On Rational Discussion
The following meme is making the Facebook/Twitter rounds that shows how to have rational discourse:
As usual, I think that this is incredibly simplistic. When you unpack some of these, red flags start to go up. The person who created this, I think, has an agenda and is so focused on that agenda that he is no longer concerned with truth.
Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic? The key word here is “envision.” I can’t envision anything that would change my mind on the existence God. That, however, doesn’t mean I will be irrational in a discussion. Perhaps during the conversation we can find something I had not thought of that would change my mind on God.
Just because I can’t envision it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I have an open enough mind to accept that I may be wrong about the existence of God, while being confident that I’m not. Aristotle observed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I can entertain thoughts I don’t accept — my goal is truth, not comfort.
As a further point, I think that it is easy to use this as a crutch to end an inconvenient discussion by equivocating irrationality and passion. I passionately believe in God, which is why I can’t envision anything changing my mind on that. But that is not the same as irrationality.
Are you prepared to abide by the basic principles of reason in discussing this topic? Two rules are given as an example:
- The position that is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence should be accepted as true.
- The person who asserts a position bears the onus of demonstrating its truth.
With regard to (1), “evidence” is (as it always is with atheists) left undefined. Empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence aren’t the only forms of evidence. Only accepting empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence is a form of logical positivism called either empircism or scientism (depending on which form you accept). Neither position is consistent with itself, since there is no empirical or scientific evidence that would support a belief in those position.
Both positions, in fact, rule out the knowledge we gain from history, mathematics, and philosophy. They also exclude eyewitness testimony from discussion.
Meaning that we accept things as true without “evidence” all the time — if that’s what is meant by “evidence.” Remember that when we get to the farcical rules of discussion below.
I agree wholeheartedly with (2) provided you understand atheists share a burden of proof.
Once entered, four additional rules are given to govern the discussion:
Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved. I don’t, but every atheist I’ve had a discussion with has done this to me. So, I won’t start doing this but please, atheists, don’t do this to me, either.
Do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is inaccurate. I’ll just admit my mistake, but this doesn’t happen to me often.
Provide evidence for your position or arguments. Again, atheists should be doing this, too. Atheists seldom back their own unbelief in God up with evidence or arguments. This is both lazy and a direct violation of one of the basic principles of rational discussion (that the true position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence). Argue it’s reasonable. Give me the evidence.
Do not argue that you do not need evidence. Again, the obsessive requirement for evidence is logically inconsistent, because there is no evidence for accepting it as a true premise — and atheists say they only believe that which we have evidence for.
While I accept the spirit of this meme, I still find it the product of a simple mind concerned with winning online debates rather than seeking truth.
Surprise: Atheists Don’t Lack Morals!
Atheists really like to fight against us ignorant theists who say they have no morals. We’re the backwards hicks who take instruction from a book written by ignorant goat-herders who believed the earth was flat and that the sky was a dome that contained the sun, moon, and stars (all of which circled the earth!). What do we know about morality?
Atheists are so enlightened that they’ve thrown off the shackles of God-belief and are doing the right things because they’re the right things, not because some ancient patriarch shakes his finger at you from 1,000 years ago and says, “Do it or I’ll spank you!”
So of course they don’t lack morals! In fact, they’re more moral than religious people — the vague statistics quoted above don’t lie!
Sensing the sarcasm yet?
I hope so. Because I don’t know how to lay it on thicker than what I just did.
Atheists are not immoral. They are amoral.
Immoral means acting contrary to established morality. It is a question of ethics, not ontology or epistemology.
Amoral means lacking morals. It is a question either of ontology or epistemology, not ethics.
Morality represents the essence of good behavior. Ethics represent the execution of good behavior — in other words, the pudding that the proof is in.
In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates asks the good priest Euthyphro what piety is. Euthyphro comes up with several examples, which Socrates says were good but that only covers pious acts. Socrates wants to know what piety is.
By giving him extensive examples, Euthyphro wasn’t actually answering Socrates’ question.
The above graphic does the same thing — it only shows that atheists behave more ethically than religious people. But why do they do that?
They can’t tell you — there is no ground for morality given atheistic naturalism. That’s where the difficulty starts. Ethics can change; sometimes dramatically.
It was once legal to bet on (or against) your own team in professional sports. Professional sports also allowed the use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs without batting an eyelash. Now, both practices are deemed cheating in most professional sports.
What we need is something to ground our ethics in; something immutable that we can return to to see what goodness looks like. That way, when we find something new, we can create a code of ethics for it patterned after that which gave us the example of good ethics in the first place.
If morality is an immovable anchor and ethics are a boat on the rough, unforgiving seas of our culture, the boat is free to move about within the radius of the anchor. It might go adrift, it might even do something unacceptable, but it will remain in the range of the anchor. Conversely, without the anchor, the ship is free to be tossed around the sea of possibilities, moving unflinchingly into uncharted, dangerous waters with nothing to bring it back to safety.
The nature of God is that immutable ground of ethical behavior for the theist. The atheist has none. We are the boat that will return to safe waters, they are the one that will be tossed out to sea without a guide.
I have no problem with considering atheists ethical; the above examples show they are. However, they have no ultimate ground for the morality that informs their ethics and that means they will go seriously adrift.