Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Walking through the Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro Dilemma is a classic argument against the possibility that God is the source of Biblical morality. This argument demonstrates that Christians are either forced to accept "divine command" morality, which I will define shortly, or have no moral basis whatsoever.

The dilemma is as follows:
A. Is something good simply because God commands it?
B. Does God command something because it is good?

If B, God commands something because it is good, then God is not the source of morality; he is merely the messenger. Granted, he may be the only vessel through which we could have access to this information, but most Christians aren’t happy with this. They want God to be the foundation of morality, not simply the delivery man.

If A, something is good simply because God commands it, then “good” simply means “it’s what God said to do”. Telling someone, “You ought to do X” means nothing more than, “God told you to do X.”

Now some Christians are actually quite happy with this definition of morality (e.g. William Craig), and they’ve called it “Divine Command Theory”, where “what I ought to do” is “what God tells me to do”. And believe it or not, I, as an atheist, am perfectly content with Christians who define morality this way; it makes perfect sense. After all, if you don’t do what God says, you’re going to go to Hell, right? So if you don’t want to go to Hell, then you ought to follow God’s commands.

This is a very simple chain of reasoning that we use every day: “If I don’t want to experience X, I ought not do Y, because Y causes X.” For example, if I want to avoid injury, I ought not run into traffic, because running into traffic usually causes injury.” There's nothing wrong with applying this thought process to God and Hell, and I think it's a very honest thing for Christians to do, although it IS a tacit admission that Christianity isn't so much a "moral" system as it is a celestial North Korea.

But not all Christians are content with this definition of morality: they want the word “moral” to be special; they want it to means something greater than simply serving your own interests, and because of this, many Christians reject option A as well as option B, and instead try to offer a third option: “Morality is based on God’s nature, not his commands or something other than himself. For example, God cannot lie, so lying is immoral.”

This seems to have split the horns of the dilemma, as it makes no appeal to God’s commands or to something that is not God. But actually, this just puts the dilemma into different terms:

A. Does God control his nature?
B. Is God’s nature determined by something else?

If A, God controls his own nature, then “good” simply means, “whatever God decided to say was good”. God is using his nature as a “middle man” to convey his statements about morality. God could have made anything good because he picked his own nature. This situation has the same net result as if “good” simply meant, “that which God commands”. It’s all down to God’s choices: those are what set the standard.

If B, God’s nature is determined by something else, then, once again, God is not the source of morality, he is merely the messenger, except this time instead of delivering a paper letter, he’s been born with a birthmark that is the text of the letter. God is still not the cause of the message.

So like I said, splitting the horns of the dilemma does not save God from it: this merely puts the dilemma into different terms.

 But, ever the optimists, there’s one more answer I’ve heard from Christians for the second dilemma above: “God’s nature is necessarily the way it is. E.g. it is necessary that God cannot lie.”

And here's where we reach the dead end of the line. 
The problem with this answer is that the word “necessary” cannot be used on its own; saying that X is “necessary” requires something that is doing the necessitating: God’s nature is necessary… for what? I’ve never been presented with a reason why God’s nature has to be the way it is and couldn’t be any other way.

One possible answer is that “God’s nature is the way it is because otherwise he would not be God, by definition.” Of course, we can all see that this is now appealing to the Ontological Argument, which I don’t think I need to spend time debunking here.

And this is where the moral train stops: this is where God is forced to get off because he doesn't have a ticket. It was a good forgery, it took him pretty far, and some conductors even accepted it, but ultimately, it didn't convince most Christians. Maybe next time.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Godless Music

     We live in a world where Christian music is easy to find. Christian pop, Christian rock, Christian hip-hop, and yes, Christian black metal are all genres that millions of people listen to and that, more importantly, usually donate a healthy portion of their profits back to their Jesus-praisin' organization of choice. Don't be mistaken: these are not the only Christian subgenres. If it's a checkbox in the iTunes store, there is almost certainly a Christian spinoff of it. No matter the genre, there is always an otherwise solid artist who's willing to stop producing wonderful heartfelt music and start singing about the grace of Our Lord. Because nothing goes together like hour-long drumset jam sessions and praising Christ.

 These gentlemen are clearly very adept at spreading the Good News.

     It shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's ever seen a mega-church service, but a lot of Christian organizations enjoy spending their money on over-the-top worship music for their services. Nothing puts a crowd in a praisin' frenzy like some cheesy guitar riffs laid over a distorted, tone-deaf synth. And churches know how to make music fun, too. As long as there's a captive audience, such as a group of several hundred Christians who are all ready to sing about Jesus for hours on end, there will always be incubators for Christian music groups.

     And the profits are real: the Christian music industry includes hundreds of active bands and is a multi-million dollar business. These bands play for sold-out shows at major venues, and go on world tours...all while spending most or all of their time onstage wasting what little musical talent they have on lyrics about how Jesus is just alright. Can you tell this is something I'm just a little mad about?

     But where is all the atheist music? Where are the atheist music festivals? Where are the godless artists who obviously should have a lot in common with the core tenets of most contemporary music–sticking it to The Man, disobeying authority, profound promiscuity, and all those other fabulous anti-Christian values? Well, don't be afraid, dear reader: atheist music is out there (seriously, that is a long list. Read it, and you'll find a few artists you might be surprised by). There's probably even an atheist artist active in your genre of choice! While it's true that not all atheist musicians have as few shoes as the esteemed Tim Minchin, there are atheist groups, right now, making stuff all the way from uninspired, overproduced hip-hop (I'm kidding, please don't hurt me, Mr. Okonma) to the finest of grindcore/death metal crossover songs.

     While there are undeniably fewer atheist musicians than Christian ones, I have no doubt that, just as atheism's influence in pop culture increases, so too will our presence in the music industry. After all, rock'n'roll was founded by people who believed in breaking the rules and being your own person, not raising your voice in praise of Him. In the meantime, dear reader, I suggest you do your own part to ensure that atheist musicians are happy and they can afford to buy food: purchase their music! While it's true that I myself pirate music every single day spend far more money on music than the average consumer, it's also a point of pride of mine to actually fork over money for music I love. While the downfall of the Christian musician is already in progress, it gives me deep satisfaction to contribute to that downfall, personally. So let's all do our part–there are atheist artists out there right now, making excellent music, and it's our job to listen to them.