Morality Debate, Part 2

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Hans Jacobse’s opening statement:

The first problem comes less than two minutes in: “Atheism, properly understood…” In other words, “I’m about to tell you what you believe”, not a promising beginning for a fruitful debate.

He continues:

Atheism, properly understood, allows for no objective existence of anything non-material, not made from matter. Philosophical materialism is the philosophical ground of atheism.

One word: software.

Software is non-material. It is, if I understand the definition that Jacobse gives later on, transcendent. On one hand, you can change a book by altering the ink pattern on its pages; on the other hand, you can convert the ink patterns to air vibrations or a flow of electrons, and still have the same book.

This is not some abstruse academic question. It is a practical matter that comes up every time you agree to a software license that says you own the DVD, but not the program on the DVD. It keeps an army of intellectual property lawyers employed. So I hope Jacobse isn’t saying that atheists deny the existence of non-material things like music, mathematics, and personalities.

I would argue as a historian that atheism cannot exist except in a Christian society. I would argue that. It’s actually an outgrowth of our Christian heritage.

I’m sure this will come as a shock to atheists in Japan, India, and Israel, to pick but a few.

does atheism even acknowledge the independent existence of the transcendent, or any being, or even principle apart from matter, apart from that which can be quantified using the tools of science? The answer, at least if the atheist is true to his premises, must be no.

Again, thank you for telling me what I believe. What would I do without you?

You can’t see it in the video, but there’s a mounting pile of strawmen behind his podium.

He goes on to trot out the “no ultimate authority” boogeyman.

But the value he [the atheist] places on one moral act over another is necessarily derivative, which is to say dependent on a view of the universe, of nature and reality, that is not his own.

In other words, we’re incapable of figuring things out on our own.

But even other religions recognize what I consider an elementary fact of the universe: man cannot live by bread alone, which is to say that man is more than the molecules that shape his body.

This seems trivially true, given that the molecules that make up our bodies get recycled every so often, even while we continue to be the same person. And no one argues that a given person is equivalent to a few bucks’ worth of water and other chemicals. The arrangement of those chemicals is crucial.

I think what he’s tap-dancing around is that if the universe is “merely” arrangements of matter, then there’s no magic, and he wants there to be magic.

Truth is a category of existence. A transcendent category of existence, which is to say truth exists apart from any comprehension that I may have of it.

I think this is as close as he ever gets to defining the term “transcendent”.

The truth, and thus morality, can never escape a sort of continuous relativism in the atheist paradigm. Imprisoned, that is, to the shifting winds of the day.

I’ve addressed this elsewhere. Even if our discussions of morality don’t include an ultimate supreme authority, our morality won’t be arbitrary because it’s tethered to reality: we can look at specific actions and events, be it the Holocaust or a parking ticket, and decide whether we like those outcomes, and what sorts of rules we can come up with to codify them.

The most maddening part about this presentation was the way that Jacobse erected an army of straw men, punctuated with the occasional present-company-excluded, and ignored the points that Dillahunty made in his opening statement just prior.

But it gets worse.