Book Plunge: The Grand Central Question

What do I think of Abdu Murray’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Murray has written an interesting apologetics work coming at it as an attorney and as a former Muslim. That brings a unique combination as Murray knows how to argue and handle evidence. He in fact often starts by presenting the case that the other side has given and then responds to how that side is lacking in what it states. All of this goes around the idea of the Grand Central Question. The theme is that each worldview claims to answer such a question and that overall, the Gospel does a better job of answering the claims.

The first position that he goes after is secular humanism. With this one, the question is asking if there is a purpose to life, which also gets to questions of morality. Murray agrees with a view that I’ve had about atheism in that too often, it looks like atheists have moral worldviews that are just floating in the air. I do however disagree with Murray’s response to the Euthyphro dilemma. When we say that God is the good, it ends up still providing no content to what goodness is. If God = good, how does that tell me what goodness itself is? It’s just saying “God is good” but not explaining what is meant by that. Does that mean the same as saying that the pizza I had for lunch is good or that my wife is a good woman or the book I’m reading is a good book?

Still, that would be the main criticism that I have which means the rest of the material in this section is quite good. I would say with this and other sections that Murray’s work is just a start, but it turns out to be a good start.

The next worldview is the pantheistic worldview. In this, he deals with Hinduism, Buddhism, scientology, and various proponents of New Age thought like Eckhart Tolle. The question to ask is about the question of suffering. What is the solution? The pantheist solution that Murray sees is to say that suffering is an illusion and we need to realize our own divinity and overcome the illusion of suffering. Yet Murray is certainly right in that this answer rings hollow, particularly in the face of those who have suffered severe loss, such as the loss of a child.

It is when we get to the final part that in fact, Murray shines the brightest and this is in contrasting Islam and Christianity. Murray comes at this from the position of someone who was a devout Muslim who used to argue against Christians using the classic arguments such as the idea that the Bible is corrupt and has been changed. What was most shocking to him is that in studying the Koran, he found that the interpretation he had of the Koran could not allow that possibility. The more he compared the Koran to the Bible, the more he found the Bible to be reliable.

The question then to ask is “Whose God is greater?” Now I don’t hold to the idea of Greatest Possible Being theology, although I certainly hold that God is the greatest being, but it is an important question to ask with a Muslim who bases their whole life on God being the greatest. Murray argues that if they want to hold to a God who is great, it would be better for them to recognize who Jesus is and to learn about the greatness of a God who exists in Trinity. In my opinion, this response to Islam is the best part of the book as Murray uses his own experience and research directly.

Murray’s book is a good start. One won’t find all the answers here, but for an earnest seeker, one will find the answers to some of their questions.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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25 Responses to “Book Plunge: The Grand Central Question”

  1. tildeb Says:

    My morality as an atheist ‘floats in air’ as much as yours does as a theist. The grounding that you believe comes from some god for both the purpose of your life and the moral standards you associate to it is nothing more than a god-of-the-gaps argument. You attribute your moral standards to a divine source without any means at your disposal to demonstrate the causal link except by your belief that it is so, while leaving you vulnerable to having no means to explain how that link then causes moral behaviour in other critters – including atheists – nor how moral standards even of theists wax and wane in response to changing environmental and social conditions over time. Belief in any gods or god doesn’t change the paucity of your attribution.

    • apologianick Says:

      Could you care to demonstrate your charge that I have no causal means?

      Do you also admit you have no ontological basis for morality?

      • tildeb Says:

        Do I care to demonstrate… what?

        No, because you are the one who carries the burden of proof to link the cause you assert, namely, god for the effect you claim, namely, morality and you have provided none… except by attribution that it is so. I said you were vulnerable by relying on attribution to having no means to make this connection… and shifting the burden of proof is not a way to provide that means. You’re still vulnerable.

      • apologianick Says:

        I have done that elsewhere, but let’s suppose that my sole justification for believing in God was because He provided an ontological basis for morality and I found no better explanation because all others fall short.

        Exactly why do you think that would be invalid?

        Also, you do have a burden of proof. You claimed that God is not a valid support and that I hold to a god-of-the-gaps argument. Can you demonstrate that?

      • tildeb Says:

        “(B)ut let’s suppose that my sole justification for believing in Baal was because He provided an ontological basis for morality and I found no better explanation because all others fall short.

        Exactly why do you think that would be invalid?”

        See what I did there?

      • apologianick Says:

        Yes. You changed a name without changing ontological content and somehow thought that constituted an argument.

      • tildeb Says:

        I did more than that, Nick; I demonstrated how the line of reasoning you take is only an assertion because you still do not have the means to show why the change in name from god to Baal alters your claim one iota. You do not have any means to link the supposed cause you claim exists – God and NOT Baal – with the effect – morality – that you then use as if it magically justifies the original claim – God but not Baal! You have your work cut out for you.

      • apologianick Says:

        No. This is just a common idea that you can take a polytheistic being with different ontological attributes and use that to replace an ultimate being in monotheism. Now suppose you get to a being of pure actuality whose very nature is being. I don’t care what you call Him. The nature is the same.

        I’m arguing for a being of a specific nature. WHat you call him is secondary.

        You have your work cut out for you. You need more than atheistic presuppositionalism.

      • tildeb Says:

        Well, once again you’re confused between my criticism of how you make a causal link (simply by imagining it as far as I can tell) with your notion that the mystical properties of what you’re asserting grants you a get-out-of-jail card from having to do so. If you weren’t making a causal claim, I’d make no issue of this wishful thinking. But because you are denigrating the morality of atheists because they don’t go along with your wishful thinking and hollow assertion!

      • apologianick Says:

        Then let’s see whose worldview best explains reality. Do you hold that goodness is objective?

      • tildeb Says:

        As shocking as this may sound to a true believer, I think reality is the best indicator of what’s true about it and any explanations we adduce from it require validation from it. All the rest is word play. You made a causal claim linking your god to morality and now are doing everything but using reality to demonstrate why your claim is justified by it. Lacking this demonstration, you won’t agree with me that you’ve not only made an assertion without reality’s support to back it up but privileged your religious belief in order to malign without cause the moral character of those who do not share it. This is discrimination, which I don’t consider a very good example of your moral superiority to me as an atheist. In contrast, I claim our moral basis is the same, which is why I’m willing to grant you equal moral status to my own. Something’s not right here. Can you figure out where you’ve gone astray to make moral discrimination an example of a higher moral standard?

      • apologianick Says:

        Do you hold to objective goodness?

      • tildeb Says:

        Why do you keep avoiding my criticism?

      • apologianick Says:

        Because I find it invalid. Why do you avoid my question? Because it goes against your faith?

      • tildeb Says:

        You make a causal claim, back it up with nothing other than assertion, and then reject a criticism of the method and its product because you find it invalid by fiat? What’s invalid? You made the claim. You refuse to allow reality to arbitrate it. You have turned the claim into an empty assertion you are trying desperately to fill with something other than evidence from reality. And you think the problem lies with someone who points this out? Really, Nick?

        Demonstrate why your claim is valid because, after all the waving and mumbling and blaming is done, I think you can’t. I think you’re exercising discrimination against atheists and maligning their moral character because you are religiously motivated to do so. Without your religious beliefs to sustain it, the claim collapses entirely and shows itself to be the fiction it is.

      • apologianick Says:

        No. You made a claim about how I did things acting as if I had no basis. I was waiting for you to back it. You never did. Now again in backing it I’ll ask a question you seem to want to avoid.

        Is goodness objective?

    • cornelll Says:

      So tilde, let’s get right into meta-ethics. how do moral values come from valueless matter? What’s the secret ingredient that entails from valuelessness, value comes? Or did the universe always have the property of value?

      • tildeb Says:

        You have confused morality as a descriptive code of conduct with a normative code existing independently of the behaviour that defines it. It is this jump between the two that I say is an empty assertion, a filling in of a gap with the pseudo-answer of ‘God’.

      • apologianick Says:

        You mean I have disagreed with your worldview.

        Yea. I have.

        Perhaps you should either argue against objective goodness or show it is not floating in the air.

      • tildeb Says:

        No, I mean cornelll has confused a descriptive code for a normative one.

        You have made an assertion about the basis of morality that you claim (agreeing with Murray) differentiates the morality of atheists from the morality of theists. I say that’s bunk. You’ve got nothing to demonstrate how the link you claim – the ‘basis’ of morality – connects your cause (God) with this effect (morality) works. I show the vulnerability of your claim by substituting another supposed causal agent that in no way alters the claim in any qualitative or quantifiable way. It’s still just an assertion you make. This shows how your assertion that supposedly links the basis of morality of theists to be different from the morality of atheists is empty… an assertion that utilizes a lack of knowledge about our moral sensibilities by inserting God into this gap.

        That’s not a meaningful and thoughtful answer to the questions we have about the basis of moral behaviour; it’s a pseudo-answer that serves to privilege your religious beliefs at the expense of atheists. And speaking of moral behaviour, this approach to denigrate atheists by empty assertions like this is a very nasty tactic and, more importantly, groundless. That’s not so much a difference in worldviews as it is a difference in the kind of reasoning that informs it.

      • cornelll Says:

        Tildbe, If we don’t have a basis of moral behavior then all is permissible and you’re opinion is just as worthless as mine. Atheists in modern times just get off too easy, because they fail to read the existentialists and nihilists before them.

        Every time I hear an atheist make a moral complaint I laugh, as they have no moral pot to piss in. Just pointless conglomerations of matter shifting in the way of A rather than B. Atheists can’t seem to stomach

        Atheism makes the most sense under moral nihilism, in a godless universe we have no priori obligation to do anything. We don’t have any goal to fulfill and no point living in this universe. Albert Camus contended one must rebel against the logical conclusion on an existential and practical basis so he was the most honest that it was impossible. It would mean that one could only accept personal concerns for matters but no longer be able to argue for any rightness or wrongness about any significant matters due to the fact that one could not account for values or meaning beyond one’s only subjective account.

        So Tildbe, honestly if you sit in bed for the rest of your existgence and let your pointless existence wither and way into the Earth where you came from, it’s just as meaningful to the unconscious, purposeless, nonrational, impersonal universe if you go and become a humanitarian.

        Theism owns moral the debate, always has, always will. Atheists in modern times have just forgotten about existentialism and nihilism, and this is because their precious feelings and emotional reasoning get in the way.

      • tildeb Says:

        Cornelll, you say If we don’t have a basis of moral behavior… (meaning either we have a moral law giver or we have no basis to describe moral behaviour), then I have to wonder why on earth you assume anyone other than an idiot would hold this opinion. I don’t think for a moment that we “don’t have a basis of moral behaviour”, so I’m not sure who you’re aiming this comment at… other than some imaginary and idiotic atheist who agree with the false dichotomy you present.

      • cornelll Says:

        *your opinion

      • cornelll Says:

        Tidle

        This is what you said “That’s not a meaningful and thoughtful answer to the questions we have about the basis of moral behaviour;’

        You didn’t say anything about ‘describing’ though I don’t see why that even matters if it is the case that moral nihilism is true, because if moral nihilism is true then one could be a Moral expressivist and describe moral behavior all we want, but yet all it entails is emotional emoting.

        IF Error theory is true, then we are in error anyways with respect to making claims about ethics,

        To me only an idiot would assert moral properties can exist in in a universe that looks to be on a mechanistic base level (mechanistic is not being defined here as ‘necessarily deterministic’) This requires ‘basic physics’ in the sense where the basic level of reality in a mechanistic worldview is free of purpose, meaning, intentionality, subjectivity (the basic elements of the universe do not have a “point of view” and no subjective experience), and normativity (rocks in an avalanche do not go where they go because it was a good idea to go there). and say that somehow we have a basis of moral behavior when the fact of the matter is, this ‘moral behavior’ could just very well be AN ILLUSION given to us by the blind watchmaker.

        “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them”

        – J.L Mackie ‘Miracle of Theism’

        “The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.”

        – Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm ( London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269

        So if atheism + materialism is true, then I don’t see how ‘we have a basis of moral behavior’

        With that being said I guess I should have been clearer

        There are atheists out there who believe that a teleology exists and that materialism is false, (cf: Evan Fales)

        Materialism – Holds that all reality is fundamentally material or physical in nature, and in particular that all mental phenomena are reducible to, or at least supervenient upon, physical phenomena.

        So I forgot about them before, and I’ll admit that one can consistently hold to Naturalist Moral Realism and be an atheist, though those who commit to this line of reasoning are rare, so that’s why I didn’t bring them up before. (in academia and in the public)

        However, they would still have to argue why their view makes the most sense given a godless universe, and they’d have to argue why materialism is false just as a Theist would.

        Anyways, I don’t think moral nihilism is true so I’d argue that your life DOES have a purpose and a prior obligation in which entails that you ‘ought’ to do what’s good. So just keep in mind I don’t really think you live a purposeless existence, as I’m just making an argument for what I’d expect if Theism is false.

  2. normanmilquetoast Says:

    Hi Tilde,
    Would it be fair to say that your moral epistemology is based on objective human value?

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