Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Carrots and Sticks

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

I had intended my next post in our diablogue to explain, as best I could, what I believe about ethics and morality, and I had also intended to wait until Ernie had replied to my last post. However, I think I have something better.

One blog that I read with some irregularity is Daylight Atheism. About a month ago there was a series of posts titled "The Roots of Morality". I only came across it last week, and in fact I have only begun to read it. But the posts are, apparently, a further development of an earlier article written by the same author on his website Ebon Musings, titled The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick. This latter article at least is quite relevant to the last few posts that Ernie and I have exchanged.

In this article, the author ("Ebonmuse") builds up to a universal and objective morality that lacks any reference to a divine reference point. He (or she) addresses the three legs of Ernie's ethical trilemma along the lines that I have suggested: by making belief in truth instrumentally but not inherently good and then seeking resolution to the apparent tension between self and others.

I am unlikely to write anything of remotely comparable quality. Ebonmuse has included at least the vast majority of my thoughts on the subject and developed them far more completely than I have. So I commend this article to your attention, and I thank Ebonmuse for writing it.


Travis Kopp said...

My name is Travis. For the last couple of days I've been reading some of your diaologue. I find it interesting although a little drawn out by now.
I wanted to make a comment to Alan: Your original objection to Christianity seems to be that people are damned for not believing unconvincing propositions. But really people are not damned or saved simply on the basis of believing propositions, rather people are damned for rejecting God as they may know Him.
Christianity, as I understand it, claims something along the lines that if a person:
1. Earnestly seeks God from their heart.
2. Repents of their sin.
3. Accepts the freely given forgivenness of God.
They will be saved and come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
As Paul writes in regard to universal sin:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to him,"
This is just and right, although perhaps not obviously so.
You also seem to wonder how we can know these things. I would propose the way to do this is to follow steps 1-3 above, for Jesus himself says,
"I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to little children;"
I am willing to write more about this or other of my thoughts if you would like.
- Travis Kopp

Alan Lund said...


Thanks for stopping by.

There are, perhaps, a variety of ways that the process of salvation could be described. Several well-known verses (John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 come to mind) describe belief as the foundation. Your formulation, while not explicitly mentioning belief, still rests on belief. That is, why should I believe that the steps you suggest lead to God and salvation? Appeals to the Bible as the source of truth merely begs the question, why should I believe what the Bible says? Although it was only referenced but not specifically included in this diablogue, I have previously written about various aspects of the Bible that support the notion that the Bible is a flawed product of man, sometimes merely mistaken, sometimes purposefully dishonest.

Your proposed solution seems to be to assume that the conclusion is true. Assume God exists. Assume what the Bible says is true. Once you make those assumptions, everything else follows. But why those assumptions and not others? Why not assume the Koran is true and that Allah is God? Why not any of the other thousands of gods that have been worshipped by people around the world and over the millenia?

With so much riding on the answer, we might expect God (assuming for the moment that he exists) to make the true nature of our situation abundantly clear. But this is not so, despite the claims of Romans 1. I started out believing. I stopped because the evidence simply could not (in my view) support those beliefs, and the rationalizations offered by Christians are simply insufficient.

Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Travis,
Thanks for stopping by. I covet your prayers, and hope that if you stick around you will find the answers to your -- and Alan's -- questions.
-- Dr. Ernie

Travis Kopp said...

I've posted a response here, although it's not a great space since you have to be a member to leave a comment, but perhaps it will work for now.
- Travis