• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

How Your Conscience Leads to God

Thinker

The argument from conscience is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture, the other being the argument from design (both in Romans). Both arguments are essentially simple natural intuitions. Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance.

The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

Like all arguments for the existence of God, this one proves only a small part of what we know God to be by divine revelation. But this part is significantly more than the arguments from nature reveal about God because this argument has richer data, a richer starting point. Here we have inside information, so to speak: the very will of God speaking, however obscurely and whisperingly, however poorly heard, admitted, and heeded, in the depths of our souls. The arguments from nature begin with data that are like an author's books; the argument from conscience begins with data that are more like talking with the author directly, live.

If anyone claims he simply does not have that knowledge, if anyone says he simply doesn't see it, then the argument will not work for him. The question remains, however, whether he honestly doesn't see it and really has no conscience (or a radically defective conscience) or whether he is repressing the knowledge he really has. Divine revelation tells us that he is repressing the knowledge (Rom 1:18b; 2:15). In that case, what is needed before the rational, philosophical argument is some honest introspection to see the data.

The data, conscience, is like a bag of gold buried in my backyard. If someone tells me it is there and that this proves some rich man buried it, I must first dig and find the treasure before I can infer anything more about the cause of the treasure's existence. Before conscience can prove God to anyone, that person must admit the presence of the treasure of conscience in the backyard of his soul.

Before beginning, we should define and clarify the key term conscience. The modern meaning tends to indicate a mere feeling that I did something wrong or am about to do something wrong. The traditional meaning in Catholic theology is the knowledge of what is right and wrong: intellect applied to morality. The meaning of conscience in the argument is knowledge and not just a feeling; but it is intuitive knowledge rather than rational or analytical knowledge, and it is first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness; only in the second place is it the knowledge of which things are right and which things are wrong. This second-place knowledge is a knowledge of moral facts, while the first-place knowledge is a knowledge of my personal moral obligation, a knowledge of the moral law itself and its binding authority over my life. That knowledge forms the basis for the argument from conscience.

Nearly everyone will admit the premise, though. They will often explain it differently, interpret it differently, insist it has nothing to do with God. But that is exactly what the argument tries to show: that once you admit the premise of the authority of conscience, you must admit the conclusion of God. How does that work?

Such people are usually surprised and pleased to find out that Saint Thomas Aquinas, of all people, agrees with them to such an extent that he says if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error. Nearly everyone will admit not only the existence of conscience but also its authority. In this age of rebellion against and doubt about nearly every authority, in this age in which the very word authority has changed from a word of respect to a word of scorn, one authority remains: an individual's conscience. Almost no one will say that one ought to sin against one's conscience, disobey one's conscience. Disobey the church, the state, parents, authority figures, but do not disobey your conscience. Thus people usually admit, though not usually in these words, the absolute moral authority and binding obligation of conscience.

So one of the two premises of the argument is established: conscience has an absolute authority over me. The second premise is that the only possible source of absolute authority is an absolutely perfect will, a divine being. The conclusion follows that such a being exists.

How would someone disagree with the second premise? By finding an alternative basis for conscience besides God. There are four such possibilities:

  1. Something abstract and impersonal, like an idea;
  2. Something concrete but less than human, something on the level of animal instinct;
  3. Something on the human level but not divine; and
  4. Something higher than the human level but not yet divine.

In other words, we cover all the possibilities by looking at the abstract, the concrete-less-than-human, the concrete-human, and the concrete-more-than-human.

The first possibility means that the basis of conscience is a law without a lawgiver. We are obligated absolutely to an abstract ideal, a pattern of behavior. The question then comes up, where does this pattern exist? If it does not exist anywhere, how can a real person be under the authority of something unreal? How can more be subject to "less"? If, however, this pattern or idea exists in the minds of people, then what authority do they have to impose this idea of theirs on me? If the idea is only an idea, it has no personal will behind it; if it is only someone's idea, it has only that someone behind it. In neither case do we have a sufficient basis for absolute, infallible, no-exceptions authority. But we already admitted that conscience has that authority, that no one should ever disobey his conscience.

The second possibility means that we trace conscience to a biological instinct. "We must love one another or die", writes the poet W. H. Auden. We unconsciously know this, says the believer in this second possibility, just as animals unconsciously know that unless they behave in certain ways the species will not survive. That's why animal mothers sacrifice for their children, and that's a sufficient explanation for human altruism too. It's the herd instinct.

The problem with that explanation is that it, like the first, does not account for the absoluteness of conscience's authority. We believe we ought to disobey an instinct—any instinct—on some occasions. But we do not believe we ought ever to disobey our conscience. You should usually obey instincts like mother love, but not if it means keeping your son back from risking his life to save his country in a just and necessary defensive war, or if it means injustice and lack of charity to other mothers' sons. There is no instinct that should always be obeyed. The instincts are like the keys on a piano (the illustration comes from C. S. Lewis); the moral law is like sheet music. Different notes are right at different times.

Furthermore, instinct fails to account not only for what we ought to do but also for what we do do. We don't always follow instinct. Sometimes we follow the weaker instinct, as when we go to the aid of a victim even though we fear for our own safety. The herd instinct here is weaker than the instinct for self-preservation, but our conscience, like sheet music, tells us to play the weak note here rather than the strong one.

Honest introspection will reveal to anyone that conscience is not an instinct. When the alarm wakes you up early and you realize that you promised to help your friend this morning, your instincts pull you back to bed, but something quite different from your instincts tells you you should get out. Even if you feel two instincts pulling you (e.g., you are both hungry and tired), the conflict between those two instincts is quite different, and can be felt and known to be quite different, from the conflict between conscience and either or both of the instincts.

Quite simply, conscience tells you that you ought to do or not do something, while instincts simply drive you to do or not do something. Instincts make something attractive or repulsive to your appetites, but conscience makes something obligatory to your choice, no matter how your appetites feel about it. Most people will admit this piece of obvious introspective data if they are honest. If they try to wriggle out of the argument at this point, leave them alone with the question, and if they are honest, they will confront the data when they are alone.

third possibility is that other human beings (or society) are the source of the authority of conscience. That is the most popular belief, but it is also the weakest of all the four possibilities. For society does not mean something over and above other human beings, something like God, although many people treat society exactly like God, even in speech, almost lowering the voice to a whisper when the sacred name is mentioned. Society is simply other people like myself. What authority do they have over me? Are they always right? Must I never disobey them? What kind of blind status quo conservatism is this? Should a German have obeyed society in the Nazi era?

To say society is the source of conscience is to say that when one prisoner becomes a thousand prisoners, they become the judge. It is to say that mere quantity gives absolute authority; that what the individual has in his soul is nothing, no authoritative conscience, but that what society (i.e., many individuals) has is. That is simply a logical impossibility, like thinking stones can think if only you have enough of them. (Some proponents of artificial intelligence believe exactly that kind of logical fallacy, by the way: that electrons and chips and chunks of metal can think if only you have enough of them in the right geometrical arrangements.)

The fourth possibility remains, that the source of conscience's authority is something above me but not God. What could this be? Society is not above me, nor is instinct. An ideal? That is the first possibility we discussed. It looks as though there are simply no candidates in this area.

And that leaves us with God. Not just some sort of God, but the moral God of the Bible, the God at least of Judaism. Among all the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their God with the source of moral obligation. The gods of the pagans demanded ritual worship, inspired fear, designed the universe, or ruled over the events in human life, but none of them ever gave a Ten Commandments or said, "Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy." The Jews saw the origin of nature and the origin of conscience as one, and Christians (and Muslims) have inherited this insight. The Jews' claim to be God's chosen people interprets the insight in the humblest possible way: as divine revelation, not human cleverness. But once revealed, the claim can be seen to be utterly logical.

To sum up the argument most simply and essentially, conscience has absolute, exceptionless, binding moral authority over us, demanding unqualified obedience. But only a perfectly good, righteous divine will has this authority and a right to absolute, exceptionless obedience. Therefore conscience is the voice of the will of God.

Of course, we do not always hear that voice aright. Our consciences can err. That is why the first obligation we have, in conscience, is to form our conscience by seeking the truth, especially the truth about whether this God has revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church). If so, whenever our conscience seems to tell us to disobey those maps, it is not working properly, and we can know that by conscience itself if only we remember that conscience is more than just immediate feeling. If our immediate feelings were the voice of God, we would have to be polytheists or else God would have to be schizophrenic.
 
 
Excerpted from Fundamentals of the Faith. Copyright 1988 by Ignatius Press, all rights reserved, used with permission. Text copied from PeterKreeft.com.
(Image credit: Discovering God Today)


 
Fundamentals of the FaithLike every religion, Catholicism has three aspects, corresponding to the three parts of the soul. First, every religion has some beliefs, whether expressed in creeds or not, something for the intellect to know. Second, every religion has some duty or deed, some practice of program, some moral or ethical code, something for the will to choose. Finally, every religion has some liturgy, some worship, some "church", something for the body and the concrete imagination and the aesthetic sense to work at.

In Fundamentals of the Faith, Dr. Peter Kreeft uses these three divisions as the basic outline. He considers all the fundamental elements of Catholicism, explaining, defending, and showing their relevance to our life and the world's yearnings.
 


 

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

Enjoy this article? Receive future posts free by email:

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • VelikaBuna

    State of modern societies and their atheist intellectual elite.

    2 Thessalonians

    Let
    no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except
    there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the
    son of perdition; 4Who
    opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is
    worshiped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself
    that he is God. 5Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6And now you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8And
    then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with
    the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his
    coming: 9Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10And
    with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they
    received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

    • Velika, thanks for the comment! In the future, please refrain from copy-and-pasting large chunks of text into the comment box. Simply include a link to the relevant passage and then reference it to make your point.

      • epeeist

        In the future, please refrain from copy-and-pasting large chunks of text into the comment box.

        Hey, it is longer than his normal contentless one liners and contains no snark or ad hominems.

      • VelikaBuna

        Sorry about that.

    • Max Driffill

      VelikaBuna,
      Nothing is less compelling than quoting scripture at unbelievers.

      • VelikaBuna

        I know.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Then why do it? No one is persuaded, and it makes us less likely to accept anything you may accidentally say.

          • VelikaBuna

            You actually think you can persuade people into accepting something contrary to their position that would require them to change their lifestyle?

            I don't.
            Logic is not the strongest suit of the atheists, yet they claim they are guided it by it. It reminds me talking to a schizophrenic who believes something irrational. They are hand wavers, no matter what you throw in front of them unless it has a force behind it will always be rejected.

          • Susan

            You actually think you can persuade people into accepting something contrary to their position that would require them to change their lifestyle?

            We are VERY devoted to our atheist lifestyles and impervious to reason because of it, but can you blame us? Have you seen the brochures?

            Logic is not the strongest suit of the atheists, yet they claim they are guided it by it

            Yes. The atheist commenters here love to go on about reason but invoke mystery when asked to connect their dots and fall back on special pleading when asked for evidence. I can understand how boring and frustrating that might get for you after a while.

            They are hand wavers, no matter what you throw in front of them unless it has a force behind it will always be rejected.

            I know!!! No matter how weak the argument, or how scant the evidence, or how incoherent the claims, those bull-headed atheists just don't seem to be able to accept your claims.

            In their defense, their thinking has become distorted by the fabulous, decadent lifestyles that they will not change.

            (Seriously. Have you SEEN the brochures?)

          • VelikaBuna

            Like I said unless there is a force behind words, which only God can do, people like you will just hand wave, and say make me if you can. I dare you, is basically your position. This is not about arguments and persuasion, but about power. That is why you can call the strongest arguments weak, because they have no power behind them, they are to you just ideas which can be dismissed without any consequences to you. At least that is what you have persuaded yourself to believe. We could do this dance all day, and get nowhere. Only God can change people. Atheist position is so irrationally extreme that they are only about 3% of the population and no argument can change them. Atheists believe in the demonstration of power and even then they are likely to have it covered under some chance explanation.

          • Susan

            Like I said unless there is a force behind words, which only God can do

            I know what you said. Got evidence?

            I dare you, is basically your position. This is not about arguments and persuasion, but about power.

            Says the catholic to the atheist..

            That is why you can call the strongest arguments weak, because they have no power behind them, they are to you just ideas which can be dismissed without any consequences to you.

            Ideas have consequences. Can you give me your strongest argument? Why would you assume that people who don't agree with you have dismissed the ideas rather than consider the possibility that they have seriously considered the ideas and found them deeply lacking?

            Atheist position is so irrationally extreme that they are only about 3% of the population and no argument can change them.

            So you're a proponent of argumentum ad populum? You think a strong case can be made that it's a good guide for figuring out how we've got things right and wrong?

            Atheists believe in the demonstration of power

            What is that? How does not believing in god(s) have anything to do with what you might think you mean?
            As far as I can tell, I am engaging with a troll but after so much poo-slinging on your part, my restraint wavered.
            Funny, on the few discussion sites I've been on run by atheists you would have been hoofed out by now even if you didn't believe in god(s). You would have been hoofed out for violating all the terms set down by the site moderators that only seem to apply sometimes.

            To be fair, I've never flagged you. I don't know how to flag a relentless onslaught of pure poo.

            I was hoping they'd have noticed by now. Are there any mods on duty or are they all in Croydon?

          • VelikaBuna

            Exactly like I said your argument is a dare to God. There is nothing I can tell you or show you to change your position because you are asking for a force, and it is a dare. All i can say is, you'll get your answer one day.

          • Susan

            Yes. Anyone who read my last comment would recognize it immediately as a dare to all the gods, despite the words.
            So,, no evidence then?

            Darn it! I know better than to wander under the bridge but I did it anyway.

            I'm officially out. Sorry for the interruption.

            All i can say is, you'll get your answer one day.

            That almost sounds like the friendly and familiar threat of hell that I have regularly encountered (since I was 6) in lieu of an argument or explanation or evidence. What a delightful dialogue this has been.

          • VelikaBuna

            You have evidence for Atheism? What is your explanation or evidence and what are the consequences of this dead end philosophy? This site has nothing but provided all kinds of logical evidence for the necessity of God, and you ask for evidence? What you are asking for is a dare....make me, I dare you.

          • Michael Murray

            You want evidence for atheism ? I don't hold any beliefs in gods, therefore I am an atheist, therefore atheists exist. OK ?

          • VelikaBuna

            Oh boy...circular. All this had been rehashed on here ad nauseam. What a waste of time. Still at the initial spot.

          • Michael Murray

            So what are you doing here ?

          • VelikaBuna

            Prove it.

          • Susan

            You want evidence for atheism ? I don't hold any beliefs in gods

            Maybe we just need to put it on a T-shirt.

            I would stick on the back, "And you haven't explained why I should."

            It's absurd that you still need to type that.

          • VelikaBuna

            All this nonsense had been discussed on virtually every topic on here, and you think you can still hand wave atheism as something that simple? Oh we just don't believe in God...please.

          • ZenDruid

            Okay, okay, we share recipes for children, we dance around naked in the moonlight with the Wiccans, we worship the golden calf, and we blaspheme the Holy Spirit whenever it strikes our fancy.

          • Susan

            Okay, okay, we share recipes for children, we dance around naked with the Wiccans, we worship the golden calf, and we blaspheme the Holy Spirit whenever it strikes our fancy.

            But that doesn't make me a bad person.

          • ZenDruid

            Of course not.

          • Susan

            Of course not.

            Thank you.

            I'll see you in the Jacuzzi after the blood sacrifice is made to store up power for the final confrontation.

            Don't forget. It's marguerita night.

            (There's a schedule of events in the back of the brochure.)

          • ZenDruid

            Shall I bring the herbs?

          • Susan

            Who else? Of course. How can we have a proper sacrifice without the right herbs?

            Oh, and the amulet. Don't forget the amulet.

            Wally's the only other guy who's got an amulet and he's driving to the Grand Canyon this week with the wife and kids.

            We really need that amulet.

          • ZenDruid

            The one that keeps away the Nargles?

          • Susan

            The one that keeps away the Nargles?

            We'll need that one too.

          • ZenDruid

            Mm. Also, the radioactive lingam which also serves as a bottle opener....

          • VelikaBuna

            Mocking and daring again? God has anticipated you.

            Jude1
            17But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,18that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.

            2 Peter 3

            3Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
            4They
            will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors
            died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
            5But
            they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came
            into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
            6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
            7By
            the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire,
            being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

          • ZenDruid

            Bla ... bla ... bla.... Why not quote something rousing from Game of Thrones? Or better yet, The Rum Diaries>/i<?

          • VelikaBuna

            Your comment would be funny except you are serious.

          • ZenDruid

            I'm under the influence right now, my friend, so I'm only fractally serious. ;-)>

          • Susan

            You are old, Father William," the young man said,
            "And your hair has become very white;
            And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
            Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

            "In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
            "I feared it might injure the brain;
            But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
            Why, I do it again and again."

            "You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
            And have grown most uncommonly fat;
            Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
            Pray, what is the reason of that?"

            "In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
            "I kept all my limbs very supple
            By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
            Allow me to sell you a couple?"

            "You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
            For anything tougher than suet;
            Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
            Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

            "In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
            And argued each case with my wife;
            And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
            Has lasted the rest of my life."

            "You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
            That your eye was as steady as ever;
            Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
            What made you so awfully clever?"

            "I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
            Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
            Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
            Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

          • VelikaBuna

            Bad or good is not something that can even exist in the atheist philosophy. There is only strong and weak. Strong rules over the weak, strong defeats the weak, and both have the same dead end. So in the end there is no strong or weak but only dead end.

          • ZenDruid

            You have atheism mixed up with social Darwinism, which was very popular with the early- and mid-20th century tyrants and their splinter groups.

            Myself, I'm a Timothy Leary atheist, I'd just like to help you expand your mind.

          • VelikaBuna

            I am very leery of any Leary atheist.

          • ZenDruid

            Good answer. good answer.

          • Max Driffill

            VelikaBuna,

            Do you specialize in preposterous utterances?

            Bad or good is something that can exist for the atheist. My coffee cup is currently empty. Very bad. My youngest was sick for a couple of days, also bad. My youngest got well, talk about good! I'm about to go fill my coffee cup and get an oil change, also good.

            Look at that, I've dispensed with your axiom like the Hulk dispenses with puny gods.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lGrarz3MQ

          • VelikaBuna

            You dispensed with your superficial understanding of my point.

          • Max Driffill

            No, I think I rather decimated the whole thing.

          • VelikaBuna

            I am sure you think you did.

          • Michael Murray

            In memory of Mel Smith

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbCzquk9h5k

            Lip sync is rubbish but just wait for the last line

          • ZenDruid

            Nice.

          • Michael Murray

            So how come after all that repetition you still don't get it. It's not don't believe in God, it's hold no beliefs in gods. How many times, mumble, why don't people read what I, grumble, grumble

          • Jonathan West

            I don't think you need to engage in grammatical prestidigitation on this topic. Whether you believe there is no God or don't believe there is any God, the number of Gods in whose existence you believe is zero.

            What matters is not the grammatical form in which you express it but rather whether the belief is based on the preponderance of the evidence.

            In my case, atheism is a conclusion based on the evidence available to me. It's not a faith position, it is simply based on evidence.

            The evidence for God put by the religious is of very poor quality when compared with the standard of evidence required in order to hold up a scientific theory. If the religious either come up with improved evidence or a good reason for treating their evidence according to a different standard, then I would be open to changing my mind.

          • VelikaBuna
          • Jonathan West

            The Turin shroud has been conclusively demonstrated to be a medieval forgery. If you want to believe otherwise you are welcome to, but in doing so you are promoting faith above evidence.

            As for the "One God further" post, I've come across the arguments against it before, and they fall because even if you were to offer some degree of convincing evidence that the start of the universe for instance was not the start of everything, that there is a "God of the philosophers" that initiated the process, invisible, ineffable, omnipotent, omniscient and all the other properties that are traditionally assigned to such a God, there is no evidence that this god is the god of Christianity, or that you have any means of knowing (for instance) that he doesn't like same sex marriage.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            conclusively demonstrated to be a medieval forgery.

            Likely a forgery? yes. Conclusively? Not for me unless the image on the shroud can be duplicated using technology available pre-1400. Do you have a citation??

          • VelikaBuna

            The only thing that was conclusive was that the sample used for dating, which was not the true representation of the shroud (there was patching etc.) Some of the samples tested did test to 1st century, but after things were averaged out the conclusion was what it was, and it was wrong, not because of the carbon dating but because of the sample used.

          • VelikaBuna

            Modern technology cannot duplicate the shroud let alone medieval. Do they teach in schools that photography and inverse(negative) 3D imaging was invented in the middle ages, by aliens?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Is it possible you misread my post. My lifelong atheism does not preclude me from having an open mind on the shroud. I do not think that it has been conclusively demonstrated to be a forgery.

          • VelikaBuna

            I was actually agreeing with you, and just supplementing your post.

          • VelikaBuna

            I knew you were going to say that about the shroud of Turin. What do you say then about this? Dinosaurs and fossils dating.

            http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002808#top

          • I knew you were going to say that about the shroud of Turin.

            What in the world does the Shroud of Turin have to do with How Your Conscience Leads to God?

          • VelikaBuna

            It is a puzzling piece of evidence, curiously mysterious. What do you think it is?

          • Jonathan West

            I think it is a medieval forgery, and therefore evidence of nothing in particular.

          • VelikaBuna

            Whatever.

          • It is a puzzling piece of evidence, curiously mysterious. What do you think it is?

            If we get a good post about the Shroud of Turin, I might venture an opinion in the comments to that post. But for the purposes of this thread, I would say that the Shroud of Turin is an unnecessary distraction from the issues raised by the question of whether the "argument from conscience" is credible.

          • Jonathan West

            Good point. I shall stop responding to VelikaBuna on the Turin Shroud on this thread, and also on dinosaur fossils.

            Velika, if you want to discuss something with me on-topic to the original article, you are welcome to offer a response to my reply to Brandon in which I pointed out several shortcomings of the article in its attempts to eliminate natural origins for conscience.

          • Agreed. Velika, please stay on the original topic. Further posts about the Shroud will be deleted unless shown to be relevant to the discussion.

          • Isaac Clarke

            I'd say we have no evidence that dinosaurs went on dates.

            But perhaps I'm just being obtuse.

          • Jonathan West

            I skimmed the paper. What is your point?

          • VelikaBuna

            Oh nothing.

          • Isaac Clarke

            Even if the Turin shroud was proven to date to the exact time period, we'd still have no proof it had any connection to Jesus.

            Even if it could be proven that it was Jesus's shroud, we would just have evidence that a man, who we now name Jesus, lived in a certain area, at a certain time.

            How is it evidence(even on your terms) of the supernatural Jesus. Oops I mean divine Jesus.

          • VelikaBuna

            Many things are paraded as facts by the atheists on much flimsier grounds, yet no evidence contrary is ever above hand waving.

          • Isaac Clarke

            You miss my point. Even if it was proven to be the shroud of Jesus, how would it bolster your claims that Jesus was the son of a god?

          • epeeist

            How is it evidence(even on your terms) of the supernatural Jesus. Oops I mean divine Jesus.

            Yes, reminds me of this cartoon. Just a few steps missing between premiss and conclusion. But there again if you work from conclusion to premiss this is hardly surprising.

          • Isaac Clarke

            Nice!

            I think you did a slip there... premise or premiss?
            Both work with a little leeway.

          • epeeist

            I think you did a slip there... premise or premiss?

            Having been bitten a number of time by people thinking I am referring to houses or offices I tend to use the old fashioned spelling.

          • Max Driffill

            THe evidential burden is on the one making the positive claim. As an atheist all I am doing is failing to reject the null hypothesis (There are no gods) because the evidence leaves at that starting point.

            The logical "proofs" are, as it happens, larded with assumptions about the world and make them interesting thought experiments at best and extreme time wasters at worst. They don't constitute evidence. They may allow the formulation of a testable hypothesis or two (or more even) but until those are confirmed there is no reason to take these hypotheses seriously.

          • VelikaBuna

            Your standards are so high that you cannot claim to have evidence for anything at all.

          • Michael Murray

            Atheist position is so irrationally extreme that they are only about 3% of the population and no argument can change them.

            Remind me again how many people globally believe in your Catholic God ? How many of those actually attend Mass and follow the Churches rules on use of contraception ?

          • VelikaBuna

            Not many. I don't know the percentage but it is pretty low.

          • Max Driffill

            Who here is believing irrational things? I will submit that the evidenced based view is not the irrational one, but the view that thinks two primates in a garden were tricked by a talking snake is the cause of all the worlds woes is the one adopting an irrational view, untethered by evidence and thus free to ignore logic whenever it suits them.

          • VelikaBuna

            What no evidence? Evidence is the most powerful, from the Word of God. I take that evidence any time over Dawkins, Hawking and Krausses of this world.

          • Max Driffill

            Oh do expand on this.

  • primenumbers

    For a site devoted to dialogue with non-believers, statements such as: "The question remains, however, whether he honestly doesn't see it and really has no conscience (or a radically defective conscience) or whether he is repressing the knowledge he really has. " do not help the Catholic case one little bit. That such obvious rationalizations are brought up against the acknowledged answer: "If anyone claims he simply does not have that knowledge, if anyone says he simply doesn't see it, then the argument will not work for him." sounds more aimed at the believer than the non-believer.

    • Excellent comment.

      Kreeft: "Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance."
      Translation: If you object to what I say, you are automatically wrong, and you're being disingenuous.

      Kreeft: ". . . everyone in the world knows, deep down . . . "
      Translation: If you claim to disagree with me, you are at best fooling yourself.

      These kinds of arguments are insulting.

      • Rationalist1

        These kinds of arguments may be insulting but if you think about it what else can they say when so many people love good and fulfilling lives without God or a need for a God.

        • VelikaBuna

          So why are you here?

        • . . . . what else can they say when so many people love good and fulfilling lives without God or a need for a God.

          Well, I can tell you what you can't say, which is, "[E]veryone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good." If there's one thing that everyone should know, it's that it is a lousy argument that begins, "Everyone in the world knows, deep down . . . ."

          What if I said, "Everyone in the world knows, deep down, that there is no God"? The theists here would, quite rightly, excoriate anyone who made such a statement. But when Dr. Peter Kreeft asserts that everyone in the world, deep down, knows something, it gets posted here as if it were a worthy argument.

          • Rationalist1

            If you (or anyone) said ""Everyone in the world knows, deep down, that there is no God"?" I would be the first to object. Most people do believe in a God or Gods, alas. I would hope theists would learn that in a world where a growing number simply do not feel a need for a God that such blanket statements are not just wrong but inappropriate.

    • VelikaBuna

      Pride is a mystery. It is identified in Catholic theology as one of the main obstacles(vice) in knowing God.

      • primenumbers

        Thank you for another great example of a rationalization that bolsters my comment still further.

        • VelikaBuna

          Don't pretend how you are "rational" and how you are guided by some "rational" proofs. You are guided by self justification and self righteousness. Honest, just and moral person will always be attracted by the truth, the opposite will attack it and try to destroy it by being irrational.

          You forgot to give yourself a vote up.

          • primenumbers

            And yet another rationalization. Thanks again.

          • VelikaBuna

            Any time.
            Don't forget vote up.

          • primenumbers

            I think you'll find that the way Disqus works that if you up-vote yourself it will vanish when you refresh the thread. I've just up voted myself to empirically test my theory. You'll also note if you hover on the up-vote it lists those who did the up vote.

            And I refreshed, and those up votes are gone.

          • robtish

            VelikaBuna,here are the commenting guidelines for this site:
            http://strangenotions.com/commenting/

            Please pay attention to #4.

          • Max Driffill

            VelikaBuna,
            We don't deal in proofs. We deal in evidence. And we try not to get a head of it. Most of us are good, honest, moral people who want justice and peace. We really are just not convinced by the case for gods.

            Your stance, that seems to proceed without any evidence, is deeply insulting and dismissive.

      • Rationalist1

        What about the pride inherent in a faith that thinks the entire universe with it's myriad galaxies each containing billions of stars with countless planets and wonders beyond our imagination was all created for their benefit and that the creator of all this cares about every hair on their head. Now that's pride.

        • VelikaBuna

          Defending the truth is not pride.

        • Linda

          I find it a much more humbling idea.

          • Rationalist1

            Linda - What do you find humbling, being the center of creation or one species out of millions on a obscure speck of a planet around a nondescript star in a spiral arm of some galaxy among billions.

            I sometimes wonder how many other planet have or had intelligent life who think the same thing.

          • Linda

            Just exactly what you said: I am such an insignificant piece of such a vast, beautiful, amazing universe. And yet my life has purpose and worth. As does yours! I come from love and am called to love and I feel that love. So incredible in such an enormous world. (Although my last sentence leads me to Monty Python: "Oh, God - You are so big! You are so absolutely huge!" Or something along those lines. :)

          • Rationalist1

            My life does have purpose and worth. The purpose is the meaning I make of my life by doing meaningful things and the worth is how I use my life to help others. I don't need the representatives of a God of Gods to assign a purpose to my life.

          • So the "meaning" of your life and the doing of "meaningful things" and what it means to "help others" is to be determined entirely by you?
            Does this mean you are acting according to your own conscience?

          • Rationalist1

            I think ultimately we all act according to our own conscience, believer or not. The difference is what we choose to inform our conscience and help us formulate decisions.

          • Linda

            Hey Rationalist! I've been thinking about this exchange for a bit now and am wondering about the meaning and worth of other people's lives. I believe all life has meaning and worth, that we are all deserving of dignity and respect. How do you look at this and how does it influence you?

          • Rationalist1

            I agree that all life has meaning, but that does not imply meaningfulness. That's our responsibility, for religious people or not. Life deserves dignity and one needs to respect a person's rights but a person is not always deserving of respect, in some cases it's not warranted.

          • Linda

            Thanks for your thoughts. I'll be chewing on them for a bit if that's okay.

          • In some cases is not warranted because some people decided to follow their instincts instead that their conscience.

          • No. This comes from his instincts, of course.

            They see the evidence for conscience authority, but they don't want to explain the source of that absolute authority.

          • Max Driffill

            Shackra,
            We don't need anything to have a conscience. It can be all human nature and culture. You may have failed to notice, the kinds of things that aggravate our consciences now did not even a hundred years ago. In the middle ages a popular sport was burning cats, ingenious methods were devised to torture people for the most minor transgressions. The bible fully accepts that slavery will be practiced. Scorched earth policies of war were not only approved but glorified.

            We've come a long way, and religious organizations haven't always been at the helm. In fact they have opposed more often than they have supported moral progress (this is not to diminish the very real contributions of some religious folk and organizations).

          • The bible fully accepts that slavery will be practiced. Scorched earth policies of war were not only approved but glorified.

            Please compare what right had an slave according to the Old Testament in comparison with the surrounding cultures at that time. You see that that word don't mean what we might think at first, as the slavery of two or three centuries ago. "Scorched earth policies" according to your understanding of scripture or according to the interpretation of a trained Theologian or even from the Interpretation of the Catholic Church? I'll recommend to you Paul Copan's book

            Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God to read, so both can have some understanding of these dense sections of Old Testament scripture.

            We don't need anything to have a conscience. It can be all human nature and culture.

            That is circle reasoning. You try to explain some specific aspect of the human nature using the very human nature to explain it (or culture, which is just a group of individuals having what we mean to explain in first place). I cannot even explain why @disqus_HOKynBthUD:disqus and @disqus_xYWVllyPLU:disqus up voted you without noticing what you did there in first place. (or may I miss reading you (because language barriers), and you mean that Conscience can be the combination of human nature and culture, which I'll disagree with anyway)

            We've come a long way, and religious organizations haven't always been at the helm. In fact they have opposed more often than they have supported moral
            progress (this is not to diminish the very real contributions of some religious folk and organizations).

            Well, just to reinforce some aspects of your point and taking out the everlasting Catholicisms out of that fuzzy group of "religious organizations" I'll say to words: RERUM NOVARUM

          • Linda

            Exactly right! It is apparent in your comments that you treat your life with respect and that you care for others. I was not assigning anything to you and am sorry if it sounded like that. Am feeling a bit Pollyanna today - a little too joyful and gushing. My love of life and God and others is making me feel a bit elated. Or perhaps my instincts are screwed up? ;)

          • Rationalist1

            No offense at all taken. We all should have meaning to our lives, it's just a matter of how we acquire that meaning.

          • Linda

            Indeed! I think for many of us - most? - who want that meaning that it seems to come from a place of love and caring. Which is why I enjoy this site so much. Catholic or Atheist or anyone at all, most of the commenters seem to seek truth and meaning for our lives. It's fascinating to read how we each approach it.

      • Max Driffill

        Mystery is not a word that explains much. Here is an example.
        "Sam what happened to Archer, people are saying you killed him, tell me you know what is going on, tell me you have an explanation..."
        "Yeah, its a mystery, can I go now?" Sam Spade.
        "Uh...."

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Which tells us absolutely nothing.

      • Michael Murray

        And there I was thinking it had something to do with lions or maybe falling?

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Prime,

      I'm confused by this statement. Is your objection that you think there are people who have no conscience, or you just don't like the way the article was written?

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

      • primenumbers

        It's not really an objection, more that it makes the Catholic position look bad when such obvious rationalizations are trotted out.

      • Is your objection that you think there are people who have no conscience . .

        According to the book The Sociopath Next Door, 4% of the population—1 person in every 25—has no conscience. According to the PW review, the author of the book, Martha Stout, says that "as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. As Stout . . . explains, a sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse." If true, then it is clearly false that "everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good."

        Sociopaths and psychopaths are not, as I understand it, considered insane. Now, the vast majority of us would say there is something very wrong with such people. But doesn't that amount to saying "everyone in the world knows, deep down [—unless he doesn't—] that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good"?

        • ZenDruid

          There's an argument making the rounds that in today's business climate, it takes some level of sociopathy or psychopathy to succeed. It takes pretty much the same to write off the suffering of molested children to protect the corporation.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          I have not read Dr Stout work, so I can only go for what the Amazon description says. According to this, Dr Stout defines sociopath as "someone who displays at least three of seven
          distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulssivity and a lack of remorse."

          On the other hand what Dr Kreft says about "everyone in the world" is that " he knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good,". In fact he defined conscience as " first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness"

          It seems to me that having this knowledge, does not prevent one from still been a sociopath (By Dr Stout's definition). One can have the knowledge of what is good behavior and still behave badly. Some people might not be bothered by this but this is different than not knowing the should "be good"

          Of course not having read this work I can be wrong, but unless one of the other four characteristics is "has no knowledge they are obligated do good" I do not see a contradiction between Dr Stout work and Dr Kreft's article.

          Of course there still the issue of:

          Is being a sociopath and having absolutely no conscience the same thing?

          I contend (as Dr. Kreft does) that everyone has this knowledge. Even Sociopaths, Take for example Tim McVeigh (The OK City bomber) he has been described as a sociopath by many people and yet, at the end he showed remorse and was reconciled with the Church.

          http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=20920

          Hardly the behavior of someone without the knowledge of having to do good.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          DHS

          • I think a great many true psychopaths have an intellectual knowledge of what society considers right and wrong that allows them to "blend in," but that knowledge in no way inhibits them when they want to do something wrong and believe they can get away with it. So I don't think a psychopath "knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good." He may know what others expect of him, and he may know how to act according to that knowledge, but that seems to me to be quite different from knowing deep down "he is absolutely obligated to be and do good."

            It seems to me that if a person knows, intellectually, what is considered right and wrong, but that knowledge affects his behavior only to the extent that he attempts to avoid getting caught doing what is wrong, he doesn't have a conscience. If conscience is the "voice of God in the soul," there are people who are deaf to it.

            In any case, whether the above is accurate or not, it is an extremely faulty argument that is based on what "everybody knows, deep down." How does Kreeft know what everybody believes, deep down? How does he explain the behavior of people whom he alleges know deep down they are absolutely obligated to be good but are not good, and feel no remorse.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They are exceptions, just as there are people who are blind.

          • They are exceptions, just as there are people who are blind.

            So what Kreeft and you are saying is that "everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good," except, of course, for those who don't know.

            Everyone in the world can see, except those who are blind, and everyone in the world can hear, except those who are deaf, and everyone in the world is an atheist, except those who believe in God.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't agree with Kreeft that there are no people without conscience or with totally mangled ones. I don't even think Kreeft thinks "everyone" has an operating conscience.

            He is simply saying that everyone (else) knows deep down they ought to do good and not do evil.

            Do you disagree with that? Do you agree with it as far as you go?

          • Do you disagree with that? Do you agree with it as far as you go?

            Let's look at precisely what Kreeft says, because he says considerably more than your paraphrase.

            The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God.

            I would agree that most people understand they are expected to live by certain rules. I disagree that everybody knows, or even that most people know they are "absolutely obligated." As we have seen from endless discussions here, many people believe there is no objective right or wrong. (I lean slightly toward believing that there is objective right and wrong, but I am not sure.) So the idea of everyone, or even most people, believing they are "absolutely obligated" strikes me as incorrect. And it's ambiguous, but if Kreeft is saying everybody knows (or most people know, or "normal" people know) that "this absolute obligation could come only from God, then I strongly disagree. If Kreeft is really saying people know that they are "absolutely obligated to be and do good" and they also know, deep down, that this absolute obligation has been imposed by God, then that is saying that everyone who is an atheist is either being disingenuous or fooling him- or herself.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            On reflection, I agree with you.

            I think Kreeft is saying that.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I've read her book and I suspect the 4% is an exaggeration, but Kreeft was talking about normal people, not those who for whatever reason have no conscience or a broken one or a deeply suppressed one.

          • Kreeft was talking about normal people, not those who for whatever
            reason have no conscience or a broken one or a deeply suppressed one.

            But Kreeft says:

            If anyone claims he simply does not have that knowledge, if anyone says he simply doesn't see it, then the argument will not work for him. The question remains, however, whether he honestly doesn't see it and really has no conscience (or a radically defective conscience) or whether he is repressing the knowledge he really has. Divine revelation tells us that he is repressing the knowledge (Rom 1:18b; 2:15). In that case, what is needed before the rational, philosophical argument is some honest introspection to see the data.

            So presumably divine revelation tells us that psychopaths really do have consciences, they are just repressing them.

            Also, although I am not an expert on the psychology of the development of conscience, it is clear that he totally ignores it. He doesn't mention Freud and the development of the Superego, nor does he mention any of the studies of how children pass through various stages of development in earlier years behaving only when watched, and in later years internalizing what they have been trained to do.

            This is yet another example of a "logical" argument that is not based on anything in the real world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think children have much bearing, but it looks like Kreeft miswrote when he attributes all denial of conscience to bad faith, unless he knows something about psychopaths we don't.

            By why is it not based on "anything in the real world" if it applies to 96% or more?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I have read several pieces by Kreeft; I do not believe he miswrote. He honestly believes that atheists are dishonest.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            He was talking about people who ignore the call of conscience. Don't plenty of atheists listen to their consciences and so accept P1?

            There is still a second step in the proof. If you ask where the demand of conscience comes from, Kreeft says the only sensible place is God.

            You can be an atheist and accept P1. Lot's of people, including most theists, never go to P2 because they never even think of doing so.

            So, I don't think it is quite fair to say Kreeft thinks all atheists are dishonest, at least not from this OP.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            He was talking about people who ignore the call of conscience. Don't plenty of atheists listen to their consciences and so accept P1?

            But's there more than that TO P1. There's the whole, everybody knows conscience only comes from god, anyone who doesn't (i.e. atheists) is deceiving themselves.

            He's pretty clear about it.

            There is still a second step in the proof. If you ask where the demand of conscience comes from, Kreeft says the only sensible place is God.

            No, Kreeft says that everyone KNOWS is can only come from god.

            You need to reread what he actually said.

  • 42Oolon

    Yes, I do not accept the premises. The fact that I have intuitions about behaviour is not a form or knowledge, nor is absolutely authoritative. This is easily demonstrable by showing how our moral intuitions are very often wrong or at least unhelpful. A few thought experiments.

    A mother's child is diagnosed with a terminal disease. There is an operation that cures 65% of the time and costs10,000 dollars. She was going to spend this on an anniversary cruise, but she has a strong feeling that nothing is more important than this operation. As she is entering the hospital to pay for the operation there is a kiosk asking for donations for a vaccine program in which 1000$ is known to save the lives of 100 children. Do you think for one second that she would have an intuition that saving 1000 children is the moral thing here?

    We also have moral dilemmas. Do I take this promotion that will mean less time with my kids, but I could afford their college. Do I strangle my baby to keep our group hidden from the nazis? Do I fire this single mom for poor performance and help my business or try to get them to improve but risk bankruptcy? Far from being an authority, or moral sense gets confused and we feel unable to say what is right.

    • Rationalist1

      This moral ambiguity is also reflected in the world's religions. Pick any modern moral issue and you will have religion, intelligent, educated, moral, prayerful, sincere people taking radically different positions on important problems we all face. Now of course a particular practitioner of one of those faiths might say "But my view is the right one and all the others are deficient" but a more thoughtful approach might be to say these issues are complicated, clearly there is no authoritative moral authority telling humanity what to do. Rather lets work within human experience, human empathy, treason, logic, science and debate to find the best answer we can.

      • VelikaBuna

        Lets not, because I lived under atheist boot, and I know authority devoid of reason and morality. There is no limit to what evils this can justify. We are on the brink of the same in the west.

      • Loreen Lee

        Firstly, I think you meant work within 'reason' not 'treason, although if this was not a typo I 'get your point'!!

    • Stallbaumer

      The problem with your examples is that each one asks the subject to choose between two moral goods. Saving your child vs. saving 100, Family time vs. helping your children, saving a baby vs. saving a group, saving a mother's job vs. saving many jobs.

      These "moral dilemmas", if anything, strengthen the argument that there is a transcendent ethical compass, because they demonstrate that our desire to do the right thing comes even before our reasonable conclusion that any good we do has potential opportunity cost.

      A good counter example would have to show someone choosing an evil over a good, not choosing a good at the expense of another good.

      • Rationalist1

        Most decisions I face are not choosing evil over good, they are choosing between a good and a lesser good. I really don't choose (I hope) many evils over good and I think most people are the same.

        • Stallbaumer

          I completely agree that most people are the same. This is because we are created with a conscience.

          42Oolon said "The fact that I have intuitions about behaviour is not a form or knowledge, nor is absolutely authoritative."

          Based on your comment it sounds like we would both disagree with his statement due to our observation that all sane humans tend to choose moral goods over moral evils.

          • Rationalist1

            I would say we evolved to have a conscience. And I don't think we can say all sane humans choose moral goods over moral evils. Many sane people 200 years ago supported slavery (Jefferson). Many sane people 100 years ago didn't think women should vote. Many sane people 50 years ago supported segregation (William F. Buckley for one).

          • Stallbaumer

            If you look at the intentions of these historical groups in the context of their times, I think you will find that they made their choices based on a desire of another good. They supported slavery to allow themselves more comfort, security, and financial success (all good things). They opposed suffrage and segregation out of an (admittedly misguided) attempt to protect their political position, tradition, and other values that they evaluated as good.

            Nobody supported slavery because they knew it was wrong and really wanted to to some bad stuff.

            As Dr. Kreeft pointed out in the conclusion of his article, our consciences can err. That doesn't mean we don't all have one.

          • Rationalist1

            My point was not that our conscience could err but that sane people choose good over evil. Jefferson knew slavery was wrong, yet to abandon it would affect his lifestyle. I'm hopeful that future generations will judge us in the same light. We knew that poverty was wrong but to seriously help alleviate it would hurt our lifestyle as well.

          • It seems the takeaway here is:
            1. Each individual possesses a conscience.
            2. Each conscience comprises intuitive knowledge, pointing us in the direction of the good/right we "ought" to do.
            Would anyone object to either of these?
            Accepting this would lead to a consideration of why this type of "absolute" directive--"do the good/right you ought to do"--is shared interiorly by all, which points to the "authority" issue Kreeft comments on....

          • Stallbaumer

            That seems to sum it up Jim. If anything I would add that:
            3. Each person has an intuition suggesting that others should be bound by the same directives of conscience.

          • josh

            I'd object to both. 1. Conscience is vaguely defined so I'm not going to worry about it too much, but it's not clear that a sociopath has a conscience, or a young child.

            2. This is the big failure. Your conscience isn't knowledge (except the obvious knowledge of how you feel about something.) There is no evidence that it corresponds to an objective fact. It's not an absolute directive, it is an urge or desire. Like all your desires it is a motivation to you, and like all desires it is in competition with your urges.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But it's not shared interiorly by all. And not in the same fashion.

            I'm not sure interiorly is a real word.

          • 42Oolon

            Well for starters, your first premise is not true. About one in 100 of us are psychopaths with little or no conscience, but with the intelligence to make it look like they have one.

            If our intuitions pointed us into the good, there would be no such thing as a moral dilemma such as the ones I posited, the right choice would pop out at us immediately.

            The quality of one's moral decision-making is shown by how it deals with difficult moral dilemma, not the easy ones.

          • 42Oolon

            By using "tend to choose" you seem to admit that this "authority" is not absolute.

          • Stallbaumer

            By "tend to choose" I admit that while we are each directed by a transcendent natural law, we are not without free will.

        • primenumbers

          Or situations where it's not actually easy to tell what the best course of action is. None of us have crystal balls, so we can't predict the future outcome of all our actions (to any reliable extent into the future - immediate actions are easy enough to predict - I hit you, you feel pain etc.)

          • Rationalist1

            That's very true. Which may be why many people like the absolute assurance of a divinely delivered moral code. It does save a lot of moral uncertainty. Myself, I'd rather tackle the issues openly and with other humans.

      • 42Oolon

        The examples show that while we have an intuition to do "good", this intuition cannot tell us which option is the good. It is therefore not a compass.

        • Stallbaumer

          My only point is that our conscience is designed to draw us toward good. In your examples the person making these decisions is drawn toward the good in both options, never the evil.

  • robtish

    There are more possibilities for conscience than just the four offered here. For instance, the human capacity for empathy, which is not an instinct but a form of cognition: the ability to both understand and feel what others are feeling. And scientists have discovered biological bases for empathy.

    Conscience at its most basic form works through empathy. When we feel bad for harming someone it's when we can empathize with the pain we have caused.
    We feel glad when we do right by someone when we can feel their happiness with them. One of the most universal moral precepts, the Golden Rule, is based on our ability to connect to another person's feelings using our own feelings, as when we develop a child's conscience by asking "How would you feel if someone did that to you?"

    For the biological basis of this, look at research showing that people without empathy and without a conscience are underdeveloped in some portions of their brains: http://www.livescience.com/13083-criminals-brain-neuroscience-ethics.html

    Also fascinating is the controversy over "mirror neuron," which may cause us to actually feel what we perceive others to be feeling, which takes us beyond a mere intellectual acknowledgment of their emotions: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/11/06/whats-so-special-about-mirror-neurons/

    Empathy by itself is not conscience, though. Our capacity for empathy has to be developed. We've seen what happens when this training fails: People feel empathy for their kin and kith, but feel free to slaughter anyone from another tribe. Or those who only listen to empathy when it comes to dealing with people who are right in front of them, rather than applying this capacity more generally.

    Basically, then, a few things seem clear to me:
    1. Conscience is a form a developed empathy.
    2. Our most universal moral guidelines get their basic clout from our capacity for emapthy.
    3. Our capacity for empathy depends biological substances and processes (though of course, that's not the same as saying it can be reduced to biology, but it does show how God need not be a necessary element)

    • Rationalist1

      What is so great about this sort of study is it helps to understand ourselves. We don't have to become fixated on some invisible, distant, inscrutable God where different religions authoritative tell us this is his will. Instead we can look to ourselves and others, who we can see, and are here and now and we have a hope of understanding. Since this site if fond of ancient philosophers perhaps we just need to go back to one of the pre-Soccratc philosophers and embrace Protagoras' "Man is the measure of all things" approach.

      • Loreen Lee

        This is a note regarding 'empathy'. In my attempts to understand Kant, this basis of feeling as part perhaps of the moral conscience, would tie in with the relevance of 'the power of judgment' related to the order we find within a detached perception of 'beauty'. Just a thought on how the proofs from morality and 'design' may be 'related'.......by a 'sense' of 'right', 'order', and the 'promise' that our moral actions, etc. can lead us to a 'higher goal'.

    • epeeist

      Basically, then, a few things seem clear to me:
      1. Conscience is a form a developed empathy.

      And as we have seen in other threads, other animals besides ourselves are capable of showing both empathy and altruism.

      So given a biological basis for empathy it would seem that introducing another entity in order to explain conscience would break the good Friar of Ockham's principle.

    • Thanks for this interesting reply, robtish. However, I don't think it ultimately explains the ground of conscience--the "ought" Dr. Kreeft is concerned with. It offers some interesting theories as to the biological roots of feelings, but not an explanation for our conscience's power to bind our actions.

      If our conscience is indeed reduced to a mere biological capacity for empathy, I struggle to see how there would be moral duties. There would be no objective ground for convictions like "you ought to save a drowning baby" or "you ought not to rape a woman." They would only be subjective preferences varying with our empathetic capacity.

      Your reference to the Golden Rule is of course an admirable summary of the moral law, but if conscience is reduced to our capacity for empathy, I don't see why the Golden Rule is *binding* on anyone. Why should I obey it, and what ground do I have for expecting you to obey it?

      (As a side note, what would I say to a masochist attempting to obey the Golden Rule?)

      Finally, your proposal seems to make a very basic mistake that Dr. Kreeft preemptively warns against, which is to misunderstand conscience (as he's using the term) to mean "feeling." This is not what he means by the term.

      • robtish

        Brandon, I'm not talking about the existence of objective moral truths here. Rather, Kreeft is asking us to account for the subjective experience of having a conscience.

        So the discussion is not about:establishing an objective ground for "you ought to save a drowning baby." Rather, it's about why people experience a deeply personal urge: "You ought to save a drowning baby!"

        And empathy explains that. A decent person would ask a sociopath, "how could you stand there and let that baby drown" because the decent person would find it unbearable to do that -- the vision of a baby suffering creates such suffering in the viewer that the urge to help is overwhelming. And that's empathy.

        Granted, that doesn't establish an objective moral ground, but it does account for the subjective experience of conscience that Kreeft wants us to address.

        • His argument is not primarily subjective but objective. What he's arguing is that our intuitive "ought" points to an objective, binding authority beyond itself (i.e., something beyond our instincts). If the ought was merely a subjective experience, unique to each person and ungrounded on some objective authority, there would be reason to obey it. This is Dr. Kreeft's fundamental point.

          • robtish

            First, empathy is beyond instinct.

            "If the ought was merely a subjective experience, unique to each person and ungrounded on some objective authority, there would be reason to obey it."

            Now, I don't see that at all. At all. I don't need to objective authority, external to myself, whom I must obey, in order relieve my hunger or run from a burning building. And I don't need an objective authority to feel a powerful urge, even a personal compulsion to do those things for someone else. All I need for that is empathy.

      • robtish

        Also, Brandon, I'm not reducing to conscience to a feeling. As I pointed out earlier, empathy is a cognitive tool that allows us insight into the experience of another person.

        • That describes what empathy *does* but not what it *is*. The way you've described "empathy" offers no reason why our empathetic capacity binds our actions. It doesn't explain why I'm obligated to *follow* my empathetic instincts.

          • robtish

            Brandon, no one is "boligated" to follow their conscience. People disregard it all the time.

            More to the point, this article is not a challenge to atheists to prove we have a moral obligation to follow our conscience, but to explain why we experience a conscience at all: specifically, why we feel such a power urge to do what we regard as right, and why most of us seem to have some sort of intuitive standard of what is right (even though those intuitions vary greatly from person to person).

            And empathy -- a biologically-based tendency to feel the joy and suffering of others as if it were our own -- provides an explanation for that experience of conscience.

          • robtish

            I have to confess, I can't explain everything that happens within that results in me experiencing some things that happen to me personally as painful and others as joyous. Or why I try to feel a powerful urge to avoid my own suffering or bring myself joy (though that may just be tautological). But the fact is: I DO. And given that fact, empathy explains why I feel a similar urge to do the same for others -- and that powerful urge, along with its intuitive notions of what brings suffering and joy, is what we call conscience.

          • I had that urge once no so far ago. I traveled two hours in autobus to the Capital (San José, Costa Rica) to watch a movie with a sister of a friend. I were very late for my appointment.

            In front of the Church Nuestra Señora del Carmen was an old man, a beggar, shouting "Compreme un cafecito, tengo hambre, compreme un cafecito, tengo hambre" (Buy me a coffee, I have hunger) over and over again, and he wasn't alone, a hundred of people were passing in front of him ignoring his request. So, I don't know if those people passing in front the beggar felt empathy for him or not, I indeed hear his request of food and a coffee shop was really close from where I and the beggar we were. I did have the urge to do both arrive at time to my appointment with my friend's sister to watch the movie and feed the old man, but at the end I decided to not feed the man and arrive soon to my appointment, with the hope that someone else will feed him. We Catholics call this a sin of omission, and this cannot be committed because you didn't follow your urge of empathy for your neighbor, but because you didn't do what was correct according to, guess who, yes, your conscience. And believe me, thinking that some one else will feed the old man was a comfort to not feel terribly bad about not doing what my conscience dictated me to do, so by any reason your consciense cannot be the feeling of joy or suffering that you experiment (even thought Dr. Kreeft did define what he means by conscience in the post)

            We watched the movie and eat something, we walk back to the bus station, and again, the old man was there requesting for food as before. So I came to him and asked if he was hungry (duh!), I thought on buying to him the coffee that was asking before, but the old man asked me to buy a "breast and chicken wing without omelettes and pink Fanta" (is a carbonated soft drink). I didn't felt any joy, I just felt good because I did the correct thing, what my conscience was dictating me to do from the beginning. If I never cross again in front of that Church, this man may never had his stomach filled with food that day because the people ignoring him, and this people crossing the street ignored him because they didn't felt too much empathy by the beggar or because they ignore their conscience and gave priority to their agenda (as I did) or they may have more empathy to things or people n their agenda? If we do what is ought by mere empathy, then no one will felt bad when they lack of empathy toward people that may really need them.

            that's my story and my reasoning. cheers.

  • Loreen Lee

    I have come to admire the conversations of Dr. Peter Kreeft. This particular post I relate to my study of Kant's categorical imperative. This has been held to be Kant's proof of God, and I was told it was unique to his philosophy. Interesting to find a prototype in the bible. I found the presentation consistent with what I understand to be Kant's perspective here: that moral conscience is a particular kind of 'aptitude' shall I say, the possibility of normative thought, the sapient, power of judgment, as distinct with sentience, which could be related to both instinct and intuition, generally.
    Kant also made the distinction between pragmatic goals, and the 'goals of morality', a higher good. To this end, beauty, the power of judgement is recognized by him also as the second viable proof of God's existence.

    Kant held that because of individual conscience, a point you made with respect to dissent even with respect to Church 'beliefs' (doctrine, dogma? I wonder) that he would hold that unless one were acting out of one's 'own' moral conscience, but instead following the 'conscience' of another, that one would not be acting morally, but according to mere pragmatic goals. That is why, I understand, he insisted on the autonomy of the individual's moral choices, grounded upon a duty which sprang from conscience. He went so far as to have individual 'humans' write their own commandments, i.e. the imperatives which were to define duty according to necessity, and universality.
    My understanding is that late in life, however, there is evidence that he felt the moral law as he defined it sufficient. There is, from it's earliest conception, however, only but a vague reference to 'love', and I have never found evidence that love is directly related to a 'divine will'. Kant disagree with Hume however, that love could be equated with sentiment. But hopefully I have given a fair summary of his argument. The question with respect to Kant, is whether or not conscience can be the only guide, with respect to moral choice, especially when the maxims of universality held by any individual are based on the a priori categories of the understanding, and thus are 'necessarily' theoretical rather than practical. Just wondering. Do I have an argument here?

    • Corylus

      The question with respect to Kant, is whether or not conscience can be the only guide, with respect to moral choice, especially when the maxims of universality held by any individual are based on the a priori categories of the understanding, and thus are 'necessarily' theoretical rather than practical.

      No, I don't think it can be the only guide, for the simple reason that we can kid ourselves. We can assume that we are acting via universal maxims, when in actuality we are not.

      This can be shown by looking at Kant going wrong. It can be shown when we see him relying on the theoretical alone when he had the twin deficit of no experience of the practical and not enough natural empathy to compensate for his lack.

      I do recommend Maria Von Herbert's Challenge to Kant

      It is a longer piece than I normally link to, but if you are a Kant fan you will not mind :)

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks you so very much for your reply Corylus. The letters and commentary were most revealing. Your comments too have indeed given me confidence that my interpretation of Kantian morality is not 'misplaced'.

        • Corylus

          You're welcome.

  • Saint Thomas Aquinas, of all people, agrees with them to such an extent that he says if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error.

    But it is never acceptable to commit either a mortal sin or a venial sin! How can it be maintained, within a Catholic framework, that a person must commit a venial sin in order not to commit a mortal sin? I don't see how a Catholic can claim a person can be in a situation in which he or she has no alternative but to commit a sin.

    Cardinal Newman wrote the following:

    the Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony … than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.

    • Rationalist1

      I've seen the Newman quote and it's scary. It shows religious belief can distort the moral reasoning of even a great mind such as Cardinal Newman. As for Aquinas, I'd love to see the reference in the Summa (if that's where he says this).

  • Ben

    I hardly know where to begin. I can only imagine that this article was already written with a Christian audience in mind, then Brandon got permission to repost it here--that's how several articles on this site strike me. This starts to make it seem like the articles are not meant to be taken seriously by atheists, but instead are almost trolling, a way to make atheists spit-take and then rush to the keyboard to respond. Which...wouldn't be entirely honest or nice.

    Would that I were strong enough not to fall for such things. This article makes me wish that all such articles were put through a basic filter before being submitted as an article intended to convince a non-believer of its point:

    does the article amount to a possible explanation or rationalization of a phenomenon invoking God when the author clearly knows there are non-God explanations available? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again.

    does the article argue that the answer or source of something must be God because he doesn't like the consequences of other explanations ["How do atheists define love" I'm looking at you]? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again.

    does the argument explicitly rely on "divinely revealed" knowledge or scripture to foreclose other explanations? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again.

    This article fails all these tests.

    • Maybe no one is actually trying to convince you of its point at all. Maybe the point is to post a piece and let you share what you *think* about the content.
      When a theist writes from a perspective that necessarily involves God, it's not some kind of trick or trolling device--it's an expression of his or her particular perspective.
      Your "test" statements make it seem as though the theist's belief in God is there merely to try to persuade you personally to believe in God and therefore must first meet your personal criteria regarding what you will or will not find persuasive.
      If that *were* the point, you'd have a point. But it's not.
      Why not just participate in the *exchange* of ideas and focus more on the substance itself--If you don't find the substance itself compelling, then say why. But I'd suggest not trying to shape things such that we theists are here only to convince atheists that they're wrong. For my part, I have learned a great deal from the discussions here at Strange Notions (and the articles) by focusing on the ideas at hand and not trying at all to convert atheists. And I don't expect to curtail my expression of belief in God just because atheists don't believe in God like me....and I'd expect atheists to extend the same courtesy to theists for the good of the discussions...

      • Ben, I agree with Jim. If you frame this whole site as a "gotcha" experiment designed exclusively to convert atheists, you'll miss the riches that can be attained through fruitful dialogue.

        I for one am sincerely interested in learning more about why atheist believe what they do. I've learned so much in the first two months and have seen several of my preconceived notions about atheists fly out the window. Would that you would be as open to learning from Christians instead of seeing them as solely interested in proselytization.

        • "I've learned so much in the first two months and have seen several of my preconceived notions about atheists fly out the window."

          >> Which ones?

          • Ben

            Ditto, inquiring minds want to know.

          • Maybe I'll write a full-length piece on this soon :) But the most significant realization is that "atheist" is such a diverse label. Most Christians believe in God because they've had a personal experience with him. The pattern is fairly typical.

            Yet I've come to see there's no "typical" atheist. The atheists I've engaged here disbelieve in God(s) for many reasons--scientific, historical, intellectual, personal, social, emotional, etc.

            Therefore, I've learned it's much more efficacious to ignore labels and get at the heart of two matters:

            1. What someone believes, and
            2. Why they believe it.

            This wasn't my outlook before launching Strange Notions and interacting with you good folks. I was more interested in engaging "atheism" rather than individual atheists, people with unique backgrounds and reasons for their disbelief.

          • robtish

            Brandon, that's a valuable thing to realize about atheists. Let me offer my own response your "heart of the matter" and others here can chime in, too, and that may give ideas on how to advance the conversation:

            1. What I believe (as an atheist): I believe there is insufficient reason to believe in God (especially the Christian conception)

            2.Why I believe it:
            a. I do not find the arguments for His existence compelling,
            b. Theodicy in the face of an omnipotent God is a terrible stumbling point for me, and

            c. I cannot reconcile an omnipotent God with human free will. They seem logically incompatible, and it seems like "free will" is simply invoked almost like a magic phrase to grant humans moral responsibility (and absolve God of it) without explaining how it can coexist with divine omnipotence.

          • robtish, thanks for the reply! It's not the right place to engage each of your points--I'd like to keep the combox discussion focused on the original article--but your last point especially intrigues me.

            I'm curious why you see a contradiction between God's omnipotence and "free will." The former says God is all-powerful and *can* do anything logically possible, while the latter suggests that in his power he has chosen to give humans brings "free will." If there's a conflict, I don't see it.

          • robtish

            That would be an excellent topic for an article.

          • primenumbers

            Actually I think you can almost ignore point 1) "what people believe" and focus entirely on 2) "why people believe what they believe". Although as part of 2) there may be some "whats", I think those "whats" will be fundamental rather than specific religious beliefs (for instance - Jesus rose from the dead).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The atheists I've engaged here disbelieve in God(s) for many reasons--scientific, historical, intellectual, personal, social, emotional, etc.

            I think you are making a subtle, but serious error here; although I admit it may be a question of phrasing.

            Atheists, in general, do not disbelieve in god(s); they lack belief in gods. The distinction is very important. Most atheists don't claim that god does not exist; they claim that they do not believe that god exists. One is a statement about personal belief; the other is a statement about existential truth.

            There are certainly a few hard atheists: "god does not exist." But they are few and far between. Even Dawkins isn't a hard atheist.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          I suspect that part of the issue here is that the Christians, both those posting in the comboxes and those contributing articles, are not yet contributing anything that we haven't seen before. It's one of the things that makes fruitful discussion here quite difficult. As a forum for argument and snide comments, it matches up to any number of sites on the intertubes. As a site for fruitful discussion, it has a long, long way to go.

          • "Christians, both those posting in the comboxes and those contributing articles, are not yet contributing anything that we haven't seen before."

            I'm very surprised by this statement. It assumes the journey to truth passes down only new roads and not roads reexamined. Are you open to the possibility that you've heard an argument before but just misunderstood it? Or that other barriers--emotional, social, psychological--prevented you from accepting an otherwise sound presentation?

            Just as an analogy, I would never say to a friend, "I heard Mozart when I was five and hated it. How could I find it beautiful now at age 27?"

            "As a forum for argument and snide comments, it matches up to any number of sites on the intertubes. As a site for fruitful discussion, it has a long, long way to go."

            Thanks for the feedback, M. Solange, though I admit it comes across as slightly haughty. If the site is less than satisfactory, and far from fruitful, you're more than welcome to leave. Nobody is forcing you to stay (especially to complain.)

            I continue to find it strange that the most vocal critics here are also among the most active commenters.

          • "I continue to find it strange that the most vocal critics here are also among the most active commenters."

            >> Zing.

            I also find it strange that M. Solange O'Brien fails to recognize herself in the following:

            "As a forum for argument and snide comments, it matches up to any number of sites on the intertubes"

          • primenumbers

            There are some commenters here that really engage and try to explain their position. I wish you had more time to engage Brandon as we've started off on some interested discussions, but they end rather too soon.

          • Just as an analogy, I would never say to a friend, "I heard Mozart when I was five and hated it. How could I find it beautiful now at age 27?"

            Good point. But on the other hand, I think it's pretty rare to come to appreciate Mozart by reading articles like Five Proofs That Mozart Is Great or Deep Down You Love Mozart Even if You Claim You Don't. If there were a Mozart Apologetics site, I think it would operate by exposing people to the most accessible works of Mozart and/or to Mozart works that are so popular that people would find them familiar, even if they had no idea who composed them. It would start out with Mozart for Beginners rather than Advanced Mozart and Why You Should Appreciate It Even If You Can't Stand to Listen to It.

            The problem with much of what appears on Strange Notions is that it is rather impersonal. Now, there are a small number of deeply religious people I have encountered on other sites that I have thought about asking to make a contribution here, because I am very much impressed by them. But having thought about it, I would advise them to stay as far away from here as possible! They are very thoughtful and erudite people who write extremely nuanced comments, and they would no doubt get clobbered here for being "evasive."

            I don't see any way at all for the "theists" here to succeed without making very personal connections, without making themselves vulnerable, and without practically offering themselves up for crucifixion. I do in part agree with M. Solange O'Brien. What we see here is generally available in any number of books on Christian apologetics. It's the kind of thing that people might get if the wrote to Christian apologists and said, "People are attacking my faith. Can you give me some good arguments to use to defend it?" The staple here is "tried and true" Christian apologetics (although how successful apologetics has ever been in winning converts I have no idea).

            It would be nice to see something we all agree on and could take as a starting point rather than posts that set out to prove right off the bat that atheists are wrong.

            I would have to say that even as someone who had 12 years of Catholic education, if I found Kreeft's argument convincing, or if an amputee prayed for his legs to grow back and they did, I would no doubt say, "Amazing. But what does it mean? What am I supposed to do differently now, if anything?"

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm very surprised by this statement.

            Why? It's merely a true statement. There have been no new arguments offered by you on this site.

            It assumes the journey to truth passes down only new roads and not roads reexamined.

            I did not make that claim.

            Are you open to the possibility that you've heard an argument before but just misunderstood it? Or that other barriers--emotional, social, psychological--prevented you from accepting an otherwise sound presentation?

            In other words, if I don't agree with your theists arguments, I'm either too stupid to understand them or have major psychological issues?

            And you wonder why we find theists insulting?

            Just as an analogy, I would never say to a friend, "I heard Mozart when I was five and hated it. How could I find it beautiful now at age 27?"

            This appears to be a non-sequitur

            Thanks for the feedback, M. Solange, though I admit it comes across as slightly haughty. If the site is less than satisfactory, and far from fruitful, you're more than welcome to leave. Nobody is forcing you to stay (especially to complain.)

            So you're not open to feedback or criticism? It's working perfectly the way you've structured it? Atheists and theists are happily engaging in civil, mind-expanding, educational conversations? And if I don't find your site perfect you'd prefer that I leave?

            And you think I'm haughty? Mote. Beam. Ring a bell?

            Or are you making an ad-hominem argument: she's haughty, therefore her criticisms are valueless?

            I continue to find it strange that the most vocal critics here are also among the most active commenters.

            I don't like to see things done badly. And I would welcome civilized and civil discussions with theists. I just don't see it yet.

          • Michael Murray

            I think David Nickol makes some good points on this topic of article choice. Another anology might also be the difference between a politican rousing the party faithful at a convention versus appealing to the general public. The latter is a different task as you can't assume you have a core set of values in common. Or at least it's a different core set of values to the ones you share with the party faithful.

            I don't understand why Brandon responds to cricticism of his article choice by suggesting people leave. I hope you don't take his advice. I haven't :-)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I am a bit puzzled; I thought he wanted atheists here.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Just as an analogy, I would never say to a friend, "I heard Mozart when I was five and hated it. How could I find it beautiful now at age 27?"

            I thought I should expand on my response.

            If someone presents you a piece of Mozart (C minor Piano Concerto, f'r example) and says, "isn't that great? It's the word of god."

            And when you decline to believe him, he simply replays and repeats his point over and over again.

            That's what I see here.

          • Brandon, you might be interested in this video by the atheist bloger, Hermat Mehta. He was invited to speak to a megachurch, and he wanted to let them know that we atheists have heard it all. I hope the last couple of months have given you an idea of the degree to which many on the atheist side have investigated religion. There is a common misconception that knowing about religion is not important to atheists. Actually it is usually very important to us because we don't want to be mistaken.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            A general assumption (which Brandon actually made above) is that atheists don't convert because they don't understand the theists' arguments. This is patently false. Most atheists understand religion better than the theists do. We simply don't find the arguments convincing.

            Oddly enough, Catholics are in the same boat: the conservative Catholics (opposed to same-sex marriage, gayness in general, contraception, abortion, etc.) usually feel the problem is inadequate catechesis.

            Perhaps it's just that the rank and file Catholic doesn't find the bishops position convincing.

        • Ben

          I do see this website as a vehicle for proselytization, or at least a vehicle for providing Catholics to make their case and allowing atheists to rsond. I don't see that as anything sneaky or "gotcha" or problematic. But you make a good point that that's not the only thing this website is, so my "filter" wouldn't be appropriate to everything.

          But this article explicitly states that it is designed to set out a rational argument to prove the existence of God, using the existence of a conscience as evidence. I guess that's where my forbidden first paragraph sort of comes in: who is this article posted for? Is it meant to inform other Christians of a way to persuade atheists that God exists? Is it meant to buttress the faith of those who are already Christians? Is it meant to be persuasive to atheists themselves? I think the motive and purpose of the article is relevant to how we should respond to it here. If it's meant to be an argument to convince the atheist readers here fo something, I think my dismay that it doens't pass the "filter" is somewhat appropriate. If it's for some other purpose, maybe not, though precisely what reaction other than pointing out these obvious problem swith it you expect atheists to have is unclear to me. So what WAS the purpose in putting it up here?

    • Ben, your first paragraph is totally unnecessary and irrelevant to the article's merits. In the future, instead of psychoanalyzing the motives behind the article, please just engage the article's content.

      You say:

      "Does the article amount to a possible explanation or rationalization of a phenomenon invoking God when the author clearly knows there are non-God explanations available? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again."

      What confuses me about this paragraph is that this is *exactly* what Dr. Kreeft supposes in his article. In fact, the large majority of the piece explores "non-God explanations." Only at the end, after refuting each of those natural hypotheses, does he invoke God.

      "does the article argue that the answer or source of something must be God because he doesn't like the consequences of other explanations ["How do atheists define love" I'm looking at you]? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again."

      Again, Dr. Kreeft doesn't do this. He carefully considers every proposed natural explanation for moral duties before concluding that only a supernatural lawgiver can ground them. If there's another explanation he failed to consider, all you need to to is point that out. But nowhere in your comment have you done that.

      "does the argument explicitly rely on "divinely revealed" knowledge or scripture to foreclose other explanations? Not an argument for non-believers, please try again."

      Nothing in Dr. Kreeft's article depends on Scripture (or any other form of Divine Revelation) to arrive at his conclusion that moral duties require a transcendent lawgiver. He shows how the logical truth coincides with what Christianity teaches, through Scripture and Tradition, but he doesn't use the latter to *prove* the former--he only shows congruence. If you disagree, please show which part of his argument or conclusion depends on Divine Revelation.

      • primenumbers

        Brandon, do you think Dr. Kreeft would engage with us here like some of the other article writers do? I tend to think that if it's the dialogue that is the important part of this site, the article shouldn't just be the starting point of a discussion.

        "Again, Dr. Kreeft doesn't do this. He carefully considers every proposed natural explanation for moral duties before concluding that only a supernatural lawgiver can ground them." - he carefully pleads for his pre-supposed deity of choice. It's hardly an argument that he makes, just the setting up and knocking down of a few straw men.

        • prime, not all contributors are able to personally engage interlocutors in the combox, though I agree that would be ideal. The "dialogue" aspect of the site does not necessarily refer to dialogue with the original author but with the thousands of other commenters.

          And the article *is* meant to be the starting point of the discussion as explicitly noted on the About page.

          (PS. In Dr. Kreeft's case, he tries to use computers as little as possible and I doubt he even knows what a combox is. Read his hilarious essay, "Confessions of a Computer Hater", which contains this delicious line: "My name is Peter and the Hell of Gates will not prevail against me.”)

          • primenumbers

            Great link - thanks! It's easy to forget that some of us are the right age to have grown up with the increasing complexity of computers and are right at home with online discussions such as these.

          • Rationalist1

            Remember the patron saint of computers is St, John Damuchine.

          • primenumbers

            I thought it was Alan Turning?

          • Rationalist1

            That's who my patron "saint" is. And the British Parliament is going to pardon him, finally. A warning to what would happen if we allowed religious morality to set the legal law again.

          • primenumbers

            We would almost certainly not be here, free to have these discussions without Alan Turing. We can say that of a lot of people, but he was key both in the theoretical underpinning of computing and in his efforts to defeat the Nazi menace in WWII.

          • Rationalist1

            Imagine if he could see what he started. The Allies having the Enigma decryptions saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

          • primenumbers

            Imagine how he could have inspired people had he lived to tell them of the power of computing.

          • clod

            Wrong way round. It's the British Parliament that needs to pardon themselves.

          • Rationalist1

            Very, very true.

      • Rationalist1

        As to the first paragraph the Sitz im Leben principle of Biblical studies also applies here. I think the article is very much aimed at a believing audience rather than a more skeptical atheistic one. Perhaps a preface stating the articles original audience would help.

      • robtish

        Actually, Brandon, Dr. Kreeft doesn't consider "every proposed natural explanation for moral duties." He deals with a few proposals of his choosing. He needs to demonstrate that these are the only possible natural explanations before saying the answer must be God. But we've already seen other proposals offered on this very forum (which involve neither instinct nor majority vote), so his argument has a big straw man problem.

        • Robtish, thanks for the comment. I struggle to see how this article suffers from any fallacy, much less a "straw man" problem. Dr. Kreeft did not misrepresent the views he engaged nor refuted nonequivalent alternatives.

          "He needs to demonstrate that these are the only possible natural explanations before saying the answer must be God."

          I don't necessarily agree. The burden would seem to be on those who disagree with his article to point out natural explanations he failed to consider. If they exist, this should be easy to do.

          For my own sake, and in the interest in clarity, perhaps you can point one out. Please provide an answer to this question:

          What natural explanation is there for moral duties (i.e., the "oughts" Dr. Kreeft is concerned with)? What natural ground necessitates us taking particular actions and not others?

          • robtish

            Brandon, Kreeft's argument seems to be: Here are the 4 non-God possibilities for conscience, and I've eliminated them, therefore "that leaves us with God."

            But this sort of process of elimination will work only if he shows that he's identified all the other possibilities, and he hasn't shown that. By incorrectly assuming that his list of possibilities is a complete list, he's battling a straw man.

            As for other possible explanations, first note that it's not incumbent on us to provide them, because (as I said above) his process-of-elimination reasoning places upon him the burden of showing he's identified all the possibilities to be eliminated.

            Second, however, I have provided alternative natural ground in a previous comment: http://strangenotions.com/conscience/#comment-973445251

          • "But this sort of process of elimination will work only if he shows that he's identified all the other possibilities, and he hasn't shown that."

            How do you propose he show that? Atheists routinely maintain you cannot prove a negative. What you're arguing is similar to me saying, "My atheist friend has not identified all possible arguments for God's existence, therefore he should not believe God doesn't exist."

            Contrary to what you keep proposing, Dr. Kreeft, in fact, seems rather open to other possible explanations by not defining their non-existence. He says, "It looks as though there are simply no candidates in this area" suggesting there may be some he's not aware of. Again, I believe the burden is on those who disagree that he has exhausted all legitimate alternatives to simply propose a different alternative.

            As for your proposed alternative, I responded to that comment showing why it's not viable--it may explain the biological origin of empathetic feelings but it says nothing about the binding, moral power of conscience.

          • primenumbers

            What "binding, moral power of conscience" ?

          • robtish

            Brandon, I don't know how he could show that he's eliminated all the possibilities, but that's simply a problem with his argument.

            His argument boils down to: I've eliminated the non-divine sources of conscience, so the source must be divine. He can only say, "And leaves us with God" if he's shown that nothing else is left. If you're suggesting there's no way he can do that, then you're suggesting his argument is untenable.

          • primenumbers

            The main problem with such an "eliminate the possibilities" argument is demonstrating that that is exactly what you've done - and it relies on first identifying all possibilities. The onus of the presenter of the argument is to not just iterate all possibilities but to prove that there are no other possibilities than iterated.

            Of course, the theist is going to add their unfalsifiable God hypothesis to the mix. To be reasonable they should also add the unfalsifiable naturalistic "x" explanation to the list to make it clear that God cannot win "by default".

          • Jonathan West

            How do you propose he show that? Atheists routinely maintain you cannot prove a negative.

            That's his problem, he's making the assertion. But if you want a significant weakness in he argument he puts, i would suggest you could take a look at the following sentence, where he deals with conscience being derived from a natural instinct.

            The problem with that explanation is that it, like the first, does not account for the absoluteness of conscience's authority.

            There are at least four serious problems with that statement, which the subsequent paragraphs do nothing to address.

            1. He is asserting as if it were self-evident, that a person treats his conscience's authority as absolute. I don't see why we should regard that statement as self-evidently true, and he has offered no evidence to support it.

            2. Even if it were true, there is no line of reasoning that allows him to justify eliminating natural instinct from consideration. He has given for instance no reason why an instinct could not be so inherent to us that it doesn't even occur to us to question it.

            3. Overarching these two more specific mistakes, he is committing the fallacy of reification, in treating conscience as a concrete entity rather than an abstraction.

            4. Finally, he is making the gross error of assuming that we know more or less all there is to know about conscience and that he therefore has largely complete data to work from in order to draw his conclusions. In actual fact, the workings of the brain is one of the great unexplored storehouses of knowledge, we have barely scratched the surface in our understanding of the brain and mind. Anybody who draws such definite conclusions on an issue such as conscience, knowing how ignorant we still are on the subject, quite frankly does not deserve to be taken seriously at all.

            This article reminds me very much of a pattern I have seen very frequently in religious thinking and writing. Scientists are prepared to say "I don't know" when they don't know the origin of some phenomenon. They may qualify that with "but I'm trying to find out".

            But time and again, I've seen religious writers unable to tolerate the idea of not knowing, and so they hide their ignorance (perhaps even from themselves) and call it God. They are not prepared to wait until they can discover the truth, instead they decide what the truth must be.

            So instead of understanding, they are "overstanding", which admirably describes what they believe to be their relationship to truth - they stand over it and decide what it is.

      • Ben

        I definitely was too brief and unclear regarding the "other explanations" issue. Yes, it makes perfect sense for someone who thinks the non-supernatural explanations are inadequate to try to show this. Here, my issue with the article is more akin to what robtish describes. Regarding the conscience, there is a huge realm of scientific and academic literature addressing possible origins. Dr. Kreeft's attempt to handwave this away in a couple of breezy paragraphs just makes this piece a non-starter from my perspective, and other atheists as well I'd guess.

        Regarding not liking the consequences: look at his discussion of the possibility that society is the source of morality. He sees this view as resulting in a consequence his aesthetics or intuition apparently rejects (that morality is less than absolute), and seemingly on that basis alone declares it logically impossible.

        Regarding divine reveetaion: Dr. Kreeft seems to be saying that divine relevation tells us that everyone has a conscience, and if someone claims not to they are either lying or repressing their own knowledge. His language is a little confusing and it's not entirely clear whether he is referring to people who claim they have no conscience, people who claim they don't believe that a conscience is from God, or both, but it sure seems to cover people who deny having a conscience. I can see the appeal of this belief, as Dr. Kreeft's conclusion is falsified if it turns out there are people that do not have a God-given conscience (like the sociopaths who seem to very much exist). But it's another non-starter.

    • Rationalist1

      The risk Dr. Kreeft encounters with a somewhat simplistic (in my opinion) premise that it's obvious that "Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition" is that when a believer encounters people, like many posters here, where that statement clearly doesn't apply then it may have the effect of the believer questioning other "obvious" assertions.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Yes, but Kreeft doesn't believe it. Kreeft claims to know atheists better than they know themselves. It's a fallacious and offensive way to argue, but he does it.

        • Where does Dr. Kreeft say anything about atheists? You're simply making unfair and unsupported accusation by charging Dr. Kreeft with "claiming to know atheists better than they know themselves."

          • Rationalist1

            I think we're part of the everyone group. (At least I hope we are.)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

            This is a claim about atheists. That they know they are obligated to do good, and that this obligation could only come from god.

            Atheists do NOT know this, nor does Kreeft have the ability to make this claim honestly.

          • Max Driffill

            There are other questions;
            Is conscience affected by culture? Is it variable within a population? What is good? To whom are do we owe this good? Has this gentleman not really given conscience much thought?

            My conscience like that of most people reading this, will almost always favor, in the application of good will, immediate family, close kin and allies. If two kids are drowning in the water and one of them is mine, and the other is yours, I am going to save my kid first and then try to save yours. The plight of my two children, living in the opulent west , is vastly more concerning to me than any of the starving kids in developing nations. Why should this be so? I do feel bad for them, but my charity is the merest fraction of what my wife and I, and the grandparents are going to spend on our kids. Again most of us don't seem to think about these kinds of things.

            My conscience is perfectly okay with gay marriage, with polyamory, with nearly any sexual experimentation that two or more consenting adults wish to engage in provided it damages no one, though I suppose its okay if it occasionally stings.

            No doubt many catholic and non-catholic pet owners consciences are going to see that they spend vastly more money on their own pets than they will the unfortunate in their midst. Is that wrong?

            No doubt many a Catholic is going disagree with and disapprove of, the ease with which my conscience deals with subjects like gay marriage. But consider that as a place to explore the variation, which can be great, among the human conscience, which seems tethered largely to a shared biology but is subject to a fairly robust plasticity that can be affected by culture, education and other experience.

          • Max Driffill

            Brandon,
            This is actually quite common among Christians, has happened here on this sight several times, and most people when they do this are essentially following Paul who made similar claims in one way or another claiming that no one was justified in claiming ignorance at the judgement seat because his god essentially planted the knowledge of the divine in everyone.
            The author does make a very large claim about everyone that does seem to be fraught with implications for atheists.

  • Ben

    I often wonder if any of the Catholics who have their articles posted on this site have read anything about experimental psychology or even met any people. The answer is a combination of 2 and 3. People never disobey their consciences? No, they just find a way to rationalise their conscience away.

    "Should I run away to France with this hot 15 year old schoolgirl, conscience?"
    "At the end of the day, I'm satisfied that if you can look yourself in the mirror and know that, under all the front, that you are a good person, that should have faith in your own judgement."

    "Should I tell this young boy that having sex with me is going to help his Grandpa get into heaven, conscience?" http://freethinker.co.uk/2013/07/11/told-it-would-get-his-grandpa-into-heaven-boy-aged-seven-submitted-to-sex-with-a-predatory-priest/ "Sure, why not?"

    "Sending these paedophile priests to different countries to carry on raping kids will ruin many lives, but it will make my Church look better. What should I do, conscience?" "I'm sure it's the right thing, Papa Benedict!"

    • People never disobey their consciences?

      It is certainly not the Catholic position that no one every disobeys his or her own conscience. If that were the case, then everyone would be blameless for any wrongdoing. People who do things that are objectively wrong are not culpable if, subjectively, they are following their own consciences.

      It is rather rare, I think, for Catholics to credit someone who is doing something objectively wrong with being completely blameless on account of acting according to conscience. There are the issues of "vincible ignorance" and "well formed consciences."

      • Ben

        So what does it mean to say that "The problem with that explanation is that it, like the first, does not account for the absoluteness of conscience's authority"? Or that the conscience has absolute authority over us? Since we can disobey it?

        Very often people do initially feel that something is against their conscience, then they rationalise it away if it seems advantageous or the social consensus around them seems to support them doing it. See, for example, the Holocaust.

        Other people, such as sociopaths, don't actually have a conscience at all. That alone disproves the idea that the conscience comes from an all-powerful God.

        It's clearly just a cognitive module that lets you calculate how a particular act will go over with the other members of your tribe.

        • Ben

          My first comment was deleted because it mentioned a true Catholic abuse case and apparently we're not allowed to mention that 5% or so of Catholic priests are child abusers.

  • clod

    I think empathy is the source of all morality and that religion may operate as [one] of a selection of empathy override mechanisms. Not the only one of course, but a very important one, (divine command theory anyone?). When it does function in this way, the results can be spectacularly awful, as we witness daily.

    • Rationalist1

      Don't mention divine command theory. It's the religious equivalent to "I was only following orders".

  • When our ancestors were presented with unknown phenomena re the world and themselves, they often made up supernatural stories, rules or rhymes to help them make some sense of life and to have some guide to going about it. Typically, humans have natural unpleasant emotions such as guilt and shame and remorse, as well as desires to avoid whatever situations that seem to cause those to be experienced. In modern times these emotions and their manifestations are studied in general psychology, and a combined field of study with Evolution Theory looks at how living in prehistoric societies applied selection pressure. The resulting combination of emotions and desires, from an interaction of nature and nurture, is what has been traditionally called "conscience."

    Not everyone has this "conscience" (see this article about how those who don't can use yours against you) and each of us who do, may have a different balance of the psychological components. People raised in different cultures (the nurture part) can have very different feelings about what goes against conscience. We can look back on a time when owning slaves was no problem of conscience for people raised in a culture of slave owners. The same can be said for cultures where no problem of conscience was caused by mistreatment of Jews or minorities or gays, just to name a few examples with tragic histories.

    The natural part of our emotions of conscience are impacted by mental illness, brain damage and drugs etc. The nurture part is impacted by the culture, especially during formative years of childhood. Together these parts present explanations consistent with the overall natural view of life on this planet. A gap that may have called to our ancestors for a supernatural mythos, closes for us, now.

    • Rationalist1

      Ast the late Christopher Hitchens said "religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality." I don't agree with the worst part in most cases but I agee it's time to move on.

      http://www.christianitydisproved.com/brain/the-first-attempt-to-make-sense-of-reality.html

    • ZenDruid

      "Sociopaths have no regard whatsoever for the social contract, but they
      do know how to use it to their advantage. And all in all, I am sure that
      if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him." -- Martha Stout

      That's a keeper.

  • ZenDruid

    From my perspective, those consciences that require regular confessions are crippled, dare I say it?, intentionally.

  • clod

    Romans 1:18 (ESV)
    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

    How is the wrath of God revealed?

    • Rationalist1

      Sorry, I need to suppress that information. I wouldn't want to end up in the celestial equivalent of the in transit area of the Moscow airport.

  • Sid_Collins

    Mr. Kreeft seems to be ignoring all the biological, personal, and cultural influences that form the human personality long before a person becomes conscious of right and wrong. It is fairly clear that a commitment to “goodness” has not been installed in each person at conception. However, experiments with babies indicate that normal humans are born hard-wired for loyalty, empathy and a sense of fairness. It is not hard to see how such traits were selected for in the evolution of creatures who are born helpless and rely on group cooperation to survive.

    Experience molds the raw material of temperament, brainpower and instincts into the sense of right and wrong that each child develops. I believe most of us are somewhere along a continuum that ranges from scrupulous adherence to a personal sense of right and wrong, to the pragmatism of the sociopath, whose inability to feel empathy may well be a biological defect.

    Humans couldn't live in large communities (or even in a tribe) if they couldn't override their instincts to simply take available commodities. This is not remarkable. Wolves live cooperatively in packs. Humans have the brains to work out more complex and long term survival strategies.

    This (below) is a very interesting example of "conscience" overriding instinct provided by Mr. Kreeft.

    You should usually obey instincts like mother love, but not if it means keeping your son back from risking his life to save his country in a just and necessary defensive war, . . .

    I would argue that "conscience" here is just internalized tribal survival strategy that has been inflated to the level of the nation-state. Clearly if EVERY mother obeyed her instincts in this situation there would not be any wars. So wouldn't a divinely infused conscience urge exactly this course? But no, supposedly the "conscientious" thing to do in this case is to override mother love and bless your child as he or she goes off to annihilate the children of other mothers. I suggest that the "still, small voice" urging this course of action is the result of socializing that builds on the primitive instinct to fear the unfamiliar--another trait that can be demonstrated to be hard-wired into babies--and inborn human aggression. It affords a perfect example of how our instincts and "consciences" both
    conflict with each other and prove inadequate to deal with the complexities of human institutions bigger than tribes.

    • that means that evolution is some sort of absolute perfectly-good authority, because conscience have such authority over us. But, the very insinuation is odd.

      I also think that this objection as been already address with Dr. Kreeft's third point.

      • Jonathan West

        Just remember that we have evolved as social animals. As such we have instincts both for the benefit of the group and of the individual, and they are balanced by the joint needs of individual survival and survival of the group on which we also depend.

        We tend to call the instincts for individual survivial things like "selfishness", and we tend to call the instinct's for group survival things like "co-operation", or even "conscience".

        In naming them, we give them a rough and ready label so that people understand us when we talk about them, but in fact the instincts and our rationalisations of them are far, far more complex than the mere labels would suggest. That is why talking of "conscience" as if it were a concrete entity rather than a definition for an extremely fuzzy set of mental phenomena isn't very useful. And this is the most obvious and serious flaw in Kreeft's article.

        • I think that the worst flaw of this article isn't those considerations left outside of it as you said. But Kreeft not being able to reply you here, since he is an scholar on these matters. Kreeft wasn't defining Conscience as "concrete entity" as you mean, but «intellect applied to morality» as Kreeft said, and I add «The meaning of conscience in the argument is knowledge and not just a feeling; but it is intuitive knowledge rather than rational or
          analytical knowledge, and it is first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness; only in the second place is it the knowledge of which things are right and which things are wrong. This second-place knowledge is a knowledge of moral facts, while the first-place knowledge is a knowledge of my personal moral obligation,» It's in the article. We may tend to say that Conscience is anything but «intellect applied to morality», it will be wrong and counterintuitive to say that conscience is actually «the instinct's for group survival» (left outside the fact that we have moral obligations to ourselves) or a «extremely fuzzy set of mental phenomena».

      • Sid_Collins

        I don't understand what you mean by saying that "evolution is some sort of absolute perfectly-good authority." It's not a question of authority. Humans have traits (empathy, loyalty, aggression, a sense of fairness) that are to some extent hard-wired into our bodies because ancestors with these traits tended to reproduce more successfully than those without them. However just because these traits led to success at one stage of human development doesn't mean they will continue to be useful under different conditions.

        In the context of evolution "good" means "effective in promoting successful reproduction."

  • Corylus

    A clearly written article with a structure, I must, and do, give credit for that.

    My issue is the same one that generally crops up when I read articles talking about 'objective' or 'god-given' morals and that is that these seem to be the very arguments that are most based in introspection.

    Let's look at the language used …

    “natural intuitions”, “deep down”, “inside information”, “obscurely and whisperingly”, “poorly heard” “depth of our souls”

    … and this is just within the first few paragraphs.

    Of course, to talk of 'obscurely and whisperingly' in relation to intuitions may help to answer the critics that point out that people don't always agree. What it does not answer is the evidence of our actions when faced with a moral problem. What is the first thing that most of us do when hit with a dilemma?

    Answer: We talk to people.

    We talk to our family, we talk to our friends. Why? Because we want feedback from people that we know care about us enough to not lie when we see us kidding ourselves.

    Other people act as our moral compasses. This is not because they are keyed into some wellspring of goodness, but because they have more distance from situations than we do and are thus less likely to trot out a self-serving lie of the type that we so often tell ourselves.

    Confession works on this principle, but it can fail to keep us honest in that we don't have the “Oh well, I'll have no peace from the others until I do something – and they will do something if I don't” thinking pattern afterwards.

    Of course, you could argue that open dialogue is just other way to access the voice of god in the souls of others, but this does seem a rather circuitous route. If we made our best moral decisions via introspection, prayer, and the occasional 'privileged' conversion, then we would have picked this up as a habit. We don't have this habit. In fact, when hit with a moral problem of the magnitude that makes discussion with others an impossibility we feel the bleakest, most dreadful, loneliness imaginable.

    That does not strike me as evidence of our having a god in our souls. This instead strikes me as evidence of a need for dialogue; a need for affirmation; a need for additional facts with which to make decisions, and a need for a real life person to hold us to account.

    In short, what conscience is, is simple a need for each other. We do not do bad things, because we do not wish to push others away from us. We would hate to see them look at us with disgust. We see ourselves in them and we hurt when they hurt.

    We can see this need even more clearly when we go through the looking glass to the other side and look those with no conscience. Yes, these people exist. What these sociopaths conversely show is a lack of need of others for there own sake . Yes, they use others for money, influence, sex, opportunities to exert their will etc. but they don't need others. This is why they ultimately tend to end up either dead or alone.

    This analysis of the nature of 'conscience' is not objective of course: no such panaceas promised by me. It is, however inter-subjective, and it is however, manifestly real.

    It can also suffice.

    • clod

      Excellent points, Corylus.

      • Corylus

        Thank you, Clod.

  • Michael Murray

    The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God.

    Or it could be that all humans share an intuitive ethics that values fairness and care for the those close to them just as many of their primate cousins do. It could also be that this arose in humans as a product of millions of years of evolution in small groups just as it did in their primate cousins.

    • BenS

      Ha! Got evidence for this 'evilution' of which you speak?

      Oh, you do? Um. Carry on then.

      • VelikaBuna

        Sure he does, it is called "close your eyes and just imagine". Except atheists are serious about evolution. Dawkins says it is a fact, and who are you to question important person such as Dawkins? Isn't he a scientist, how dare you?

        • Michael Murray

          Imagine ? I love that song as well.

          Imagine there's no heaven
          It's easy if you try
          No hell below us
          Above us only sky

          ...

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Michael,
      To my knowledge primates care for their own "tribe" or "clan" but don't show the same concern for members of other clans. why would humans show concern for other humans who are not a part of their tribe or society? if they do show concern for other humans doesn't this conflict with the notion of survival of the fittest and natural selection? how could evolution create to convicting desires that aim to propagate one's dna?

      • Michael Murray

        To my knowledge primates care for their own "tribe" or "clan" but don't show the same concern for members of other clans. why would humans show concern for other humans who are not a part of their tribe or society?

        Because we have a strongly developed reason and culture over the top of our evolved instincts. But even then we find it very difficult. Racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance are our curse throughout history.

        if they do show concern for other humans doesn't this conflict with the notion of survival of the fittest and natural selection? how could evolution create to convicting desires that aim to propagate one's dan?

        It didn't. We extended the range of our care and compassion from the small group of close relatives to larger groups when we discovered the advantages of living in those larger groups.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Michael,

          So would that mean that survival of the fittest and a desire to propagate my dna is no longer a driving force with humans because an impulse to show care and compassion has subjugated it? if it hasn't do you know of any other examples in our natural world where evolution has created to contradictory impulses?

          • Michael Murray

            I think so but I'm no expert on this stuff. Of course we've had culture and reason for a minuscule amount of time in evolutionary terms.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael
            I understand that could be a possible hypothesis but it still seems more reasonable to connect it's source to a benevolent intellegence that placed conscience within us. In Spiritual direction (if for the sake of argument just assume God exists) it takes a while to discern the voice of God over "other voices" or simply put my own thought processes. some of the things i've learned is that when it's God's voice it usually comes across more like an impression in the heart that my mind puts words to. often times God's voice is accompanied by a sense of peace or "rightness" even if it isn't something we want. God's voice or inspirations usually entail a pattern of similar "signs" or things the person may read, but as one grows they do become familiar with what is there own voice and what is the voice of God.

            one of the telltale signs of discerning the voice of the Lord though is that we might get an impression that our minds put words to that leaves one with the impression of "that was meant for me". but often times people can think their way out of whatever God may have said or perhaps rationalize away the orignial impression. Usually someone first growing in the faith tends to do that a lot, to think or to circle it around in their mind until what they felt the Lord says to them becomes something else. one has to learn to trust the original impression. when i read various explanations for the natural law or conscience it seems to coincide with this method. the conscience, or natural law naturally seems like a law or a good outside of myself or beyond myself leading me to a good, but then when i attempt to come up with various explanations i'm thinking my way out of it.

            almost like seeing the sun rise over the ocean, it fills one with a sense of amazement and wonder at how something could be so beautiful and inspiring, naturally compelling one to ponder on a creator designing it to be so beautiful. but then when it's over analyzed to original impression is forgotten. the next time you observe the sun rise or set over the ocean (or perhaps mountains) ponder for a moment, does it not seem much more reasonable that it was created to be that beautiful? does it not point to a creator? if a spiritual directee needs to learn to trust in the original impression God' gives them as a way of becoming familar with his voice perhaps things like the conscience or the beauty and wonder of nature also have something to convey?

          • WSMFP

            "the next time you observe the sun rise or set over the ocean (or perhaps mountains) ponder for a moment, does it not seem much more reasonable that it was created to be that beautiful? does it not point to a creator?"

            No, absolutely not. This is ridiculous. There is nothing about a sunset or anything else in the natural world that suggests a creator.

          • So's WSMFP....

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi WSMFP,
            the next time you witness one of those events, just ponder for a moment, you can learn things from others by observing their body language, if your awed or inspired by a beautiful scene in nature, reflect for a moment and ask yourself, does not that view have it's own body language, does it not convey a truth? perhaps that it was designed to be that beautiful?

          • Michael Murray

            the next time you observe the sun rise or set over the ocean (or perhaps mountains) ponder for a moment, does it not seem much more reasonable that it was created to be that beautiful? does it not point to a creator?

            No.

          • Yes, Michael's a hard case all right :-)

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            the next time you see the sun rise or set, or the next time you see the stars at night away from the city, just ponder for a few moments, is it not breath taking, does not not somehow speak to your soul?

          • Michael Murray

            Yes, yes I grew up in the bush so I know how bright the stars are. Yes they are beautiful. So what? If you want to argue me to a creator you can explain all the bad design in the human body. If you want to argue me to a creator that actually cares then you can explain all the suffering in the universe.

            Personally seeing my own newborn children did more for me than stars. Amazing though stars are.

            Anyway I don't have a soul. I'm a p-zombie.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            I guess i'm not trying to prove everything about God by looking at a beautiful scene in nature, just that the beautiful scene convey's something of the divine. explaining it away as why it looks a certain way, can only serve as a distraction from what it speaks to your soul (if you have one, and naturally i believe you do just as much as i have one). if you view the stars at night for example, doesn't that convey something to you? does not not move you to ponder something?

          • Michael Murray

            Like I said the other two times "no". Usually it makes me think: "Anyone who thinks this has something to do with a god interested in humans has no idea of how vast the universe is" or as Feynman said

            “It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”

            Speaking as someone who has mild OCD and anxiety I've learnt not to place too much trust in my "feelings". It turns out regularly for example that my overwhelming feeling that I have to go back and check that the door is locked is wrong.

          • Sage McCarey

            Ah yes. The stage is much too big for the drama. And for the limited idea of god that most people hold; a god that thinks just like them.

          • Michael Murray

            Just following up with this image if you want something awe
            inspiring

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Ultra-Deep_Field

            You should really download the big one from the NASA site and view it on a computer but what you see is approximately 10,000 galaxies (not stars! Each galaxy has approximately 100,000,000,000 stars on average. The visible universe has also roughly 100,000,000,000 galaxies making a grand total of around 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Strangely our brain also has roughly 100,000,000,000 neurones if you like cosmic coincidences.

            So to plagiarise Feynman again why ? Why do you need that many stars to run a morality play on earth ? Surely you need only two. The sun and the star of Bethlehem ? What is the point of all the stars we can't see in the non-visible part of the universe.

          • Max Driffill

            Fr. Sean

            So would that mean that survival of the fittest and a desire to propagate my dna is no longer a driving force with humans because an impulse to show care and compassion has subjugated it?

            You seem to think that these drives are incompatible. There is no indication that they are. Survival of the fittest is a phrase best dropped from your vocabulary. The term fitness is confusing, even among biologists. Selection simply creates strategies in organisms that maximize the representation of copies of their genes in the next generation in given environment (and environment is broadly defined as the abiotic factors of local, plus population and community). Organisms don't have a desire to propagate their DNA. They have desires that, all things being equal, increase the chances of that happening.

            Something that one neglects is the that the cost of altruism typically isn't that high. There is also the trouble of determining how altruistic an act actually is. A hunter gather of the North American Pleistocene who shares his epic kill of a Wooly Rhino with members of his tribe is being nice surely, but he also isn't really putting himself out that much either. In the age before storage, he was only going to get a small portion of that meat anyway. Here the altruism feeds his friends and neighbors, but it may also insure that he and his family eat later, when his hunting didn't go so well.

            Birds in mixed species flocks will give off an alarm call when they see a predator. This alarm call typically sends all the flock flying for the cover of safety. This is certainly an altruistic act. It places the caller in danger, costs energy, however slight, that it could have devoted to other more pressing needs. But again you must wonder how wholly altruistic the act is. A bird who didn't call, and opted to fly to safety would, for a moment be the only exposed prey item. So there can, from altruistic acts be several pay-offs where everyone wins. Another side note here, alarm calls among birds are, as it happens difficult to locate by predators. And some of the literature suggests that there are cheaters, birds who give a call when no predator is about who then have, for a short time, access to choice foraging.

            The thing to remember about caring and compassion, which I lump as altruism, is that it typically isn't very expensive or risky for the altruist. It doesn't put the carer out too much. Care and compassion doesn't replace the desire to procreate, or at least to have sex, and gain resources. Nothing has been subjected. These behaviors and desires are all running pretty much at the same time. If I give a guy on the street a 5 dollar bill, it isn't as if I still don't want to go have sex with a woman I find attractive later that night. These things aren't mutually exclusive desires. Nor does my parting with a five dollar bill, make me any less likely to try to gain more five dollar bills.

            In humans we must factor in the adaptive system of the brain, which is quite capable of taking in new information about local environment, and custom to modify, imperfectly, general rules laid down by genes.

            if it hasn't do you know of any other examples in our natural world where evolution has created to contradictory impulses?

            I'm not sure they are contradictory impulses.

            For good read on the problems of the word fitness, see Chapter 10 (An Agony in Five Fits) of Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            I think we may have to disagree. i understand the tribal notion of protection that you mentioned, but that would give human's a deference to their own. i live in the u.s.a. if i see an elderly woman fall, i feel a compulsion to assist her. if i'm in china and witness the same event, i feel the exact same cumpulsion to assist her. if it was a tribal thing i would fee more inclined to help my own then someone one the other side of the globe.

            i once heard a lawyer say, "if your client's innocent, stick with the facts, if guilty confuse the jury". we all do that when we're discussing topics. there's a natural tendencey that if my position isn't that strong or all that well thought out that i may feel compelled to change the subject (confuse the jury). the atheists explanations to the natural law or conscience, are all imbuned with the idea of confusing the issue, by creating a whole buch of other theories. it's almost like reading a dan brown book, take a little bit of truth and fill it in with a whole buch of hypothesis that have little grounding in reality. Perhaps a good example would be that if there is no God and everything is guided by the blind watch maker than all there is is material. thus everything is reduced to Chemical reactions in the brain that have been guided by evolutionary means. yet when someone concludes that morality is noting more than chemical reactions in the brain they lose their appeal to it and rationalize it away, thus their chemical reactions in the brain change because they no longer feel it's as relevant. if those chemical reactions were in fact formulated by evolutionary means they would be stable and the realization of how they formed wouldn't effect them. however if there is a God, who planted a conscience within us than that notion of the good or morality is something outside of us that we aspire to. C.S. Lewis noticed this in the sense that when he appealed to his conscience, to good, he felt good, when he ignored it or was selfish he felt bad. Lewis realized that this had no connection with evolution and thus led to his conversion.

          • Michael Murray

            i understand the tribal notion of protection that you mentioned, but that would give human's a deference to their own. i live in the u.s.a. if i see an elderly woman fall, i feel a compulsion to assist her. if i'm in china and witness the same event, i feel the exact same cumpulsion to assist her. if it was a tribal thing i would fee more inclined to help my own then someone one the other side of the globe.

            That would be the case if what you had evolved was a tendency to help only those who you were related to. But more likely you have evolved a tendency to help anyone and in our early history the anyone was going to be someone you were related to and so the gene or genes promoting that behaviour increased in frequency amongst your descendants and relatives. In the modern world you see and meet lots of people who are not your relatives but the tendency is still there. You could call it a misfiring.

            Personally I expect that is only part of the story and we layer over the top of this ethical considerations that we are taught as we grow up. But I think it explains the basic urge to donate when we see children dying on TV in far flung parts of the world.

          • Max Driffill

            I will call your response an example of the argument from incredulity and move on, and this mostly because you have just accused me of not discussing the issue honestly, of "trying to confuse the jury." If you cannot participate in a discussion with me where you don't explain away my response by imagining my motives or what I really mean, then really there is no point in continuing further.
            Good day.

      • Max Driffill

        Fr. Sean,

        I'm jumping in in the middle but lets see what we can do to clear up some misunderstandings.

        To my knowledge primates care for their own "tribe" or "clan" but don't show the same concern for members of other clans.

        There are two species of chimpanzees extant, unless you are of the zoological mind to lump humans in with the chimps. In any event, one species certainly is aggressive toward other tribes. The Common Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes has been known to commit murder, patrol borders, and go on raids. The Bonobo, Pan paniscus is, as far as the research shows nothing like its Common Chimp relatives. They are good at problem solving, they tend to not war among tribes. I'm not sure what the status is for altruism among Bonobos, but I would be wiling to bet inter-tribal altruism does occur among bonobos.

        why would humans show concern for other humans who are not a part of their tribe or society?

        Before going further we should probably stop and reflect on the fact that this isn't as common as we might like it to be, and as we go back in history it becomes even less common. Nepotism, tribalism and many other kin and ally focused altruism existed over many areas of the world still. In this way, humans are behaving as humans have done for most of our existence.

        if they do show concern for other humans doesn't this conflict with the notion of survival of the fittest and natural selection?"

        Not necessarily. Evolution is really not about survival, at least not of individuals not fully. Nor is even necessarily an organism's own reproductive success. To the evolutionary biologist, fitness (a biological term with more than one technical meaning) is a matter of differential reproductive success among individuals. But that isn't really the whole story either. What organisms reproduce is copies of their genes. It is the number of copies of genes that an organism leaves that is the determiner of evolutionary success, or fitness.

        An uncle or aunt that helps a sister or brother out with their kids shares genes with those nieces and nephews. An aunt or an uncle will share 25% of their genes with with their nieces and nephews (if they are not identical twins with their niece or nephews parents, if they are identical twins, the aunt and uncle would be as equally related to their niece or nephew -if we are counting genes alone- as they would to a child of their own). Say the aid of an aunt or uncle (non-identical twin of the mother/father) helped raise to nieces or nephews to adulthood. This is, from the stand point of the uncle's genes, like raising one kid of his own. If there is a genetic component to his altruistic behavior, it is likely that his nieces and nephews share that gene, as will any of his own kids. So here is a way in which evolutionary fitness is increased by an altruistic act.

        how could evolution create to convicting desires that aim to propagate one's dna?

        There are a few ideas and they aren't all mutually exclusive. And again we must take a long look at human history. For most of our existence we lived in small bands whose average size ranged from 10-100. Almost anyone you contacted would have been a close or distant relative. Anyone you helped out would result in levering genes they share with you into the future. There could be a general rule, if it isn't too much trouble help people near by. Such a rule would have paid off in our recent past because the person you helped would have likely been close personal family, or a person you were definitely going to see again, and who might be in a good position to help you in the future. Not helping could also cause penalties within your group when one refuses to help. Our brains may just be running a simple behavioral program that assumes small more or less stable group size of kin and reciprocators.

        Lest you think this is far fetched, simple rules are quite common where systems are predictable. The duck's simple rule, pull any oval spheriod near your nest into the nest has worked fine for almost all of a duck's evolutionary history. In an age of glass bottles it has proven more of a challenge, as they are confused and pull the bottle into their nest where they incubate it.

        ANother possibility for increased altruism is the trend toward homogenization. Literature, movies, art, music, has really served to reduce the differences between groups. This could affect our behavior in profound ways too. Perhaps our notion of who is in our tribe has expanded? Much of charity can perhaps be explained by this expansion.

        I'm too tired to go further tonight, I'll tackle of the topic tomorrow.

        • Susan

          I'm too tired to go further tonight, I'll tackle of the topic tomorrow.

          Great post, Max.

          Especially impressive if you're too tired.

        • Michael Murray

          Thanks Max. That was excellent.

          I didn't know about the ducks.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Max,

          Thanks for taking time to answer in such detail. i think we could recognize there are two different desires within us when it comes to altruism, perhaps an example might shed light on it. if you were a cashier at a store and someone gave you money to pay for this merchandise, and lets say they accidentally gave you an extra 100 dollar bill, you might feel compelled to just give them change and not reveal that they gave you too much money, at the same time your going to feel another desire to give them there 100 dollar bill back because soemthing inside you says it's the right thing to do. one desire leads towards selfishness, the other towards duty or selflessness. i think the selfish desire certainly coincides with evolutionary means but the selfless one appeals to a higher truth, a good within myself and beyond myself that i'm aspiring to. it reveals a good beyond myself. what is the origin of that good? what is it's source? selfish means can be seens as survival, but selfless one's appear to have another origin. i remember reading in one of your earlier post that you felt liberated when you dropped the whole God thing. all i could think was in a sense, good for him, because if your concept of God was one who just wanted blind obedience to rules that your concept needs to be reformulated. almost as if it's good to just scrap the whole model and start over. if you ever get a chance, read the book of the prophet Hosea. i think that will give you a better understanding of what God is really like.

  • Mikegalanx

    "Furthermore, instinct fails to account not only for what we ought to do but also for what we do
    do. We don't always follow instinct. Sometimes we follow the weaker
    instinct, as when we go to the aid of a victim even though we fear for
    our own safety. The herd instinct here is weaker than the instinct for
    self-preservation, but our conscience, like sheet music, tells us to
    play the weak note here rather than the strong one."

    Isn't this simply wrong? Surely the fact that we go to the victim's aid shows that the 'herd instinct' here is actually stronger than the self-preservation instinct.

    We move back and forth between the two, trying to strike a balance. The fact that that urge to help others is usually stronger the closer people are to us- immediate family, kin, clan, tribe,ethnic group; then nation, or religion, and finally all humanity- shows that this originates from an biological source.

    If conscience was a universal implanted in everyone by God, wouldn't this lead to us giving everyone exactly the same moral weight ?

  • gwen saul

    my conscience tells me to ignore this article

  • Sample1

    I've placed myself on ignore for this article. See you all for the next one perhaps.

    Mike

  • Mikegalanx

    "And that leaves us with God. Not just some sort of God,
    but the moral God of the Bible, the God at least of Judaism. Among all
    the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their
    God with the source of moral obligation."

    Oh, so the Egyptians didn't have Ma'at, and the Persians didn't have Ahura Mazda, and Aeschylus didn't believe moral obligation came from Zeus - but then of course the Greeks went beyond that into greater depths than did ancient Israel.

    Not to mention the ethical teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism

    Just another case of "My dog's bigger than your dog" -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJt0inKFBAo

  • alexander stanislaw

    Am I to understand from your dismissal of the biological view of moral intuition that you think that every moral intuition is correct? I hope I'm not misunderstanding, but you pretty much just said that the conscience should always be followed.

  • robtish

    I don't know how I missed this:

    "And that leaves us with God. Not just some sort of God,
    but the moral God of the Bible, the God at least of Judaism. Among all
    the ancient peoples, the Jews were the only ones who identified their
    God with the source of moral obligation."

    Why the God of the Bible? Even if it has to be a god, and even if you did manage to eliminate all other gods you've heard of, there might be another candidate you *haven't* heard of, or who even hasn't revealed Herself yet.

    The webmasters here want to know why some of us are atheists. Often it's because of the glaring lapses of logic from those trying to persuade us to believe.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Robtish,
      If someone tried to convince you that the world was actually flat and everything you've been told about the earth being round was false how serious would you take their opinion. If someone discovered Jesus as a real person, who reveals divine truths it isn't something that can be just set aside. i know that "proving" the world is round is much easier to do but I think for a lot of us, trying to reduce Jesus to just one religion among many is like trying to convince someone the world is flat. if there is a God it would seem reasonable that he would reveal some things about his nature. Abraham seems to be the someone most religions trace their roots too. studying each religion in an objective manner might reveal certain truths.

      • robtish

        Hi Fr.Sean, I'm not sure what you're getting at. When it comes to talking to atheists, you have to remember that for your audience, "Jesus is just one religion among many." So authors ought to remember that when they're on a site trying where Catholics are giving atheists reasons to believe in the God of the Bible (as Kreeft is doing here).

        But when I say I'm not sure what you're getting at, I'm not sure how your statement is a reply to my comment. Kreeft is asserting that the God of his argument must be the God of the Bible, and it seems an unwarranted assumption.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Robtish,

          I went back and read the statement and i can see what your talking about. Perhaps there's so much there that Kreeft is attempting to say that to fully develop his thesis on why the God of the bible that it would take perhaps a few more articles. I suppose on might summarize something to the effect of; 1. the conscience seems to convey it's origin is from an exterior source, something sown into us that goes beyond us and has a benevolent and intelligent source. 2. Thus what is it's source? if one may posit that if there is a superior intelligence that appears to have some elements of benevolence than it would seem reasonable that that superior intelligence would reveal some things to his creation. From that point one may need to take a critical yet open evaluation of each religion to see which one appears to be the most accurate. Just for the heck of it i googled those who converted to Islam and atheists who converted to Christianity. Islam had 5 and Christianity had 71. I think an honest and objective (as well as prayerful) evaluation of the various religions does lead to truth. again, i don't think all other religions are de facto "wrong" it's just that i believe Jesus is the divine revealed to humanity and if one objectively and prayerfully evaluates the info they will come to the same conclusion. yet again, that is just my subjective opinion.

  • Susan

    The fourth possibility remains, that the source of conscience's authority is something above me but not God. What could this be? Society is not above me, nor is instinct. An ideal? That is the first possibility we discussed. It looks as though there are simply no candidates in this area

    What does above me mean?

    How can a person fail to define their terms, exclude vague concepts like "society" and "instinct" from fitting their undefined terms, imply that "God" meets those undefined terms without justification, never connecting any of the parts and still consider they're making some sort of argument?

  • Sage McCarey

    "Society is simply other people like myself. What authority do they have over me? Are they always right? Must I never disobey them? What kind of blind status quo conservatism is this? Should a German have obeyed society in the Nazi era?"
    The RCC is simply other people, men, unlike myself. What authority do they have over me? Are they always right? Far from it. Should a German have obeyed society in the Nazi era? Should a woman obey RCC when it wants her to be nothing but a breeder who never gets to explore her sexual nature (even to masturbation which teaches her what she likes sexually)? Should a woman obey rules against oral sex when that's the only way so many women achieve orgasm? NO.

  • Mario Strada

    "And that leaves us with god"
    No it doesn't.
    I wish I didn't have to go back to work, alas my deadline is not getting any further. I may come back for this, but in the meantime let me put on record that I don't agree even a little bit.
    A presto.