Sunday, August 28, 2011

"On Truth and Lie in the Study of Christian Morality"

In the realm of the more empirical sciences, the last few centuries have seen Christianity in full-scale retreat. A whole host of what used to be fundamental claims have had to be thrown overboard by Christians themselves in order to keep their religion from being discredited completely- it has the feel of the work of Civil War era “sawbones” frantically lopping off entire limbs in order to avoid infection spreading to the core of the body.

Evolutionary biology, physics and cosmology have utterly destroyed the original biblical account of creation, forcing all but the most irrational believers (ahem...Ken Ham...) to recast the cosmological claims of the bible as metaphor. History and archeology have gradually undermined the claims of the Hebrew kingdom periods and have left the accounts of Jesus's life and supposed miracles in almost total doubt. Indeed, even the “mythicist” case arguing that there was no historical Jesus at all has been gaining ground in the last decade on the strength of re-analysis of historical evidence, going from an affectation of atheist cranks to a fairly strongly argued hypothesis (though I'm still not sold!).

The tools of sophisticated theology?

In those areas, then, where facts are continually accumulating and theories thus have at least some pressure towards improvement due to contact with those facts, we find the old “models” drawn from the Bible are losing out quickly and decisively. The claims in the bible simply don't match what we find when we examine the world around us.

However, this isn't nearly as much the case in the more abstract arenas of philosophy and ethical inquiry, at least until recently. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it's much easier to play games of language and rhetoric in these less empirically-bounded disciplines, combined with the fact that the insights of psychology and cognitive science (two currents that might help to keep the philosophical reveries from drifting into confusion) are both fairly new and extremely contentious.

Whatever the cause may be, the fact that William Lane Craig, an apologist for genocide and divine-command ethics, can stand in front of any audience and claim that only God can provide an “objective” moral standard without being laughed from the stage illustrates the point perfectly. I recommend reading the links in that previous sentence, and then comparing him with his argument that starts around 7:11 in this clip:

Simply unbelievable: an intelligent philosopher can argue that slaughtering defenseless women and children and taking young girls as rape-slaves is moral when God commands it in the OT, and then turn around and in front of a packed auditorium claim that there would be no way to know that rape was “really wrong” without God's injunction against it. I haven't seen as convincing a portrayal of split-personality disorder since Fight Club.

The entire debate with Austin Dacey is worth a watch. Craig fires his usual volley, presenting his “5 reasons” as if they made an interlocking case while trying to hide the many assumptions he slips in to paper over the gaps. Though Dacey can be a bit sleep-inducing, he makes some excellent points in his opening- points that Craig's rebuttal can barely touch. Of course, as usual, Craig's flow and clarity (as well as cute little tricks like not-quite-honest summaries of his opponent's positions!) makes him seem like the clear winner, especially to a casual viewer. No wonder Luke Muehlhauser over at Commonsenseatheism called Craig a “jedi master” debater (though one commenter mentioned that he's more of a Sith Lord!).

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