Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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Fisking the chieftain of the atheist village

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28 minutes to read An exchange with an atheist whose confidence is inversely proportional to his competence on the topics of sex, ethics and evolution.

This is an abridged version of a Facebook exchange with a village atheist named Chris Noldus. I’ll start with the usual exchange format, but after a while I’m going to stop reposting Chris’s comments and only include my half of the discussion—much of what he says is simply very repetitious, and this post would become dreary if I quoted everything in full. The Dunning-Kruger effect is in full force. You can view the original discussion here to check that I’m quoting Chris fairly and in good faith.

This debate evolved out of a discussion of sexual ethics; Chris’s original comment was in response to a share of Adam4d’s comic “If you’re gay, I want you to know that I don’t hate you”:

Chris Noldus The Christian viewpoint is that gay people can’t get married, and sexual behaviour outside of marriage is a sin, which means that the Christian view is that anyone who is homosexual must be denied the right to have sexual activity. They can’t even have a heterosexual marriage because any such marriage would be a sham and also sinful.

Such a view acts to segregate a section of society by denying them the rights afforded to everyone else (in this case the right to engage in lawful consentual sex). This is the very definition of discrimination.

The OP cartoon, points out that we are all sinners, but also specifically casts a light on homosexuality with the clear intent of illustrating that a person that is homosexual is a sinner by virtue of their sexuality.

Obviously there’s a lot we could say here, including about how this hardly singles out homosexuals—in fact, Christianity denies anyone the “right” to sexual activity outside of marriage. But I chose to narrow my focus:

Bnonn Tennant I am both amazed and completely unsurprised that you think sex is a right. How exactly is this right grounded, in your view? Where does it come from?!

Chris Noldus I believe that every person has a fundamental right to personal autonomy within the constraints of living in a cohesive and sustainable society. This means that sex is a right, insofar that it is practiced in a way that is not detrimental to society (eg consentual sex between two adults in the privacy of their home).

Now some may say homosexual sex is detrimental to society, and all I would ask of such people would be to show objective evidence to substantiate their claim. No such evidence has been presented, or even exists to my knowledge.

Until such evidence comes to light, the right to personal autonomy must prevail and homosexuals must be treated as equals under the the law.

Bnonn Tennant You just pushed the question back a step. Where does the fundamental right to personal autonomy come from?

Chris Noldus That’s a bit of an odd question to be honest. I could turn it around and say ‘Where does your right to restrict my personal autonomy come from?”

Actually the idea that people should be able to live their lives however they like, so long as it does not cause harm to others, has been around for as long as people have been around.

The point really being that, either you believe that there is some arbitrary authority who decides for everyone what they can or can not do, or, you believe that all people are equal, and that no individual view is more important or of greater value than any other.

Personal autonomy is a prerequisite of democracy, you can not have one without the other.

Bnonn Tennant I am A-OK with you turning the question around on me, because then I can just say, there are no rights! This idea of “rights” is just a mythical hangover from our Christian heritage. If evolution is true, we are just particles in motion. Particles in motion don’t have rights.

Actually the idea that people should be able to live their lives however they like, so long as it does not cause harm to others, has been around for as long as people have been around.

Haha, sure, as long as you weren’t a woman, child, slave, or member of another tribe.

either you believe that there is some arbitrary authority who decides for everyone what they can or can not do, or, you believe that all people are equal, and that no individual view is more important or of greater value than any other.

Why…? If there is no authority like God, then I’m going to use objective, scientific measures to determine people’s value. So the old and infirm, who are a burden to society, are of far less value than young, strong, smart entrepreneurs like myself. And we definitely don’t need handicapped people, or those with genetic disorders like Down’s Syndrome. So I simply deny this nonsense about equality. It has utterly no basis in reality.

Chris Noldus Objectively, are the particles in my body any different to the particles in a desk? Nope – we are all made of the same ‘stuff’ but the idea of ‘rights’ is not one of the inherent physical properties of an object or person, it is the construct of a sentient and social species.

For very good evolutionary reasons, humans have naturally developed emotions like empathy and compassion as these emotions have a net benefit to the species as a whole, and a trait that improves the success of a species is going to stick around thanks to natural selection.

As a sentient species we take this a step further, in that we are able to consciously override our basic instincts, and decide either as individuals or as a group, which natural traits are acceptable (in terms of overall success of the species) and which are not. Evolution is not perfect, it can’t ‘decide’ to develop a trait, it has to wait for it to come along and then apply the rules of natural selection to determine whether the trait is of value in terms of the propagation of the species.

Humans have brains, we can think up new traits and qualities, and we can use social pressure to encourage or discourage the expression of traits.

When we talk about ‘rights’ we are talking about those fundamental freedoms that we as a social group have consciously agreed that everyone should have. Because the idea of ‘rights’ are entirely man made then of course different social groups and individuals are going to have different opinions on what those rights should be. Who is to say that I shouldn’t have the right to own a few slaves? I am absolutely entitled to believe that, but whether I can express that right is determined by the society in which I live.

In the case of democracy, we believe that everyone should have the same rights, therefore it behooves us not to allow a ‘right’ that could be used against us, or would be to the detriment of a functioning society. These days most societies recognize that while slavery may be very beneficial to a few, it does not provide a net benefit to society, and therefore we should not practice it (unlike the bible which is fully in favor of slavery).

Yes we can and do measure peoples value to society (e.g murderers and rapists have such a low value we tend to lock them away), but we don’t form the view ‘Lets keep the top 10% and kill everyone else” because that is ludicrously narrow minded.

We don’t make a law that allows the arbitrary execution of retirees, because we know that one day we will be a retiree and we don’t want to be executed ourselves (also, most people recognize that aged people have a lot to offer a society in terms of wisdom and experience). Also, legalized homicide is frought with complications, many of which can easily be shown to have a net negative impact on society – even pro-euthanasia advocates agree that implementation is a problem.

So from an objective viewpoint, killing the old and handicapped is a bad idea. The fact that I actually need to explain this suggests that you don’t have a particularly good moral compass, which does seem to be a common issue among the religious, I guess if you have a book that tells you what is right or wrong, you don’t actually need to learn how to think for yourself on the subject.

When you objectively measure the value of someone or something to society – you must consider all the ramifications of removing it/them, not just the immediate obvious gains. As an intelligent species, we do have the ability to do this, and while it’s not perfect, it seems to be working pretty well in most western democratic societies.

Most of Chris’ comments are very repetitious from this point onward, so I’m going to dispense with formatting our comments in separate blocks in favor of fisking individual statements instead. I’ll place ellipses to indicate where Chris added new comments, to help you follow along.

we are able to consciously override our basic instincts, and decide either as individuals or as a group, which natural traits are acceptable (in terms of overall success of the species) and which are not.

Why should I care about the overall success of the species? Because evolution programmed me to? I don’t owe evolution anything. Once I become aware of my programming, I am free to break it. Ideas like rights and morality are just sophisticated instincts. They don’t correlate to actual facts. There are no moral facts. I’m no more obliged to obey my moral instincts than I am to obey my instinct to continually eat sugar.

Humans have brains, we can think up new traits and qualities, and we can use social pressure to encourage or discourage the expression of traits.

Sure. That was the exact aim of the Nazi project. That’s how the KKK operates. There’s nothing wrong with that under your view, is there?

we are talking about those fundamental freedoms that we as a social group have consciously agreed that everyone should have.

I didn’t agree. I don’t think people with transmittable genetic disorders should be allowed to breed. Indeed, I think we should actively sterilize all but the most optimal specimens of humanity. We should be helping evolution, not hindering it by harboring the weak, intellectually disabled, chronically obese etc. We want the fittest to survive—not everyone. That just dilutes the gene pool.

Because the idea of ‘rights’ are entirely man made then of course different social groups and individuals are going to have different opinions on what those rights should be.

In other words, rights are just a fiction. They don’t actually exist. But then why should I be concerned if we say these fictions don’t apply to some people, like gays? I mean, they can’t even reproduce anyway, so why should we give them a fictitious right to marry (to take the pertinent example)? It’s not as if denying them that right is wronging them. There is no wrong, just like there are no rights! If you disagree, well, that’s just your evolved instincts competing with mine. Let’s settle this the way of the jungle to decide whose ideas propagate, and whose perish. Let’s fight. It doesn’t have to be to the death, if you’re a coward. Not that there’s anything wrong with cowardice. Indeed, cowardice allows you another chance to propagate your genes, so from an evolutionary point of view it is the better option.

These days most societies recognize that while slavery may be very beneficial to a few, it does not provide a net benefit to society

Where’s your evidence for this? That’s just an assertion. It seems to me that most societies, based on Christian values, recognize that slavery does not provide a net benefit to individuals. It has nothing to do with a net benefit to society. Are you kidding me? Tell that to the Amenhotep II. He wasn’t too impressed about losing his entire slave force to Yahweh. He knew what that meant for his society!

Yes we can and do measure peoples value to society (e.g murderers and rapists have such a low value we tend to lock them away),

You seem deeply confused. Stepping out of my persona as a consistent atheist for a second, and back into my real persona as a Christian, we don’t lock rapists up because they have less value than others. You can’t lose value by performing certain acts, because your value is inherent. Simply being human makes you valuable (don’t try to justify that on atheism though; it’s a Christian idea). No, we lock rapists up because (1) removing their freedom is a just punishment for their crimes; and (2) they are a danger to society.

we don’t form the view ‘Lets keep the top 10% and kill everyone else” because that is ludicrously narrow minded.


We don’t make a law that allows the arbitrary execution of retirees, because we know that one day we will be a retiree and we don’t want to be executed ourselves

So it doesn’t actually have anything to do with it being wrong to execute retirees? It’s just that we have the foresight to avoid getting ourselves executed?

(also, most people recognize that aged people have a lot to offer a society in terms of wisdom and experience).

So it’s just utility then. They’re not valuable inherently; they are just useful. Like slaves!

Also, legalized homicide is frought with complications, many of which can easily be shown to have a net negative impact on society

Oh really? How do you feel about abortion?

So from an objective viewpoint, killing the old and handicapped is a bad idea.

You haven’t given an objective viewpoint. You’ve given a social viewpoint. The collected opinions of a bunch of people aren’t magically “objective”. And Atheist Bnonn happens to disagree with this viewpoint, and wishes to enforce his own. Are we gonna fight or what?

I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘should’, rather that we just do.

This just concedes my point. A right is something we should honor, and should not violate.

The idea that Evolution = Nazism is regularly bandied about in religious circles

You don’t read too good. I didn’t say evolution = Nazism. I said that Nazism was consistent with evolution.

frustrating because it is also completely wrong and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is.

This just sounds like a canned response. Where’s the argument to back it up?

What the Nazi’s and KKK did is not OK by me because I believe it is wrong to deliberately cause others to suffer.

You mean that you have an instinct that tells you to think that, which you unreflectively follow. So much the worse for you. I am not unreflective about my instincts. Having recognized that the word “wrong” is just like the word “icky”, and reflects nothing more meaningful than an instinctive desire, like a taste for caramel rather than chocolate, I have risen above such primitive, superstitious nonsense. Your taste for caramel (aka not hurting people) is no more meaningful than my taste for chocolate (aka torturing children for fun). One is not “better” than the other—since there are no moral facts, there is nothing we could judge one set of actions by in the first place. The term “better” is itself meaningless; just a product of unreflective instinctual behavior. You need to abandon this folk psychology and start to think rationally.

In evolution, the term ‘fittest’ means ‘most suited to their environment’.

You’re making embarrassing assumptions about my ignorance of evolution.

It’s a lot less bloody, and it has the benefit of not wiping out productive members of society.

I don’t see that as a benefit. Since I am a predator, I think this is actually a detriment. I want to return to the path evolution originally had us on.

a great number of really interesting studies on monkeys has been done on this behaviour and why it evolved.

So by your own admission, your concern for morality is at about the same cognitive level as a monkey. Needless to say, as a rational human being, I have risen above that.

you would say its wrong because God told you

No. You need to acquaint yourself with the basic distinction between moral epistemology, and moral ontology. You’re getting them confused, and that’s embarrassing.

by bad, I mean if we just went round arbitrarily killing people the world would be a miserable place for everyone, myself included.

Well, that’s just your own psychological makeup talking. That’s not normative. I’m more of a Ted Bundy, and I think your approach is stupid. More importantly, I think my approach is completely justified given the facts of evolution, and you have no possible way to judge me given what you have already admitted about morality.

yet I can try to be objective in my decision making by using reason and logic

Wait, do you think we’re obliged to believe what reason and logic reveal? Why? Where does that obligation come from? I don’t have obligations to evolved instincts. (I’m also not clear what rules of inference have to do with rules of conduct. Where’s the connection?)

Pure logic is objective

That’s embarrassing, given that logic isn’t a physical thing. Where did it come from?!

Conclusion: Making murder legal will increase the chances that I am murdered, which I don’t want, ergo I do not want murder to be legal

I don’t want murder to be legal. I just want to murder people. As long as I don’t get caught, I don’t much care about the law. Why should I?

Nazism is consistent with evolution the same way that buying a lotto ticket is consistent with the sky being blue. They have nothing to do with each other whatsoever.

This is just factually false. Either you’re too ignorant to be making such a claim in the first place, or you’re being deliberately mendacious. Not only are the connections obvious; they are well documented, even by secular historians with every inclination to downplay them. See for instance “Hitler, Darwin and the Holocaust: How the Nazis distorted the theory of evolution”.

Eugenics as a concept makes no sense in the absence of an evolutionary framework.

Evolution says absolutely nothing about morals, right vs wrong

This is awkward. You’re just flagrantly contradicting yourself. Our entire discussion right now is predicated on the idea that, in your own words, “For very good evolutionary reasons, humans have naturally developed emotions like empathy and compassion”, and that it is these which form the basis of our moral intuitions. Evolution, in fact, says absolutely everything about morals: namely, that moral intuitions are sophisticated instincts, and that moral facts are actually fictions.

I did not say I get my morals from such research.

Again, you’re not following. I didn’t say you got your morals from such research. I said that if even monkeys exhibit moral behavior, then moral behavior is really just animal behavior, and is sub-rational.

As for not being obliged to your instincts, I guess that is somewhat true

Well that just destroys any possibility of making a secular case for morality. Morality is all about obligation. To say that X is wrong is to say that we ought not to do X, which is to say we have an obligation not to do X. But if moral intuitions are nothing but evolved instincts, and we have no obligations to our instincts, then my belief that I ought not to do X (that X is wrong) is, at best, a useful fiction foisted upon me by biological processes. It is a belief without any factual basis.

You know what beliefs without factual basis are called?


So by your own admission, morality in your worldview is delusional. To say that torturing babies for fun is “wrong” is to buy into a delusion; it is to say something that is not even meaningful enough to be false…just nonsense.

Asking where logic came from is a bit like asking “Where did 28 times 2 come from?” or “Why is Purple?” it is a malformed question

Apparently you misunderstood the question. Let me rephrase. What is the ontological grounding of logical laws?

Chris, this is getting embarrassing. You continue to object to positions I haven’t advocated, while ignoring what I actually said.

Just because I use a science as the basis for an ideology, does not mean that the science caused, or supports that ideology.

As I already explained, my point is that Nazism is consistent with evolution; not that evolution entails Nazism. You’re just not listening. Stop pigeon-holing me based on your expectations from past discussions, and read what I’m saying.

you are implying that evolution somehow has something to say about politics, ideologies and genocide

I’ve already demonstrated that it does, so your bare assertion to the contrary is rather underwhelming.

Evolution makes absolutely no statement about whether an action is ‘moral’

On the contrary, the direct implication of evolution is that an action cannot be moral, because morality is merely evolved instinct, and entails no actual obligations or duties whatever.

You will not find a single peer reviewed paper that says anything about evolution’s perspective on morality or politics or what path we should go down.

Again, this is cringeworthy. It’s like you’ve never heard of the entire field of evolutionary ethics.

It’s like you’re unaware of Sam Harris’ popular book, ‘The Moral Landscape’, and the whole concept of empirically-derived morality.

Finally, bringing evolution and Nazism is a classic straw-man argument

This is painfully ironic given how much ink you’ve spilled responding to an argument I never made.

Just because a certain behavior is instinctual, does not make it moral.

You’re making my point for me.

The basis for my morals, as I have stated many times, focuses on that fact that I do not wish to be harmed or live in unpleasant circumstances

Which are instinctual desires. It is rather self-defeating to say morality isn’t based on instinct and then turn around and say that it is based on instinct.

and I have the ability to use logic and reason to come up with a set of values that will maximize the enjoyment of my life.

All of which makes the basic error of mistaking desires for duties and values. There are no duties under an evolutionary view of man, because we don’t owe physical processes anything. And there are no values under an evolutionary view of man, because value is not an objective feature of reality.

Interesting that you think animals are ‘sub-rational’. Animals exhibit plenty of perfectly rational behavior

Interesting that you mistake basic pattern recognition for rationality. Rationality by definition has to do with reasoning, which is a self-reflective process. Do you think monkeys and cats are self-reflective? If so, what possible evidence do you have for that bizarre thesis?

Raising the question ‘Are animals moral, or capable of exhibiting moral behavior’ then I can only suggest with my very limited knowledge in the area that they appear to be

Which suggests that you don’t have the slightest clue what morality really is. If animals were moral, they could be held accountable for their actions. Culpability is a basic feature of morality. Yet oddly, we don’t take pit-bulls to court when they eat children’s faces. We kill them without a trial.

As I have already stated, I don’t believe morals are evolved instincts, because evolution does not make claims about ‘oughtness’. Morals are a social concept

And society is a product of evolution. You’re just pushing the problem back a step.

the obligation is to society

Why? You’re trying to bootstrap obligation out of nothing. If I don’t have obligations to evolution, I certainly don’t have obligations to anything that evolution happens to produce. Particles in motion are not owed anything, any more than physical processes that produce those particles are owed anything.

Like the belief in the existence of God?

The only problem is that while there are no moral facts under evolution (something you haven’t even disputed), there are regiments of facts supporting the existence of God.

No, my morals are well founded in fact. Chopping someones leg of hurts, a lot. I don’t like feeling pain. I don’t want other people to chop my leg off. There should be a law that says people are not allowed to chop my leg off.

This is a non-sequitur. Look at the form of your argument:

  1. No one likes pain
  2. ???
  3. Therefore, no one should be allowed to cause pain

Premise (1) is descriptive but premise (3) is prescriptive. How do you aim to leap the conceptual gap in premise (2) without presupposing the exact thing you’re trying to establish?

myths curated by an elite few for the purposes of oppressing the entire population of Europe in order to maintain power (aka the bible)

Where’s your evidence for this bizarre conspiracy theory?

there’s this bit where god says ‘kill them all – especially the children, but keep the wives for raping’

Given that your worldview precludes moral facts, how exactly are you judging God here?

even though God is perfect, he does tend to change his mind a bit – oh here’s Jesus, he seems to think killing innocent people is a bad idea… hmm contradictory views

You’re kind of tipping your hand with this comical village atheist rant. When you have an actual argument to make, with actual Scriptures to cite, I’m listening.

a supernatural entity even though there is no testable evidence for his existence.

As if the Bible cannot be tested historically. And as if there aren’t dozens of good arguments constituting good evidence for God’s existence. And as if your worldview even stands up in the absence of some ground for value, meaning, logic, etc. You’re too funny.

As for ‘ontological grounding’ you’re getting into the philosophy of being, which takes us down an entirely different rabbit hole.

Only in your mind. I have consistently been talking about grounding in this thread, both for logical and moral facts. But I realize that’s a difficult subject for you, given that your worldview can only ground physical facts, which excludes logic and morality a priori.

Chris, let’s focus on the main issues.

It is my view that the term ‘moral’ is meaningless outside of the context of the society in which it is applied, and that the obligation is to society.

So by your own admission, your condemnation of Nazism is meaningless, since you are outside the context of early twentieth century German society. So that’s one absurdity.

moral behavior emerges as a result of a complex social structure of intelligent beings

All of which, in the final analysis, is completely reducible to meaningless particles interacting according to unguided physical laws. That’s all morality is in the final analysis. In other words, morality is non-morality in the final analysis. Which is to say, morality does not exist. So that’s another absurdity.

Just because there is no inherent physical value in mans existence, does not mean that we do not create value

Actually it does. It is self-referentially incoherent to speak of a valueless physical process creating value. At best, what you have is a delusion. A belief about reality (people have value) which does not correlate to any objective fact of reality. So your worldview is, at best, openly delusional, or at worst self-referentially incoherent. A third absurdity.

You do have an obligation to society, you are obliged to follow the law and you are obliged to pay tax and you are obliged to repay society for all that education and healthcare they give you.

You’re confusing society telling me that they require me to do these things on pain of punishment, and me having an actual obligation to do them. Merely asserting something under threat of retaliation has nothing intrinsically to do with obligation. So your theory of how obligation arises is just nonsense. Of course, obligation is impossible in principle in a worldview where value is at best a delusion.

I didn’t ask for arguments, I asked for evidence.

Arguments are evidence. If they weren’t, science wouldn’t work.

My worldview only accepts evidence that stands up to scientific or mathematical scrutiny.

Really? Okay, let’s take one belief that is foundational to science, and without which you can’t have scientific evidence at all. Just one. How about the uniformity of nature.

Right, present your scientific and mathematical evidence for the uniformity of nature. Go.

No, because in our society, the acts perpetrated by the Nazi’s would still be considered wrong. You chose an arbitrarily narrow context, try again.

On the contrary, since Nazi Germany is not part of our society, the context is precisely as narrow as you yourself set it. You can condemn Nazis in our society (neo-Nazis), but you can’t condemn a Nazi society.

I know a philatelist that would be rather upset that you call their hobby absurd.

Unfortunately, on your view, stamp collecting doesn’t exist in the final analysis either. The only things that exist are particle fields interacting according to unguided regularities. You’re so blind to the absurdity of your worldview that you’re furnishing me with “counterexamples” which further prove my point.

Nazi acts were immoral in the context of a world society in 1940’s

Oh, I see, your get-out-of-jail-free card is aggregating all cultures into a single “world society”. Okay. Let’s play with that. Western moral norms are now in the minority. The majority world moral norms are now enforced since they have more people. Homosexuality is punishable by death. Women are inferior to men. Children are property. Slavery is okay. Tell me again about how bad the Nazis are…

So Money is a delusion?

The value of money is imaginary, if that’s what you mean. It is not a delusion in the sense that we all know and agree that it is a useful fiction. But objectively, of course it is worthless. Comparing moral value to monetary value once again just makes my argument for me. If your worldview is so bankrupt that moral value is imaginary, and statements like “It is wrong to torture children for fun” are no different in principle from statements like “Chocolate tastes better than rice”, there’s really nothing for me to refute. The only person who would believe such obvious garbage is someone so blindly prejudiced against the alternative that he is willing to make himself a fool rather than accept it. Anyone with even the slightest experience of evil knows that it isn’t imaginary. So your telling us about your worldview, ironically, is very likely to convince people that theism is true. I know of several people who turned to theism because of reading ‘The God Delusion’, for example.

Arguments are not evidence

Okay, go ahead and give me some evidence for that claim. Either you’re trying to artificially constrain the definition of evidence in a highly idiosyncratic way for tendentious purposes, or you’re too ignorant to be making such bold claims. A quick trip to the dictionary would have prevented that embarrassment:

Every scientific observation made in history is consistent with the uniformity of nature and contributes to it’s validity.

No, every scientific observation made in history presupposes the uniformity of nature. You can’t prove something using evidence that presupposes it. That’s the logical fallacy of petitio principii.

It is reasonable to believe that nature is uniform until such time evidence is uncovered that shows nature is not uniform.

Why? Why should we expect the universe to exhibit regularity given that it is a product of unknown, non-rational forces? Where’s your evidence for that assumption?

It is testable, anyone can go out and repeat any previously established scientific observation to see if they get uniform results.

Again, that just assumes what it needs to prove. Are you saying that all of science is done on the foundation of a major informal fallacy?

It is falsifiable, the idea can be falsified simply by observing a single result that contradicts a previous result from an identically carried out experiment.

Well that’s just not true either. If I measure the speed of sound at sea level four times, I’ll get four different results. They all contradict each other. Sure, you put it down to margin of error—but maybe it’s just that nature isn’t completely uniform. Moreover, if I get a weird outlier one time, like 200 m/s instead of around 340, you’ll tell me to discard it as a mistake. But how do you know it is a mistake? What if it is evidence that nature is not completely uniform? So again, you’re assuming the exact thing you need to prove, and then discounting any evidence that could falsify it.

Within NAZI Germany, there were enough people that felt what the Germans were doing was moral, that inside that context it was moral, but this does not include the holocaust as even most Germans didn’t know it was happening (or at least they lived in denial).

So your position is that if we narrow down society enough, or if say, we just eliminate enough people who disagree, the Holocaust can be moral. Again, I don’t need to refute that. That’s not a rational position that reasonable people take seriously. That’s an obviously false position that someone would only entertain because they have allowed themselves to become a fool for the sake of some overriding belief. In your case, the belief that there cannot be anything except the physical world.

Holding out your wildly spinning moral compass and trying to reassure us that you can make it point north if you want to does not actually incline us to think you have the superior position.

Your view states that these things are real, tangible physical phenomenon

No. Moral realism does not entail moral physicalism. You are trying to force my views about morality into your absurd worldview where the only things that exist are physical.

Mathmatical proofs do not proove existence of phenomenon, they take what is already known about the world and use logic to make useful inferences.

Again, you’re simply uninformed. Your worldview is not only absurd, but it can only be maintained by blinkering yourself from the facts. For example, mathematician Edward Frenkel:

Euclidian geometry deals with flat spaces, such as the three-dimensional flat space. For millennia people thought we inhabited a flat, three-dimensional world. It was only after Einstein that we realised we lived in a curved space and that light doesn’t travel in a straight line but bends around a star. Pythagoras’ theorem is about geometric shapes in an idealised space, a flat Euclidian plane which, in fact, is not found in the real world. The real world is curved. When Pythagoras discovered his theorem there were, of course, inferences from physical reality, and a lot of mathematics is drawn from our experience in the physical world, but our imagination is limited and a lot of mathematics is actually discovered within the narrative of a hidden mathematical world. If you look at recent discoveries, they have no a priori bearing in physical reality at all. The naïve interpretation that mathematics comes from physical reality just doesn’t work. The other interpretation that mathematics is a product of the human mind also has serious issues, because it seems clear that some of these concepts transcend any specific individual.

When Newton devised did experiments to devise the laws of Gravity, he did not presuppose uniformity

Actually, Newton, like just about every pioneer of science, presupposed the existence of a rational and benevolent God who had created the world to be intelligible and ordered. That is the foundation of scientific inquiry. Christianity was the worldview—the only worldview—which produced the scientific revolution.

Scientists never talk in absolutes

Demonstrably false [and self-contradictory!] Just read all the scientists who are vanguards of the new atheism. Absolutes are their modus operandi.

People of a religious world view do this in reverse, they have established the conclusion, and now have interpret the evidence TO FIT THEIR VIEW.

This is painfully simplistic at best. Suppose you know the truth. Suppose you know, for instance, that evolution is false. I’m talking hypothetically. Imagine that were true, and you knew it, but the current state of science seemed to show otherwise (again, I’m speaking hypothetically).

Or, more fundamentally, suppose you knew that if God did not exist, science and rationality would not be possible (as I do, indeed, know). Naturally you cannot interpret evidence in a way that would yield a conclusion that makes the interpretation of evidence itself impossible in principle.

You’re like someone who is tone-deaf going around complaining that other people are interpreting the existence of sound to fit their view that music exists. You’re waiting to see the evidence, and until then you’re going to continue interpreting everything as if it doesn’t.

As for variation in results, that is easy – most experiments have a margin of error

Which is completely unresponsive to the point I made. You either don’t understand the problem, or you don’t want to engage it. You’re oblivious to the flagrant, comical self-refutation of your own worldview.

This will be my last reply, since there’s no need for me to repeat myself when Chris is not adding anything new. Anyone reading this who has two brain cells to rub together can see just how reasonable his supposedly logic- and evidence-based worldview is.

whether something is considered moral is relative, relative to the society in which you are living

Again, a worldview which says the Holocaust can transform from a gross evil into something perfectly permissible just by changing society is patently absurd. Wickedness cannot become righteous just because you manage to get enough people to agree with it. That just makes the people wicked too.

Whats your your moral absolute fact about Polygamy?

Matthew 19:4.

But if you were born in the time of Abraham, more than likely you would think it is OK, even required.

What is freely asserted may be freely denied. Moreover, what my culture tells me is okay or required is utterly irrelevant to what is actually right. Look at abortion. Killing preborn babies is not right, yet my culture says it is in fact a right!

What about Genocide? If you were a follower of the Christian God during the battle of Jericho presumably you would hold the view that it is OK (after all, it was commanded by the infallible God).


Describing the Canaanite conquest in terms of a modern category like genocide is tendentious at best.


Even if we allow that characterization, you’re stuck getting from “God commanded genocide one time” to “Therefore genocide is okay”. One is a specific instance; the other a general principle. But Scripture already lays down general principles for dealing with our enemies: we are to love them. Absent God expressly countervailing this, which would be impossible today since God does not have a national people who must defend themselves as a nation, love of neighbor is the Christian’s SOP.

Why is it any different for a Nazi German bought up on a society that used propaganda to convince the population that Jews were evil?

There’s an obvious distinction between propaganda and God’s command, and there’s an obvious distinction between total war and the Holocaust. Moreover, notice what you’re committing yourself to: you’re saying that with sufficient propaganda, a society can be convinced that the Holocaust is a moral good, and that this actually makes the Holocaust a moral good! So on your view, successful propaganda decides morality. That would be laughable if it weren’t so disgusting.

What makes your current view, based on an ideology that you likely only have because you were born in the 20th century in a Christian country more valid than anyone else’s?

You keep harping on this. Are you not familiar with the genetic fallacy? Even if I am only a Christian because I was born into a Christian society, that has no bearing on the truth of Christianity. Christianity stands on its own evidence. There are good reasons to believe it, your shrill protestations notwithstanding. Moreover, this line of argumentation is comically self-refuting. I can just claim that you’re only an atheist because of your particular life circumstances.

Can we say that people born in these cultures were wrong to have these views – no, because they were brought up in an environment where these views were the accepted norm.

Since I’ve already pointed out this is obviously false, and not merely false but depraved, actually yes, we can say that people who have objectively evil views are objectively wrong.

You say that you know the absolute moral truth, but it is a ludicrous position to believe that you would have the exact same beliefs if you were born in a different place and/or time. If you were born in Syria, you would not be a Christian and would ‘know’ an entirely different moral truth.

You seem to think that I am using the term “know” in the sense of having a strong conviction. That makes sense given that this appears to be how atheists “know” that God doesn’t exist, and “know” that there’s no evidence for him, and “know” that the physical world is all there is. Unfortunately for you, Christianity is not as irrational and unsophisticated as atheism, and we use the term “know” to refer to a correctly-formed true belief; ie, we have warrant/justification for our beliefs.

I assume you are talking about the likes of String Theory or M theory and the like.

I wasn’t talking about anything. I was quoting Frenkel. And I highly doubt he had string theory or M theory in mind. He was making a factual statement about math that contradicts your naive view of the world. Naturally you are going to dismiss it, because the alternative is unthinkable to you. You have your convictions and you must defend them with every cognitive bias at your disposal. You’re not interested in what the evidence says; you’ve already made up your mind about the existence of non-physical things, Christianity’s place in history, etc. I’m not presenting this evidence for your sake, but for the sake of anyone reading who has more intellectual honesty, but has only ever seen atheists confidently assert things without being roundly refuted.

you need to learn to differentiate between the abstract and the real.

An obvious question-begging false dichotomy, since abstract things like numbers certainly exist. That was one of the points Frenkel made. Math is not dependent on either the physical world, or human minds. It is governed by laws, and contains objects like sets, which do not correlate to and are not grounded in anything physical. Yet they exist.

Maths itself is a man made language for describing factual relationships between abstract ideas.

If there can be factual relationships between abstract ideas, then abstract ideas are real things. Facts correlate to reality. You are refuting yourself.

I like how you completely disregard other scientific cultures that had their own ages of ‘enlightenment’. The Muslims and the Greeks come to mind (There are plenty of others though). Sure they didn’t practice science exactly as we do today, but because they weren’t constrained by an oppressive, small minded religious authority at the times they made their discoveries, they did pretty damn well. That was until they were wiped out by war, or oppressed by religion.

Again, you’re simply uninformed on this issue. Not only is your reply weak, since it essentially concedes my point that other worldviews were inadequate to produce a scientific revolution, even if they made tentative steps toward science, but your comments about “oppressive religion” are historically ignorant. You’re engaging in gross revisionism, essentially trying to rewrite history by fiat to fit your preconceptions. Not very scientific. If you’re not familiar with the historical evidence surrounding Christianity and science, you’d be better to simply stay silent rather than open your mouth and, as the proverb says, “remove all doubt”. It shows how prejudicially bigoted you are against Christianity that you just “know” these facts about history, despite the precise opposite actually being the case.

To start educating yourself, you could begin with this article from Nature: “Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages”.

Also interesting that you forget the preceding 1000 odd years where scientific inquiry was punished by torture and death… by Christians for the crime of heresy.

Again, this is simply false, as the article above briefly touches on. Since you’re obviously not interested in the truth, but merely in blindly asserting your ridiculous beliefs in the teeth of evidence and reason, I’ll take my leave.



I greatly benefited from reading TWOG. Any revision underway? I also spotted a footnote about a companion writing on Christian metaphysics. Thank you.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I’m glad you benefited from TWOG. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it today since I think the scriptural epistemology I advocated there is embarrassingly wrong :) But a lot of the comments on science and broader epistemological decisions are fairly on point still.

I don’t really plan to revise it because I’m a little skeptical about the need for more books in the world. I think it is actually more helpful to most modern Christians to write shorter posts that deal concisely with very specific issues, and can be chained together into a longer series if need be. Hence my focus on this blog.


Ok, some of the questions I was curious about were around any changes to your thinking on epistemology. I have found both VT and Clark sides profitable to study. Do you no longer consider yourself a Scripturalist (to use a specific word in a general way)?


I’ve read the linked post several times now. I would be interested in your list of books that currently represent your understanding of Christian epistemology and metaphysics.
I would also appreciate a post where you provide your replacement statements for the 1-6 list, understanding some were addressed in other parts of the post.
You say “So whereas Van Tilianism takes God as a reasonable precondition for knowledge, Clarkian Scripturalism takes the Bible as an unreasonable precondition for knowledge.” When I ponder this short statement, I come against the VT comment: “I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority” (The Defense of the Faith, 253). Is the idea more like “So whereas Van Tilianism takes God as a reasonable precondition for knowledge, Clarkian Scripturalism takes the Bible as a necessary precondition for knowledge?
Would the gist of the VT thrust be contained in “Why I Believe in God/Why I Am a Christian”?
With all your roles (father, entrepreneur, etc.) I’m sure your time is well-accounted for, and I thank you for your time providing either wordy or canned responses.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I’m afraid I don’t really have a list of books. I’m much less interested in epistemology than I was. I don’t think it’s an apologetically helpful field to study in much depth. Beyond being acquainted with the basic concepts in play, it isn’t the sort of thing that comes up directly in apologetic encounters. Nor in pastoral questions, for that matter.

I think it’s very helpful to show that atheism is knowledge-destroying. But you don’t need to get heavily into epistemology for that. You can simply reduce to absurdity, and then offer a cogent alternative. It’s generally more than enough to know that God created us to be able to know him, and the world we live in, without needing to finesse that into a full-blown philosophical account.