Son Jordan reminded me of this very interesting philosophical dialogue by linking it on a friend’s post recently. It does a lot of work to make the atheist argument follow its rational conclusions. I only had one quibble that occurred early on.
The first justification was easy. It is immediately obvious to me that the wanton destruction of small children is wrong. So, I quickly determined that the truth of my position was intuitive. I explained this to him and was quite confident that if he saw things as clearly as I did, this would satisfy the question. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. He asked me, “By ‘intuitive’ do you mean you received insights by some mystical spiritual revelation?” I chuckled at this and reminded him that I had already expressed my adherence to a naturalistic worldview. “You will not catch me propounding metaphysical nonsense.” I said. He raised an eyebrow and asked, “Then, do you mean to say that this is a belief with which we are born, an innate idea by which all men can know the truth?” I thought for a few moments. With a tentative nod I said, “Yes, I think that is what I mean.” He then asked, “Why then, if we are all born with this belief, is it that we don’t all have it? I, for one, don’t see the truth of it at all. Furthermore, it does not follow that merely because we are born with a belief, that it is true. The truth of a belief is not established by naming its origin.”
If the theoretical nihilistic interlocutor doesn’t see the truth of the statement: the wanton destruction of small children is wrong, then he is a sociopath. I haven’t studied nihilism enough to know if they are all sociopaths, but if they are, then I say that they are not naturally so. Perhaps my views about intuition take too much for granted, so I’ll try to keep a devil’s advocate in my mind to see if I gain any insight.
I believe in supernatural causes, but that they have naturally occurring effects, such as conscience and intuition. These are shaped somewhat by generational culture, but it is pretty universal among people and animals that young are protected, at least by their mothers, and often by their fathers and sometimes by their social groups. Usually they have to belong to a personal group, and not just a species, but at least among humans, other cultures’ young will also be protected, unless there is an active dehumanization campaign against them. This propaganda is necessary to convince people to kill others. No one wants to kill a fellow human, but dirty scum must be gotten rid of. This is also why mistresses in fiction are often told that his wife is a raging, bestial lunatic.
Therefore it seems that God implanted the key to the survival of the species by placing an instinct of empathy towards one’s own and special protectiveness towards the young and vulnerable (women and children). The social activists try to extend that protection towards those viewed as others, and the animal rights activists try to extend it to animals. This is done by sensitivity training. Women are more naturally sensitive, especially towards children and sick people. Men are toward the women they love. Extending those boundaries usually takes conditioning, probably more to undo wrong conditioning than to introduce new and improved and more enlightened conditioning, but I’m not enough of a history scholar to know. Maybe both. Take animals, for instance, how effective would Nathan’s parable to David have been if people didn’t have affectionate relationships with pets that were also food way back then?
“2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”
Nathan caused Uriah to be seen as equally human (though Bathsheba was animalized. Where you fall below determines how you feel about that) instead of an obstacle to be eliminated. I think they call dehumanization objectification (see lump of sugar below).
Now, is the new atheistic empathy towards others evolved or are they influenced by the teachings of Christ? Apparently it goes back to B.C. Egypt. But the ancients weren’t atheists. Still, I think it is written on all of our hearts. Applying this to “others” often takes reminding or convincing however. Convincing to act more naturally (see St. Maximus’ disputation with Pyrrhus), and not to continue as if we are naturally depraved. Even animals will sometimes adopt other species’ orphans or sick.
This brings me to another essay written against atheists where the author was so hot to say how inferior animals are to humans, and therefore it’s demeaning to say we came from apes. I’m not a macro evolutionist, and I do recognize hierarchies, but that is mostly in the realm of sacrificial duties. We owe more to humans than animals if there is scarcity and choices must be made, but this is not so black and white either. Maybe animals are vital for humans. Maybe humans will damage their souls by not considering consequences to animals. Studies show that many sociopaths and murderers start out by torturing and killing animals, so there is a connection. Additionally, if someone is proud that they are higher and can explain God better than an ape or a lump of sugar, it sounds like gorillan chest thumping to me. At least sugar doesn’t do that. And not that gorillans don’t have a good application for it. I like it when Tarzan mimics them. I recognize a difference in sophistication, but I’d rather be raised by a nurturing baboon or dog than an abusive, neglectful, articulate human. But maybe I have aspergers.