2012 Comment

The other day I wrote a short review of the movie 2012.  I mentioned that there was a theme–having compassion for human beings just because they are human, not due to any accomplishments or instrumental value they possess–that was very out of place given the naturalistic/humanistic plot.

One commenter wrote the following:

Isn’t theism merely one of the ways we “might ascribe a higher meaning on all this to make ourselves feel better”? Theists utilize a belief there is a god giving humans higher intrinsic value (through the concepts of “soul” or “relationship” or “similarity”—all familiar themes) but that doesn’t make it actual reality.

It is as if you are so close to the answer. You realize humans want to give our own species greater “value” (a loaded term, of course) and go to great lengths to manufacture reasons to do so. Where you fall just shy is the failure to realize theism—the belief there is a God who “values” humans—is just one of those manufactured reasons.

I’m glad he brought this point up, for it gives me a chance to add further clarity to my thoughts.

Of course, if theism is false, Dagood’s comment is a good point.  Just because something helps you live life (in this case, a way to ascribe value and meaning to life) doesn’t mean its true.  In that case, theism, just like humanism, is a way for humans to manufacture value.

However, I have excellent reason to hold that theism is true.  In the war of the worldviews, it easily stands on its own two feet. That makes all the difference.  Given the evidence backing it up, its ascriptions of value are actually describing reality.  If I didn’t think this is the case, I wouldn’t be a theist!

The reason why I made the point in the movie review is to give humanists pause.  Many I’ve met don’t get that if naturalism is true, life is absurd, yet they continue to live “as if.”  As I mentioned in the review, if naturalism is true, every attempt at meaning is an effort in shuffling chairs on the Titanic.  That doesn’t make naturalism false and theism true, but it sure should give one pause in blithely jumping on the bandwagon.

Taken one way, though, all this *is* a sort of evidence for theism.  Human beings have intrinsic value, and we know this deep down. It’s why we recoil at gassing babies but don’t think twice about gassing termites.   We know this by intuition, the same way we know “one should not torture babies for fun” is true.  What worldview makes the best sense of that knowledge we possess?  Theism.  Humanity’s intrinsic value is quite at home in a theistic worldview, but it fits very oddly in any naturalistic worldview (many atheistic philosophers, like J.L Mackie, made a career out of arguing as such.).

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6 responses to “2012 Comment

  1. I have no idea why our treating other humans, due to similarity, on more compassionate terms is any evidence of a God. Part of the reason we do so, is in the hopes the other humans will treat us with comparable compassion. (Social contract theory.) Treating termites with compassion will not prevent them from eating your house!

    As humans we tend to be species-centric. We focus on ourselves. In fact, we can see this narrowed down even more than species. Historically men have “valued” (I dislike that word, due to its nebulous definition) other men. The idea of having a son, passing inheritance to the son, even the passing on of our last names. Americans “value” other Americans. Caucasians “value” other Caucasians. I don’t think race riots, caused by people “valuing” others more similar to themselves, are good evidence for a god!

    Secondly, even presuming there was a God, I haven’t seen a consistent methodology to determine what hierarchy of “value” such a God places on natural objects. In fact, what I see are humans who ad hoc presume their God has the same priorities as the human! Since the human “values” other humans—must be their God does as well! (Sadly, with things like “the curse of Ham” we see God-belief utilize to justify “valuing” slavery, or “valuing” racism.) If the human “values” justice over mercy; so does their God.

    Christians cleverly play both ends against the middle by introducing the concept of Original Sin. Therefore, if humans “value” something the Christian doesn’t prefer they value (such as homosexuality)—the Christian is able to write it off as sin nature. If the human “values” something the Christian does as well—the Christian can claim this is proof there is a God. Rather than backwards determination, I would be interested in a method free from subjectivity whereby one could discern what a God “values.”

    The introduction of God into the discussion of “values” and “intrinsic values” adds questions that are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. That is why I see God as a manufactured reason for attempting to impose such a concept, whether there is a God or not.

    Since you were reviewing a movie, I would draw from Lilo & Stitch. In that movie, aliens were discussing why Earth was off-limits—a protected world. Because it was a nature preserve for an endangered species: the mosquito. The humorous barb makes a more salient point—by what means could we determine a God holds humans in “higher regard” than mosquitoes? Perhaps we are merely food for the mosquito-God!

  2. I love the eloquence and writing style of this commenter. I read the comment several times and wanted to offer up a worthy rebuttal and then thought….for what? Where there is a will there is a way. If one wants to poke holes in whatever theory put forth, one will…no matter what evidence is put forth from the other side. One of the key ingredients for Christians and their belief in God is faith. Faith that no matter how many words and theories we can string together; God is still bigger than any and everything we can imagine and can’t be reduced down to a simple explanation…or even a complex one. Once you continue to hone that faith and get closer to Him through a relationship, He shows up in your life in BIG ways and gives you any and all proof that you need that He is real. As you continue to sharpen your faith; you don’t let the actions and perhaps misguided beliefs of other Christians and non-Christians to sway your belief in the fact that He IS everything. Thanks Rich for your tireless efforts to reach all who have ears to hear!!

  3. Dagood,

    I think you’ve misunderstood the argument. Paul Copan does a good job explaining it in his exchange with Michael Martin here:

    http://paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/Michael-Martin-a-moral-realist.pdf

    more here:
    http://paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/God-naturalism-morality.pdf

    and here (starts p17):
    http://paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/Loving-Wisdom_Chapter-10.pdf

  4. Thank you, Anita Makoni, for the compliment.

    I quite agree theism entails faith. I just want to make sure I have faith, or am seeking faith, in the right theistic belief. It would be useless to search out faith in the Greek mythos, or the Aztec mythos, only to learn such gods couldn’t possibly exist!

    And that is where I stumble. I see theism, and specifically Christian theism (the belief I am most familiar with) creating more questions than it answers. Yes, it provides a response to resolving disquieting questions like how the universe initiated, or how we get life from non-life, or why high-caloric food tastes so good, but within the response itself—“God”—we find even more questions. How do we make determinations about this God? When all we have are natural means, how do we observe and quantify the relationship between natural and supernatural? Is it similar, completely different, completely the same? There is no way to observe, verify or discover!

  5. Rich Bordner,

    Thank you for the links. It is always possible I have misunderstood the argument. I’ll re-phrase it a bit; hopefully clarifying my predicament.

    Perhaps there is no God, and we are left to define, distribute and regulate “value” on our own. Perhaps there is a God, but he/she/it has left it to us, with no involvement whatsoever (deism.) Perhaps there is a God, but he/she/it has a completely differing set of values so incomprehensible to us, we could never compare. Perhaps there is a god with no values. Perhaps there is a god with some values similar to us; others that are not. Perhaps there is a god with exactly the same set of values.

    There are many various positions possible. If one is to claim it is a God that mandates the concept of “value,”—I am looking for the most objective way to determine what that God says is “value.” (In my opinion, naturalism provides a better explanation in this regard, but as you say—if I thought there was a god doing it, I would be a theist!) Objectivity is a tough enough goal; certainly one factor toward obtaining it would be to remove as much bias as possible.

    And here is why I see theism as a basis for “value” a miserable failure. Historically, theism has shown inordinate amounts of bias. A patriarchal society has a god that “values” patriarchy. An agricultural society has a god that “values” those things affecting agriculture—weather, insects, seasons. Even Christianity provides evidence of this bias. During the writing of the Tanakh, social identity with one’s group was “valued,” and therefore YHWH “valued” His chosen people. The concept of wiping out another social group (the Hittities, the Midianites, the Jebusites) by YHWH’s ordering genocide was merely seen as “valuation” of social group over individual humans.

    Now, of course, society has changed to individualism holding higher “value” than social groups; such genocides are explained away by apologists as an anachronism of the time. They are correct–the theists of the time valued social groups; their God valued social groups. Now we do not; now theists’ Gods do not.

    Because I see so much bias, and inconsistent application, within the use of God-belief to creating “values”—I look for a consistent methodology to make these determinations. How do we independently verify a God holds such-and-such as “value” absent an ability to observe the supernatural plane?

    In reading the three (3) articles, I was looking for one thing and one thing only—a consistent methodology to make such a determination. If it was there, I missed it. I will highlight two points:

    1) In the first article, Dr. Copan notes Dr. Martin “presupposes the dignity of human beings, universal human rights, some objective purpose,…moral accountability and the like….[Martin] simply assumes that humans posses an intrinsic worth which snails and sea urchins do not.” (pg 4) This is a fair criticism—if Dr. Martin is making this assertion, what does he base it upon?

    But then Dr. Copan then engages in the same raw assertion, with lack of verification! He performs the same trick (with quite a rhetoric) as complained of Martin.

    Dr. Copan states, “Here the theist offers just such a foundation: Human beings possess intrinsic or inherent worth because they are made in the image of God.” (pg. 5). But what does that mean? What is “made in the image of God”? Isn’t that [just like Martin] an assumption without any means of verification?

    Humans have bodies; does God? Humans age; does God? Humans have souls; does God? Humans have sexual desires; does God? Humans have logical limitations; does God? Humans reproduce; does God?

    Rich Bordner, how many questions can I ask, where the theist picks and chooses their answer, without any means for either of us to verify whether it is true? Within Christian theism, I ask if God is limited by time, I am told He is not—he is “outside” time. I ask if he is limited by logic, some say He is; some say He is not. I ask if He is limited by justice, I am told He is, but His justice is different than our justice. I ask if He is limited by morality, I am told He is.

    Do you see how these answers are all over the board? We are not the “image of God” when it comes to time; we are possibly the “image of God” when it comes to logic; we are in the “image of God” when it comes to justice, sorta; and we are in the “image of God” when it comes to morality.

    Well…again…not clear.

    Dr. Copan goes on to say, “It is impossible that [God] not act morally.” (pg. 13) [Sorry for the odd phrasing—blame him! *grin*] So if we are in God’s image, is it “impossible for humans to not act morally”? Not at all! According to standard Christian theology, it is impossible for humans TO act morally. (All the time. I understand Christians hold all humans can do moral acts, but their being–their essence–they are immoral creatures, prone to immorality. No one is 100% moral.)

    So being in the “image of God” when it comes to morality means we are very different than God. Yet going back to Dr. Copan’s explanation of “intrinsic value” by virtue of “image of God”—he uses the concept of basic moral intuitions about justice, goodness and kindness. (pg. 5) Things we cannot verify whether we are not alike, similar or exactly alike God! Even within this article, the author quotes areas where “image of God” means “not like God.” Then Dr. Copan claims these basic moral intuitions cannot come from society–yet fails to explain WHY they cannot come from society!

    In short, I was looking for an independent, objective means to determine God’s “values scale” and what I see is inconsistent assertions. Sorry—perhaps you can point out some strengths I missed.

    My second point comes from the third article. (Obviously with three articles of length, I could write 100’s of pages in response. This is my trying to be brief. *smile*)

    Dr. Copan lists items we observe in this universe, and asks if theism or naturalism is a better explanation. My question is this: what method do we use to determine the extent of similarity between the natural plane and the supernatural plane? How do we say, “The natural plane has _____ so therefore the supernatural plane has ______”? When we cannot observe the supernatural plane to verify it!

    You and I have the same limitation. The only tools available to us are here on the natural plane. If one claims a book is divinely inspired, the result is a natural book. Natural ink on natural paper with natural language bound by natural glue and a natural pseudo-leather cover. One may claim the supernatural “crossed over” in some way to the natural plane, but the result—the thing we have to work with—is here in the natural world.

    One may claim a miracle happened by supernatural intervention, but the only way we know that is by viewing a natural body that had natural cancer cells and natural means to determine those natural cancers cells are gone.

    We can only use natural items. Unless you have built a spiritual flux-capacitor in a DeLorean allowing us to visit and observe the supernatural…

    So if we are using natural things to make claims about spiritual or supernatural corresponding things, the obvious question is how they are related. If we have “time” on the natural plane, and there is some correspondence to “time” in a supernatural plane—is it the same, similar or completely different? If we have “logic” on the natural plane, and there is some correspondence to “logic” on the supernatural plane—is it the same, similar or completely different?

    Dr. Copan uses “beauty” as an example. We quantify things as beautiful on the natural plane, and he claims theism has a better explanation for this than naturalism.

    Why? What is “beautiful” on a supernatural plane? How would you know? “Beauty” is a comparative statement—we are differentiating certain objects. If I tell you a sunset is beautiful, I am setting it apart from a sunset that is mundane or ugly. The only reason we understand “beauty” is because mundane and ugly exist.

    If there is beauty on the supernatural plane, what is mundane or ugly there as well? We can’t know! There is no way to verify. Without ugly or mundane, beauty cannot exist.

    Further, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some find certain cars beautiful; others like myself couldn’t care less. Some find Picasso beautiful; I tend toward Van Gogh.

    If there are differing personal opinions as to beauty on the natural plane; are their differing personal opinions as to beauty on the supernatural plane? To Trinitarians—can Jesus find something beautiful and the Holy Spirit find it mundane?

    Again, this is mere assertion without any way to verify it. Without a consistent method to determine the extent of the correspondence between a natural plane and a supernatural plane.

    All going back to our discussion on “value.” Without the means to verify what any God has determined to be “value,”–the belief of theism does not advance a solution to the problem. Theists are no better off in this quandary than naturalists.

    I would apologize for the length, but you did provide three articles! *smile*

  6. i think all this is just some BS u guys really need to quit living in the future and try to live in the present i mean come on dont u remember when they said in year 2000 there was gonna be no water and no computer systems and all that stuff did that happen NO so wht do u think this is gonna happen, come on try a little something called thinking

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