This prospective article is drafted to outline my opening remarks for a live YouTube debate with my friend Dan Rothschild. This is part one of a series of at least two and possibly three. After the debate, I will write a postmortem and collect relevant links in that article, including a link to this article and to the debate itself which is presently unavailable because it is yet to occur.
I’m arguing pro “Christian morality is rationally preferred to secular morality.” I will divide my opening remarks into the first four sections below. The fifth section of this article won’t be part of my opening remarks because I’m not sure it’s relevant, but depending on Dan’s opening remarks it may assist in rebuttal.
- Thanks, my background, and a few administrative comments.
- What I am arguing. A statement of thesis and my definition of some terms.
- What I am not arguing. A preventative statement addressing some potential criticisms.
- The concrete arguments for my position.
- A preliminary critique of Dan’s position.
1 – Introduction
A huge thank you to Dan Rothschild for proposing the debate and accepting my application to be his counterpart. I’ve known Dan for a while, and we’ve even attended many of the same Ph.D. level courses in economics at George Mason University. I’m subscribed to Dan on YouTube and I hope you will do the same. He discusses interesting questions with interesting people and in my opinion he can sometimes be quite funny. A large thank you to Matthew for referring in this debate as well.
My name is John Vandivier and perhaps my main credential in this debate is that I have also been an online contributor on the topics of economics, politics, philosophy, and more for more than 7 years. Like Dan, I have a YouTube channel of my own, and I also have my own website. The website is afterecon.com. You can find my social media outlets from there, through Google, or by other means.
I have prospectively posted a written outline of my opening remarks to that website and I will also be writing a post mortem for the debate. If I mention a resource it may be linked in the video or else perhaps in one of those articles. I encourage viewers to thumb up the video regardless of who you agree with. As a way to measure performance in tonight’s debate, I encourage you to comment with at least two data points. First, which side did you agree with when you first heard the thesis, but before hearing all of the arguments? Second, which side did you agree with after hearing all of the arguments? This will allow us to capture not only who has the most votes, but also who has changed the most minds. I’m not confident we will reach sample size for robust significance testing but I do think this will be interesting information anyway.
My final request would be to ask you to comment on this video with your position before and after the debate. That is, whether you were pro or con when you first heard the thesis and again whether you were pro or con after considering both sides presented here tonight. This will allow us not only to calculate who has more people on their side, but also the number of people, if any, who have changed their minds. I fully understand expect this to be a small sample size, non rigorous study but I think it will be interesting anyway.
2 – My Position
As I mentioned earlier, the formal thesis which I am arguing in favor of is “Christian morality is rationally preferred to secular morality.” I’d now like to briefly define my usage of the terms Christian, morality, and secular. I’d also like to clarify what I mean when I say A is rationally preferred to B.
Christianity has at least three definitions, and I may use them all to varying degrees. My preferred usage is the usage of C.S. Lewis. Lewis referred specifically to so-called Mere Christianity, which is “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” This is typically what Christian apologists refer to when defending Christianity. The apologist doesn’t need to defend all Christian beliefs. The apologist is distinct from the theologian, although a great apologist may wear both hats. I’m not currently a great apologist in the sense that I am not confident about settling disputes between denominations on intricate and subtly different doctrine. I think it’s mainly at the edges where denominations disagree. Instead, I will be defending those wide swaths of currently and historically agreed, essential doctrine, clearly exegeted from scripture, about which there is very little disagreement about.
While I hold Mere Christianity in high regard, particularly for the purposes of resolving theological conflict and for the purposes of apologetics, I think it’s equally important to recognize diversity within Christianity. Some of my arguments will refer to things like the number of Christians across the globe. This definition of Christianity is a group of people rather than a particular school of thought. The particular thoughts held by these people are often in conflict, but I do my best to ensure that these denominational counts and so on do at least adhere to that particular set of beliefs which might be called Mere Christianity. This diversity is bounded, and I’d point to one article I’ve written called The Goldilocks Diversity of Christianity for more information.
The third definition of a Christian is anyone who identifies themselves as a Christian. I am specifically not attempting to defend this notion of Christianity. In fact, it isn’t a scriptural concept of a Christian. According to scripture there are many people who identify as Christian but they are in fact no such thing. Daniel Dennett, one of the famous Four Horsemen of New Atheism and advisory board member for the Secular Coalition for America, once remarked that he had grown up calling himself Christian, but that his “embrace of atheism was more of a shedding of social clothes than any kind of deconversion.” So I would not count Daniel as a Christian today, and I retrospectively recognize, as he seems to also recognize, that he never really was a Christian all along. Sye Ten Bruggencate is clear and direct in presenting his scriptural case that those who ultimately reject Christianity never really followed it to begin with. Such behavior reveals that a person didn’t use God as the foundation of their understanding.
A quick Google search today defined morality as “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong.” I think that’s fair, but for me it’s clarifying to translate that into the following: A moral code or framework allows a person to make ought statements or should statements. You cannot validly tell me what I ought to do unless you have a justified moral system which underpins or grounds your claims about what I should be doing. Likewise, any action you or I take which cannot be validated on the grounds of a moral system is at best accidentally moral, or at worst immoral, unwarranted, unjustified, and so on. I refer the listeners to a book by Alvin Plantiga called Warranted Christian Belief for more information.
The Secular Coalition of America describes itself as “representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, agnostics, and other nontheistic Americans.” I’m a freethinking, humanist Christian. I think the category of agnostic theist is a real category, but I’ll grant that to the other side for the sake of tonight’s argument. For the sake of tonight’s argument, then, secular individuals are atheists, agnostics, and nontheists.
—NOTES BELOW ARE AN UNREVISED DUMP FROM EVERNOTE—
By Christian morality I am referring to a properly interpreTed understanding of the Old Testament and New Testament, together with correct natural theology and introspection. Scripture gives warrant to these four informational or inspirational sources.
Two important notes here: first, one does not need to obtain proper head knowledge of morality in order to act in accord with that morality. Indeed, scripturally we are informed that we can come to know God in some sense, but we aren’t able to fully comprehend God, his will, or his nature. That is concretely what I mean by morality, by the way: God’s nature and god’s will. The former grounds the latter but the latter is more comprehensible. One way to harmonize what appears to be two distinct moral standards is to note that, conveniently, in the Christian story man is created in God’s image. One of my arguments will be that creation implies purpose of use, which in turn implies what we should be doing. As a definition, Morality is simply what someone should be doing. By being created in God’s image, people are meant to act in a godly way, or according to God’s nature. In theology this sort of behavior is more or less called holiness, sanctification, theosis, and a number of other things perhaps with nuanced differences but the same essential point, which is that a Christian should act not just in a way which is in accord with God’s law or will, but indeed in accord with the very nature of God. Jesus is our example and he was fully God and fully man.
God’s law as revealed in scripture is even more comprehensible, and it is a further outgrowth of God’s nature and will manifest at certain places, times, and situations, but we should be careful to recognize the spirit of the law transcends the letter of the law. Recognize, for example, the Jesus made all food good to eat and forgave a woman for adultery rather than having her stoned. This New Testament evolution is not to nullify the old law, but to fulfill it and bring it to an even higher standard. Let’s keep in mind that the New Testament standard is so high that no one except Jesus himself is expected to achieve that standard. So when I refer to Christian morality I am emphatically not referring to those actions that actual Christians take.
At the same time, Gods law is written on all of our hearts, even if we don’t believe in God. This means we all have direct intuitive access to a correct moral standard. Let’s be clear: atheists can and often do lead more moral lives than theists or even Christians in particular. Depending on your theology, some Christians, I’ll specify at least the Roman Catholic Church in this case, hold that it is possible to achieve salvation by following this moral voice. I’m personally a bit dubious of that but my personally theology is invariant to this discussion. I’ll be trying throughout to represent the Christian position in its many forms, with highest weight to the most exegetical and orthodox variants.
——— 3 what I am not arguing, and pitfalls in analyzing my view
I am a Christian anarchist, and I am specifically an anarcho-capitalist. I don’t abide most theories of anarchism, but instead I arrive at anarchism as an expected optimal choice due to economic analysis. I consider myself for that reason even more specifically a Friedmanian Anarcho-Capitalist, and I contrast this with Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism which, in my view, takes a more axiomatic and less empirical approach. I expect Daniel Rothschild to take the Rothbardian view so some of my criticisms will be toward this line of thinking. Please don’t think this in anyway undermines anarcho-capitalism in general.
I will decidedly not be arguing for Christian public policy. As a Christian anarchist, I recognize that central government calculation inflicts untold damage to society. In case I do win the debate tonight, it is emphatically not to be taken as support for so-called Christian public politically. For example, I think everyone should be Christian, but it is of total importance that this is a free will and genuine choice. A government policy requiring people to call themselves Christian is obscene and destructive to society and to the institution of Christianity itself. There are enough liars calling themselves Christians already we don’t want more we want fewer. An honest atheist is better than a lying Christian in my view, and that is a view which I believe is ultimately scriptural and grounded in God’s attitude as well.
I will also be making some arguments for the existence of God. This is not the key thesis in the debate, but in my view it is critically related. I see God as grounding morality, human teleology, the physical reality of nature and natural law, and more. If God does not exist then the moral grounding I propose is defeated, so it is part of my due diligence to make a few arguments in this regard.
But I also point out the subtle difference between a being true and belief in a being rationally preferr d. This is another caveat or pitfall in critiquing or understanding my position. Even if someone demonstrates that God probably doesn’t exist, it doesn’t follow that belief in God is irrational for the same reasons that someone would take a gamble with low chance of success and high payoff conditional on success. If that logic smells like Pascal’s Wager that’s exactly because it is improved from that same line of thinking. Daniel and I both have some expertise in economic analysis and I hope our debate and audience will specially emphasize this sort of thinking, which may be missed in debates between philosophers and theologians who are ignorant of modern economic theory.
Lastly I would emphasize the probabilistic, cumulative, empirical nature of my position. I will be making maybe one or two presuppositions arguments but honestly I feel like this type of argument is unconvincing for many people. Because I emphasize a cumulative case, even if Daniel were to defeat one or two of my arguments this would not sway the preponderance of evidence.
I would also point out the difference between structural or axiomatic causality and statistical explanatory power or causality. I am partial to the latter although both are important. If I do say something loosely like secular or atheist lead government causes more deaths, please consider this as a statement of statistical explanation or statistical causality, not a naive statement of axiomatic necessity.
Argument 1: Argument from God
than Christians hate atheists (in fact atheists hate evangelical Christianity more than any relation measured) and atheists love themselves to an incredible degree (more than any other relation measured). https://www.pewforum.org/2017/02/15/americans-express-increasingly-warm-feelings-toward-religious-groups/