Hays references atheists who reject moral realism. Putting aside the obvious rhetorical value of quoting ‘hostile witnesses,’ , what logical or evidential value could these references have?
First, the references could be an argument from authority. Contrary to what some people (not necessarily Steve) think, arguments from authority can be logically correct inductive arguments. One inductive argument form is the statistical syllogism:

(1) Z percent of F are G.
(2) x is F.
(3) [probable] x is G.

The closer Z is to 100, the stronger the inductive evidence.
Arguments from authority are a form of statistical syllogism:

(1′) The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are true.
(2′) p is a statement made by x concerning subject S.
(3′) [probable] p is true.

As philosopher Wesley Salmon explains in his textbook, Logic, the following are “misuses of the argument from authority:”

  1. The authority may be misquoted or misinterpreted.
  2. The authority may have only glamor, prestige, or popularity.
  3. Experts may make judgments about something outside their special fields of competence.
  4. Authorities may express opinions about matters concerning which they could not possibly have any evidence.
  5. Authorities who are equally competent, so far as we can tell, may disagree.

Suppose we charitably interpret Steve’s references to atheists who reject moral realism is supposed to be an (inductive) argument from authority. Then if we let:

X=”atheists Sharon Street; Massimo Pigliucci; Michael Shermer; Owen J. Flanagan, Jr; Alex Rosenberg; Joel Marks; Daniel Dennett; Michael Ruse; and Quentin Smith.”;
S=”metaethics” (which includes whether moral anti-realism is true); and
p=”moral realism is false”

then Steve’s argument would have the following logical form.

(1′) The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are true.
(2′) p is a statement made by x concerning subject S.
(3′) Therefore, p is true.

That argument is example of what Salmon called a “misuse of the argument from authority,” for at least three reasons.
First, Michael Shermer is not a philosopher and definitely not an expert on metaethics. (One could say the same about Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, names which often appear in lists like the list posted by Steve.) Likewise, when Massimo Pigliucci made the statement referenced in Steve’s post (in his debate with William Lane Craig), Pigliucci was a biologist only, not a biologist and a philosopher. Even today, Pigliucci is not an expert on metaethics. (It may also be the case that Pigliucci has changed his views since his earning his doctorate in philosophy; I don’t know.) Similarly, Michael Ruse is a philosopher of biology and Alex Rosenberg is a philosopher of social science, economics, and science; neither specialize in metaethics. Likewise, Daniel Dennett’s areas of specialization are philosophy of science, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of biology; metaethics is not one of his areas of specialization.
Second, what about atheist philosophers who do specialize in metaethics and reject moral realism, such as Flannagan and Mackie? I’m going to put to the side the interesting question of whether Smith and Street should even be counted as moral anti-realists; both have highly nuanced views and it would take a long blog post to give the topic the attention it deserves.
But putting those two names to the side, there are still other names available who were or are without a doubt atheists, experts on metaethics, and moral anti-realists. There are plenty of competent authorities on metaethics or the philosophy of religion—both theists and naturalists—who disagree with p (“moral realism is false”). Off the top of my head, I can think of at least ##. The atheist camp of moral realists includes: David Brink; Michael Martin; G.E. Moore; John Post; William Rottschaefer; Russ Shafer-Landau; Stephen J. Sullivan; and Erik Wielenberg.
Third, the definition of X arbitrarily limits who counts as expert: if we are interested in whether atheism is logically compatible with moral realism, the proper reference class is all metaethicists, not just atheistic metaethics. But then broadening the scope of X adds even more authorities who reject statement p. The theistic camp of metaethicists who reject the claim (“atheism is incompatible with moral realism”) includes people like Robert Adams and Mark Murphy (a Catholic and a natural law theorist). Then there are metaethicists whose religious views are unknown to me, but would join Adams in rejecting the claim that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism: Avi Sagi and Daniel Statman.
Accordingly, as an inductive argument from authority, the argument is inductively weak and logically incorrect. The premises do not confer a high probability on the conclusion. So, rather than name-dropping a selective list of atheists (or even merely summarizing the arguments made by those names), what we need is actual engagement with the arguments made by metaethicists and, in particular, the work of Robert Adams and Mark Murphy on the theistic side and Erik Wielenberg on the atheistic side. I’ve written about some of the atheistic error theorists listed above here.
We also need to distinguish between authorities who say “moral realism is false because theism is false” vs. those who say “moral realism is false or meaningless for reasons that have nothing to do with God’s existence.”


HAYS
Jeff’s comments are a lengthy exercise in misdirection:
i) I didn’t quote Shermer, Dawkins, or Coyne. So mentioning them in response to me just a diversionary tactic.
ii) I didn’t make an appeal to authority. Rather, if you bother to read the links, many of them provide arguments for their rejection of moral realism. Pity Jeff doesn’t know the difference between quoting someone as an authority figure and quoting someone for their arguments.
iii) Furthermore, even if it were, in some cases, an argument from authority, when Christians point out that atheism is incompatible with moral realism, and some atheists respond by acting as if that’s an ignorant, defamatory attack on atheists, it’s perfectly legitimate to cite counterexamples from their own side to demonstrate that this isn’t a Christian caricature of atheists, but something that many prominent atheists concede.
And in my experience, not a few internet atheists have no idea that there are real live atheist thinkers who deny moral realism. They just imagine that must be a Christian strawman.
iv) Jeff then acts as though, unless someone is an expert in metaethics, you should simply ignore their arguments. But isn’t that self-refuting? Is Jeff an expert on metaethics? I guess we can safely discount everything he said in his two lengthy comments. What makes Jeff an expert? That he’s an autodidact on metaethics?
v) I’d add that Jeff likes to artificially compartmentalize knowledge. But when, for instance, the topic at hand is evolutionary ethics/evolutionary psychology, it’s preposterous to suggest a philosopher who specializes in philosophy of mind or evolutionary biology can’t have anything worthwhile to say on the subject. These are interdisciplinary debates.
vi) Having made a dismissive comment about “the obvious rhetorical value of quoting hostile witnesses,” Jeff does the very same thing by citing Robert Adams and Mark Murphy.
Likewise, Jeff complains about “name-dropping a selective list of atheists (or even merely summarizing the arguments made by those names…” even though his second comment is nothing but name-dropping (or summarizing) a selective list of theists and atheists.
vi) Finally, I’ve often responded to the subset of atheists who struggle to defend moral realism. It’s not as if I haven’t engaged their arguments.
But I do understand Jeff’s need to throw a lifeline to his drowning cohort, Angra.


LOWDER
It’s ironic that, in an exchange about the alleged superiority of theistic metaethics, Steve is rude to his dialectical opponents who are atheists. (To avoid any misunderstandings, I’m not complaining that my feelings are hurt or that I am offended.) Unlike Steve’s reply to me, there was no intent to be snarky in my last comment and there is no intent to be snarky in this comment.
Steve tries to dismiss the entire point about inductive arguments from authority, as if that were an idiosyncratic interpretation of his remarks. I don’t claim to be able to read his or anyone else’s mind, so if it was not his intent to make an argument from authority, then I will take him at his word. Steve wasn’t making an argument from authority. But I think the reader can be forgiven for getting that apparently wrong impression from the following exchange:

Angra Mainyu: “I challenge you to show the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism.”

Steve Hays: “You could begin by reading atheists who take that very position. For starters: ….” (followed by a long list of links to blog posts).

Almost all of the linked blog posts quoted atheists, but not all. (More on that later.)
So instead of making a logically incorrect inductive argument from authority, it is instead the case that Steve has simply brought up a bunch of irrelevancies to support his claim that “Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.” As evidence for that claim, let’s go through the first four of Steve’s links.
Sharon Street: Steve’s first link is about Sharon Street’s paper, “A Darwinian Dilemma about Realist Theories of Value.” Street’s paper has nothing do with an alleged contradiction between moral realism and atheism. In fact, Street’s paper has nothing whatsoever to do with moral ontology. Street’s paper is about moral epistemology: she argues that if evolutionary naturalism is true, we have an undercutting defeater for trusting our second-order ethical intuitions. In plain English, it’s as if she says:

“Many people think moral realism is true because it seems like moral realism is true. But that isn’t a good reason to think that moral realism is true if you are an evolutionary naturalist. If evolutionary naturalism is true, it would ‘seem’ that moral realism were true even if it weren’t. So the ‘argument from seeming’ [my name] isn’t a good reason for evolutionary naturalists to think that moral realism is true.”

But since that is the essence of Street’s argument, it follows that Street’s Darwinian Dilemma is irrelevant to the claim that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism. The most charitable interpretation I could give to why Steve linked to an irrelevant paper by Street is that he was giving an inductive argument from authority, based upon the proposition, “Sharon Street is an atheist expert on metaethics who denies moral realism.” Again, Steve says his argument wasn’t an argument from authority, but the motivation to categorize his argument was my attempt to be charitable to Steve. Since it wasn’t an inductive argument from authority, the alternative is that it was just an irrelevant premise. Even if Street’s Darwinian Dilemma is correct, it still would not follow that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. To think otherwise would be to confuse moral epistemology with moral ontology.
Massimo Pigliucci:  His next link was to a quotation of Massimo Pigliucci on moral realism. As I explain here, the logical form of Pigliucci’s argument is as follows:

(7) Human beliefs about morality have changed over time.
(8) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about morality.
(9) Therefore, there are no objective truths about morality.

Even if this were a good argument — and it is not — it still would not follow that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism. Again, in an attempt to be charitable to Steve, I took him to be making an inductive argument from authority. Again, Steve says he wasn’t doing that. And again, in that case, I say, “Fine. Then it’s an irrelevant reference to a bad argument.”
Paul Pardi: His next link was to a statement by Paul Pardi. Paul is a Christian lecturer or professor of philosophy; in fact, at least for part of the last decade, he taught at Seattle Pacific University. Paul was commenting in the combox on a blog post by J.P. Moreland about Michael Shermer. (This is why I mentioned Shermer in my previous post.) So, as interesting as Paul’s comments are, Paul Pardi’s comments do nothing to show what atheists say about atheism and morality. Furthermore, Paul Pardi’s comments actually undercut Sharon Street’s Darwinian Dilemma. As Pardi points out, “To say that on evolution, our moral beliefs and practices wouldn’t track truth assumes what it’s seems to want to prove: that moral laws are something outside of the human mind that beliefs must correspond to.”
Again, the most charitable interpretation (of Steve’s bizarre decision to reference Pardi’s comment) I could come up with was that: (1) Steve mistakenly thought Pardi shared Shermer’s views (presumably because Pardi gave objections to Moreland’s argument against Shermer); and (2) what really mattered to Hays was the support that Shermer, as an atheist, lends to an evolutionary account of morality. But, putting aside the fact that Shermer is not a philosopher, the empirical fact about moral epistemology, if it is a fact, that:

A: The correct explanation for the origin of our moral beliefs involves our evolutionary history.

provides zero support for the logical claim about moral ontology that:

B: Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.

And so, again, instead of saying (with charitable intent) that Steve Hays was making an argument from authority, we must instead conclude that he was simply providing another link to another irrelevant statement.
Own Flannagan, Jr.: Flannagan’s sociobiological explanation for the origin of our moral beliefs is similar to Shermer’s. It is irrelevant to establishing Steve Hays’ claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible, and for the same reason.
Alex Rosenberg: Steve’s next link was to an interview about Alex Rosenberg. Here’s the entirety of what Rosenberg had to say about metaethics in that interview.

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

So the interview Rosenberg contains no argument proving the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism; all we find is the mere assertion that moral realism is false.
The other part of Steve’s Rosenberg post includes the same basic point about natural selection tricking us into believing moral realism is true. It fails for the same reason as Shermer’s and Flannagan’s.
Again, I thought I was charitable in interpreting Steve as offering an inductive argument from authority. Again, I was mistaken. And again, the link to his blog post is irrelevant because the quoted material doesn’t even make the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible, much less provide an argument for that claim.
Furthermore, if one goes beyond the material quoted by Steve and looks at Rosenberg’s journal article on metaethics, we do not find an article which tries to prove the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism. Rather, what we find is an argument against moral realism which has nothing do do with an alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism. (See here).
Joel Marks: Steve’s next link was to an article in the New York Times by Joel Marks, in which Marks talks about his change from “moralism” to “amoralism,” which can be thought of as the change from being a moral realist to a moral anti-realist. His article was published by the New York Times, not the American Philosophical Quarterly, so his article was not written for philosophers. Based on what Marks wrote, it’s hard to tell if he even believes that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. But, in order to be charitable to Steve, let’s assume that Marks believes precisely that. What support does Marks give for that claim in his article?
Marks makes only one statement (or series of statements) which could possibly be relevant to a claim of logical incompatibility between atheism and moral realism:

“The dominoes continued to fall. I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.”

And later in the same essay he writes:

“Think of this analogy: A tribe of people lives on an isolated island. They have no formal governmental institutions of any kind. In particular they have no legislature. Therefore in that society it would make no sense to say that someone had done something “illegal.” But neither would anything be “legal.” The entire set of legal categories would be inapplicable. In just this way I now view moral categories.”

This is a variation of the old “laws require a lawgiver” argument. As I explain here, that argument fails because of the following negative analogy:

(8) The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not begin to exist.
(9) The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
(10) Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.

John Maynard Smith: Steve’s next link was to an article by John Maynard Smith, in which Smith endorses Daniel Dennett’s view that, without something like the Bible, there is no epistemologically objective way to determine moral right from wrong.
Again, even if Smith (and Dennett) were correct about that, it wouldn’t follow that moral realism is false. The sentences “Moral realism is true” and “Moral skepticism is true” are logically consistent: it could be the case that there are objective moral values and duties, but we have no realiable way of knowing what they are.
More important, neither Smith nor Dennett claim “Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.”
Thomas Nagel: Steve’s next link is to a blog post quoting Thomas Nagel. Quoting Daniel Dennett, Nagel endorses the view that if everything reduces to physics, then there is no naturalistic answer to a cosmic question. The cosmic question is put into square brackets. I haven’t read Nagel’s 2010 book, so I can’t tell if the words in the bracket come from Nagel or from Steve. I don’t have enough context for the quotation to make sense of the question put in the square brackets. In any case, I agree that with Nagel that naturalism is nonteleological.
I do not find, however, an argument (in Steve’s post) for the conclusion that the non-teleological nature of naturalism is logically incompatible with moral realism. To be charitable to Steve, perhaps the idea is that if physical reality is not teleological (which, according to naturalism, it isn’t), then moral realism is necessarily false. But the truth of that is far from obvious. There is no logical contradiction between “There is no cosmic teleology (i.e., the universe was not created for a purpose)” and “Moral realism is true.” First, it could be the case that God does not exist, in which case there is no cosmic teleology, but some version of Platonism is true (and so moral values exist as abstract objects). Second, it could be the case that God does not exist and a neo-Aristotelian approach to ethics like that found in Larry Arnhart’s book, Darwinian Natural Right, is correct. But Arnhart’s neo-Aristotelian (and Humean and Darwinian) approach to ethics is a realist approach to ethics.
Michael Ruse: Steve’s next link is to a post which mentions Michael Ruse and myself. Regarding Steve’s numbered points in that blog post, I will say this. I agree with Steve’s (i): it is legitimate to quote what various atheists have said about morality, in order to defend the claim that some atheists have made certain statements about morality. (ii) I agree with this also. This is why the moral anti-realist arguments of Shermer, Rosenberg, and others fail. Turning to (iii), Steve argues that I have misinterpreted Ruse. Now that would require an entire blog post of its own.
For now, I will simply point out that (1) even if Ruse’s argument were correct, it would provide no support for the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible; and (2) Ruse’s moral anti-realist argument fails because it commits the genetic fallacy. Indeed, it contains the very confusion Steve described in his (ii): Ruse confuses moral psychology with moral ontology. So both Steve and I agree that Ruse’s argument against moral realism fails.
Quentin Smith: Steve’s final link is to a post which appears to quote from either the abstract or body of an essay by Smith. Steve’s post quotes from Smith’s own website, which is now defunct, which makes it impossible to get the paper from that website. (An Internet search for a copy of the paper on other websites was equally unsuccessful.) But it appears Smith’s website published an article of his 2003 essay, “Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Imply Moral Nihilism,” which was published in an anthology.
I find everything about that blog post fascinating. Smith wrote a book (“Ethical and Religious Thought…”) published in 1997 by Yale University Press in which he defends moral realism. But I did come across an essay by philosopher Michael Almeida, which aims to refute Smith’s essay. (See here.) Almeida’s essay begans with the following sentences:

“Quentin Smith has recently advanced an argument for ‘moral nihilism’. He derives moral nihilism, unexpectedly, from global moral realism and a principle of value aggregation….”

So, according to one of Smith’s critics (Almeida), even in Smith’s 2003 essay, Smith still accepted moral realism. Furthermore, notice how Almeida summarizes Smith’s argument for nihilism: because “global moral realism” and “value aggregation theory” are true, then nihilism is true. That shows that Smith was not defending the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.
Moving onto point (iv) in Steve’s comment, he writes, “Jeff then acts as though, unless someone is an expert in metaethics, you should simply ignore their arguments.” No. Steve is tearing down a straw man of his own creation. Steve’s objection forgets the fact that I was (mistakenly) responding to his references to other atheists as if they were inductive arguments from authority. In THAT context, it is appropriate to point out that some of Steve’s atheists do not have the relevant expertise.
I agree with Steve that if we are told that we should believe X on the basis of some argument Y (and Y is not an argument from authority), then it is of course legitimate to consider argument Y, regardless of whether the person making it has the relevant expertise or not.
Regarding (v), Steve saddles me with a view I do not hold and, again, tears down a straw man of his own creation. The issue is not whether this person or that person has something worthwhile to say on the subject of evolutionary ethics or evolutionary psychology. The issue is whether this person or that person is an expert on metaethics. Expertise in evolutionary ethics or evolutionary psychology does not constitute expertise in metaethics.
As for (vi), I look forward to reading Steve’s critiques of especially G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica and Erik Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics.
 


HAYS
Jeff says Robert Adams would reject the claim that atheism is incompatible with moral realism. Perhaps Jeff can quote where Adams has said that.
In Finite and Infinite Goods, Adams details a position in which the standard of goodness is defined by the divine nature. Finite things are only good insofar as they exemplify divine goodness. Given that framework, it’s hard to see how Adams could also say atheism is consistent with moral realism, absent the necessary source and standard of goodness. So is Jeff saying Adams has elsewhere taken a position that’s logically at odds with what he said in Finite and Infinite Goods?

“Steve tries to dismiss the entire point about inductive arguments from authority, as if that were an idiosyncratic interpretation of his remarks. I don’t claim to be able to read his or anyone else’s mind, so if it was not his intent to make an argument from authority, then I will take him at his word. Steve wasn’t making an argument from authority…So instead of making a logically incorrect inductive argument from authority, it is instead the case that Steve has simply brought up a bunch of irrelevancies to support his claim that ‘Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.'”

i) So Jeff is telling us that he doesn’t know the difference between testimonial evidence and an argument from authority. When an atheist reacts to the statement that consistent atheism denies moral realism as if that’s a Christian strawman, it’s both relevant and legitimate to quote prominent atheists who concede that very claim.
That’s testimonial evidence to the contrary. A witness needn’t be an authority figure to be a reliable witness.
ii) Over and above that, there are atheists who give reasons for their rejection of moral realism. So that’s hardly an argument from authority, as if you should accept their position on their say-so alone. Rather, they explain why they reject moral realism, given their commitment to atheism, and the attendant implications thereof.
Jeff’s characterization is muddle-headed.


LOWDER
Jeff says Robert Adams would reject the claim that atheism is incompatible with moral realism. Perhaps Jeff can quote where Adams has said that.
This is one of those times where a person reads something they wrote the day before, shake their head, and ask, “What was I thinking when I wrote that?”
Steve is right and I was wrong. I got my theists mixed up. I meant to write Louis Pojman, not Robert Adams.
But Adams did write something very interesting in his book, Finite and Infinite Goods. I’ll have to find the passage when I get home, but the gist of it was something like this:

“Because I define excellence in a way that relates moral obligation to the commands of a loving God, excellence in that sense could not exist in a world without God. But a naturalist or an atheist could define excellence in an objective, realistic way that would be very similar [I think he uses the word “indistinguishable”] to what I call excellence, and so there would be little practical difference between the two.”

Or something to that effect. Given my mixup on Adams vs. Pojman, I won’t blame anyone if they want to wait until I produce the exact quotation.
[A short time later, I (Lowder) posted the following:]
Found it, courtesy of Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature:

“What is true about goodness if God does not exist, or is not in fact a suitable candidate for the role of the Good? This is a conditional question about the actual world, not about other possible worlds; and I am confident of my answer to it. If there is no God, or if God is in fact not a suitable candidate for the role of the Good, then my theory is false, but there may be some other salient, suitable candidate, and so some other theory of the nature of the good may be true.
“Against the background I offer the less ambitious approach to the corresponding question about other possible worlds, which I asked on the assumption that God does exist, and is a suitable candidate, in the actual world. A deity would have to satisfy certain conditions (for instance, not being sadistic, and not loving cowardice) in order to be the salient candidate for filling the role indicated by our concept of the Good, thought it is part of the point of my theory that such requirements do not completely determine what the deity would be like. If there is a God that satisfies these conditions imposed by our concepts, we might say, then excellence is the property of faithfully imaging such a God, or of resembling such a God in such a way as to give God a reason for loving. In worlds where no such God exists, nothing would have that property, and therefore nothing would be excellent. But beings like us in such a world might have a concept subjectively indistinguishable from our concept of excellence, and there might be an objective property that corresponded to it well enough, and in a sufficiently salient way, to be the property signified by it, though it would not be the property that we in fact signify by ‘excellent’.
— Robert Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods, p. 46.
(All italics are from the original; boldface is mine)

I’ve always respected Adams’ work on theistic metaethics and this highly nuanced passage is an example of why.
I could be wrong, but I interpret Adams to be saying:

(1) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism, IF realist/objective moral obligations are determined according to Adams’ theory of excellence and his modified divine command theory are true.

He does NOT seem to be saying:

(2) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism about moral obligations.

In fact, depending upon how you interpret it, the end of the quotation I just provided seems to be either (a) Adams, saying in his own words, that atheism is compatible with moral obligation, if his theory of moral obligation is wrong; or (b) the difference between what counts as morally right/wrong/permitted on his theory vs. some secular alternative makes no practical difference.
And I think that Adams rejects:

(3) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism about moral value.

I think that Adams rejects (3) because he defends a Modified Divine Command Theory of moral obligation (what is morally permitted, prohibited, or obligatory), but he subscribes to a Divine Independence Theory (my name) of moral value (what is morally good or bad).
In fact, now that I think about it, the statement:

(4) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism.

Entails both (2) and (3). Even if it were the case that atheism were logically incompatible with realism about moral obligation, it could still be the case that that atheism is logically consistent with realism about moral value. Because (4) doesn’t make a distinction between moral obligation and moral value, showing that atheism is logically compatible with moral value is, all by itself, sufficient to refute (4).
So maybe I was correct to list Robert Adams after all.


HAYS
‪Jeffery Jay Lowder‬ 

”It’s ironic that, in an exchange about the alleged superiority of theistic metaethics, Steve is rude to his dialectical opponents who are atheists.”
i) Suppose for the sake of argument that Jeff’s allegation is true. Keith Parsons, who’s a regular contributor to the Secular Outpost, routinely makes rude comments about Christians.
Likewise, the historical library and modern library at the Secular Web contains articles by atheists that make rude comments about Christians. So it’s instructive to see Jeff’s double standard on display (even assuming that his allegation is true).
ii) But this brings us to a substantive point: Jeff thinks that he is important. That his dignity is important.
This is one of Jeff’s intellectual problems. He’s never allowed himself to appreciate the reductionistic consequences of atheism for human significance.
If atheism is true, then Jeff is worthless. Everything is worthless.
Jeff is a temporary entity that came into existence for no good reason, that will soon pass out of existence. Jeff is interchangeable with billions of other human biological units. He will be replaced.
If atheism is true, Jeff’s existence has no intrinsic value. At best, it’s only subjectively valuable–the way some Nazis (alleged) valued Jews as as raw material for lamp shades.


LOWDER

‪i) Suppose for the sake of argument that Jeff’s allegation is true. Keith Parsons, who’s a regular contributor to the Secular Outpost, routinely makes rude comments about Christians.

You can’t be serious. You’re using the same excuse my children use, “But he did it, too!”, as if that makes it okay. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I don’t remember off the top of my head Keith Parsons making sweeping generalizations about all Christians. But if I’m wrong about that and/or if he has been rude in some other way, then he was wrong to do so and I will condemn it.

Likewise, the historical library and modern library at the Secular Web contains articles by atheists that make rude comments about Christians. So it’s instructive to see Jeff’s double standard on display (even assuming that his allegation is true).

I tried very hard to prevent this from happening in the modern library at the Secular Web while I held a leadership position and I doubt very much that this happened while I was the editor. If it has happened, that is regrettable. I am even willing to try to bring any items in this category to the attention of Keith Augustine, who is the current editor, to try to get them fixed. But, again, this is mere deflection by Steve. This doesn’t excuse Steve’s rudeness.

ii) But this brings us to a substantive point: Jeff thinks that he is important. That his dignity is important.

This is just more deflection on Steve’s part. In effect, he’s saying, “I’m justified in being rude to atheists because atheists can’t justify condemning me for my rudeness.” Even if it were the case that an atheist could not justifying a complaint about being treated rudely, it would still be the case that, as a theist, Steve is a moral realist. But as we’ve seen, Steve has been unable to demonstrate a logical inconsistency between atheism and moral realism.

This is one of Jeff’s intellectual problems. He’s never allowed himself to appreciate the reductionistic consequences of atheism for human significance.

This is one of Steve’s intellectual problems. (See how easy it is to mirror Steve’s condescension right back at him?) He’s never been able to grasp the significance of the distinction between ‘cosmic’ or ‘ultimate’ significance and non-cosmic, non-ultimate significance, or the fact that “life has no ultimate significance” allows for “life has significance.” It’s a bit like complaining that winning one million dollars or even just one hundred dollars from the lottery has no value because the money won’t last as long as you would like.

If atheism is true, then Jeff is worthless. Everything is worthless.

If everything is worthless, then the fact that “everything is worthless” is itself worthless and we should pay no attention to it.

Jeff is a temporary entity that came into existence for no good reason, that will soon pass out of existence. Jeff is interchangeable with billions of other human biological units. He will be replaced.

Analogy:
If I win a finite amount of money from the lottery, that money will not last forever.
Therefore, it has no value.
That argument fails for the same reason Steve’s argument fails. A thing does not need to have an infinite amount of value–or value for an infinite duration–in order to have value.

If atheism is true, Jeff’s existence has no intrinsic value. At best, it’s only subjectively valuable–the way some Nazis (alleged) valued Jews as as raw material for lamp shades.

Although this statement begs the question, it doesn’t work. Steve, like many theists and atheists, has confused “intrinsic value” with “objective value.” But these are separate concepts. There are four possibilities:
(1) Objectively intrinsically valuable
(2) Objectively extrinsically valuable
(3) Subjectively intrinsically valuable
(4) Subjectively extrinsically valuable
(These four possibilities become eight if you add in the possibility of having disvalue.)
A better name for “intrinsic value” might be “non-derivative value” and a better name for “extrinsic value” might be “derivative value.” If I ask you, “Why do you like to go rowing?” and you answer, “Because I love the feeling of the scull breaking through the water when the boat is at a full sprint,” your answer reveals that, for you, rowing is extrinsically or derivatively valuable: it is valuable because it is a means to an end. If you then ask, “Why do you like the feeling of the scull breaking through the water when the boat is at a full sprint?” and you answer, “I just do,” then that feeling is intrinsically (non-derivatively) valuable to you: it is an end, not a means to an end.
The point is that, as soon as you make the distinction between intrinsic vs. extrinsic or derivative vs. non-derivative types of value, it is trivial to show that, even on the most reductionistic, materialistic versions of atheism, there can still be intrinsic (aka non-derivative) value.


In fairness to Steve, I’ll mention that, as of the time I wrote this blog post, he had written a couple of other replies to me I have not quoted here. I have not quoted them because I think they are either redundant or irrelevant, but interested parties can judge for themselves. See here and here.


In summary, Hays has been unable to justify his assertion that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. As support for that claim, he referenced the statements and/or arguments of 10 alleged atheists. But, as summarized below, none of these alleged atheists, in the statements quoted by Steve, provide any support whatsoever for his claim.

  • 1 of the alleged atheists (Pardi) is a Christian philosopher. Furthermore, nothing Pardi wrote supports Hays’ claim of a logical incompatibility between atheism and moral realism.
  • Of the 9 actual atheists:
    • 7 of the 9 atheists made statements and/or presented arguments which were utterly irrelevant to the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism:
      • 1 atheist (Sharon Street) argues that evolutionary naturalism provides a defeater for the belief that moral realism is true. (In other words, she is making a point about moral epistemology, not moral ontology. But Hays’ argument is ontological.)
      • 3 atheists (Owen Flannagan, Michael Ruse, and Alex Rosenberg) presented an evolutionary explanation for the origin of our belief in moral realism, but, unlike Street, did not claim it was a defeater for moral realism (for naturalists).
      • 1 atheist (Massimo Pigliucci ) presented an argument against moral realism that had nothing whatsoever to do with the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism.
      • 1 atheist (John Maynard Smith) presented a pragmatic, epistemological argument against moral realism. Smith’s argument provided no support for Hays’ ontological claim.
      • 1 atheist (Quentin Smith) is a moral realist. The paper referenced by Steve provided no support whatsoever for the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.
    • 2 of the 9 atheists which might be charitably interpreted as making an argument relevant to the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism.
      • 1 atheist (Joel Marks) presented the discredited, “Laws Require a Lawgiver Argument.”
      • 1 atheist (Thomas Nagel) made the observation that naturalism is non-teleological. It was difficult to understand Nagel’s point without having additional context about the passage from which Hays quoted. But Hays’ quotation of Nagel did not contain an argument for the conclusion that the non-teleological nature of naturalism is logically incompatible with moral realism.

bookmark_borderLINK: A New Problem of Evil: Authority and the Duty of Interference

Abstract:

The traditional problem of evil sets theists the task of reconciling two things: God and evil. I argue that theists face the more difficult task of reconciling God and evils that God is specially obligated to prevent. Because of His authority, God’s obligation to curtail evil goes far beyond our Samaritan duty to prevent evil when doing so isn’t overly hard. Authorities owe their subjects a positive obligation to prevent certain evils; we have a right against our authorities that they protect us. God’s apparent mistake is not merely the impersonal wrong of failing to do enough good — though it is that too. It is the highly personal wrong of failing to live up to a moral requirement that comes bundled with authority over persons. To make my argument, I use the resources of political philosophy and defend a novel change to the orthodox account of authority.

LINK