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Response to mophosophical review of Martin/Meddings debate

January 11, 2013

Late last year I debated atheist Jonathan Meddings on the topic, ‘Is Christianity a force for Good in the world?’ You can see the videos of the debate here.

Like any good debate it stimulated a lot of interest and I stumbled across a review of the debate at a blog mophosophical here. I did respond to a number of the claims made in this blog post by posting a comment, but it appears the blogger never approved the comments and failed to engage in any discussion of the issues raised. This is quite disappointing. So I thought I’d respond to the claims made by posting them here.

Unfortunately I never saved my original comments. Yet, I’ve responded to some of the claims made by mophosophical below here. Unfortunately the blogger has made a number of confusions and conflations which misunderstand my arguments.

1. Defending ‘corrupt Christianity’. This is not an example of the no-true Scotsman fallacy because I didn’t redefine ‘Christianity to mean only those he personally approves of and excluding the rest’. I made it very clear that the Bible is the test for determining true Christianity. Jesus himself was critical of hypocrites – those whose actions didn’t match their words. Why should I defend hypocrites?

2. Human corruption is different to corrupt Christianity. Human corruption is the term I used to describe the human condition. Corrupt Christianity is different in that it is the perversion of the Christian ideal. The human condition is the thing that describes all of us, the thing the Bible describes as ‘sin’. The reason that the is corrupt Christianity is because there is human corruption – humans have an inclination towards evil – as Christopher Hitchens stated so categorically. Does the blogger deny Hitchen’s assessment? I would suggest that the Christian message does solve the human corruption, but corruption will remain in this world until the future, where corruption will finally end.

3. African Christian good. Yes, I did mention how great Christianity was in Africa. In fact, I quoted an atheist Matthew Parris, who was referring to Protestant Christianity (not Catholicism). I also said that I wasn’t planning on defending the Catholic church. I’m not a Catholic and I believe the church gets a number of issues, particularly sexuality, wrong. So I think it’s a little unfair to try to hold me to account for the church’s opposition to condom use, which I wasn’t claiming, nor never would claim.

4. Confusion over the ‘good’. Unfortunately the blogger has confused two important but distinct moral categories. Moral epistemology i.e. moral knowledge – how I know morality and moral ontology i.e. moral reality – if there is really such thing as morality. I never claimed that atheists are devoid of morals. Atheists are very clearly able to determine right from wrong, but this is the category of moral epistemology NOT moral ontology. The difficulty in the atheist world is that there can be NO absolute moral ontology. Morality becomes subjective, which means that ultimately there can be no right or wrong (as I said). The blogger makes a reference to the Euthyphro dilemma, which I’ve written about here. Morality cannot be based on human reasoning, because who is to say that humans are right? In my first rebuttal I quoted atheist Jean-Paul Sartre who said with reference to the atheist universe: “There can no longer be any good, a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.”  The interesting observation is that the strong moral sentiments of atheists (i.e. their passionate moral epistemology) would suggest that a moral ontology exists and would be indirect evidence for the existence of God!

5. Women. Yes, I maintain that the Christian message affirmed the absolute equality of women. I maintain that men and women have different roles, but that they are equal. This was very different to Aristotle, who said that men and women were different ‘by nature’. The insinuation from the quotation is that men and women aren’t really equal. If that is the case, how does it explain the historical attraction of Christianity by women (with the evidence I outlined in my address). Is the blogger suggesting that women are gullible?

6. Humanistic progress? The final comments by the blogger are interesting. “It is secular thinking, reasoning, and humanist values that has dragged moral progress forward, despite religion kicking and screaming the whole way. The best that Christianity can claim is that it is only decades behind the wave of moral progress, rather than centuries as for other religions.” Can he quote a major philosopher to back this claim up? Demonstrate this claim rather than merely asserting it?

Jürgen Habermas one of Europe’s most prominent philosophers today and a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  Yet he highlights the inescapable historical fact that the biblical faith has had a profound influence in shaping civilization. He suggests that it was Christianity which has shaped modernity, not merely being a precursor or catalyst. Ideas such as ‘freedom’, ‘social solidarity’, ‘autonomous conduct of life’, ‘the individual morality of conscience’ ‘human rights’ ‘democracy’, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. These things are the direct result of Christianity. He concludes by saying, “ Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”

I think Habermas is saying that secular thinking reasoning and humanist values come from a distinctively Christian way of viewing the world! In this case, I think he’s effectively admitted that Christianity is indeed a force for good in the world.

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