Re: [asa] Morality Without God?

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Nov 11 2009 - 19:40:43 EST

Skepticism and cordiality. And it depends which of the bedfellows you mean
in the article.

Bruce Sheiman comes across as thoughtful and positive, and reminds me
vaguely of an atheist doctor whose name I forget - in the UK, has a regular
column and a similar approach. But I don't think this is "Atheism 3.0". I
mean, "Atheism 2.0" is, frankly, a tiny group itself. "3.0" is a tiny
splinter of that tiny group - and happens to have views that are not just
divergent from, but antithetical from that larger group. (Religion has
value? Specifically western religion has accomplished many important things?
Religion has a place in the public square? Talk of intrinsic value?) It's
like calling Camille Paglia "Liberalism 2.0". No, it's not 2.0. It's just
Camille Paglia, refreshing as she can be at times.

After Sheiman, though, the article takes weird twists. To say (briefly as
he's mentioned) the presentation of Plato is a butchered one is an
understatement: Plato has vastly more in common with Aquinas and Augustine
than any New Atheist, and quite possibly (but not definitely) Bruce Sheiman.
I would go so far as to say that if "atheism 3.0" had a hallmark of broadly
subscribing to Plato's metaphysics - ideas of a transcendental "good" that
certainly exists and that man pursues, etc - then it wouldn't be "atheism
3.0". It would be "theism X.0".

On Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 6:54 PM, Merv Bitikofer <> wrote:

> Bruce Shieman is the author of a new book: "An Atheist Defends Religion:
> Why Humanity is Better Off With Religion than Without It."
> He and others are quoted about this gentler, more respecting 'Atheism 3.0'
> that wants to find room for those of religious faith, even in the public
> square, while not sharing in any of it themselves. Since the article
> prohibits reproduction, I can't paste it here like I wanted, but here is the
> link:
> What should be the Christian response to these new bedfellows?
> --Merv
> Schwarzwald wrote:
>> Thanks for this, John. I think Olasky does a good job of highlighting the
>> absurdity (not to mention hypocrisy) present in WSA's views, so I'll keep
>> this short. He should simply say "Fine, everything is permitted - but we can
>> still choose on our own what we should and shouldn't permit!"
>> On Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 3:24 PM, John Walley <<mailto:
>>>> wrote:
>> This seems relevant to a recent thread on this topic and may be of
>> interest to some.
>> John
>> Morality Without God?
>> Marvin Olasky
>> Wednesday, November 11, 2009
>> Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an
>> unlikely source: an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to
>> depend on the Bible.
>> The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book
>> Morality Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth
>> professor. (I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his
>> initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to
>> him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is
>> permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should
>> simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or
>> disability—unless there is "adequate reason."
>> Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular
>> professors with the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask.
>> He responded that there is no "simple solution to this complex
>> problem . . . the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by
>> citing religious texts or religious leaders."
>> Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the
>> present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not
>> solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions.
>> I hope this helps."
>> Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to
>> the fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He
>> responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems
>> are insoluble. . . . They are just too difficult for us to figure
>> out. . . . The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common."
>> Hmm . . . I asked WSA whether people could really make "I don't
>> know" the default statement. He responded, "Why not? People get
>> used to having a belief about everything, but they do not have to.
>> Life can be lived like an experiment where you guess but do not
>> believe until you see how it turns out."
>> Wow. My first thought was that he was describing how liberals
>> lived in the 20th century. Let's wait and see how the rule of
>> Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other Communists turns out: We don't want
>> to assume that the preaching of class conflict, envy, and
>> resentment will have any real-life effects.
>> My second thought was that WSA is right. Chapter 1 of Proverbs
>> declares that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of
>> knowledge." Biblically, those who do not believe in God should
>> truthfully say, "I don't know."
>> But back to abortion. Ronald Reagan's logic was that if a hunter
>> sees movement in the forest and doesn't know whether it's a deer
>> or a person, he should not shoot. But WSA suggested in his book
>> Moral Skepticisms (2006) that since we don't know whether abortion
>> is morally wrong, it's unfair for employers to insist that health
>> plans not pay for abortions.
>> Hmm . . . Health plans should pay for an abortion even though we
>> know abortion does not protect the health of the unborn child? I
>> asked WSA, and he responded by saying that abortions can promote
>> the health (physical and psychological) of the employee.
>> So there we go. In theory, a person might say he doesn't know
>> what's ethical in regard to abortion. In practice, he or she has
>> to choose. Should a college cover abortion in its health plan or
>> not? Gotta choose. A young man calls up and says his girlfriend is
>> pregnant. Gotta choose. A professor claims to ride the fence.
>> Gotta choose.
>> Four conclusions:
>> 1. In many situations facts don't speak for themselves: That's
>> where presuppositions and assumptions—worldviews, in short—enter
>> in. Colleges should teach students to analyze situations and learn
>> that ideas always have consequences.
>> 2. Christians should not talk so much about "morality," a word
>> derived from mores, the beliefs of a particular tribe. Ethics,
>> however, are based on ideas that are true at all times and in all
>> cultures. The ethical problem of abortion can only be solved by
>> consulting wisdom that comes from God.
>> 3. Chapter 3 of Proverbs has it right: "Trust in the Lord with all
>> your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." Those are
>> deadly words to those who assert that they have no need of God.
>> Those are words of life to those who have learned differently.
>> 4. "If God is dead, everything is permitted."
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Received on Wed Nov 11 19:41:17 2009

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