Atheistic Materialism-Flee from the Truth at all Costs

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).

Over at Uncommon Descent, there have been some interesting discussions about a) atheism and morality1,2 and b) physicalism.3,4 What you will find with almost all atheists is a retreat from materialism where it undermines 1) morality, and 2) rationality or freedom to evaluate evidence in a non-deterministic way. Often the retreat is accomplished by pseudo-spiritual methods (e.g., appeals to quantum mechanics, Buddhism, humanism, nature worship, or just by simply stating “I don’t believe that beliefs are fully physically determined”).  In other words, they want materialism in all ways that allow them to deny God’s existence, but reject it in the areas in which it undermines their credibility.  None of this is terribly surprising.  Were they to examine these issues in a logically consistent manner, they might have to question their atheism.  Belief in God is often very threatening to many atheists in part because of problems with commitment and difficulty yielding to authority.

All of the posts below were written by Barry Arrington.

1. Bleak Conclusions

2. Materialist Concede that Holocaust was Permitted if Materialism is True

3. Materialist Poofery

4. Emergence Redux

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23 Responses

  1. Belief in God is often very threatening to many atheists in part because of problems with commitment and difficulty yielding to authority

    Great point, Shrink!

    I pressed two of these UD articles and almost posted on them, but then I decided not to. Atheists, as well as the rest of us, can deny the truth that is right in front of our faces.

    As you, I think their issues with God revolve around problems with commitment and yielding to authority. I know this was true of me when I was an agnostic/atheist!

  2. I think it’s more of that they don’t see how believing in God can possibly make any difference in the world. Things would still be as messed up as before. This is what they plainly observe in this world full of believers. The problem is insurmountable, because you can’t convince an atheist to believe “for the next life, not for this one”. to them, this world is all there is. So, they reason that believing in God really makes no difference.

  3. According to the word of God, not everyone has been foreknown, predestined and called in this age. So, I believe Mike is right. Those who love this life and world have been blinded by the god of this world, and therefore they cannot discern the will of God. They cannot be reached!!

    And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8: 28-30)

    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god (Satan) of this world {system} has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4: 3-4)

  4. Barry’s arguments are so transparently bad that I’m surprised you think so highly of them, Country Shrink. What gives?

    For example, his central argument rests on two premises:

    (1) That atheistic naturalism is true.

    (2) One can’t infer an “ought” from an “is”.

    and from this, he seems to think, it follows that the Holocaust is permitted? Pardon my French, but that’s utter hogwash.

    We can restate this a little bit —

    1) The natural world is the only world there is. (Premise)
    2) No prescriptions can be inferred from descriptions. (Premise)
    3) Therefore, there are no prescriptions at all. (Conclusion)

    and this is clearly fallacious. More specifically, it commits an error of the “suppressed premise”. The suppressed premises are accepted by the audience, and so the argument seems valid, but it is not. Here’s what I think the argument is supposed to be, in order to be valid:

    1) The world as described by natural science is the only world that there is.

    2) No prescriptions for action or thought can be inferred from any descriptions of that world.

    3) Prescriptive claims are only rationally justified and/or psychologically motivating if and only if they can be inferred from some descriptive claims of some sort.

    4) Therefore, someone who is committed to (1) must conclude that no prescriptive claims are rationally justified and/or psychologically motivating.

    Now, it seems to me that Barry, and perhaps also you, Country Shrink, think that (2) and (3) are obviously true, so the only way to avoid the conclusion at (4) is to reject (1).

    Is this what you really think? I want to check in before I continue. Because I think that there’s a very, very serious problem here with the argument as I’ve stated it, even in the non-fallacious version.

    Regards,
    Carl

  5. Carl, by restating and adding premises you have labored to produce a straw man. I’d call that a transparently bad argument. I’d be more interested in you attempting to develop a logical argument for inferring “ought” from “is” on the basis of atheism and philosophical naturalism. On this basis, why was the Holocaust not permitted?

  6. Sorry for my last comment Carl. I just felt like you were trying to change the subject, and I sometimes grow weary of running in circles with philosophical arguments.

  7. That’s OK, Country Shrink, I understand part of your frustration. From my perspective, it is of the utmost importance that we achieve as much clarity as possible about the argument at work. Mere belief is never sufficient. To put the point in a theistic language: since we were created as rational beings, we ought to hold beliefs in the way that is appropriate for a rational being to do so, and that includes (but is not limited to) doing our utmost to achieve clarity on the reasoning for our beliefs.

    The reason why I inserted additional premises is not to produce a bad argument, but to show that the argument was already bad to begin with. In particular, the additional premises are necessary in order to preserve the formal validity of the argument. (I could demonstrate this in symbolic logic, if you really wanted me to!) And in doing so, the flaws in the argument become evident, whereas before they were hidden. Logic is the art of rendering explicit the normally hidden structures of thought.

    I don’t wish to drag you into a philosophical argument if you won’t want to be, but I would very much like for you to take the philosophy seriously, and engage in a dialogue with me on that level.

  8. I don’t have a problem with what you propose, but if you are going to change the language of the premises, I’d like some rationale for doing so. I wasn’t apologizing for what I said, but more how it was said (or perhaps more to the point of how I was feeling when I wrote it).

    I have no problem with logic or philosophy, but more of a problem with the tendency of logicians and philosophers to endlessly debate. Also, when you get right down to it, the motivations are often actually quite different than the motivation to achieve a logical conclusion.

    Here’s the rub. If I were to lay out a bulletproof logical argument that the Holocaust was permitted under atheistic naturalism, would you change your mind to think that it was? I feel confident that you wouldn’t. Whereas we have an obligation as thinkers to be logical and reasonable (that could start another debate), we are human and will hold tenaciously to what we desire to believe. I can’t reason with your emotional attachments to ideas any more than you can reason with mine. I don’t believe that the true issue here is that Barry’s arguments are not logical, but rather that atheists are horrified by the conclusion and will use all manner of logic/philosophy to avoid that conclusion. However, I do remain open to hearing a logical argument on the issue.

  9. Logic is great for helping us decide what we ought to do. But not when it comes to what we ought to believe! Emotions will overrule it every time (are ego-defense mechanisms considered emotions?)

  10. “(are ego-defense mechanisms considered emotions?)”

    Not emotions Mike, but you could say they are provoked by emotions of which people may not be fully conscious.

    Short examples:

    Intellectualization – a type of defense mechanism in which reasoning is used to avoid confronting an objectionable impulse and thus to defend against anxiety.

    Rationalization – a defense mechanism by which your true motivation is concealed by explaining your actions and feelings in a way that is not threatening.

    You see, part of the trouble is that people get into the wrong mode of thinking about emotion. Emotion is part of the way we are designed that provides motivation. In other words, they provide valid information about the world and ourselves, which cannot be provided by logic or reasoning per se. We function at our best when we can use both and integrate them.

  11. For success then, we must have both the affective and cognitive domains working together! How clinical does that sound?

    Couldn’t help myself. It’s that educational psych coming out in me;-)But it is what I believe to be true also!

  12. DB, you said very precisely what took me a lot of words. 😉

    I want to add one thing. Logic is not necessarily good for determining what we ought to do. Again, the integration is important.

    I’ll give an example:

    If you had a choice of saving 10 people by murdering 1, would you do it?

    Logic and emotion might give you different answers. Logically, you might decide that certain people are a drain on society, and therefore should be exterminated. However, your beliefs, motivated by emotion will tell you that is wrong. To a higher level, we might think certain things are just fine, but it goes against Biblical teachings. Since God is good, and the definition of right, we may use logic to override our emotion (or lack of emotion) to do what is right.

  13. To add a bit more to this: “Since God is good, and the definition of right, we may use logic to override our emotion (or lack of emotion) to do what is right.”

    Paul wrote in Romans:

    14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

    Even though we know what is right, we very often do not do it. And the things we do not want to do, we do. What we think is nifty in terms of our good works, God is not impressed. He’s not impressed with the good works of a Christian or an atheist. So, all the emotion and logic in the right direction will not save us from these things…only salvation through Christ.

  14. I suppose that I think of epistemology and ethics as normative — epistemology is about what we ought to believe, and ethics is about what we ought to do. Of course we sometimes (often?) believe things that we ought not do, just as we sometimes (often?) do things that we ought not do. Sometimes our passions or self-interest get in the way; other times, they don’t. It’s not, from my perspective, a black-or-white, all-or-nothing issue.

    That said: I fully agree with the rest of you, that integration of affect and cognition is required. Ethical or epistemological reasoning may indicate what the right thing is to do or to believe, but one needs the right sort of emotional orientation in order to be properly motivated to act in the ways that reasoning indicates. (Or even to act at all — if I see someone bleeding to death on a sidewalk, reasoning can tell me I ought to do in order to stop the bleeding and save the person’s life, but I can’t see how reason can tell me that I ought to care about that person’s life.)

    So far nothing in this post marks a significant disagreement from the rest of you, and I take that as an encouraging sign as to how much agreement there is between our respective positions. The major disagreement between us — and this is what Country Shrink was getting at above — is whether or not “philosophical naturalism” is consistent with recognizing the authority of any norms at all.

    The argument, I take it, would go like this:

    1) In the absence of universally binding ethical norms, one would always claim that the Nazis were following their own norms, however repugnant such norms are to us.

    2) Hence, if there were no such norms, then the Holocaust is permitted.

    3) But universally binding norms cannot be derived from any claims about the natural world (not even from human psychology, naturalistically considered).

    4) Since natural science, including psychology, sociology, etc. can only indicate what people actually do and not what they ought to do.

    5) Therefore, universally binding norms must have a source that is outside of the natural world.

    6) Hence, the Holocaust is permitted if and only if there is no supernatural being which can serve as a source for universally binding ethical norms.

    7) Hence, if philosophical naturalism is true, then the Holocaust is permitted.

    Anything you’d like to add to this argument before I discuss what I consider wrong about it?

    Regards,
    Carl

  15. Shrink,

    Romans 7 says it all! The two natures (flesh and Spirit) battling against each other.

    Yes, only Christ can save us from ourselves. It’s difficult for others to understand this spiritual truth, since they’ve been indoctrinated, in this world’s wisdom, to believe that doing something good then makes them a “good” person. Jesus, when He was called “good teacher,” said, “Why do you call me good? There is only One Who is good, the Father in heaven.”

    So, the cognitive and affective domains, which the Lord gave us, can be used by Him to lead us, but we must rely on Him first, last and always!

  16. Here’s an apropos scripture:

    “The heart is more deceitful than all else
    And is desperately sick;
    Who can understand it?
    10 “I, the LORD, search the heart,
    I test the mind,

    Even to give to each man according to his ways,
    According to the results of his deeds.”
    (Jeremiah 17: 9)

  17. In the absence of universally binding ethical norms, one would always claim that the Nazis were following their own norms, however repugnant such norms are to us.

    Perhaps it would be better to say in the absence of a universally binding form of being and given the “universal acid” of Darwinism no one can say anything against the political biology of Nazism. In fact, philosophic naturalism and Darwinism may have led scientists who should have said something against it to say nothing or to support it.

    2) Hence, if there were no such norms, then the Holocaust is permitted.

    It seems to me that you’re shifting away from God as being to God as a bit of logos/logic/law when the original point of those criticizing the modern emergence of nature based paganism in socialism, Nazism, etc., was that if there is no God then all things are permitted. This view emerged from their understanding of God as a being and their understanding of or living experience of history.

    5) Therefore, universally binding norms must have a source that is outside of the natural world.

    It is a little ironic that “naturalists” are now proposing multi-verses which make statements about the “natural world” rather meaningless. But at any rate, there is historical evidence that beliefs about a source outside of the natural world undermined the “natural” political biology of Nazism as well as its results. E.g.:

    Within the system of the concentration camp something very strange took place. The first to give in, the first to collaborate–to save their lives–were the intellectuals, the liberals, the humanists, the professors of sociology, and the like. Because suddenly their whole concept of the universe broke down. They had nothing to lean on.
    (Elie Wiesel, “Talking and Writing and Keeping Silent,” in The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, ed. Franklin H. Littell and Hubert G. Locke (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1974) :271) (See also: Richard L. Rubenstein Some Perspectives on Religious Faith After Auschwitz Ibid: 256-268)

    This anecdote matches with my experience as well.

  18. Within the system of the concentration camp something very strange took place. The first to give in, the first to collaborate–to save their lives–were the intellectuals, the liberals, the humanists, the professors of sociology, and the like. Because suddenly their whole concept of the universe broke down. They had nothing to lean on.

    This is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed human nature for any amount of time. Cowardice and survival, at all costs, go hand in hand with those of no faith in anything but what they can sense and reason away (the so-called “enlightened” Balderdash!). In other words, those with no faith in anything but man are going to fold up like pansies, when it all gets scary and reality finally smacks them in the face with truth.

  19. Regarding the original post, American Vision has a good article on this:

    http://www.americanvision.org/article/atheisms-moral-swindle/

  20. Regarding the original post, American Vision has a good article on this:

    http://www.americanvision.org/article/atheisms-moral-swindle/

    which, whatever it’s other virtues, cannot be recommended as a good interpretation of Nietzsche.

    More specifically: Nietzsche’s view is that we cannot guarantee that Christian morality is intellectually coherent in the absence of Christian theology/metaphysics — but that does not mean that it necessarily is not intellectually coherent in the absence of Christian theology. Whether or not Christian morality, or any morality, is intellectually coherent in the absence of Christian theology is something that Nietzsche thinks has yet to be determined.

    Now, perhaps by now it has been determined — though I doubt that very much — but one is not doing Nietzsche any favors by misreading him.

  21. Nietzsche’s view is that we cannot guarantee that Christian morality is intellectually coherent in the absence of Christian theology/metaphysics — but that does not mean that it necessarily is not intellectually coherent in the absence of Christian theology.

    Not necessarily given that the point of the original article was about Christianity: The point—completely lost on modern atheists—is that when you strike down Christianity, Christian morality necessarily goes with it. Nietzsche candidly professed this, as did his earlier French counterpart Marquis de Sade: no God, no moral imperatives; no “thou shalt,” and no “thou shalt not.” Only, “I will.”

    This is accurate. Nietzsche was a proponent of “natural” instinct and will, which he opposed to the unnatural inventions of Jewish priests. Coherence isn’t the issue, he thought his Darwinian view of nature to be coherent and opposed to another Jewish/”denaturalized” view of nature.

    E.g.

    The history of Israel is invaluable as a typical history of an attempt to denaturalize values…
    Once natural causation has been swept out of the world by doctrines of reward and punishment some sort of unnatural causation becomes necessary: and all other varieties of the denial of nature follow it. ….
    Morality is no longer a reflection of the conditions which make for the sound life and development of the people; it is no longer the primary life-instinct; instead it has become abstract and in opposition to life… What is Jewish, what is Christian morality? Chance robbed of its innocence; unhappiness polluted with the idea of “sin”; well-being represented as a danger… (The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche :41-42)

    Morality is coherent according to Nietzsche, it’s rooted in natural instincts generally opposed to Jewish law, Christianity, etc. Note that it’s a short step from Nietzsche’s puerile Darwinian views to the notion that the elimination of a sick “Jewish influence” is natural. Darwinism seems to make otherwise intelligent people stupid and ignorant because it creates the illusion of knowledge. Nietzsche generally thought he knew things about the natural history of the world that he clearly did not know, just like every other ignorant school boy educated in Darwinian “reasoning” who begins to mistake their own imagination for science.

  22. In other words, those with no faith in anything but man are going to fold up like pansies, when it all gets scary and reality finally smacks them in the face with truth.

    They’re generally going to follow whatever “cult”ure they happen to be in. We all do this to some extent and it can even lead to good results (e.g. soldiers who lack faith and courage themselves but follow their band of brothers anyway) when true virtue is lacking.

  23. I’m not sure if Carl wanted to debate Nietzsche’s view on ethics further. It seems to me that as it stands you mistakenly attributed one of your “not necessarily” arguments to Nietzsche. Nietzsche wasn’t very fond of this sort of pattern of thought in general: “…does not mean that it necessarily is not intellectually….” and he did cite nature in order to refute Christian and Jewish morality.

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