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Tektonics Apologetics Ministry
The Adarwinist reader
Bede's Library: the Alliance of Faith and Reason
A Christian Thinktank
Doxa:Christian theology and apologetics
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Errant Skeptics Research Institute
Stephen Jones' CreationEvolutionDesign
Touchstone: a journal of mere Christianity: mere comments
The Secularist Critique: Deconstructing secularism
Ex-atheist.com: I Wasn't Born Again Yesterday
imago veritatis by Alan Myatt
Solid Rock Ministries
The Internet Monk: a webjournal by Michael Spencer
The Sydney Line: the website of Keith Windschuttle
Miranda Devine's writings in the Sydney Morning Herald
David Horowitz frontpage magazine
Thoughts of a 21st century Christian Philosopher
Steven Lovell's philosophical themes from C.S.Lewis
Peter S. Williams Christian philosophy and apologetics
Shandon L. Guthrie
Clayton Cramer's Blog
Andrew Bolt columns
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Subjectivism and the argument from moral outrage
The argument from moral outrage (or indignation) has become a cornerstone of most atheistic polemic against The God revealed in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. I have yet to see this argument employed against those popular gods of atheist rhetoric, the bloodthirsty and much approved “Norse Gods”, the capricious pantheon of Graeco-Roman gods, or against any of the other “gods” so frequently invoked in the ongoing war against Yahweh, such as the invisible pink unicorn, the Santa god, the tooth fairy, let alone against such blood lusting deities as Dagon or Baal.
Of equal interest is the source of this moral outrage that self-described relativists and subjectivists unleash upon the supposed actions of Yahweh in certain incidents portrayed in the Old Testament. On what grounds can someone who espouses subjectivism sit in judgment over others let alone over the actions of the creator of the universe?
When queried on this many atheists seem to go off on a tangent often attempting to avoid answering this question by means of deflecting the burden of proof away form those to who it originally fell - themselves. I am sure atheists have some serious and valid matters to raise on a host of issuesI am often surprised by attempts to avoid explicating the basis for one’s moral outrage and absolutism concerning the actions of God in the OT.
One can spend a lot of time interacting with atheists without encountering any who espouse an objective morality. Subjectivism and relativism are the preferred positions vis a vis morality and ethics that one encounters from atheists in most Internet forums. However it is not accurate picture of the attitudes of all atheists regarding such matters.
“Objectivism (in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics) - the idea that reality exists outside of the mind and that existents retain their identity no matter what human beings or other conscious creatures think or feel about it… While the most fundamental objectivism is metaphysical (with important corollaries in epistemology), it is not uncommon to speak of moral objectivism (the idea that there are objective standards in ethical matters).” the Ism Book
Objectivism is a very respectable philosophical position that is held even by many non-theists. Many atheists fully accepted the notion of objective morality independent of the individual, a point that few of their fellow atheists on such forums see fit to address or to challenge, which speaks volumes for the specious nature of their own unexamined relativism/subjectivism. It is also a point that many Christians seem to be unaware of, when they claim that without God one has no basis for moral behaviour. There is even a particular objectivist and atheistic philosophical system founded by Ayn Rand known as Objectivism. All Objectivists are moral objectivists, but not all moral objectivists are Objectivists. Rand’s Objectivism boldly proclaims the truth that lurks behind all atheism, that it is a secular religion without God but with plenty of its own idols to worship.
But I also think that Christians have a legitimate point when they question the consistency and validity of arguing for objective morality when one denies the existence of a supreme Lawgiver. Even though reason and nature are appealed to as a basis for non-theistic objective moral standards, a lot of rank and file atheists avoid doing the hard yards on this issue and take the easy way out by opting for the dubious security of subjectivism - but these are topics for another blog…
Objectivist atheists are to be commended for there sensible and logical support for the concept of objective morality. Really, as sane and intelligent people, they have no other option. To refuse to recognise an objective reality - including an objective moral reality - is to subscribe to, what has been presciently characterised as “a sort of spoiled-brat individualism”, a form of irrationalism that ultimately degenerates into solipsism. The committed subjectivist cuts off his nose to spite his face and is in danger of losing touch with reality.
Subjectivists have to find a way out of this conundrum and they usually resort to the time-honoured and very human approach familiar to us all, that of holding their professed views inconsistently. Thus one can find examples of relativists/subjectivists on this thread, elsewhere in this forum, and across the Net making all sorts of absolutist moral pronouncements about the evils of slavery, the evils of the Holocaust and the bombing of Dresden, the evils of the Inquisition or the killing of Amakelites and so on and on, as if their personal opinions and feelings had some objective worth that others should be mindful of them.
Subjectivism, while it may be a populist position among a certain members of the chattering classes is really a non-position - a knee-jerk reactive “stance” rather than a considered and reflective position. Philosophically speaking the idea of subjectivism, while having a long tradition of advocates, has nevertheless had a troubled history because of its inherent negative connotations of emotionalism, irrationalism and solipsism. Many atheists rather foolishly seem to adopt postmodern relativism or subjectivism purely as a reaction against Christianity and what they perceive as its rigid absolutist objective morality. This is folly because more thoughtful and sensible atheists embrace concepts of objective reality and morality just as theists do. The reason is obvious if one stops and thinks about it. If subjectivist atheists were consistent and logical in their subjectivism then it would indeed entail a retreat to the cloud cuckoo land of solipsism, but because they retain some realization of the bankruptcy of this ideology they try the old smoke and mirrors tactic of claiming for themselves the high moral ground, while at the same time denying that any high moral ground actually exists outside of their own imaginations. In other words, they try to have it both ways simultaneously affirming and denying concepts as part of their polemic.
The problem is, if there was no objective morality, there can be no genuine and meaningful concern about human rights, about environmental protection, about law, about racial equality, about justice, about fairness, about equity, about truth and much more besides. Without an acceptance of objective values that stand outside, over and above the individual or the group, meaningful discourse lapses and life becomes fraught with unbearable complexity and difficulty. Human societies would descend into chaos and anarchy if all criteria for judgment, discernment, and critical evaluation become mired in conflicting personal opinions and feelings. Modern science itself could not exist in such a subjectivist universe for reality must exist “out there” for scientists to study. The notion of materialists espousing subjectivity as a worldview is thus particularly ironic. The image of “logical”, “reasonable”, “scientific rationalists” embracing politically correct postmodern notions of relativism and subjectivism is a surely a warning of trouble in the modernist scientific worldview.
Unless reality is objective, we could not communicate anything meaningful about it to anyone else. It follows that if one believes one can say something meaningful about God or morality, one way or the other, this necessarily implies that God or morality must have a meaningful objective reality. To say something meaningful about a non-existent, purely subjective God is an exercise in futility; it is to talk nonsense. Yet it is just such an exercise in futility that fires the polemic of scores of atheist debunkers. While it is more honest to argue the so-called “strong” stance against “the God who is not there” , to pursue the wishy-washy “weak” cop out about the “meaninglessness” and “irrelevancy” of a god concept is irrational. One cannot argue “meaningfully” about something that is “meaningless”, yet we have unlimited numbers of such atheists clamoring to do just that.