Twenty Arguments for God – Four – The Argument from Degrees of Perfection

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 4:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#4

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection

We notice around us things that vary in certain ways. A shade of color, for example, can be lighter or darker than another, a freshly baked apple pie is hotter than one taken out of the oven hours before; the life of a person who gives and receives love is better than the life of one who does not.
So we arrange some things in terms of more and less. And when we do, we naturally think of them on a scale approaching most and least. For example, we think of the lighter as approaching the brightness of pure white, and the darker as approaching the opacity of pitch black. This means that we think of them at various “distances” from the extremes, and as possessing, in degrees of “more” or “less,” what the extremes possess in full measure.
Sometimes it is the literal distance from an extreme that makes all the difference between “more” and “less.” For example, things are more or less hot when they are more or less distant from a source of heat. The source communicates to those things the quality of heat they possess in greater or lesser measure. This means that the degree of heat they possess is caused by a source outside of them.
Now when we think of the goodness of things, part of what we mean relates to what they are simply as beings. We believe, for example, that a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious. Why? Because we apprehend at a deep (but not always conscious) level that being is the source and condition of all value; finally and ultimately, being is better than nonbeing. And so we recognize the inherent superiority of all those ways of being that expand possibilities, free us from the constricting confines of matter, and allow us to share in, enrich and be enriched by, the being of other things. In other words, we all recognize that intelligent being is better than unintelligent being; that a being able to give and receive love is better than one that cannot; that our way of being is better, richer and fuller than that of a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.
But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.
This absolutely perfect being—the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”—is God.
Question 1: The argument assumes a real “better.” But aren’t all our judgments of comparative value merely subjective?
Reply: The very asking of this question answers it. For the questioner would not have asked it unless he or she thought it really better to do so than not, and really better to find the true answer than not. You can speak subjectivism but you cannot live it

Anyone else think that this is one long meander to a signpost that reads ‘The question has been begged.’?

The whole of this argument can be rephased as follows…

We subjectively rate things in the world as better or worse, therefore there exists an objective ‘best’.

The assertion doesn’t follow. There are several steps that have been skipped and the author has exhibited extreme laziness is not bothering to address them, probably hoping that no one will notice.

Weather it’s food, movies or what benefits our fellow human beings, what we as individuals call good is based on our individual preferences, this is evidenced by the differing tastes each person has and by the actions that come from them. If there was an objective goodness that magically motivated our souls, would there not be evidence in the form of some indivuals having exactly the same outlook? Yet, that evidence simply isn’t there.

With that in mind I’m going to rephrase the final sentence from the argument for your amusement.

You can believe objectivism, but you cannot demonstrate it.

Advertisements

The first few weeks of Atheism

Having accepted that my Christianity was unsalvageable and that I was on the road to Atheism (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/suddenly-i-realised-that-atheism-was-the-only-choice/) I found myself going through all sorts of mental hoops.

I have already mentioned (in the post linked to above) how my moral compass fluttered a bit while I accepted that my morality was part of me and not as a result of the Christian Holy Spirit dwelling within me. I challenged my morals in various thought experiments to see what I thought I was capable of. It was an odd time while I moved from my existing position to theoretically allowing myself to do anything I wished and back again.

After a couple of weeks of this, I decided firmly that how I was already was how I liked myself and so nothing was going to change there. It didn’t matter if the morals I abided by were truly me or if some I had adopted as a result of years of Christian indoctrination. Trying to separate one from the other would be a pointless task anyway.

Unexpected Relief

This moral settling process took a few weeks and during that time I also experienced an odd sense of relief.

Having made the decision that there was no god after all, I wasn’t expecting there to be much of a change within me and I certainly didn’t expect there to be a deep response within me; in my soul so to speak. I was going to describe the change as emotional, but that would be selling it short, it was more than that.

The sense of relief was unexpected and took me by surprise and so it would be a while before I recognised it for what it was. Identifying what that relief was from would be harder still.

Was it relief from an oppressive religion of the type I have read about on many atheist blogs? Not really, I never felt my Christianity was oppressive and I don’t think I’d describe it as such now.

Was it relief from a binding set of rules and the fear of failing the impossible standards that are set? Not really, I never consciously felt that fear and still I object to that description of Christianity because its frankly not my experience of it.

Was it relief from the rituals associated with any form of Christianity? A little bit, yes.

Was it relief that enabled me to look at the natural world and be able to appreciate its beauty fully for the first time and be able to acknowledge it with a “Wow! That is the result of random chance through Evolution and there is no designer involved”. A bit more of that yes. In fact, I am now finding myself finding greater wonder in nature than I did as a Christian. A revelation has still surprises me today when I think about it.

If I thought for longer I could no doubt increase the list of possible candidates for the source of that relief. The truth is that its not from one source, but rather several different sources. Abandoning my Christian faith has meant a lot of changes in the reasons of why things are important to me and the relief I experienced is the result of the change of each of those.

Besides a sense of relief there is also a feeling of liberation.

Again, I can’t explain why there is a liberated feeling. Liberation implies freedom from shackles, either physical or metaphorical. My Christian life has been one of much proclamation of liberation from the shackles of sin and yet I find myself feeling liberated having ditched my Christianity.

I’m still not clear on all the reasons for these feelings. All I can say with certainly is that they were not expected.

I have decided not to dwell on the puzzle of the source and instead enjoy the result.

Atheist Morality

This was a subject I was intending to get round to eventually, but recent blog postings have prompted me comment on it now. I am fairly sure I’ll return to this subject again in the future, it is a big subject after all.

The basic issue that is prompting me to comment is the reaction of Christians to the assertion that morality does not come from God and is in actual fact an evolutionary characteristic. As someone who accepts evolution I don’t have an issue with that premise. I find it very interesting, in a stimulating way, it takes the idea of physical traits honed over generations through evolution and applies it to characteristics. What we do and how we act, is now viewed, in evolutionary terms, as a benefit or not and selected accordingly.

Intellectually I have no issue with this at all. I believe it is at least highly plausible and will be paying attention to the results of further research on the subject.

The Failure of God Driven Morality

The idea that our morality comes only from God and that only a believer can be deemed to be a moral person is flawed. There are atheists that are upstanding and moral people as well as there are Christians who have murdered.

As a Christian, I held firmly to this belief. I never questioned the existence of good atheists; I accepted they existed but I am not sure what I did about the conflict between morality coming from God and there being atheists who were good. So I can’t answer that obvious question.

What I am sure of is that the mere suggestion that morality is evolutionary would have caused me upset and it seems that there are a good many Christians who feel the same.

The most recent article on the subject is this one in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-31-atheism-morality-evolution-religion_n.htm (for reasons I can not explain, I am unable to reach that URL directly and so in case I am not alone, here is the google cache link for the article in question: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-31-atheism-morality-evolution-religion_n.htm)

I found the link from the Evolution is true blog which has published a couple of the comments that were received from Christians on the subject (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/the-public-responds/).

There is a very sad irony that Christians upset by the assertion that they do not have a monopoly on morality are behaving in a way that is arguably not moralistic.

The Futile Atheist Existence

As it happens, another blog (http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/red-cardigan-would-be-a-complete-sociopath-if-god-didnt-tell-her-not-to/) pointed me to a Christian blog discussing the same subject. The Christian known as Red Cardigan has a peculiar view on atheistic morals, going so far as to suggest that atheists take their morals from a specific philosophical viewpoint. Its news to me that atheism is a specific philosophy; its not clear that if she means all atheists or just some, I suspect she originally meant all and then refined to some.

Whichever she meant is not important, it’s the extension of the logic that Christians get their morality from God therefore atheists must get theirs from something too, so philosophy seems like a reasonable conclusion. I can see how that logic would be attractive and I can see how a firm Christian who has utterly bought the idea that morals come God would make that leap.

The brutal fact is, it is wrong.

The trouble with this utterly wrong viewpoint, is that it leads to further wrong ideas. These can be seen in the following three posts (http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/07/atheist-hissy-fits.html, http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/07/prison-atheist-fable.html, http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/08/pollyanna-atheism-shakespeare-and.html) on the subject where the Christian idea of what an atheist is and believes is put forward and there is no effort at all to actually learn when corrected. Its this bit that’s so sad; even more sad is that I was once like that too. Trapped in my own ideas of what was and not listening when I was told what actually is.