The Catch-22 of Atheism

I am re-posting this excellent piece of apologetics because it is concise and inarguable.

Melissa Cain Travis

One’s worldview is based upon what one believes to be the Ultimate Reality. The most fundamental intellectual choice to be made is whether or not God exists. For if God does exist, it is possible that he has a certain purpose and regard for us, his created creatures. If he exists, then it is possible that our beliefs and actions matter, and there is such thing as objective morality. Of course, in order to affirm these things, we have to move beyond the basic fact of God’s existence to a more detailed belief system. My view is that Christian theism is correct, which entails real (as opposed to fabricated) purpose in life, inherent value of human beings, and objective moral truths.

If God does not exist, then it logically follows that there is no true purpose for man’s life; there is only the purpose man invents in his own mind…

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41 thoughts on “The Catch-22 of Atheism

  1. tildeb

    Yes, it’s excellent apologetics because it’s so very typical and typically wrong.

    The catch-22 for atheism is that If atheism is true, it doesn’t ultimately matter that it’s true.

    And there’s the logical fallacy right there. Did you catch it? Do you see where this thinking derails from correct logic?

    Obviously you don’t or you wouldn’t tout it as ‘inarguable’.

    How’s this: The catch-22 for atheism is that If atheism is true, it doesn’t ultimately matter that it’s true.

    There. Did that help?

    No? Still having difficulty? If so, I’m here to help.

    But I doubt you care enough about what’s true rather than what you believe to be true to bother to find out why this argument fails and why it is easily arguable.

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  2. madblog Post author

    If someone were to go to the trouble to travel to my house and visit me, I would be surprised to find him anything but pleasant and polite. Even if he had come to discuss a difference of opinion or to “pick a bone” with me, I would expect that he would at least start out with some show of respect.
    That said, please enlighten me as to what DOES produce the moral standard if God’s existence is ruled out. And why is this easily arguable?

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    1. tildeb

      It uses the conclusion as part of its premise. This is called ‘begging the question’. Note the word I highlighted in bold. That’s the clue…

      How do you measure anything, madblog? Seriously. What standard (unit of measurement) is used? Must it be universal to be of any accuracy? Is it possible to use a different standard and arrive at the same exactness of measurement?

      If you actually think about the notion you present that there must be an objective standard for us to gauge morality, then the next question must be, “How do you know?” And it is here where we utilize various critical thinking methods to compare and contrast the notion against other things we want to gauge. And we find out that those created by humans seem perfectly fine to do this task. Your weight, for example, doesn’t require a universal standard for us to know a lot about it; it requires a standard to be applied consistently. You can weigh yourself using the Imperial standard, the metric standards, the atomic standard and so on… all will produce very accurate measurements of your weight, measurements that can be vigorously defended. To claim, as you do, that we cannot possibly know anything about your weight unless we have a universal god-sanctioned objective standard is ludicrous in this comparison. And it’s just as ludicrous when it comes to gauging morality for exactly the same reasons: we can know a very great deal about morality without assuming that we must first get one from some holy book!

      I come to this blog because you invited people to do so from IB22’s site where you say you address the issue under discussion. I didn’t come here to drink tea and talk about the weather and ask about the health of your family and friends. It’s not that kind of visit. It’s a visit to see what explanations you offer (or borrow from other sites) and respond to them. That’s what I’ve done. If all you want is an echo chamber, then I apologize for disturbing your serenity. But I have motives.

      It’s a common meme to pretend that we require belief in some god to be moral agents. This implies that those who do not believe in some god – like I am – are not moral agents. That notion is factually wrong so to those who continue to espouse it require correction. This notion you espouse about morality must be put away with other very bad ideas because it claims to describe me by association rather than treat me with the respect you presume for yourself but are unwilling to grant to me… but first, many people who believe the meme must be shown why and how the idea is a very bad one. That’s what I’ve done here. My hope is that you will now understand why this notion you espouse should be retired from service and you can improve the tone of your social invitations by not insulting your guests before they ever arrive.

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  3. madblog Post author

    Did you explain how one can live by any reliable standards, or predict what standards anyone else will live by, or have any reliable basis for judging what anyone else has done, or reference any standard when someone has transgressed…without an objective standard acknowledged by the society in which you live? Because I think I may have missed it.

    Everyone wants to live and let live, be forgiving of other people’s offenses, because it makes me a fine person. Until it offends me. Then I want to cut heads off. Nobody actually believes we are all each entitled to our own standard.

    Yes, the standard must be universal, or it is unreliable; it’s not standard at all. Different ways of measuring don’t change the size of the thing being measured.

    I invited people to read and discuss. I did not ask for condescension, insult or snide tone. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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    1. ColorStorm

      The universal standard. Reminds me of the carpenters level.

      Does not discriminate, could care less who is holding it, be it prince or pauper, male or female, if something is not ‘true,’ the bubble will show it.

      In Japan, the level speaks equally as in Canada. So too your standard, without it, every man does that which is right in his own eyes……………yea, that works real well, doesn’t it. If the basis for right and wrong does not come from God, who is the genius that gets credit for such global acceptance..

      And of course the word of God is the ultimate standard. Keep bringing the good stuff mb.

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    2. tildeb

      All any standard needs is agreement for use. In math, we call this keeping the units the same… and it doesn’t matter if we use imperial or metric or atomic or whatever. No ‘objective’ ‘universal’ standard is needed and, in fact, you use these successfully all the time. Amazing exactness can be determined. It works. No god is necessary.

      I think there is an excellent standard for morality starting with the metric of reciprocity. I think we can add to this. We can include various aspects of human well-being common to all. That’s it. And it works remarkably well to successfully compare and contrast effects to determine moral impacts that we can then measure at our leisure (if the units stay the same). That’s from a children’s math song, BTW.

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      1. madblog Post author

        If you take a quick look around at our current world situation, it doesn’t appear to work well at all…I see clash of cultures where each side zealously pursues its own standard of moral and ethical behavior, and the result is dozens of innocent people tied up and beheaded, or perfectly innocent babies in the womb made to go away, in both cases because people are applying a relative standard of what’s permissible. In both cases the actors are persuaded that they are not only permitted, but that they are performing an absolute good.
        If we take even a lazy look backward at history we see nations fully convinced that they are purifying the race, extinguishing the untermensch, worshipping the emperor, or establishing a new just land for the proletariat BY outrageously violating the formerly respected universal standard…these people threw out one standard and chose another to suit their preferences.

        So compare away. You will find that a truly universal standard is the only one which, when applied, restrains the sort of behavior we humans engage in when we do just as we wish.

        Why must you keep the units the same? You’re supporting my thesis.
        If the standard is not objective, coming from outside of us, requiring that we respect that outside source, then it is optional and we may do as we please.
        If it doesn’t apply everywhere and all the time, it loses its validity to apply when we don’t choose to adhere to it, and we may do as we please.
        If it’s not objective and universal, it is relative. How do you argue with that?

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        1. tildeb

          You’re supporting my thesis. If the standard is not objective, coming from outside of us, requiring that we respect that outside source, then it is optional and we may do as we please.

          Your conclusion does not follow. I’ve explained in detail to Wally upthread why it does not follow.

          We both want to make the world a better place. You assume only through your religious beliefs and following its prescriptions can this happen. So, too, does the mulsim use the identical reasoning. So, too, does the hindu use the identical reasoning. So, too, does the jainist and jew and mormon and rastifarian and sikh and buddhist use the identical reasoning. They have as much chance of convincing you to change your religious beliefs as you do convincing them to yours.

          This approach doesn’t work. The world does not become a better place when any religious precept for moral behaviour is used as the basis.

          What does work is establishing in law by the consent of the governed exactly the same rights and freedoms for all, privileging none. The evidence for this is overwhelming and the greatest barrier to achieving this global goal is religious belief. As hard as it may be for you to recognize, you’re actually on the side of this debate that is not making the world a better place but impeding all of us from making gains towards this goal as a species.

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        2. madblog Post author

          You are quite wrong. The source, model, that our consensus law is derived from is religious. There is no way around that. What is the source of your ideal standard, which is not at all derived from any faith in world history?

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        3. tildeb

          Madblog, you always seem so certain and then make pronouncements on those ‘certainties’. What if your certainties are wrong?

          You presume there is no way around the religious ‘source’ of consensus law! But there is, you see. And if you were actually interested in finding out your ‘certainties’ you soon find a wealth of knowledge awaiting you.

          For example, the very idea of reciprocity is not religious! It is biological. If you wish to understand where this sense of fairness comes from, religion is not the subject that will produce knowledge about it. It produces dogma. Dogma doesn’t aid in the gathering of knowledge but acts as a barrier to it… as you so easily demonstrate. You are certain you already posses knowledge about the source of this sense we have of reciprocity and assign it to your god. No surprise there because this is how you have trained your brain and it misleads and fools you and keeps you from gaining knowledge available to hep us better understand what reciprocity is and why we come equipped with it. And those questions are directly served by studying biology where find that mirror neurons are essential for the sense to be in operation. Furthermore, we can correlate critters that have these specialized neurons with behaviours that look identical to our own when we report this sense of reciprocity. These findings are in no way indicative of supporting the religious model about POOF!ing morality into people but can be relied upon to offer up a pseud-model that answers nothing and produces no knowledge (scripture certainly never mentions mirror neurons and their function; it doesn’t even mention hand washing after defecating for crying out loud!)

          Neuroscience is a fascinating area of study and is just now beginning to lift the veil of ignorance about how our brains work and produce emergent properties from something so simple as local units obeying local rules. When it comes to questions about ethics and morality, any answer that doesn’t fully incorporate knowledge about the biology that demonstrates what we’re talking about isn’t any kind of answer that has anything to do with knowledge. At the very least, we can be certain that such knowledge-free answers are trying to sell us something other than what’s true. And your religious beliefs do exactly this: they are trying to use you as a salesperson to better increase the social position of your particular religion.

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      2. madblog Post author

        tildeb, I’ll use an illustration very paraphrased from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. A person may claim to live and let live, and be easygoing with others’ mistakes. Until someone steals his wallet, or takes his seat. Then he objects. But his objection is not,”You stole my wallet and I didn’t like that,” or “You took my seat and I liked that seat.” His objection is: You took my wallet and THAT’S WRONG! You took my seat and IT’S UNFAIR! He appeals to some objective standard which we are all expected to respect and conduct our actions by.
        Everyone, everyone everywhere has in their mind a standard of justice. Some things are recognized as unfair. That standard in our mind comes from somewhere, not within, but without. And we all automatically recognize when it’s been violated…

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  4. Wally Fry

    Mad, this topic just blows me away. I guess I’m just way to simple to engage in all of this philosophical deep thinking. They don’t call me Mr. Black and white for nothing, I guess. I have asked numerous times for a simply answer to my simple question, and all it get is philosophical mumbo jumbo.

    Ok…if there is no completely objective moral standard, then there IS no morality, right? Because if everything is contingent and culturally based, then in the right circumstances anything goes, right? There is only what is moral for me, you, my family, my city, my state and so on and so forth. If everything is contingent, then nothing is ultimately wrong. Which brings to mind the rather absurd argument that God is a moral failure. Hey, in a contingent world, even an atheist would have to admit that God was only doing what works for Him, right? But…I seriously digress there.

    Back to moral standards. Once again, it seems so simple to me. No set moral standard, no morality or immorality. But….if there is a moral absolute, then somebody had to set the standard….well there you have it….Absolute moral standard=a standard setter=God.

    Seems agonizingly simple to me.

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    1. tildeb

      Ok…if there is no completely objective moral standard, then there IS no morality, right?

      Absolutely wrong.

      Let’s try these:

      Ok…if there is no completely objective weight standard, then there IS no weight, right?

      Ok…if there is no completely objective height standard, then there IS no height, right?

      Ok…if there is no completely objective distance standard, then there IS no distance, right?

      Are you getting the gist here? Your conclusion does not follow.

      Okay… morality is a term we use to describe a set of concerns regarding the positive and negative consequences of human behaviour. Without human behaviour, there is no ‘morality’ existing somewhere ‘out there’.

      You can test this.

      Go locate this thing you call ‘morality’ and show us how it is independent of the behaviour of people and show us where it resides. Demonstrate its supposed ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ properties you claim it possesses.

      Oh, look. You can’t. Now why might that be?

      Well, because what the term describes is not a thing. It has no properties. It is a <i.concept used for comparisons. These comparison are like units used in other comparative measurements like weight, height, and distance. The ‘units’ we use for morality are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. These terms bookend the standard of comparison we call ‘morality’.

      Now look at your original statement: you claim there is moral standard that is magically ‘completely objective’, meaning it is independent of subjective comparisons. This is the mistake. There can be no standard of comparisons without PEOPLE to provide the necessary ingredient, namely, the agreed upon units.

      Please follow along:

      Just because people have not come to a full agreement about weight, height, and distance standards (after all, some of us use Imperial, some American Imperial, some metric, some atomic, and so on, demonstrating many standards currently and concurrently in use today by real people unrelated in any way to any belief in some god) does not mean that there IS no way to determine with great exactness weight, height, and distance. This sis where your thinking goes off the rails in regards to morality. Of course we can determine consequences of human behaviour using different standards of right and wrong currently and concurrently and we don’t require any god to do so. The god component is no more necessary for moral standards than it is for weight, height, or distance.

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      1. madblog Post author

        tildeb:
        Your illustration fails. Gravity causes objects to fall, always. It causes objects to have consistent weight, always. They are inanimate objects which do not choose how they behave.
        It’s easy to predict their behavior, but we actually do not proscribe their behavior. We do not tell them how to behave; we only describe their behavior.
        Human beings have self-will, the power to choose to act in any of a thousand ways. They act and react unpredictably. We are not talking here about describing behavior after the fact. We are talking about having a standard which operates successfully at all times for everyone.
        You are correct that there is a need for the involvement of people…else there would be no society in which to see or use the standard. But that does not prove or even imply that there IS no objective standard residing outside our invention. God is God, He is Who He is, with or without us.

        Human societies may invent standards of conduct based on consensus which may work well for a given time period. But history demonstrates over and over again that standards of our own invention, based upon a refusal to adopt the true standard, or an unwillingness to honor that standard even when we do recognize it, deteriorate into tragedy and disaster.

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        1. tildeb

          *sigh*

          Gravity is a property of mass. All mass. Any mass. We compare the effects of this property using different STANDARDS that are neither universal nor objective. To amazing accuracy, I may add. And we can do this because weight is not determined by the standard! (Neither is morality.)

          Using the same standard, we can calculate gravity by comparing gravity’s effect on the same object of mass. That’s why the astronaut tested Galileo’s hypothesis by dropping a brick and a feather on the moon. Both fell at identical rates because – as Galileo valiantly tried to show – the gravity of the moon was constant and impersonal and indifferent for both. This experiment demonstrated that weight is not a property of objects (as Aristotelian physics insisted and was taken on board by the early Church as if true) but a property of understandable and completely impersonal forces that act on everything the same. No god directing and guiding anything and certainly unnecessary to produce standards that work.

          The resistance by the surface of the larger mass on a falling object is what we call ‘weight’ and – again and with emphasis – this weight does not depend on the standard of measurement we are using (any more than morality requires a universal objective standard).

          That’s why you can weigh both (say) 68 kilograms and ~150 pounds at the same time here on earth but a bit more than 11 kilograms and 25 pounds on the moon. Note (again) that the standard by which we compare this resistance does not determine the accuracy (and usefulness) of your weight. Not having a universal and objective standard in no way determines whether or not you have any weight (any more than lacking a universal objective moral standard determines whether or not you have any morality)!

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        1. tildeb

          Wally, I don’t know how to explain anything without using what I think is a necessary quantity of words. I truly hope your education allows you to read several paragraphs and comprehend their collected meaning because, without that ability, you are doomed to ignorance.

          Scripture contains tens of thousands of paragraphs, and you seem willing to wade through all of them without suggesting that, gosh, darn it all, it’s so many words that you – such a simple person – cannot possibly comprehend! Yet when it comes to fewer than a dozen regarding such a complicated subject as morality, you seem willing to throw up your hands and beg for even fewer if there is to be any hope at all for simple-minded comprehension.

          It’s a tedious tactic that fails to show any real engagement with what has already been done. Next, you’ll probably say you’ll respond later after you attend the evening religious ‘indoctrination’ gathering.

          Come on. Engage or don’t but these half-hearted questions are just a diversionary tactic.

          Is there any completely, unchanging, always set in stone standard for any particular behavior?

          Consider:

          Is there any completely, unchanging, always set in stone standard for any particular measurement?

          What do you think?

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        2. Wally Fry

          Tildeb…yes I both read and comprehend.

          But my question stands as is…for you ro amswer yes or no…not direct it back to me.

          Are there ironclad moral standards which apply universally to all people at all times?

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        3. Wally Fry

          Tildeb

          It helps or aids me in nothing. I was a question. Funny how you guys like to play interrogate the Christian and get so put out when you are asked direct questions on return.

          I asked the following: “Are there ironclad moral standards which apply universally to all people at all times? ”

          You answered as follows:”Not that I’m aware of.”

          Wow. That is perhaps the saddest statement I have ever heard. If it is true, then there IS NO MORALITY. There is, then, only contingency. Wow.

          As a final note, your statement renders the entire atheist argument regarding the morality of God as moot and irrelevant.

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        4. tildeb

          Wally, you make a claim about reality, someone responds with a criticism why it’s inaccurate, you then ask questions and get answers you then continue to pretend either not to understand or unable to comprehend.

          This latest comment is a perfect example. You’ve continued to gloss over the difference I pointed out way upthread that a moral standard is not a necessary prerequisite for morality. You just wave it away. You ignore my point that you must have a standard if you wish to compare and contrast actions for their moral consequences but this does not require an ‘objective’ universal standard. I’ve spent quite a bit of time explaining why this is so and then offered many examples of this. Again, you just wave it away. All of this you simply ignore and go right back to restating your false claim… as if your meaningless questions in response to these detailed explanations and demonstrations have somehow revealed your original claim to be true. Nonsense.

          This is a TACTIC you use over and over again… not to find out what’s true, not to understand why your claims are not worthy of high degrees of confidence, not to have any kind of meaningful dialogue with anyone about anything who doesn;t first share your belief in the righteousness of your claims, but a way to continue to espouse claims that are inaccurate but pious… as if this is all that really matters.

          You simply don’t care why anyone might bother to counter your inaccurate claims with time and effort and energy with explanations and demonstrations. You do not exercise intellectual integrity in any of your responses. You just wave their efforts aside as if anything they had to say in defense of the truth value of their criticisms had no consequence on you because you believe differently and your beliefs are immune because they are religious. This isn’t just foolish; it’s folly and it’s dishonest, disreputable, and deceiving when you continue to invite more commentary. The fact is, you simply don’t care to learn anything differently than what you already believe… no matter how truthful and reflective of reality this criticism actually is.

          And you wonder why you are then held in such deserved contempt by others who do care about what’s true, about what’s knowable, who care about, exercise, and demonstrate intellectual integrity with you and then get back in response nothing equivalent except a a tedious and tendentious tactic.

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        5. Wally Fry

          Nope you are incorrect. With no standard there is no morality. ..only what works. And tildeb your use of many words and repetitions do not make truth. Sorry to pop your bubble. By the way your opinion of me matters so little it barely registers.

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  5. madblog Post author

    I don’t think you’re having any difficulty at all Wally. You’ve put it very well. I am glad you reminded me how incongruous it is to use the promotion of relative morality to condemn anyone, let alone God.

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      1. Arkenaten

        Tildeb supplied the answer and thoroughly explained the reasoning behind it. And it makes perfect sense. I admire his patience and his erudition.
        In a nutshell:

        There is no need of any god to determine morality.

        Period.

        I hope this was few enough words?

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  6. madblog Post author

    tildeb, I’ve had enough. Don’t insult my guests. It will not happen a second time on my blog.

    I think you unfortunately missed the humor in Wally’s comment. He was saying that you are quite wordy, and I’ll add that your many words are usually only tangentially (at best)connected to the subject at hand.

    And I see that you have still not answered the question Wally and I have asked.

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    1. Arkenaten

      Why do you believe there is a ”source” as if it is something separate from the rest of the human makeup ?
      What is the source for the colour of your eyes? Your shoe size.

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    1. Arkenaten

      I am not quite sure I am following your line here, Madblog.
      If we substitute eye colour or nose size or fingerprint for morality then the answer will be the same.

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    1. tildeb

      Oy vey.

      Learning how to ask the right questions is what education is all about.

      What is the right question?

      Consider always asking yourself before asking anyone or anything else for their ‘answers’:

      What is the question and why is this question important? If you can’t explain why this question is the important one, then you’re not asking the right question.

      You’ve probably heard the expression, You only get out of ___ what you put into it. This is especially true about learning: you only get out of it what you put into it, and what you put into learning is the quality of your questions. Quality is determined by the explanation of importance, and this is why learning to explain why a question is important is actually more important to establishing the path of meaningful learning than any answer that might be presented. Without this guide for the making of meaningful questions, the resulting answers will probably be facile and of little meaning. Asking lots of questions is usually an indication of a debating tactic rather than an avenue for learning.

      For example, when it comes to claims about how reality operates and the causal agencies it supposedly contains the important questions are: are these claims true AND, if so, how can we know? Always ask this question about any and all truth claims and you will learn a lot.

      Regarding morality, spend some time thinking to yourself what’s the right question? You may surprised at the value of this approach.

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  7. Arkenaten

    When you ask , ”who developed it” this strikes me as baffling, as if two cavemen sat down and drew up a plan. Is this what you are suggesting in some oblique fashion. No sarcasm intended.
    I am unaware of an original blueprint for morality ever having been drawn up/developed.

    Who do you believe developed it?

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  8. madblog Post author

    “Our biology through interaction with our environments.” You state that this is the origin of our morality.

    This is what a society’s laws are based upon?

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