Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Aaron Kinney @ The Atheist Hour: Aftermath

My guest appearance on Gene Cook’s radio show, The Atheist Hour, has just finished. I appreciate Gene having me on his show, I appreciate the questions that the callers had, and I enjoyed the dialogue. I would definitely be open to being on Gene’s show again if he ever wanted to bring me back. I feel that the dialogue was positive, constructive, and that there was ample mutual respect between everyone who participated. I really enjoyed the show, and I hope that the listeners also got some understanding of my atheistic worldview.

My thoughts on the show: I think I made a good point about the sacrifice of Jesus, how it (and all sacrifice) is morally wrong, and how two wrongs don’t make a right. In other words, having an innocent person such as Jesus or a six-year-old girl serve punishment for the crimes of another, especially by being killed on a cross, is never right. I conceded to Gene that a parent might want to sacrifice himself in favor of their child being punished for a crime, but I noted, and maintain, that it would not be just in either case, and any impartial observer (like the rest of society) would surely not agree that justice has been served when a parent serves the punishment of a murdering child, allowing the child to walk the streets free and forgiven.

Undoubtedly, the Hitler reference was brought up. While the kind Christian caller Dustin said that my moral position and arguments were a breath of fresh air (thanks!), he insisted that I could not get from an objective observation of reality (like Hitler’s genocidal campaign) and determine that it is against objective moral values.

I kept coming back to the value of life, and I think that’s what all these questions were reducible to: Why, as an atheist, should I value life? After the mid-show break, I stated that the question of “why should I value life?” was just as much a problem for a Christian as it is for an atheist in that there is no more reason to follow God’s word than there is to follow natural law based on reality and causality. Gene is a good radio host, and is good at making it seem like he adequately answered my question, but he only managed to push the question back one level, and I tried to point that out as well. Allow me to paraphrase:

Aaron: Why do you value life?
Gene: Because God tells us to.
Aaron: But you’re only pushing the question back one level. Why do you care if God tells you to?
Gene: Because he says that life is good and following his rules is good.
Aaron: But why do you want to follow his rules?
Gene: Because of the punishment he has in store for us if we don’t.
Aaron: But why do you care if you get punished? Why do you avoid punishment?
(From here the question will repeatedly get pushed back unless the Christian admits that they want to follow God’s rule for the same reason I want to follow objective values based on natural law: we both innately want to sustain our consciousnesses and allow them to thrive due to our evolutionary programming).

I think it’s clear by now that the problem they claim belongs to my worldview (that I can’t account for objective values) actually is a problem for their worldview! During the entire show I didn’t hear a sufficient answer for my question: Why does the Christian want to follow God’s rule and avoid punishment from God? Their only answer is to push it back one level.

Now as for me accounting for my values, I was able to mention evolutionary programming, and I said that an “ought” may not even have to come into the picture, because life itself (the definition of life that transcends any given species) wants to sustain, spread, and thrive. Therefore my worldview can account for objective values because of the evolutionary programming. In some ways, it might even be considered a materialistic, evolutionary “presupposition,” and if this is true, then it would be obvious that the Christians are borrowing from my worldview (the evolutionary programming) to justify their desire to value life, God’s law, and not getting cast into hell when they die.

Now remember folks, this was Gene’s show, and Gene is a pastor. That means that I’m on the Christian turf. I will not be getting the last word here, and I didn’t. Gene ended the show with a strawman, and it was basically along the lines of “an atheist can’t account for values or the desire to live, but a Christian can through God’s word, through his love for us, and through the desire to follow his rules.” But as you can all see, I have just demonstrated that it is the materialistic atheist who can account for the desire to live, and it is the Christian who “borrows capital” from the materialistic atheist’s worldview by using their built-in evolutionary programming every time they say that it’s a good thing to follow God’s law and avoid his wrath.

If anyone wants a copy of the show, register for free at Gene’s website Unchained Radio within the next week as it will be available for free download for a week. Alternatively, you can request it from me here in the comments section, and I will see what I can do. If anyone comments about the show, or criticisms of my arguments, etc… Feel free to post them here!

Crossposted at Kill The Afterlife.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the MP3.

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At 9/19/2005 1:05 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

I want to answer to the point about life, which apparently is the only one Aaron wasn't able to answer head-on, although his Q&A about the incapacity of Christians to validate their belief in "the value of life" is very good.

Basically, there is no such thing as "the value of life". Life is a prerequisite for ANY discussion of value or morality. We can no more ask why we value life (or death) than we can ask why we use logic. We have no choice but to use logic and we have no choice but to be alive. There is no such thing as "being dead", and there is no "choice", therefore no value and no moral judgment, attached to life.

The Christian, on the other hand, is stuck with life as a choice, because he believes there is more than biological life. So why does the Christian "choose life" (i.e. to be alive) ? It is because of the afterlife belief itself that the Christian is stuck with an intractable problem. He cannot use the same standard as he believes in an afterlife, and whatever theistic standard he uses to validate it has to be circular, because all theistic standards are circular (validity of the Bible, personal revelation, personal experience, evidential theology).

So the answer to Cook's boast is simple : there is no "value of life", for us life is an absolute, and for you life is a standard you cannot justify. Christianity is a bankrupt moral belief system, just like it is a bankrupt epistemic belief system, a bankrupt ontological belief system, and a bankrupt spiritual belief system.

At 9/19/2005 4:18 PM, Blogger Brandon declaimed...

I didn't know who to contact here so I'm doing it here. The cast and crew over at The Coalition For a Republican-Free America (note hyphen)has been asking permission to link up with a number of blogs. You're on the list. If we have permission please send us a confirmation. You know the routine. Thanks much


At 9/19/2005 5:50 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Republican-Free America ? Well that would be great. But that would mean the liberal statists could take over without fear of opposition, so I don't know if I want to support that.

Instead of supporting what one does not want, it's better to support what you do want.

At 9/20/2005 1:57 PM, Blogger Frank Walton declaimed...

My random thoughts on the discussion:

Your definition of morality being the cause of unnecessary harm or pain to a society’s dictum of sustaining life begs the question. There was hardly a moment where you really gave a reply to Dustin.

You answered questions repetitively and there were times where you didn’t even answer questions (for instance, the evolution and cannibal question and "the ‘facts’ of reality")!

Your mentioning how life is not dependent on the "after-life" was probably your strongest point because you finally had some justification.

You were thinking things through as you were articulating them in your replies. Your articulation consisted of pauses, and jumbling of lines. Meaning it didn’t seem you thought these things through previously before the show.

Clayton and object reality (and values) was just plain bad. You couldn’t quite answer the question of "why should I value surviving?"

The most I can say about your discussion here is that you at least replied. However, I don't think any enquirers would be convinced of atheism after listening to your discussion.

But, you had guts going on the show and you were honest and downright friendly.

At 9/20/2005 7:50 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Thanx for the honest criticism Frank.

Yes, I was having trouble articulating some of the ideas I was trying to get across. But I have already learned quite a bit after my encounter with Gene.

I was being repetitive because the Christians were asking the same question in different examples or analogies.

"why is hitler wrong?"
"why is cannibalism wrong?"
"why is suicide wrong?"

No I dont think anyone would be convinced of atheism either after listening to my appearance on the show. But Im hoping that some listeners would see my argument that the Christian is just as susceptible to the "why value life?" question as I am.

I dont know if youll ever visit these comments again, Frank, but if you do, I would appreciate your thoughts on my argument that the Christian cannot account for a reason to follow Gods laws anymore than an atheist can account for following a godless moral standard.

In other words, both the Christian and the atheist use rational self-interest as a foundation for their moral code. The Christian only follows Gods rules out of fear of harm to himself if he disobeys, and the atheist follows a moral standard due to the recognizing that it will further his own rational self-interest.

In other words, the Christian borrows from the objectivist worldview of rational self-interest. :)

At 9/20/2005 7:56 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Your mentioning how life is not dependent on the "after-life" was probably your strongest point because you finally had some justification.

Funny, I thought that mentioning the non-existence of the afterlife was something I should avoid because a Christian would reject my claim that there is no afterlife.

You were thinking things through as you were articulating them in your replies. Your articulation consisted of pauses, and jumbling of lines. Meaning it didn’t seem you thought these things through previously before the show.

True. Well I tried my best to have my position and thoughts on atheism as thought through as I could beforehand, but I didnt expect the show to focus almost exclusively on accounting for a moral standard. Dustin called in an brought up objectivism and the show remained on the topic of my accounting of morality for the whole show.

It was my first appearance on a Christian radio show, while Gene and Dustin seem more used to asking moral questions. In addition, it was obvious that Gene could not account for the reason to follow Gods word either. He only pushed back the question. He assumed a value in following Gods word the same way I assumed a value in sustaining and promoting life.



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