Arguments for God - Logic and Morality
In my time as an atheist I have heard and rebutted against many different arguments made for the existence of God. There are so many ways in which believers attempt to make their God seem necessary and somehow integral to the way things are. The problem is that many of these arguments, if assumed successful, only establish the need for something very vague. The Cosmological argument only establishes an uncaused cause, something that not only need not be the Christian or Muslim God but can't even be assumed to be a living being at all without additional argumentation.
In this hub I want to talk about two of the weakest arguments theists make, arguments I see made all the time by both professional apologists and believers defending their faith in a less official capacity. Both of these arguments have in common their reliance on the idea of absolutes.
In part this hub will serve as a rebuttal to a recent hub by user Asa2141 and the other part a response to the obscene and absurd anti-atheist speech recently given by Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson.
The first argument I want to address is often used by presuppositionalist Sye Ten Bruggencate. Simply stated it is the idea that logic and reason cannot be trusted without God because without God they have no firm or absolute foundation. When confronted with such an argument for the first time my initial reaction was, “What, why?”. Why do we need an absolute foundation to use reason and logic in our everyday lives?
Essentially this remains my biggest objection. There doesn't seem to be any reason why logic would function better, only the vague assumption that with God it would be more trustworthy. I want to attempt to explain why logic works and how a God does not solve the problem that apologists have created with this argument.
First things first. The objection of theists is that we cannot know for certain if reason and logic are absolutely reliable, meaning that any truth we do possess could be wrong. Contrary to what the hub I'm responding to says a lack of an absolute does not turn the concept of truth relative. Rather it puts truth on a sliding scale of certainty about a given subject. Unfortunately for theists, who see themselves as having a transcendent answer to all life's mysteries in their God, all human beings are capable of is varying degrees of certainty. Even if you believe such a thing as absolute truth exists flawed human beings have no way to determine if we possess said truth in any way.
What is the suggestion being made by the argument? Is it that in my worldview as an atheist I am meant to reject logic and reason simply because I can't be sure they are 100% reliable? Or is it that because I cannot be absolutely certain of logic and reason that I must supplement faith in place of absolute certainty? If this is the case than any subject about which we cannot be absolutely certain would be a matter of faith, changing the meaning of the word faith entirely.
The intent and meaning of the theistic argument regarding absolute logic,certainty and truth completely eludes me making it one of the dumbest arguments I've heard and yet so many Christians seem to think they have a point here.
I hold that absolute certainty is not necessary at all and question the idea that any human being can be absolutely certain, especially in the sense of the word absolute used by theists.
Ironically this theistic objection to atheism falls even flatter on its face when you consider that theism does not provide the basis for why we should trust logic and reason either. In my hub about God Given Knowledge I explain the pitfalls of believing in such an all powerful God and than trusting said God to deliver only truthful and accurate information. Even if the Christian God exists human beings remained flawed and unfortunately must process logic and reason with those flaws intact.
If there is a God serving as the basis for why logic and reason are consistent with reality it does not mean absolute truth or knowledge are obtainable. In fact such a belief only further complicates our ability to be certain at all because such a powerful God could deceive a human being easily. There is no way to prevent an all powerful God from deceiving you and there is no way to be absolutely certain that information, even if it were granted directly by God, was absolutely true or accurate.
Either way we can only reason for ourselves, God or no God.
Why Logic Works
So if neither of us can be absolutely certain that logic and reason are accurate than how do we know that logic and reason are accurate? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that we know logic is reliable because we rely on it and it comes through for us. In short, we know it works because when we use it it works.
Logic is underpinned by certain axioms which are demonstrably true. Not only are these axioms easily demonstrated but their negation is often nonsensical. In fact these axioms are so well accepted and understood to be accurate that they are often referred to as the Logical Absolutes. Since they prove themselves time and time again in every day life it is not necessary to have a separate foundation, let alone one as nonsensical and illogical as most gods.
Reason and logic serve as the basic building blocks from which the scientific method was devised. If reason and logic were not accurately able to assist us in understanding the world we would not have automobiles, airplanes or even agriculture. Regardless of beliefs people use logic and reason the same way we all do so I do not understand why it would give anyone pause to consider that we cannot trust logic to be absolutely true.
The Tale of James and Joe
“Besides this, according to atheists, our thoughts are just chemical reactions in our brain. Who's to say those chemcial reactions are logical or reasonable?"
I'm really not sure what is meant when theists make arguments like this. Okay so my brain signals are chemical in nature, so what? How do I know that my thoughts are logical or reasonable? Well do they correspond to logic and reason, do they line up well with observed reality? See the concept of logic and reason get shit done in our favor, its how we know they are reliable.
It's as if the author of the hub is essentially saying “What if logic really makes no sense and people are just pretending it does?” Which is a question that makes no sense and leaves me baffled.
Let us posit two people, skydivers James and Joe. James knows that skydiving is dangerous and he'll die if he does not prevent this death with a parachute or other method of slowing his momentum. This is because he understands gravity, the natural world, logic and reason. Everything that he understands about the world tells him that such a fall would be deadly. But Joe rejects all this, “What do you know?” he says to James, “Your thoughts are just chemical reactions! How do you know it's reasonable?”.
So when they both go skydiving together James pulls his parachute, Joe does not. Natural selection has, in this case, favored the person who behaves according to his reason, his understanding of the world around him - his observations of the natural world and his ability to discern outcomes and judge situations. So the way we know that reason works is not through the supernatural, such an idea is laughable in the EXTREME – it is through the demonstration that reason and logic work that we know they are reliable.
Recently Duck Dynasty host and enemy of America Phil Robertson went on a tirade against atheists which you can hear part of in the Young Turks video next to this text. In short the speech offers us a hypothetical where an atheists home is invaded and the atheist's daughters and wife are raped and killed in front of him. The argument here? Apparently Phil Robertson thinks that I as an atheist have no way to condemn the actions of the psychopaths who did this because morality is relative to an atheist.
In one of my more recent hubs on the subject of the Biblical God I explain how morality actually works versus how believers pretend that it works. The problem is that believers of Robertson's type seem to think that without some absolute dictator to determine what is and isn't okay for human beings to do that there is no way to say that things like murder and rape are truly wrong.
This argument is not isolated to people like Phil Robertson however but is actually common among Christians and the flaw comes, once again, from their delusional addiction to the idea that everything must be absolute to have any meaning or truth to it. Even William Lane Craig has been known to make the argument that from the atheistic worldview rape and murder cannot truly be called evil.
But murder does not have to be absolutely wrong to be wrong or evil. Neither does life need an absolute meaning or purpose to be meaningful. Just as logic does not need to produce absolute certainty or be absolutely reliable to produce a great deal of certainty and be extremely reliable. The idea of an absolute moral law-giver is a psychological crutch that I simply cannot understand. Even back when I was a Christian I understood that the difference between right or wrong has a lot more to do with whether or not God has a stance on it.
Once again we have more people who do not understand that in order for something to be wrong THERE MUST BE A REASON. We can reason out why things like slavery, murder, rape, and assault are wrong, we do not need the interference of something supernatural to justify these conclusions. Moral progress is possible and some atheists even believe that this progress might lead to a form of completely secular objective morality.
There is also no way to discern what God's absolute moral standards actually are. Shall we use the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon? Or shall we forgo scripture altogether and use our own conscience as a basis for our morality? Some theists will say that God's morals are “written on the tablet” of the “heart” of mankind but why assume that these instincts and moral intuitions are supernatural in origin? Seems to me that they are a natural offshoot of our evolution as a social species that must function both as individuals and as a unit. And since, in spite of God, we are the ones making the moral decisions, adding a middleman seems entirely pointless.
Either way, God or no God, we are left to our own devices. Even if these absolute moral standards did exist it would not make moral gray areas disappear in our day to day lives or stop us from debating, arguing, reasoning together and establishing our own morality. If a God does exist with his own moral standards and those do establish some absolute wrong or right this does not change the fact that we must make our own choices and a morality that applies to people of many faiths and of many opinions.
Theist arguments, if they wish to be taken seriously, must let go of this obsession with absolutes. While they believe raising these issues reveals a flaw in the atheist worldview it is a flaw in their own thinking that they are showing off. It is as if they are pointing out uncertainty to make the audience feel frightened, as though the knowledge that to an atheist murder is wrong but not in the absolute sense, is scary.
They also feel the need to invoke a celestial tyrant in order to uphold logic and reason although I do not see any logic in doing so as it leaves us no closer to absolutely certainty or absolute truth being attainable.
Sometimes it can feel like beating a dead horse but when there is continual necromancy to resurrect that horse what else is there to do?