Drawn by Alena Vauter…
I’ve been waiting patiently to meet Christopher Hitchens and finally got the chance on October 2, 2010 at the Scranton Pages and Places Book Festival.
I was quite impressed that Hitchens honored his appearance in Scranton, had a book signing, and participated in the “Authors of Argument” discussion. Hitchens was forced to cancel many appearances due to his cancer complications, but still came to NEPA.
He signed three of my books, agreed to take a picture with me, and we chatted about the nativity scene controversy at the Luzerne County Courthouse along with some other topics such as Mother Teresa, Joseph Ratzinger, and Bill Donahue. I showed him the front page of the Times Leader with me on the bottom fold of the paper and Skrepenak on the top fold. Hitchens said, “The people should read their constitutions” and was laughing when I told him about my hate mail and the corruption in the county. He advised me to not let people get “a head up on me.”
A teacher of mine attended the event with me. He had a short chat with Hitchens about Christmas to which Hitchens replied with something similar to, “If you want a state of affairs where everyone is singing the same songs all month, you can go to North fucking Korea.”
Talking one-on-one with Hitchens was certainly invigorating, surreal, and very exciting. Hitchens has contributed a great deal to “modern atheism” and the intellectual life in general. Love him or hate him, Hitchens is a very intelligent and passionate individual who won’t back down, isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and won’t let his cancer stop him, either.
Hitchens was very funny, happy, nice, and excited. During the “Authors of Argument” discussion, Hitchens was as sharp as ever and was sure to rail against Mother Teresa as usual. :) His intellect and wit has certainly not diminished.
This post is a slightly updated version of an essay I submitted for a philosophy class in my third year of college.
In the Euthyphro dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss piety and morals. The central issue uttered by Socrates is, “The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is loved by the gods” (Euthyphro 9). Other issues arising from the dialogue concern determining how to distinguish from right and wrong and how to account for the origins of morality. If believers in benevolent deities adhere to a certain religious moral code, it should be important to understand this moral code and have a response to the central issue in this dialogue. Non-believers and believers should also be able to understand and account for naturalistic origins of morality.
Euthyphro presents himself as a very knowledgeable individual in regards to the nature of piety and the gods, so Socrates proceeds to question in order to achieve understanding. Euthyphro says, “Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them” (Euthyphro 5). Socrates notes that the gods have quarrels and different opinions (Euthyphro 6), but Euthyphro counters and says that the gods have agreed on certain matters and agree that injustice should be punished (Euthyphro 7).
Eventually, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the central issue in the dialogue. Euthyphro doesn’t understand the distinction that Socrates makes, but Socrates elaborates so that Euthyphro can understand. Euthyphro says that piety is loved by all the gods because it is holy, but Socrates says that “the holy has been acknowledged by us to be loved of God because it is holy, not to be holy because it is loved” (Euthyphro 10).
Using a god or gods for the sole basis of morality is very problematic for several reasons. Who or what determines that the gods are moral? The gods simply declare what is moral and what is not moral without any standards or external judges. If there is no guideline outside of what the gods determine is moral, morality may be designated by the gods. With no guidelines for morality, the gods can declare certain actions like rape and murder to be morally acceptable in any given situation…and this obviously can’t be the case.
If what is willed by the gods is willed because it is good (not because the gods decided that it is good), then the good is independent of what the gods determine and the gods did not establish what is good; morality is clearly grounded apart from the gods. If the gods, for example, endorse charitable giving because it is good, we learn that the good actions are good regardless of what the gods have endorsed.
Some modern-day and past apologists assert that God would never or could never endorse something like rape, but this means that there is some sort of standard that limits God that can be viewed as external, thus we need not evoke a deity in the moral realm. Others may assert that God’s character is what makes God’s commands moral, but this backs the dilemma up a step and forces the theist to consider “Is an action justified because God’s character endorses/is in line with the action or is an action ethically justified because it is endorsed/is in line with God’s character?”
Another main problem is how we can even establish, in the first place, that a god is good or, in the case of many theists, that a god is omni-benevolent. When we consider whether a person is moral or not or, in the case of god, whether a god is moral or omni-benevolent, one would, I would wager, look at the actions and inactions, in many cases, of a being. What examples, exactly, do we have to draw from to establish that god is good? With threats such as the problem of evil or specific religious passages in which gods endorse abominable actions, it’s quite hard to establish this.
Some theists will assert that God, by definition, is omni-benevolent because he is the greatest conceivable being, but where does this get us? I can assert that a gooblegoop exists and is, by definition, an omni-benevolent being, but this, simply like asserting things about a god, makes no progress to establish a conclusion. Why, also, must the greatest conceivable being be all-good? Is not a ‘greatest conceivable being’ subjective from person to person and how can we objectively declare what a greatest conceivable being is? I can formulate a very good argument, for example, that the greatest conceivable being is actually a being which interferes least in human affairs and designed the universe in such a way that humans would only die to old age, violence, and accidents. I could posit that such a being might be simply good, loving, and very intelligent, but not maximally so and perhaps this would be best because if an omni-God existed and humans knew this, bad consequences would follow (I don’t necessarily agree with this, but am simply positing it here for sake of argument although many theists actually do argue that bad consequences would follow if God frequently intervened in human affairs and revealed himself unequivocally).
Humans are social animals who need to work together to some basic degree in order to have a society. Although survival of society is by no means the only consideration for morality, this is a good explanation for how morality came to be. We treat others how we would like to be treated when we arrive at the conclusion that other humans have basic desires such as we have like need for shelter, security, privacy, stability, etc. At a very basic level, people refrain from being immoral because they want to avoid punishment and maintain a good reputation. It is possible to account for a naturalistic morality separate from what the gods declare to be moral or immoral.
Morality is informed by human knowledge, research, philosophy, evolution, basic intuitions, and societal rules. Over time, some actions previously considered acceptable such as slavery and stoning adulterous women have been abolished because of our increased understanding and empathy toward others. In the case of slavery, the god of the Old Testament explained rules for owning other beings. Today, whether or not people believe in any gods, we can look at these passages with horror and come to the conclusion that owning other humans beings is morally wrong. We can judge the rules that are said to come from the Christian god and view them as morally repugnant.
Reflecting on the Euthyphro dialogue reveals that morality can be had independent of what the gods say. If we agree with what the gods say is moral, the decision of the gods is arbitrary and the gods are just endorsing what we already know. Regardless of whether or not any gods exist, we can deliberate and come to conclusions about moral issues and even revise our moral zeitgeist when our current state of knowledge advances. With morality declared by the gods, this doesn’t seem to be the case because the questions have already been answered and the word of the gods is supposed to be final. Morality is determined independent of the gods and humans can come to conclusions without divine declarations.
“Euthyphro.” MIT.edu, 2009. Web. 25 Sep 2010.
I love hate mail from King’s College students. It’s great for blog fodder, entertainment, and proves many of my points that I put forth in my blog posts. Instead of actually responding to arguments, some people will just levy personal attacks [and ignore what I say].
I find it funny that people say “no one is impressed when you have a blog” when I constantly have people commenting and discussing my posts saying things like “great job,” “you write really well,” etc. I’m not huge by any means, but my blog is getting a huge amount of traffic and it’s quite fun. I enjoy writing and I enjoy having others interact with my ideas. People obviously are impressed by my blog.
I find it funny that people think I am arrogant when I constantly post things like “I’ll change any and all of my beliefs provided new evidence and argument comes in.” I hate the notion of absolute certainty and would never say that I am absolutely certain on anything. I always welcome people to disagree with me.
I still enjoy the argument of “it doesn’t hurt anyone” being a justification to leave things alone. Many violations of the law certainly don’t physically harm anyone, but are violations regardless. Should we leave things alone just because no one is harmed? I think not. Separation of church and state is a very important issue that people should support.
I do wear my accomplishments as badges of honor; my actions made a difference in this community and I was able to voice my opinion in a very public forum. I endured the criticism, wasn’t wavered by the threats, and didn’t shut up.
I don’t expect anyone to care whether or not I call in the Corbett show. I enjoy the radio show and like participating in discussion.
I’m not sure what the Atheist tonight show is…
I do enjoy the publicity and attention. It’s nice to be heard. Publicity doesn’t drive my actions, though. I stand up for just causes and fight for what is right regardless of what other people think. I ask questions, challenge that which is supposed to be unchallengeable, and make people think.
I’m not harming anyone by any means…I’m simply asking questions and trying to make a difference in this world. People are thinking. People are reading arguments that they haven’t heard before. More people are becoming non-religious. People are coming out of the “atheist closet” and are making a difference. The tides are turning.
The purpose of this blog is to clear up common misconceptions about commonly held beliefs (religious and others) to make people think, sharpen critical thinking skills, and for me to keep a log of my thoughts. Even moderate theists enjoy my blog. If they disagree, they can post (hopefully good arguments) and we can discuss the issues at hand. People can also read what I have to say and might possibly reconsider opinions.
Constitution Day Announcement [Wilkes University]
Come celebrate the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day, Friday, September 17! Join Dr. Kyle Kreider and local attorney Don Brobst as they discuss “The First Amendment, Religion, and Luzerne County: The Constitutionality of Holiday Displays on Courthouse Grounds.” Mr. Brobst will be speaking about the Establishment Clause and the recent First Amendment squabble over the nativity scene located on courthouse property. The talk will be from 1:00 pm to 1:50 pm in the Ballroom (Student Center). If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Kyle L. Kreider at email@example.com or by calling x4473.
Published On: 9/14/2010