Thursday, January 31, 2013


This is the year of faith. It has been going for quite some time now and I intended to write something on faith so I better get started.

What is faith? Perhaps we can talk about some non-religious examples to understand it. We can have faith in a doctor. We can go to the doctor and believe that what he tells us is for our good. We might understand it on some high level but we don't understand it fully. What is more, we are willing to go through huge suffering because he tells us it is for our greater good. We might submit to surgery. We might have out leg amputated. If the doctor say it is for the best than we do it. That is faith.

Another example might be a person you are getting to know. They might tell you some things. Some of them might be pretty hard to believe. But you develop a relationship with this person and over time they seem honest and sincere. You start to trust very strongly that what they tell you is true. You might develop a strong love for this person and might be willing to make sacrifices for them. At some point you decide to make the risk to trust.

In both cases you don't have blind faith. There are what they call motives of credibility. That is a rational reason to trust the source. In one case you are trusting a whole culture of science and medicine and proper protocols for testing and treatment. In the other case your motive is more emotional and intuitive yet there is a process that we understand of developing trust in a person. In neither case is the choice to trust irrational. A choice to trust can be irrational but faith is not inherently irrational.

Religious faith is very similar. Many people come to faith through a relationship. They know somebody who is a Christian and decide to trust that person. There may be many people involved. Some they might have just interacted with through books. One of those book is typically the bible. Eventually the person decides to accept what is being presented as true. Yes, there is a big emotional and intuitive aspect to that choice. That does not make it irrational. It is a normal human way of making choices.

The other thing that Christians develop faith in is a Christian tradition. The simple acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Savior gets complicated very quickly. I have decided to trust but exactly what am I trusting? This is why it is important that Christians have one faith. Than they can't go wrong. The trouble is they don't. So what do people do? They tend to accept the tradition that the people around them accept. They don't have the appetite to dig into the questions of why am I going to this church and not the one down the street? So that part of the decision is sub-rational. I would not say irrational as they are not deliberately accepting what does not make sense. They are just not asking as many question as they should.

In modern society faith is often attacked. People say you are a fool to believe. There are two responses. Some people leave their faith and become one of those trendy atheists. Others choose to cling to their faith more strongly. They are both understandable responses but they are both inadequate. We need to sweat the details. We need to get into the criticisms and figure out our faith. We need to be unafraid to ask the hard questions. Asking questions won't destroy a true faith. It will expose some things that we thought were matters of faith but were really based on tradition or superstition. That can be scary but we are better for it.

But what can be even scarier than the questions is the answers. When God calls you to give an assent of faith to something. Really letting you know He has given this world more of Himself than you had previously imagined. We go back to our motives of credibility. Can we trust the church? Even what is says about Mary? Even what it says about sex? We hunger for truth and suddenly we have more than we can digest.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If You Have To Ask ...

Note: I had a post on Rape Culture that some people found misleading so I took it down. This is another way to try and approach the same ideas.

There is an old joke made about fancy restaurants or hotels. Someone asks, "How much does this cost?" and the answer is, "If you have to ask you can't afford it?" I am reminded of that in the discussion on the place of consent in sexual morality. If we ask a question like, "Do you want to have sex?" then we have already assumed the price might be affordable. If that sounds degrading it is because it is.

People are complex. Sex goes deep into a person's psyche. So a question about sex can be very hard to answer. Sexual confusion is the rule and not the exception for people. There is a lot to think about. Short term sexual pleasure is always on people's minds. Then there is the effect on the relationship in question. Who else will find out? How will they react? How well do I really know this person?

We can think of a thousand things to think about but we very likely miss the most important ones. Sexuality goes deep into our heart and soul. We don't tend to grasp that well. We get that sexual abuse can hurt people in profound ways, but what is sexual abuse exactly? We can see that people who are under a certain age can't really give consent. But is age the thing? Isn't some level of self-awareness more important? When do we get there? How do we know?

You start to grasp that most people are quite ignorant of their own psycho-sexual situation. They are almost always ignorant of the sexual situation of the person they are hoping to have sex with. Mostly they don't care. People try and be nice and respectful and all that but they reach their limit pretty quickly. They want what they want. They don't want to deal with long term confusion. They pretend to respect you as a person but not fully, not when life get complicated. They want a girlfriend or boyfriend or maybe just a short term sex partner. What they don't want is an endless spritual mystery that will take a lifetime to contemplate. But that is what a human being is.

All the ways to try and fix consent fail miserably. They just don't take into account the nature of sex. Ultimately it is just another way of putting pressure on people. To make people feel like they have to consent to some sex just to be normal. The truth is that normal people are worth a lot more than society imagines. People talk about a rape culture but they don't get that the whole dating scene is about manufacturing consent. They talk passionately about the evils of explicit coercion but think somehow a system of implicit coercion is the answer.

This is where you see the wisdom of the Catholic idea of saving sex for marriage. Premarital sex risks all sorts of pain to achieve some very superficial pleasures. Then you add to that the benefits of celibacy. It is really the only rational choice. Marriage is the only place where men and women can embrace sex in all its facets and complexity and depth. You don't have to ask the price because you will pay anything and happily so.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Matt And Dawn Fight About Porn

Dawn Eden has a post where she expresses some anger at a post by Matt McGuiness on the subject of pornography. Here is Matt:
We take our humanity seriously when we don't “short circuit” the questions that desire raises in us. The Catholic moralist would say, “Impure thoughts, bad! Stop having them;” the Catholic realist asks, “Impure thoughts, what are you really after?” Hence, we can be confronted with the same “raw material,” but end up in radically different places. If you find scrupulosity satisfying, then, I would say, “Keep at it.” However if keeping notes on your temptations and sins doesn't interest you or even begin to solve your problems, I invite you, dear reader, to take a deeper look at desire.
The concept here is that the desire behind impure thoughts is good but twisted. We can purge those impure thoughts and think about something else but the desire remains. Is it possible to untwist impure thoughts? Can we fix our sexual desire so it is possible to have it spark good and holy thoughts rather than immoral and degrading thoughts? Yes and no.

Dawn Eden makes an important point on the other side.
Rather than join Father Angelo Mary Geiger and Kevin O’Brien in pointing out the flaws in your theological arguments, I will leave you with some quotations from Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate on things you won’t find in the article: the objective sinfulness of pornography, the dangers of desensitization to sin, the need to avoid occasions of sin, the grace offered to us when we encounter Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, and the necessity of growing in virtue.
We want to pursue the good in sexual desire but untwisting an evil might be wrong image. God does not come to sinners and say, "You are very close, just tweak this or that and you will be there." He comes to sinners and says you need to die to sin. Yes that death does lead to resurrection. Still the image of dying and rising to new life does paint a different picture. The starting point is different. We are not supposed to start with our sin. We are supposed to start at square one. That is why in Theology of the Body John Paul II goes back to Adam and Eve. He does not look at the output of the sexual revolution and make suggestions for how we can fix it.

But what does the redeemed sexuality look like? We want to avoid impure thoughts but what kinds of thoughts arising from sexual desire would be pure? I am not sure the question should be addressed that way. Look at greed. Do we need to make some positive effort to cultivate a holy desire for wealth? Not really. We just curb the disordered desire. So if we don't talk that way about the desire for possessions why should we talk that way about the desire for sex?

Theology of the Body does not completely ignore the question. Beyond Adam and Eve John Paul points to Catholic art, to the Song of Solomon, and to various saints especially Mary. Still most of all he points to grace. If you can avoid lust then a healthy desire will grow naturally. Just be open to God through the word, the sacraments, prayer, etc. You might not even recognize it as being connected to your sexuality. Just a real appreciation of women as women and men as men leading you to love all people more deeply.

Atheism And Grief

 The NY Times has yet another puff piece for atheism by Susan Jacoby.
IN a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. “That only shows the limits of atheism,” my colleague replied. “It’s all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”
It is not about being offered something. It is about something ringing true. There is something deeply wrong with death. We know it. When a child dies we feel it strongly. Atheists just dismiss it. Nothing right or wrong about anything. It just is. Someone is delusional. Either death has the final word and religion is just trying to deny it or there is more to the story. There really is hope. All 20 families chose hope. Is that because grief made them stupid or is it because grief made them see clearer?
This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.
I think secularly inclined people hold huge influence. In politics, in the courts, in the schools, in the press, in movies and TV. The dominance of secular thinking is everywhere.  I am not aware of any major public battle that secularists have lost. So that comment baffles me. I do think the 20% number is low. Lots of secular people still affiliate with a religion. 

I also am confused by this alleged "reluctance to speak." They dominate the conversation all the time. Religion is ridiculed all the time. Secularism is assumed as the way smart people think. The content of secularism is not spoken much. The content is not very compelling. It is full of contradictions. They don't try to talk with "reason and passion" because atheism just is not reasonable and does not inspire passion. So they just sneer at religion and imply their way is so much better. It is very effective.
The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize. When giving talks on college campuses, I used to avoid personal discussions of my atheism. But over the years, I have changed my mind because such diffidence contributes to the false image of the atheist as someone whose convictions are removed from ordinary experience. It is vital to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die. 
Atheism is trendy. Where does she live? Fearful of seeming to proselytize? Really? Are there atheists in foxholes? It is interesting that the rise of secularism in the west has occurred during a long period without a full scale war. We have essentially been at peace since 1945. Atheism has been making gains since that time too.
Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, “Why would God do that to a little boy?” She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: “I don’t know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don’t know what they could be.”
This says a lot. 1952 was a religious age but I have questioned before how strong their faith was. One reason I question it was their failure to pass their faith on to their children. Her mother seems to have the kind of faith that won't pass on very well. A faith that refuses to ask questions. Just accept what you are told. Except you don't really accept it. You fake it. But your children know you are faking it. They don't want a faith like that.

So her atheism is not really a rejection of true Christianity but a rejection of some sort of Christian heresy where faith prohibits reason. She was given a false choice between faith and reason and chose reason.
Just two years later, in 1954, Jonas Salk’s vaccine began the process of eradicating polio, and my mother took the opportunity to suggest that God may have guided his research. I remember replying, “Well, God should have guided the doctors a long time ago so that Al wouldn’t be in an iron lung.” (He was to die only eight years later, by which time I was a committed atheist.)
God allowed Jonas Salk the dignity of finding a polio vaccine that eliminated much suffering and death. If there was no suffering no human could ever do anything of the sort. If God solved all our problems before we knew they existed then the Jonas Salk's of the world would have no meaningful work. The problem of pain is complex but one reason for pain is so we can participate in the drama of good conquering evil. Any time we do we can always ask why was this pain not relieved earlier?
The first time I told this story to a class, I was deeply gratified when one student confided that his religious doubts arose from the struggles of a severely disabled sibling, and that he had never been able to discuss the subject candidly with his fundamentalist parents. One of the most positive things any atheist can do is provide a willing ear for a doubter — even if the doubter remains a religious believer.
Again we have the assumption that questions imply doubt. They don't. Questions often are based on faith. We expect there to be answers. Even if we don't find a full answer right away we don't expect our faith to collapse when we ask our hardest questions. We expect our honesty and our effort to strengthen our faith.
IT is primarily in the face of suffering, whether the tragedy is individual or collective, that I am forcefully reminded of what atheism has to offer. When I try to help a loved one losing his mind to Alzheimer’s, when I see homeless people shivering in the wake of a deadly storm, when the news media bring me almost obscenely close to the raw grief of bereft parents, I do not have to ask, as all people of faith must, why an all-powerful, all-good God allows such things to happen. 
To not ask the question is worse than to ask it. To say human suffering really is meaningless leads to nihilism. That is a pretty radical conclusion to jump to just to. Just because asking why does not have an easy answer does not mean all why questions should be forever dismissed. It is a kind of philosophical suicide. Just assume the deep questions in life have no answer.

Why even interact with another person's suffering? Why watch do those news media reports bring you obscenely close to the raw grief of bereft parents? We want to go there? We want to cry with them. If suffering has no meaning then why do we do that? When we share someone's pain we become better lovers. We see value in love even when we don't see any in the pain. Somehow crying over brokenness leaves us longing for a fix. We would rather long for a fix that isn't obvious than simply declare brokenness to be unimportant.
It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.
Human free will does destroy the logical force of the problem of pain and evil. An infinitely good God could allow man the freedom to choose good or evil. So it is no longer a logical objection. It is more an emotional objection. Why so much pain? Why me? Why do some people get off easier than others?
The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth. 
Why should an atheist care about the fate of the world? Many do. But does that caring flow from their atheism or perhaps does it come from her Catholic upbringing? It makes a difference because if it is a leftover from her Catholicism then it will disappear in future generations if Catholicism disappears. So the question is important. Why should an atheists care about the world and not just care about themselves?
Today’s atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary.
Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899 and was one of the most famous orators of his generation, personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called “The Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll insisted that there was no difference between atheism and agnosticism because it was impossible for anyone to “know” whether God existed or not. He used his secular pulpit to advocate for social causes like justice for African-Americans, women’s rights, prison reform and the elimination of cruelty to animals.
Again, the fact that an atheist or agnostic does what we view as good is missing the point. Where did he get his concept of good from? Is there any reason to believe other atheists will get it from the same place? The answer to the second question is always going to be No because atheism has no foundation for morality.  So Ingersoll's morality was just his. It did not flow from his atheism and we should not be surprised if future atheists don't share it.
 He also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest ... The dead do not suffer.”
Not just that the dead do not suffer but the dead do not matter. In fact, the living don't matter much either unless we decide to make them matter. You can say death is OK but then you have said to much. Death is not OK.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Science And Free Will

There is an article on free will suggesting science has somehow disproved it.
Humans have debated the issue of free will for millennia. But over the past several years, while the philosophers continue to argue about the metaphysical underpinnings of human choice, an increasing number of neuroscientists have started to tackle the issue head on — quite literally. And some of them believe that their experiments reveal that our subjective experience of freedom may be nothing more than an illusion. Here's why you probably don't have free will.

Indeed, historically speaking, philosophers have had plenty to say on the matter. Their ruminations have given rise to such considerations as cosmological determinism (the notion that everything proceeds over the course of time in a predictable way, making free will impossible), indeterminism (the idea that the universe and our actions within it are random, also making free will impossible), and cosmological libertarianism/compatibilism (the suggestion that free will is logically compatible with deterministic views of the universe).

Now, while these lines of inquiry are clearly important, one cannot help but feel that they're also terribly unhelpful and inadequate. What the debate needs is some actual science — something a bit more...testable.
So the biases have been clearly established.  He pretends to understand something of philosophy (he doesn't). Then he declares that science is where we find the real truth. 
And indeed, this is starting to happen. As the early results of scientific brain experiments are showing, our minds appear to be making decisions before we're actually aware of them — and at times by a significant degree. It's a disturbing observation that has led some neuroscientists to conclude that we're less in control of our choices than we think — at least as far as some basic movements and tasks are concerned.
OK, so what is the point? That some choices are involuntary? We have always known that. That our patterns of thought and action are firmly ingrained and are hard for our rational mind to change? We actually know that already too. What free will says is not that we have total control over all our thoughts and actions. It just says we have some control. That our rational, conscious mind can impact what we say and do. It might take effort. It might even take long term training. It can be done.

That is not even the big question with determinism. The big question is whether our rational, conscious mind can be influenced by our souls. Is our rational consciousness just an illusion? Is it really determined by the laws of brain chemistry? Comparing our rational mind with our subconscious mind is never going to answer this question. Nobody questions how we think impacts how we act over the long term. The subconscious needs to be trained but it can be done to some degree. The question is whether we have freedom to think and choose or if all our choices could be predicted by simply knowing the state of all the matter involved and calculating. A complex calculation indeed but not one that can be held morally responsible for anything.  
At the same time, however, not everyone is convinced. It may be a while before we can truly prove that free will is an illusion.
It may be a while? Great that you are not prejudging anything. It may be a while before you can understand the question.

He does quote another article on the brain. It is all quite interesting.
We got risky brains that are much riskier than the brains of other mammals even, even more risky than the brains of chimpanzees, and that this could be partly a matter of a few simple mutations in control genes that release some of the innate competitive talent that is still there in the genomes of the individual neurons. But I don't think that genetics is the level to explain this. You need culture to explain it.
Innate competitive talent? Isn't that interesting. That evolution developed this huge complexity that was never used by lower organisms. How does survival of the fittest explain that? It doesn't. Anyway this riskiness is unleashed in humans. It means the brain is way more complex.

Then he trots out Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. I guess this is where moderns go when they want to address philosophy. Dennett is actual in favor of free will. Harris thinks it is an illusion. Here is his Harris quote:
A person's conscious thoughts, intentions, and efforts at every moment are preceded by causes of which he is unaware. What is more, they are preceded by deep causes — genes, childhood experience, etc. — for which no one, however evil, can be held responsible. Our ignorance of both sets of facts gives rise to moral illusions. And yet many people worry that it is necessary to believe in free will, especially in the process of raising children.
Again he misses the point. Showing that a person's thoughts are partly controlled  by genetics, by childhood experience, etc is not enough. It is not even that remarkable. We have always known we are shaped by nature and nurture. The question is can we do anything about it? Are we just stuck with what we are stuck with or is there some point at which we become responsible for our own choices? To show there is no free will you need to show that the outside causes are 100% of the equation. That we control nothing. Harris lowers his burden of proof. He shows that it is more than 0% and then leaps to the conclusion that it must be 100%.
Harris doesn't believe that the illusoriness of free will is an "ugly truth," nor something that will forever be relegated to philosophical abstractions. This is science, he says, and it's something we need to come to grips with. "Recognizing that my conscious mind is always downstream from the underlying causes of my thoughts, intentions, and actions does not change the fact that thoughts, intentions, and actions of all kinds are necessary for living a happy life — or an unhappy one, for that matter," he writes.
So Harris does not really understand what he is saying. He seems to think that having a "happy life" is all that is important. It is enough for chimpanzees. What is your problem? It is like someone running a marathon. If he suddenly comes to know there is no finish line then what changes? In a way nothing. In another way everything.

I can see how someone might feel obliged to face an ugly truth. I can't really see how someone does not see it as ugly. I guess it is just a lack of deep thinking.

The philosophy is bound to make people less able to overcome moral challenges. He mentions raising kids as something people want to do well. What if they are told that they can't do it well or badly? They will just do what their brains are programmed to do. Nothing more and nothing less. That the goodness they see in the act of raising kids is just an illusion. There is nothing noble about being a good parent. There is nothing shameful about being a bad one. There is just nothing there.

Really your whole self is an illusion. That is the bottom line. There is no person making a difference in the world. There is just a biological machine following the laws of science. Maybe Harris is intellectually capable of thinking this through but is morally and spiritually not capable of going there. Maybe he says it is not an ugly truth because it is so ugly he can't say anything else. Who knows?

The reality is that we do have souls. We can choose and we do. If you drill right down it brings back Pascal's wager. If Sam Harris is right then we are all in hell with no hope of getting out. The only bet we can lay is that he is wrong. That is that our moral choices matter. Then we have to deal with the fact that we don't always make good moral choices. So it gets complicated. Still the immaterial world is there and we need to take it seriously because at the end of the day we can't control the laws of physics but we can control our spiritual life.

BTW, Ed Feser has commented on this a few times.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Christian Unity

We are coming up on Christian unity week again. It is so important. On the one hand we see great progress. The change in language from Vatican II calling non-Catholic Christians separated brothers rather than calling them heretics is paying off. The focus on what we have in common is slowly sinking in. Then there is the next step. If we are all part of the body of Christ then we all called to be united. We are called to hold to one faith. But if God asks us to do that then how are we to obey that command? What would obedience look like? What would disobedience look like? It has to be more than just being nice to each other and respecting each other. We are called to do that with unbelievers. With believers we are called to more.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:1-6
So what does it look like? One body means one head or one church administration. One faith means agreement on key doctrines. One baptism means a sacramental unity. So we are not talking about getting together once a year for some happy talk and a few songs. This is about really being one church. If God commands us to do something He gives us the grace to do it. Catholics say that is the grace of the apostolic office and petrine office. That is the blessings given to the apostles and the blessing given to Peter are, to some degree, still here today in their successors. Protestants reject this but they don't have a real answer to how God intends us to achieve this unity. More and more protestants are starting to see this problem. That their the body of Christ is bigger than their tradition and that maintaining separate traditions is sinful.

The flip side of this is a cause for concern. People are more and more aware of the different Christian traditions and because of this the damage done by Christian disunity is growing. People still feel the call of God in their hearts. When they do they look around and see a confusing picture of Christianity. Lots of groups out there making all sorts of truth claims. The first temptation is to write it all off. It used to be that most people were kind of attached to one tradition and that is where they went when they had questions about faith or morals. That is breaking down. Now people use Google instead and who knows what they will end up with? Some of it might be compelling but the overall message is confused.

Christians simply need to get their act together or they are going to get destroyed by modern skepticism. People are very quick to write off Christianity so if we start offering up a mass of contradictory theological opinions many people won't listen long. As Christianity becomes more and more counter-cultural evangelism will mean asking people to make a big sacrifice for Christ. They might lose friends. They might lose job opportunities. People who used to respect them as serious thinkers might mock them. Paying that kind of price is going to make you ask a lot more questions then you would if you were just going to church on Sunday morning and giving them a few dollars.

People are going to want to know why your church is better than other churches in town. Why is it more likely to be reflecting the truth of Christ? Everyone claims to be biblical so that is no answer. What do you have that is worth dying for? As society gets more and more hostile to the faith that question will not seem overly dramatic.

Friday, January 11, 2013

If Atheism Was True Gandhi And Hitler Would Be Morally Equal

The moral question is one of the major reasons why people reject atheism and rightly so. It does not easily fit into my series of "If atheism was true" posts because it does not lead to a logical impossibility for atheism. We can assert that there is nothing in the moral realm beyond what our brain has constructed. Then morality would not be immaterial. It would reduce to brain chemistry. Just neurons firing in a complex manner. We don't understand all the science that makes it work but we can suppose that if you did you would understand all of morality.

The trouble with that is not that it is illogical but that it is mad.  Here is GK Chesterton:
If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours.
What materialism does is it says good and bad are an illusion. When we feel something is morally good it is just a statement about which neurons fire in our brain in response to this stimulus. Same when we feel something is morally evil. But when you understand good and evil that way then they lose their meaning. There is nothing inherently good or evil about a certain configuration of a neural network. We connect moral feelings of goodness with some sort of absolute goodness. If the pure materialist is right then our moral feelings have a cause that has nothing to do with morality. In fact, the cause must be that feeling that way about things like that somehow created a survival advantage for our evolutionary ancestors.

So moral obligations disappear. What we have is moral feelings. They are selfish. If I do good then I feel good. I might risk my life to save yours. But I didn't do it to save you. I did it because evolution has programmed my brain to feel an obligation to do it. I would feel bad if I let you die. I don't want to feel bad so I saved you. But it is not even selfish. All choices are based on brain chemistry. Even the choice to selfishly follow my own feelings is reducible to brain chemistry. It is like the earth going around the sun. It is just following the laws of science and there is no choice happening moral or otherwise.

There is a certain implausibility of evolution creating moral impulses that developed over thousands of years into the complex history of human ethics that we have seen. But that is answered by faith in science. Science will find a more plausible explanation. Like many answers based on faith it is unfalsifiable, a bit like the madman's theory of a conspiracy against him. Still true beleivers find it convincing.

The real problem comes when you look at the conclusions you arrive at or rather are unable to arrive at. You can't say that another person's action is immoral. When you first say that it sounds OK. It is the ultimate in non-judgmental thinking. But when you start to go through some examples almost nobody believes it. Hitler is the classic one. Do we have any basis for judging Hitler's actions to be immoral? But there are more. If a Muslim country chooses to educate boys and not girls is that just fine or is that wrong? What about a racist culture? What about a rape culture? Do you really want to say that if a society is OK with something then it is OK.

Even if society is not OK with it. So what? If a country is ruled by a dictatorship and people struggle for a long time at tremendous cost to try and bring freedom and democracy then what do we say? The dictator is doing what he thinks is good for the country. The rebels are doing what they think is good. But true goodness does not exist. We might cheer one side or the other but that is just our minds reacting to stimulus. We are imposing our cultural thinking on another culture. We need to learn to stop judging.

This has the effect of making morality completely arbitrary. What will happen in that case is the state will step in and declare morals and impose them by force. People don't grasp the problem. They really think a state-imposed morality would be pretty reasonable. We are a few years removed from Nazism and Stalinism. People forget. People assume humanity has gotten better and we are no longer capable of such evil (even as they deny there is such a thing as better or evil).

You can see how this can cost us everything but our reason. Does that make it less likely to be true? If we can't prove conclusively that morality exists outside the brain exists then should we not assume the simplest theory that explains the data? It depends on what you count as data. Ultimately we get data from our senses. We see, we hear, we touch, we taste, and we smell. If those senses did not exist we would not know about the physical world. In fact, we cannot rationally prove the physical world exists without assuming something about the reliability of our senses.

So what about the moral world? Do we have a moral sense that tells us something about moral realities? If you think of it that way then materialism does not explain the data. We sense that going into a school and killing 20 children is wrong. If the gunman's neural network didn't register it as wrong that does not matter. The wrongness is bigger than his brain. Can we sense that just as plainly as we can sense the sun in the sky? If we have to assume our physical senses are reliable is it such a big stretch to assume our moral senses are reliable?

The best evidence that this is false is atheists themselves. They cannot live it. They cannot get rid of references to good and evil. The Weinberg quote is just one example. Atheists often get morally outraged at Christians. Sometimes they are right to be outraged. Christians do outrageously evil things. The problem is that materialism denies a moral standard to appeal to. Not just a moral standard. When you talk about human society getting better about making progress. Guess what? That assumes a standard by which to measure the goodness of a society.

Sometimes atheists import Christian standards. The might say "obviously preventing the loss of human life is most important." Who says? It was not obvious to the Rwandan Hutus who decided to kill all the Tutsis. The point is that atheists will try and smuggle in some moral principle and reason from there. The trouble is that all moral principles have their roots in moral feelings or divine revelation. If you deny one and claim the other does not indicate actual good or evil then your reasoning has no starting point.