We “amoral” atheists

You would think Yale would attract a smarter class of stude…oh, wait. I forgot what famous Yalies have risen to power in this country. OK, maybe it’s not surprising that a Yale freshman would raise the tired canard of the “amoral atheist”.

Recent years have seen an influx of anti-religious publications in the Western world, as well as a growing audience for such publications. From Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” to Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great,” anti-theistic works have poured into bookstores as atheists in the United States and elsewhere have taken on a more strident tone in public discourse. Unfortunately, their approach has been one characterized more by noisy rhetoric than reasoned arguments, and they have particularly failed in their attempt to present a coherent system of morality that in no way rests on a belief in the supernatural.

Of course, Christians and other theists have raised the objection that naturalistic materialism — the notion that only the physical world exists — can provide no foundation for morality. That’s not to say that naturalists cannot behave morally, but merely that they can have no real and consistent reason for behaving morally. As this has been a long-standing and widespread objection to naturalism, it would seem only reasonable to expect atheists to devote careful attention to the question of morality.

This notion that morality is a reason to believe is a common thread to many religious apologetics, as is its complement, that atheism doesn’t provide a moral rationale. In part, I agree: the simple statement that the world exists does not state how we should act within it, and the fact that the universe is godless does not dictate standards of human behavior. But then, neither would the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient god.

My atheism is complete. When I am afraid, I do not cry out to the Lord for protection; I don’t even feel the beginnings of a stirring to consider doing so. When I am in despair, I don’t find solace in the rituals of the church or in the belief that there is a Great Being who is concerned for me. When life goes well for me (and there’s no denying that my life has been good so far), I do not feel grateful to Zeus, and I don’t see any point to burning a hecatomb to him, and I don’t even dedicate a drop of wine to the lares and penates. I feel that transcendant sense of awe ascribed to religious feeling regularly, but no god inspires it — it’s more likely to be triggered by a molecule, some music, a book, or an organism of one phylum or another.

Yet, somehow, without even a hint of god-belief, not the slightest dread of hell, nor the least bow of respect to any god, I somehow ended up a moral person in the most conventional sense — I don’t steal or cheat, I do not desire to murder, I honor my parents, I’m not particularly covetous, I have been happily faithful to my one and only wife for 27 years, I don’t smoke or do drugs at all, I only drink in moderation, and aside from a few weird obsessions, have been pretty much a boring Ward Cleaver all of my life. Except for the silly handful at the beginning, I am following most of the Ten Commandments…and seem to be doing so more faithfully than some of the more sanctimonious Christians I’ve met.

I don’t say this with any intent to brag — I don’t see myself as a better person than a divorced pot-smoking gay man with a lust for Porsches (which also does not imply a lack of morality), for instance, and suspect that my casual acceptance of simple bourgeois values makes me a little less interesting as an individual — but only to point out that I’m pretty much a perfect match to the image of the Christian paragon of family values … except for the god-worshipping, sabbath-keeping, tithing-to-the-church part. There is no god in my life, yet here I stand, a testimonial to the falsehood of any claim that godlessness leads to amorality.

I also have three children of whom I am proud, who were brought up in the complete absence of church or even private expressions of faith … and they are smart, decent, industrious people with moral goals and a strong commitment to progressive ideals of equality and fairness.

Explain that, pious Christians.

I do have a real and consistent reason for behaving morally, it’s just one that doesn’t require a supernatural foundation. I was raised in a happy family, one that reinforced that conventionally ‘good’ behavior, and that rewarded appropriate social behavior. I lived with good role models who offered love without conditions, who taught by example rather than with fear or threats. I live now in a family and with a community of friends who do not demand obeisance to superstition in order to give respect. I am rewarded materially and emotionally for moral behavior.

That’s the recipe for building an environment that fosters moral behavior. It doesn’t involve gods or even belief in gods. It is completely independent of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or atheism. It works — religion is irrelevant to morality. The surest way to create moral individuals is to build a stable society where desirable behaviors are rewarded, and the hoop-jumping frivolities of religion are not a requirement to accomplish that. Atheism is not a requirement, either; the only virtue of atheism is that it can free people of dogma and tradition and allow them to work towards a better society without the pointless spectacle and distraction of one kind of irrational belief.


  1. #1 Andrés
    September 24, 2007

    If I may say again what I said in the other post:

    If founding your actions on fear of a punishment or hope of a reward is morality, then trained dogs are moral beings.

  2. #2 Dylan Llyr
    September 24, 2007

    Brilliant post. The morality “argument” is so vacuous, and I despair at its prominence in these “debates”.

    I’d go even further, PZ. You are more moral than the religious people who lead similar bourgeois lifestyles. So am I. I can think of three main reasons which I like to think apply to me, and probably to you:

    1) The obvious one, it’s good to be moral because a society where people are generally moral is a nicer one to live in. Basically “do unto others…”. Everybody benefits if people try to be nice (note that none of these reasons are even necessarily altruistic).
    2) It’s good to be known as a nice moral person. That brings its own benefits (though were everybody equally moral and nice this would become irrelevant).
    3) It kind of feels good to be a nice person. Well it does, doesn’t it?

    I’m sure there are a few more. Though I would feel that the first one alone goes a long way to explain how morality develops in any functioning and halfway civilised society.

    However, for a Christian or anyone who believes in a heavenly tyrant, the sole reason to be moral is to appease him upstairs. Without their god, they’d become murderous raping thieving psychopaths. That’s hardly a kind of morality worthy of the word.

    Of course what they don’t realise is that (hopefully!) their reasons for being moral are precisely the same as ours. Only they don’t realise it, and for some reason they wish to degrade their own sense of morality.

  3. #3 MartinC
    September 24, 2007

    Since morality in a religious sense is taken to be how ‘God’ tells us to behave then so long as we are sure we know the actual desires of God then there is no problem, it is all very straightforward.
    Unfortunately, since there are as many claims of what ‘God’ said or didn’t say as there are religious groups, if we want to behave moral according to God we are left with the sole option of arbitrarily choosing one set of supposed Godly orders, written by one tribe of bronze age zealots, over the rest written or modified by others.
    Is this really supposed to be more moral than using accumulated human knowledge to tell us the best way to behave amongst our fellow people?

    Having said all that I guess this morality question could be described as ‘scientific’ since it makes a prediction that can be falsified. In a non-religious setting one could expect the levels of murder, decadence and debauchery to be so much higher than a religious one.
    How about a comparison of Sweden (85% non-believers) with the US bible belt ?

  4. #4 ZacharySmith
    September 24, 2007

    I think that the motivation to be moral can be briefly summed up as, “What goes around, comes around.”

    If you piss people off by stealing their property, physically or mentally abusing them, stabbing them in the back (in the metaphorical sense), trying to sleep with their wives or husbands, etc., then yeah, someone will give you your come-uppance sooner or later, not to mention being branded with the stigma a social pariah.

    All this god crap is just superfluous window dressing.

    In fact, religion does more harm than good in that gives people an excuse, a cloak of supposed justifiability, to act on their petty prejudices and xenophobias.

  5. #5 The Disgruntled Chemist
    September 24, 2007

    Christian morality IS obedience.

    You might say it’s the morality of a trained monkey. The creationists aren’t going to like that.

  6. #6 Rey Fox
    September 24, 2007

    “As this has been a long-standing and widespread objection to naturalism, it would seem only reasonable to expect atheists to devote careful attention to the question of morality.”

    *sigh* “Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes.” There, can we move on now?

    I’m a pretty boring individual, but nothing makes me want to have a Wild Teen Party like some stuffy Yale freshman telling me I don’t have a consistant moral base. What was it that Emerson said about a foolish consistancy?

    “Any moral system that includes burning goat flesh for the olfactory pleasure of the magic sky-man is in no position to criticize the lack of foundation or arbitrariness of any other moral systems.”

    No no, Humbert. See, the sky-man doesn’t need us to sacrifice animals anymore, because he sent his son* to be sacrificed in their stead. So your denigrating of their position to criticize is totally unfounded.

    * Or himself

  7. #7 AL
    September 24, 2007

    Vox Day,

    If Euthyphro is a joke, then refute it. No apologist has ever refuted Euthyphro without conceding one of the two lemmata. Moreover, the classic is-ought problem in philosophy of ethics applies full well to every and all religions, so no religion can claim “absolute” or “objective” morality without first solving the problem. (Solving it will make you a famous philosopher, as well).

  8. #8 AL
    September 24, 2007


    You are absolutely right. However, when some of us deny that religion provides a moral foundation, it’s precisely because declarative appeals to authority are not seen as “moral foundations.” Other tricks theists use such as defining goodness to be their religion or god himself are also arbitrarily declarative (not to mention a reification fallacy), and so are still not “foundations.”

  9. #9 Josh
    September 24, 2007

    Did anyone else get a snicker out of the fact he is a member of Silliman (Silly man) college?

    OK, I’m all in favor of pissing on the Bulldogs whenever possible, but we should really leave Benjamin Silliman alone. He did a great deal to advance the development of geology, and mineralogy in particular as a rigorous pursuit in the New World. He was one of the good guys. In fact, it annoys me a bit that this toolbox of a student is in Silliman.

  10. #10 Moopheus
    September 24, 2007

    “naturalistic materialism — the notion that only the physical world exists”

    The physical world exists? Shit.

  11. #11 Moopheus
    September 24, 2007

    A not-very thorough search of mythological literature would demonstrate that frequently supernatural beings do not behave morally. Morality is just to keep the peons (us humans) in line.

  12. #12 Brownian
    September 24, 2007

    I’m tired of these godtards. They’re seriously wearing me out with their seemingly inexhaustible supply of stupidity.

    It seems to me that all of these arguments (both for and against) are mere hand-waving unless one can provide evidence that atheists are significantly less (or more) moral than theists.

    If the evidence for a difference isn’t there, then all of this is nothing but intellectual masturbation. And if I remember my Catholic upbringing correctly, masturbation is a sin (at least, that’s what my Grade 7 science teacher said. FYI, it’s not a good idea to pit God against a twelve-year-old’s prurient urges. God’ll lose out nine times out of ten.)

  13. #13 raven
    September 24, 2007

    The problem with claiming religion promotes morality is that empirically it seems to be the opposite. The data doesn’t support the assertion.

    Obvious case in point. The present theocratic administration is the most corrupt and amoral we have had in living memory. The war in Iraq based on lies that has killed 3,700 US soldiers and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Gonzales and his no right on habeas corpus in the constitution when it is there in black and white. Torture has been institutionalized. It goes on and on.

    In fact, the data would say that if anything, Xians and Xianity are less moral than atheists. The fundies in particular are notorious for lying and occasionally murdering people. Just look at their constant lying to attempt to shove their square peg of bronze age mythology into the round hole of objective reality. They are also very good at hating.

    Got to frame the argument correctly. Is it possible to be a Xian without being a lying, murdering, hating, greed obsessed, antiscience, ignorant, wingnut? Hmmm, probably it is, but it is rarer than it should be.

  14. #14 Soldierwhy
    September 24, 2007

    Of course religion gives you a moral standard.

    Just not a very good one…

  15. #15 Louis
    September 24, 2007


    You’ve hit one nail very firmly on the head. I have had many “exciting” debates and discussions with moral absolutists almost all of whom are totally ignorant that moral philosophy even exists (even those who are aware of its existance deny its validity utterly). One fool of recent discussion has even provided me with the wondeful claim that not only do morals exist in the ether as objects (as does love etc) but that these…shall we call them Platonic…entities are in principle undetectable and yet influence the physical universe. Better than that he claims that because some people think they exist, they exist and that I mean for asking for evidence.

    It’s so frustrating it makes you want to scream!

    Oh well.


  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 24, 2007

    they have particularly failed in their attempt to present a coherent system of morality

    Methinks someone has confused observed morals with proposed ethical systems.

    There is plenty of both not associated with religious dogma.


    The basis for the morality of the atheist, just like for the Christian, is God.

    Let me guess: because your religious text says so.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, we see that a basis for morality can be found in animal behavior.

  17. #17 KevinBBG
    September 24, 2007

    It’s mostly Christians that I find who have no moral center, this is why we do not have universal health care in this country while every other industrialized nation does. We are cursed with a Christian population who does not believe in helping those less fortunate but helping those with lots of money. If people die along the way, well, they were just weak and foolish anyway or they would have survived.

  18. #18 Eamon Knight
    September 24, 2007

    Twits like this, and the previous “naive atheists” one, prompt me to ask: are they completely unaware that there is a voluminous literature with a long history on the subjects of freewill vs. determinism, and moral philosophy? And that the debates in those fields frequently do not divide along religious/atheist lines?

  19. #19 Rey Fox
    September 24, 2007

    “But there’s no more point in discussing theology with an atheist than logic with a dog since he doesn’t have the capacity to believe it exists in the first place.”

    I don’t doubt that theology exists. Or are you talking about gods and angels and hobgoblins and such? We have the capacity for delusion, we just see it as a virtue not to use it.

    “while self-identifying High Church atheists are very law-abiding, Low Church atheists who subscribe to no religion are highly criminal. ”

    I wasn’t aware I belonged to any church. Anyone here go to High Church? Or Low Church? Anyone even heard of those terms until today?

  20. #20 Ben
    September 24, 2007

    I’m a Lar; I want my wine, and I’m fucking pissed off.

  21. #21 Bad
    September 24, 2007


    Well, that is the downside of basically being daily entertainment for a bunch of cranks instead of being a famous philosopher. On the upside, most famous philosophers don’t drive incredible sportscars from which they fervently believe they are helping invisible angels wage war with invisible demons.

    “You’re talking in riddles, of course, because you have no clear, logical argument to make, and are hoping you can pass off obscurantism as wisdom.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Well read enough to ramble on about Socrates for a plethora of paragraphs, but muddled enough to forget to actually make a coherent argument.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    September 24, 2007

    Quoth Vox Day:

    Cultural inertia.

    Interesting idea. Is it testable?

    The relevant point is not that an individual atheist can’t be moral – he certainly can – but that atheism precludes any moral standard with universal claims. Dennett admits as much, even Harris only argues that such standards “could” be invented, not that they have.

    If so, Dennett and Harris should read comment 19. To me, it’s pretty obvious that comment 19 is right. Comment 102 repeats part of it in a perhaps even more easily accessible way, and so does comment 112 with another part that it greatly expands.

    Christian morality IS obedience.

    That means that you consider very few Christian denominations “Christian”, doesn’t it?


    I doubt that Divine Command theorists exist. I think they are people who haven’t thought much about why it is that they do good.


    However, the moment of realizing that you, all by yourself, really are a decent and moral person, that you don’t need some supernatural threat to do what’s right, is extremely pleasurable, empowering, heady–and a bit scary. It’s the intellectual equivalent of your first orgasm.

    As you can guess from the above, I’ve never had such an experience.


    (including Christianity, or have you forgotten that stoning someone to death would qualify as “killing?”)

    Don’t forget that “thou shalt not kill” is a mistranslation. “Thou shalt not murder” is much, much more accurate.


    And here’s the self-proclaimed Voice of God again:

    Why haven’t atheists managed to crumble society?

    There’s not enough of them. More importantly, not enough in positions of power. They are, however, statistically overrepresented in prisons compared to the general population;

    Ah? Numbers, please.

    (It would of course be helpful to get worldwide as opposed to just US numbers, but the former will be much more difficult to get.)

  23. #23 Ken Cope
    September 24, 2007

    Brownian to VD:
    Boring. Come back when you’ve got some steak behind your sizzle.

    That’s not sizzle. That’s the stench of slaughtered infants offered up to please the object of VD’s worship. VD wants to be considered moral, and so he is: in the “not” mode. He worships what would be a monster, which, fortunately enough, doesn’t exist. If it did, it would be a moral act to oppose it.

  24. #24 Brownian
    September 24, 2007

    20 that he’s never been in a closed and locked room with a girl.

    I wouldn’t make that bet if I were you, Chi. Don’t forget, women are chattel and the property of their husbands or fathers under most Christian theologies. Locking the door is exactly what one does when one is afraid one’s property may escape or be stolen.

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    September 24, 2007

    It’s mostly Christians that I find who have no moral center, this is why we do not have universal health care in this country while every other industrialized nation does.

    To be fair, I can’t blame Christianity for this. At most, I could blame that peculiar kind of American Christianity, you know, the one without “love thy neighbor” and without John 3:16.

  26. #26 David Marjanovi?
    September 24, 2007

    It’s mostly Christians that I find who have no moral center, this is why we do not have universal health care in this country while every other industrialized nation does.

    To be fair, I can’t blame Christianity for this. At most, I could blame that peculiar kind of American Christianity, you know, the one without “love thy neighbor” and without John 3:16.

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?
    September 24, 2007

    VD wants to be considered moral, and so he is: in the “not” mode.

    He has simply redefined the word “moral” as a synonym of “obedient”. Under this definition he suddenly is moral.

    It reminds me of how Hennig eliminated, as opposed to solved, the “problem” of “speciation”*: he simply took cladogenesis and called it speciation, and every internode he called a species. What causes speciation? Whatever causes a lineage to split. How does it work? In any way that is sufficient to cause a lineage to split. Easy!

    * Yes, two pairs of scare quotes.

  28. #28 Jason
    September 24, 2007

    vox day,

    Of course, if you reject all of it as nonsense, there’s no need to worry about evil in the first place. It’s all just rearranging atoms anyhow. There’s no logical reason to asssign emotive value to any particular state of material assemblages that are inherently unstable.

    You seem to have a very poor understanding of a naturalistic account of morality. Morals are preferences, or beliefs derived from those preferences. I think torturing children is wrong because it offends my sense of compassion and decency, because I find it cruel and inhumane, not because I “assign emotive value” to anything (I’m not sure what “assign emotive value” is even supposed to mean).

    But if morality, on your account, is about “assigning emotive value,” why do you assign emotive value to what God commands (or, rather, what you believe he commands)? You may choose to do that, but why make that choice rather than a different choice? Why is your choice the moral choice, and not some other choice?

  29. #29 Bad
    September 24, 2007

    Sorry heddle, but that’s a no go: you’ve just conflated the two horns of the dilemma into one vague mess! Specifically, this makes no sense: “God is truthful, therefore lying is immoral.” Uh… how does that follow? How does any of that establish why any of this is moral?

    And how do you know that God is truthful in any case? How can you possibly know the character of a being beyond your understanding? It could ALWAYS be tricking you, because you are nothing to it.

    And Christians, in fact, do sort of believe that God changes around morality. It can’t be moral to stone your unruly children one day and immoral overkill the next, after all. But that seems like exactly what happened.

  30. #30 Steve_C
    September 24, 2007

    More evidence from Heddle that religion is nonsense.

  31. #31 Bad
    September 24, 2007


    “No, I’m telling you that what is defined as right and moral for Christians is that which reflects God’s character.”

    Then you aren’t even getting the point of the dilemma in the first place. I can “define” that what is right is whatever answer a coin flip gives me when I ask it a question. That, and your definition do not answer the question posed, which is WHY is that moral.

    “That is: being truthful is moral (because God is truthful)”

    You’ve just skipped over the key step. Why is God being truthful a reason for being truthful to be moral? (and course, you just assuming that God is truthful makes the whole exercise even more empty, but as you said, let’s let that go for now)

    “A simple explanation from within the presuppositions of Christianity for this so-called dilemma–but no we can’t have that!”

    You evidently define “explanation” in a way different that I do, which is roughly synonymous with “no explanation at all, I just assert I’m right, say one thing follows another when it is a complete Non sequitur, and you aren’t supposed to notice.”

    “As for what seems to be biblically moral one day and not the next: not true, but I don’t feel like arguing it here. You are making a mistake Christians often make, which is to assume, incorrectly, that situational ethics are antithetical to absolute morality.”

    Tell that to the poor kid who got stoned one hour before the magical deadline in which it became wrong to stone him.

  32. #32 noema
    September 24, 2007

    I thought I’d point out that Vox Day apparently disagrees with the Yalie about the capacity of religion to provide a “foundation” for morality. Quoth the original author:

    “The problem with all of these nonreligious explanations of morality is that while they may tell us where our sense of morality came from (e.g., our genes, psychological principles, innate human solidarity), they do not tell us why we truly ought to be moral — why we should give any heed to our sense of morality at all.

    The idea that the author of the original article is apparently after is that religion can somehow afford a reason why we ought to behave morally. This is, moreover, something that naturalistic explanations of morality are not supposed to afford: they just tell us where our moral compass comes from, not why we follow it. Instead, according to the moral naturalist (as the Yalie understands him), the ethical principles we adhere to are arbitrary: they’re just the principles we (by our nature) can’t help but favor. Fundamentally, according to the critique of moral naturalism, we don’t have a *good reason* to behave morally. Our morals are arbitrary.

    Several commenters have pointed out that religion doesn’t seem to be in any better position to say, authoritatively, why ‘good’ actions are good and ‘bad’ ones bad. Here, the Euthyphro fallacy seems relevant. If a belief in theism is the critical turn, then it must be God who determines which actions are good and which bad, and who concurrently gives us the reason for acting good as opposed to acting badly. But [Enter Socrates] how does God do that? Is an action good because God says so? Or does God say so because it is good?

    Notice something about the above analogue to the Euthyphro dilemma. Both the original dilemma and the analogue assume that the goal of our inquiry is one way another to come up with a reason, a justification for saying that something is pious. What piety is, in the original dialogue, cannot be arbitrary: in particular, it cannot be arbitrary because Euthyphro (the character) claims to know something about it. The dialogue demonstrates that Euthyphro doesn’t know the first thing about piety, because he can’t come up with a good reason for saying why one thing is pious and another isn’t. And merely alluding to the Gods’ (or a God’s) will doesn’t do the trick– because it doesn’t provide a justification for the distinction between piety and impiety, but merely shifts the burden of justification from Euthyphro to the Gods. Euthyphro is a fraud.

    Now consider Vox Day’s critique of the Euthyphro dilemma. Vox claims the dilemma does not apply to Christian morality because Christian morality is concerned only with obedience to God’s will. “Obedience,” unlike “piety,” is not subject to the ambiguity that gets Euthyphro in trouble, so the dilemma is resolved. But the difference between the morally good action (doing what God commands) and the morally bad action (acting against God’s command) is– admittedly–arbitrary. The good action is whatever God tells you to do. But this just means that the Vox Day-ian Christian has given up the game that Euthyphro (and our Yalie) was trying to play: he has given up the game of trying to give a reasoned justification for moral behavior. We are told that we ought to do certain things because God tells us to, but we are not supposed to be concerned with why God tells us to do them (i.e. what reasons there are that support the action’s being good/moral).

    But this just puts the theist in exactly the same boat that the naturalist is supposed to be in. According to the naturalist, certain actions are moral because its in our genes to be disposed toward them. The moral action is the action our genes command. And this is arbitrary: there is ultimately no reason why we ought to do one thing rather than another– we just act on the imperatives our genes saddle us with. Like wise, according to Vox Day, the moral action is the action that God commands. But this– as Vox himself admits– likewise makes morality arbitrary. If I have understood the intentions of the original article correctly, this puts Vox at odds with the Yalie’s thesis, because Vox apparently does not believe that morality can be given a rational foundation.

    (It should be noted that in the above I discuss “naturalism” as the Yalie seems to understand it– so to the extent that I make reference to “naturalism” above I’m referencing a straw position, but this actually aids my point)

  33. #33 Michael
    September 25, 2007

    I want to point anyone who’s made it this far in the comments, to go back and click the link in the very first post. This goes for heddle and our lovely other apologist who in his hubris failed to recogonize that his chosen handle also reads as V.D.

    If you want an perfectly natural, scientific, testable, explanation for our moral evolution: Read Moral Minds.

    Otherwise this game of “I dictate what god thinks about morals” is terribly silly. Either present evidence for your founding assumptions or stay silent. Everything else will be ridiculed.

  34. #34 windy
    September 25, 2007


    I haven’t seen too many infants or young toddlers display altruism, empathy, or much of anything beyond a drive have their immediate selfish needs met.

    Babies do display spontaneous helping behaviour. I don’t think 18-mo.-olds have yet been conditioned to help around the house much, so at least some of it may be innate.

  35. #35 Bronze Dog
    September 25, 2007

    There are a lot of people who need to be told the long-obvious and have it explained in detail.

    That the Earth is round and mobile is one of them. That the typical deities worshipped by fundies are tyrannical, sadistic monsters is another.

  36. #36 hedd
    September 25, 2007

    Pablo, that just can’t be right..

    Let’s see…1 Samuel…hmm…that’s in the Old Testament, right?…Oh never mind I’ll just use the table of contents since I don’t have those little tab thingys…page 492..chapter 15…

    OMG you’re right! I never knew that was in the bible! I don’t know what to say! Knock me over with a feather!

    Once again, where can you get such stunning intellectual revelation except on the site with the “most consistently intelligent commentary of any blog?”

  37. #37 Shadowdancer
    September 25, 2007

    I remember a newly converted Muslim pointing out that at one point, Jewish women wore headscarves.

    Before I replied, I did a little research on how the Jews got rid of that – through a long process of determining that a woman covering one’s hair was like getting dressed, as men of the ancient times found long hair erotic, apparently, was not a law handed down by heaven, but a law brought about by custom and culture. It progressed to Jewish women wearing wigs (and having very very short hair because it was hot), where for a while there was a debate that a wig was not (the woman’s) real hair, thus satisfied the tradition that a woman’s hair be covered and seen only by family, and when the fashion changed again and Jewish women (and the men, finally) discarded headcovering because society had changed to the point that the uncovered hair of a woman was no longer considered erotic or something best privately enjoyed only by her husband.

    I’m still waiting for the “Coz the Bible says so” people to bring back stoning to death. Oh wait, they can’t… they don’t agree with the death penalty, despite the fact that God has struck down many a person to death…

  38. #38 Brownian
    September 25, 2007

    Damn Gelf, but that shit be tight!

  39. #39 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2007

    Vox Day, comment 142, emphasis mine:

    Since you’re here, care to give us your solution to the problem of evil? If God created the world, and God is good, and God is omnipotent, why is there evil?

    My solution is that God is not omnipotent in this world. Certainly Paul and Jesus both referred to an evil ruler of the world; Jesus did not dispute Satan’s right to offer him all the kingdoms of the world when tempted. That’s why evangelicals refer to the world as “occupied territory” and explains why Jesus told his followers that they were “in the world but not of it” and CS Lewis wrote about a “Silent Planet”.

    Can I believe my eyes?

    You’re a Manichaean: you obviously maintain there are two gods, one good, one evil. I don’t think it matters much whether the good one happens to be triune.

    Not some “free will” argument; not some argument from ineffability; no, God’s own voice tells us “God is not omnipotent in this world”.

    I’m not accusing you of being a heretic or apostate or something; that’s not an accusation in my book. I accuse you of being a hypocrite. I accuse you of following the old atheist joke about theodicy: “omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent — pick two”.

    Oh, that part:

    Jesus did not dispute Satan’s right to offer him all the kingdoms of the world when tempted.

    I guess the predictable apologia would be that “go away” was a fully sufficient answer.

    There is also a sound Biblical case for rejecting the concept of an omniscient God.

    Fine — but why do you then call yourself a Christian? Or have you defined “Christian” as “the correct interpretation of the Bible”, like you did with “morality” and Hennig did with “species” and “speciation”?


    No, I’m telling you that what is defined as right and moral for Christians is that which reflects God’s character. It is a basic assumption for Christians that God is truthful. Whether or not that is factual is a secondary question. Christians presuppose it to be true and therefore on that basis I address the dilemma.

    So you are telling us the whole thing is built on air?

    That is: being truthful is moral (because God is truthful),

    This is the second horn.

    and therefore God commands it because it is moral.

    This is the first horn. See? There’s the conflation: you say the first horn follows from the second one, even though it doesn’t.

    I don’t have to know the origin of evil to recognize that it exists. Being a Christian does not require that I solve the origin of evil problem, or the QCD confinement problem, or abiogenesis, or why people seem to like Neil Diamond’s music.

    I can’t help myself. This sounds an IDiot refusing to make any claims about the Designer, even though several such claims follow directly and inevitably from ID “theory”.


    Obscurantism? In the extreme. The omnivanous Vox has served up a word he coined himself: omniderigent. Google it, and explore all seven (7) hits.

    Of course, we must take into account that it’s a misspelling. The correct spelling is “omnidirigent”. And that gets… drum roll… one ghit. That one, too, is on Vox Day’s Blog. That’s what we should expect from someone who misspells vox populi, too…


    If altruism and empathy are innate, or are somehow beamed in from god, why are these traits and behaviors so conspicuously absent in the very young and in the socially isolated?

    Are they? Or are they only absent in those who fail to recognize anything as similar to themselves, which is obviously a prerequisite for empathy?

    I do think it’s innate to react when a baby cries, to take the most obvious example.

  40. #40 Gelf
    September 25, 2007


    Is there something to be said about the fact that Heddle (at least claims that he) was unaware of the story in the first place?

    Heddle was being sarcastic.

  41. #41 Kseniya
    September 25, 2007

    the fact that God chooses to save some people and not everyone is a much more unpleasant theological mystery.

    I’m sure it is, for a given value of “fact”.

  42. #42 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2007

    P1: God is truthful

    First horn (morals exist independently) — except if you have defined “truthful” as “whatever God is”.

    P2: God’s attributes define what is moral

    Second horn (Divine Command “theory”): you are saying that “moral” is “whatever God is”.

    P3: God commands what is moral

    First horn, or circular.

    I agree you haven’t used a strawman or a True Scotsman, but you do seem to try arguing that both horns are true, even though they contradict each other.

    Now, if you declared this an ineffable mystery, I couldn’t prove you wrong, but you haven’t done that — you have said it’s “simple”.

    Does it sound like that? I wouldn’t know.

    Sorry, I had forgotten the option of declaring it a mystery. This does make it possible to be a Christian without having solved theodicy. I must have been more tired in the afternoon than now in the evening… ~:-|

    the fact that God chooses to save some people and not everyone is a much more unpleasant theological mystery.

    Kseniya has answered that one (I’m still laughing). More seriously — what about the hope, regularly expressed by (post-Vaticanum-II) Catholics, that Hell is empty?

    You know, I thought so, too, but I read Vox’s pocket etymology, checked the etymology of the word “direct” and concluded that he may have been justified in spelling it the way he did.

    No way. I’ve had 6 years of Latin in school. Dirigo, dirigis, dirigere, direxi, directus 3. Or for that matter director.

    Only in English are e and i pronounced the same under halfway normal circumstances.

    That is, I think the tendency not to kill your neighbor (or his offspring) is largely innate, but the tendency not to steal his banana is learned. Likewise, the tendency to want to get it on with his wife is innate, but the tendency not to is learned.

    You probably have a point here.

  43. #43 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2007

    He’s the guy who questions whether the state of evolutionary science can “trump raw intellect” (his own),

    So he’s not a member of the reality-based community (big surprise). Reality is that in which argumenta ad lapidem work.

  44. #44 Ichthyic
    September 25, 2007

    I don’t think Vox would disagree with you.

    from that link:

    …son of Robert Beale, a technology executive and federal fugitive wanted on tax charges.

    so Vox is the whitecollar version of “son of Hovind”?

    too damn funny.

  45. #45 Kseniya
    September 25, 2007

    So our desires lead us down an unpredetermined path to our predetermined destination?

  46. #46 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2007

    Free will means that at any instant you will choose exactly according to your strongest inclinations.

    But what if your strongest inclinations are predetermined (which is what you suggest, at least to an extent)? Does it make sense to call the result “free will”?

  47. #47 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2007

    Please provide some evidence for your assertion, Heddle.

    At that opportunity, I’d be grateful if he addressed my question in comment 224 if he’s really telling us the whole edifice is built on air.

  48. #48 oxytocin
    September 25, 2007

    Heddle, Since you seem obsessed with referring to the comments about the intelligent nature of this website, perhaps you could tell us which websites blow your hair back? I, for one, would be interested to compare the quality of your suggestions to the present site.

  49. #49 Ichthyic
    September 25, 2007

    It is nice (and easy) to declare that someone’s arguments were shredded.

    no need for me to be obtuse about it, anyone who so chooses can see for themselves. not hard to search the archives there for your name.

    and if you think that the “arguments” you presented there were EXACTLY the same as Susskind’s, you really ARE nuts.

    but then, you’ve really just been making that more than clear in this thread anyway.

    I rather thought you might take the opportunity to point out some of the far better arguments you made against the operations of the DI, since those were the only coherent rants you ever make public.

    but, if you want to continue to show your “wild” side, far be it from me to stop your from shooting yourself in the head.

    c’est la mode.

  50. #50 heddle
    September 26, 2007


    what you just presented was no more and no less than an argument from authority,

    It is not an argument by authority. Quoting an authority is not a logical fallacy. I didn’t say or imply “and Susskind is always right!” Nor is it a quote mine, for I accurately reflected Susskind’s position–that he is anti cosmological ID and laments the fact that there is little alternative to it if the multiverse doesn’t pan out. Anyone who read his material should agree that such is his view.

    No matter how you slice and dice it, my position is the same as Susskind’s. The main differences appear in the fact that he will be horrified if the multiverse fails whereas I’ll be delighted.

    why do you insist on trying to find support for your crackpottery on science blogs,

    Actually you brought it up in an attempt to embarrass me, I didn’t insist on bringing it up to look for support. You also conveniently forgot to mention that even in the case of cosmological ID I go out of my way to emphasize it is not science–it is a metaphysical interpretation of the fine tuning–one that could be demolished if another universe is observed or if the fine tuning is shown to be an illusion.

  51. #51 MarkW
    September 26, 2007

    How come the “gumby” blockquote style is now in Comic Sans? Come on, PZ! Are you trying to make them look stup…


  52. #52 David Marjanovi?
    September 26, 2007

    I don’t know–this view of free will is precisely that “you choose whatever you want”–I’d call that free will, but if you want to call it something else, I wouldn’t argue.

    If you have no influence on what you might want, I’m not sure if “free will” is a good description… if you’re addicted and crave the next shot, is that free will?

    In any case, you still haven’t answered my question from comment 224. I repeat, this time with emphasis added:

    No, I’m telling you that what is defined as right and moral for Christians is that which reflects God’s character. It is a basic assumption for Christians that God is truthful. Whether or not that is factual is a secondary question. Christians presuppose it to be true and therefore on that basis I address the dilemma.

    So you are telling us the whole thing is built on air?

    I’m asking why you presuppose it to be true. If you don’t have a reason for this, or only one that isn’t better than “I’d like it if it were true”, everything that follows from that premise is hanging in the air.

    To change the topic once more, what do you think of cosmological natural selection?

  53. #53 heddle
    September 26, 2007

    David Marjanovi?

    I don’t know why I suppose it (that God is truthful, or any other of God’s supposed attributes) to be true. When I was growing up I didn’t, and now I do. Becoming a believer is not a rational exercise; it is a supernatural experience. “Built on air” as you put it is a reasonable metaphor. Apologetics, however, is a rational exercise within the closed system where you accept certain presuppositions. That was my point–that the answer to the dilemma is easy from within the Christian worldview–and attacking that worldview is a different matter. You can do that, obviously, but it doesn’t negate the fact that Christians have a self-consistent answer to the dilemma, even if V.D. managed to get it wrong.

    p.s. when PZ shows up, goes apoplectic, and tells me to get lost–will you guys at least own up to the fact that you keep asking me questions?

  54. #54 Carlie
    September 26, 2007

    Reasonkiller – but if God tells you to kill an innocent Amalekite, for no other reason than generations-old revenge, with no reward other than a pat on the head from God, that’s ok, moral, and a stellar enough example of how to act that it was included in the Big Book?

    Nice morals you’ve got there. God’s rules look pretty shitty if you ask me.

    “I can assure you that if I had no belief in a God whom I’ll have to answer to for my actions, well, I’d have a lot of dead bodies in my wake.”

    I can assure you that I have no belief in a God to whom I’ll have to answer for my actions, and I have no dead bodies in my wake at all, thank you. What on earth is wrong with you?

  55. #55 David Marjanovi?
    September 26, 2007

    So, heddle, you are a fideist? Unfalsifiable and proud of it… :-S

    Cosmological natural selection, on the other hand, is falsifiable. Find one neutron star that’s twice as heavy as the Sun — just one –, and the whole glorious hypothesis comes crashing down.

  56. #56 David Marjanovi?
    September 26, 2007

    So, heddle, you are a fideist? Unfalsifiable and proud of it… :-S

    Cosmological natural selection, on the other hand, is falsifiable. Find one neutron star that’s twice as heavy as the Sun — just one –, and the whole glorious hypothesis comes crashing down.

  57. #57 Sastra
    September 26, 2007

    I go out of my way to emphasize it is not science–it is a metaphysical interpretation of the fine tuning–one that could be demolished if another universe is observed or if the fine tuning is shown to be an illusion.(heddle)

    Not to quibble, but if a “metaphysical interpretation” can be “demolished” given new observations, doesn’t that make it a science hypothesis?

  58. #58 Ken Cope
    September 27, 2007


    I became a Christian not through a rational exercise but through a supernatural act.

    You misspelled unnatural.

  59. #59 David Marjanovi?
    September 27, 2007

    Demonstrate how, to some unspecified level of satisfaction, our universe is less than optimal at producing black holes. Not something you can go to NSF for with a grant proposal.

    Why not? It’s got to be cheap. The maximum mass of neutron stars is just the one example I happen to know.

    Finding out whether the fine-tuning better fits the Anthropic Principle or the Lithic Principle is probably more difficult… no, actually, I don’t know.

    Here are two multiverse theories which we will assume to be untestable and unfalsifiable, Multiverse A and Multiverse B. I think only one of them is an appeal to the supernatural. Can you guess which one — and why?

    Strictly speaking, that’s not the relevant question. The relevant question is which one is more parsimonious. That is A.

    And cosmological natural selection is even more parsimonious, because it explains fine-tuning without needing to postulate either an intelligence or a tornado in a junkyard.

    Not to quibble, but if a “metaphysical interpretation” can be “demolished” given new observations, doesn’t that make it a science hypothesis?

    Actually, yes.

    Astrologers are not scientists because they cling to astrology even though it has been disproven again and again and again.

    Yet CID is not science, it makes no predictions, so how is that described.

    If you keep the principle of parsimony in mind, you’ll find that it does make a prediction: that fine-tuning is not an illusion and therefore needs an explanation. If fine-tuning is shown to be an illusion, CID will be unnecessarily munificent — like phlogiston was after oxygen was discovered and before it was possible to directly observe atoms.

  60. #60 Ichthyic
    September 27, 2007

    You brought up the cosmological ID in this thread, and then claim it is reasonable for PZ to be tired of me because it is the same argument I have made 1000 times. You brought up cosmological ID on this thread and then criticize me for bringing non scientific CLAPTRAP onto a science blog.

    uh, right, so your favorite pet claptrap that you spout EVERYWHERE YOU FUCKING GO, and is slathered all over your own blog…

    You claim it’s my fault everybody who knows you HAS heard it a thousand times before, and can see through your arguments like tissue paper? That it’s my fault you decided to come here and start spouting off your idiotic notions of theology, your stance on Cosmo ID being just one?

    damn, what a moron.

    and a sensitive one tooooo.

    remind me of this conversation the next time the ATBCers decide to praise your for your stance on ID.


  61. #61 J Myers
    October 2, 2007

    Anton, nice post.