Congratulations, Matt and Tracie

Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris hosted the last episode of The Atheist Experience. Most of the show was taken up by a caller named Shane, arguing about morality.

Shane claimed that since he’s a human sinner, his moral sense is unreliable, which is why he follows God and God’s perfect morality. Tracie asked how Shane came to the conclusion that God is good, if Shane’s moral sense is unreliable. This led to the following exchange:

As Tracie correctly points out, if there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omni(or even just reasonably-)benevolent god out there, then every time there’s a rape, that god either causes that to happen, or stands by and allows it to happen. Shane starts saying that the victim in this case is as evil as the rapist (I’m pretty sure this is an instance of the “all have fallen short of the glory of God” doctrine, by which it doesn’t matter whether you’re Albert Schweitzer or Adolf Hitler: both are scum in God’s eyes), and Matt hangs up on him, calling him a “piece of shit”.

Anyway, congratulations to Matt, Tracie, and the whole Atheist Experience team, since this got picked up by Raw Story, AlterNet, and even Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.

I thought the exchange was pretty much par for the course: they’ve had lots of theist callers who make despicable claims like this. So I’m not sure what happend this time, but hey, the show deserves all this attention and more.

At any rate, I went looking through the comments to see what the Beck fans (is there a name for people who read The Blaze? Surely not Blazemongers) had to say.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 2:55am

The first thing a Christian has to come to terms with is the fact that he or she needs to be saved from the wrath of a Holy God. People who merit God’s mercy, of which there are none, do not need to be saved.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 2:28am

No son of adam is innocent . ALL deserve death and HELL. If God in his justice leaves men to what the deserve – who are you to question him.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 7:45am

Human beings make distinctions between sin, God does not. In God’s eyes, all sin is sin.

This seems to repeat Shane’s point: that the rape victim is evil, and deserve’s God’s wrath. I rebut it thus:
Flipping the bird

john vincent
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 12:26am

God did not direct a plane into the twin towers; He did not light the match which caused a house to burn down, killing all inside; He did not order young Adam to kill children in a Conn. school; […] He certainly did not order a raping.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 11:24am

The caller got it wrong. God does not interfere with mans free will. Therefore, if a person rape or does evil to another, God will not stop the act because he loves us so much not to interfere with our free will.

God may not have directed the 9/11 attacks, or the rape in question here. But if he exists, he did sit by and allow them to happen. This is Tracie’s point.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 8:22am

The hosts presented a false choice: God either sends rapist or stands back and does nothing. Implying that God is not good who would do either. What they ignore is that God didn’t create robots but moral agents who he gave the choice to obey or to do evil.

This is the old “God won’t interfere with free will” apologetic. The problem is, if you see a rape being committed, the rapist wants to exercise his free will to rape the victim, while the victim wants to exercise her free will to just go about her day. Whether you interfere or not, someone’s free will is being violated.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 9:54am

all the evil actions of men, as well as every good action, was foreordained by God so that everything that happens on this earth has a good purpose behind it.

So child rape serves a greater good, so God sitting back and watching it happen is somehow the right thing to do. But neither God, nor this commenter, can be bothered to explain what this greater good is.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 1:09am

I think it’s laughable that an atheist promotes the idea of child rape as being evil. It just so happens that social evolution has engineered a construct that pretends child rape is immoral … but if child rape could be shown to improve human survival, the atheist is stuck.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 10:42am

Whoever ‘Shane’ was, he was no Christian. Christians don’t think like that.

Ah, good old No True Scotsman. I’ve missed him.

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 7:53am

I’m really getting sick of this whole argument. God does not just break in and stop crime and evil. If miracles happened everyday then they would not be miracles.

I wonder if we should apply the same principle to the police: “You can’t expect the cops to try to solve every crime they hear about, because then law enforcement wouldn’t be, you know, special.”

I’m not saying that all of these comments are representatives of all theists. But Tracie is right: either God causes bad things to happen, or stands by and allows bad things to happen, despite both knowing about them and being able to prevent them. If anyone else did that, they’d be acting immorally. But the running theme in these comments is that God has to be good, so they come up with excuses for why our usual moral reasoning or standards of civilized behavior don’t apply in this case.

And once again, congratulations to The Atheist Experience. I have no idea why this particular segment was picked up by so many sources all of a sudden, but I hope it helps spread the word about a good show.

Who Needs Morals, Anyway?

The most-often-asked question when debating morality with theists is, “but where do you get your morals?” Of course, if the theist says “I get my morality from the Vedas/Quran/Bible/Dianetics”, that doesn’t help, since it just raises the question that Matt Dillahunty posed at his debate at UMBC: let’s say some being comes along and says, “I am a god. Here’s a book with my moral system”, then so what? How do we decide whether the system in the book is any good?

I thought I’d step back for a moment and ask, what if there were no morals?

Maybe there are no rules, or no one to give them. Maybe there are rules, but nobody knows them. Maybe the rules are known, but they’re ignored, and there is no mechanism for enforcing them, not even a twinge of guilt. What then?

I don’t think anyone has any trouble imagining this sort of world: theft and lying are rampant, people will kill each over a can of beans and not feel remorse. In fact, there wouldn’t be any cans of beans, because the industry required to produce them couldn’t exist without some kind of stable society and the ability to form long-term associations. A world where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, lest your own child stab you in the back.

Okay, so this vision may not be accurate. Maybe some combination of game theory and psychology can show that there might be amoral societies where life doesn’t suck as much as what I described.

But I think it’s safe to say that the vision of a world without morals that I described above, or the one that you imagined, represents our fear of what would happen without some sense of morality.

If you’re with me so far, then presumably you’ll agree that then morality is a way of avoiding certain Bad Things: living in fear, being killed or seeing your loved ones killed, and so on; and also of being able to get some Good Things: establishing trust, assuring some level of stability from day to day, and so forth.

We may not agree on anything. You might want to security cameras on every street corner, to make the risk of being robbed as small as possible, and I might feel that the feeling of not being watched all the time is worth the occasional mugging. But if we can agree in broad outline that certain outcomes (like being killed) are bad, others (like knowing where our next meal is coming from) are good, then morality reduces to an engineering problem.

That is, it’s simply(!) a matter of figuring out what kind of world we want to live in, what rules will allow us to get along, and how to get there.

Obviously, this is a thorny problem. But nobody said this was going to be easy. Well, nobody who wasn’t trying to sell you something. As is the case with every engineering project ever, not only are there conflicting requirements, but they change over time. Everyone wants to put their two cents in, and everyone thinks their personal pet cause is the most important one of all. Finding a solution requires political and diplomatic negotiation, and convincing people to give up something in order to strike a deal. It’s enough to make your head spin.

But this strikes me as a huge problem, not an intractable one. We can tract this sucker. We have enough history behind us, and enough data collection methods, that we can see what works and what doesn’t, which sorts of societies are worth living in and which aren’t, and try to figure out how to get where we want.

Saying “I get my morals from an old book” is a lazy cop-out. It’s the response of someone who doesn’t want to look at the problem, let alone try to solve some part of it. And if you’re not going to help, the least you can do is stay out of the way of those who are trying to fix things.

Morality Debate, Part 3

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Matt’s response:

Matt: It’s absurd to think that Moses was required for people to know that killing is wrong. We live in society, we interact with each other, and we can see the consequences of our actions. That’s all it takes.

He agrees that truth is truth, regardless of what anyone thinks.

Truth is an emergent property of the universe. Morality arises from the interaction of thinking, reasoning beings in society.

Jacobse clarifies that if we know killing is wrong, it’s not because Moses delivered that law. He rambles on for a while about “narrative”, and how atheists can discover moral truths, before coming back to his central point: that he wants there to be an ultimate authority for what’s right.

He adds that he could enjoy a beer with Matt.

And then he turns right around and blames eugenics on “the atheist experiment” in the 20th century. This is the beginning of the Godwin theme that will make up most of his argument for the rest of the debate.

Truth has a personal dimension

If I understand correctly, he’s saying that truth is a person. Which is patent nonsense.

Stay tuned for part 4, in which Matt FAQs up the priest.

(See what I did there? “FAQs him up”? No? Should I have gone with “Kung FAQ grip” instead?)

Morality Debate, Part 1

Matt Dillahunty’s opening statement in the debate on “The Origin of Human Morality” at UMBC on Wednesday:


He addresses two common misconceptions about morality: first, that secular morality borrows from religious morality. And second, that secular morality does not include an external authoritative source for morality, and that this is somehow a problem.

He argues that since religions disagree with each other on moral questions, so it is not the case that a deity has shown up and given us a clear set of moral rules. And even if a god did show up and clearly tell us what its values are, how can we tell whether those values are correct? (See the Euthyphro dilemma).

We should, he says, seek correct answers, not necessarily easy ones.

Matt Dillahunty at UMBC videos

The folks at the Atheist Experience blog have posted video of last night’s debate at UMBC, with Matt Dillahunty and Hans Jacobse.

There seem to be only three videos, but the titles say there should be nine. Hopefully the other six will show up in due course.

I hope to have a post up soonish with my comments.