The Atheist Morality Bait-and-Switch

I’m reposting a reply to a non-theist friend on Facebook, where he tried to defend a view of morality without God:

What grounds my morality is the human condition, and that is all that is required to ground it.

But that’s just an assertion that flies in the face of what we know morality is. If moral values have no ontological status [ie no independent existence outside of us], if they are just expressions of our preferences, then to say that it is WRONG to torture children for fun is really just to say that we evolved to have a NEGATIVE REACTION to torturing babies for fun. But that is not morality. A biological impulse is not a moral moral impulse.

Put another way, if that IS what morality actually is, then terms like right and wrong, good and evil don’t have the meanings we ascribe to them. They have no force whatsoever. To say that X is wrong is merely to describe how we feel about it—not to prescribe an obligation regarding it. So you emasculate morality, replacing prescriptive moral terms with descriptive scientific ones, but pretending nothing has happened because you’re still using the same terms. It’s a bait and switch.

Because the human condition is one way, and not another, morals constructed in light of it are not arbitrary.

That only holds if the human condition is not arbitrary. But clearly it is. We can imagine a species evolving to have a positive reaction to torturing babies for fun. In that world, morality is the opposite to ours. So your morality is COMPLETELY arbitrary.

In fact, one of the DEFINING things about morality is that it is teleological. X is wrong because it deviates from the way things are MEANT to be, the way things were DESIGNED to be. But in your view, there is no design. There is no plan. Our evolution was a chance affair, guided by non-rational forces, in a universe where those forces just happen to be the way they are. That’s the very definition of arbitrariness!

They gain their force from the way people are.

Since the way people are is as arbitrary as the way the universe is under a non-theistic view, your morality has no force whatsoever.

39 replies
  1. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    I would like to point out that the human condition is not arbitrary. A species could never evolve to have a positive reaction to torturing babies, because such a species would never succeed. In this way morality is completely grounded in the natural world. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding?

  2. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Peter:

    1. This is simply an assertion in lieu of an argument. It seems perfectly conceivable that such a species could evolve.

    2. Even if you’re right, the laws that govern natural selection are themselves arbitrary under a non-theistic view. So the human condition is arbitrary in view of being entirely a product of these arbitrary forces. You’re just pushing the problem back a level.

  3. Lee
    Lee says:

    You may want to take a peek at the definition of arbitrary. I think it more aptly describes divine command theory than it does chance occurrence.

    It seems to me that to call morality teleological is to assume your conclusion. Secular ethics generally holds that morality is a human convention, and while you may disagree, it’s bad manners to simply define your opposition out of the game.

    “Put another way, if that IS what morality actually is, then terms like right and wrong, good and evil don’t have the meanings we ascribe to them. They have no force whatsoever. To say that X is wrong is merely to describe how we feel about it—not to prescribe an obligation regarding it. So you emasculate morality, replacing prescriptive moral terms with descriptive scientific ones, but pretending nothing has happened because you’re still using the same terms. It’s a bait and switch.”

    This paragraph confuses me. I fail to see the point, really. What do you mean by “no force whatsoever”? In comparison to the edicts of a divine being? Well, perhaps, but what makes that moral? Can the alleviation or prevention of suffering for yourself not provide sufficient motivation to do so for others? Are you so failing in empathy that you would torture children if God hadn’t commanded you not to? If you only avoid the torture of children because you have been commanded not to do so, how is your behavior moral rather than simply obedient.

    @bnonn;

    “Even if you’re right, the laws that govern natural selection are themselves arbitrary under a non-theistic view.”

    Not by any definition of arbitrary that I know of, nor by any known science. We may speculate that these laws could be another way, but that is not in itself a reason to believe that they could be. Moreover, unless your god was adhering to some external standard or reason for natural law as it is, his “choice” of the present state of affairs fits the definition of arbitrary quite nicely. I don’t think you know what arbitrary means.

    Lee.

  4. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    You may want to take a peek at the definition of arbitrary. I think it more aptly describes divine command theory than it does chance occurrence.

    Apparently it’s you who needs to take a peak. Something is arbitrary if it is “determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle.” I’d invite you to share how you believe DCT is more aptly described as arbitrary than chance occurrence, which is the very definition of arbitrary!

    It seems to me that to call morality teleological is to assume your conclusion. Secular ethics generally holds that morality is a human convention

    Which is the exact position I critique in this post. If morality is a human convention, then morality is not morality. To say that S ought to do X is to presuppose a plan or design as regards S, in relation to X. Secular humanism likes to use the language of morality, but its “ought” statements are completely empty; devoid of ought-related meaning. When it says S ought to do X, it really means that given how we evolved, we are subject to an impulse driving us to desire that S will do X. But biologically programmed impulses are not moral impulses. So, although you accuse me of defining the opposition out of the game, what is actually happening is that the opposition is trying to define itself into the game. Unfortunately for you, simply declaring that something constitutes morality does not make it so.

    Can the alleviation or prevention of suffering for yourself not provide sufficient motivation to do so for others? Are you so failing in empathy that you would torture children if God hadn’t commanded you not to?

    Needless to say, there’s a categorical difference between saying “I want to alleviate suffering” and “I ought to alleviate suffering”. So your objection seems to boil down to a belief that empathy is sufficient to replace morality.

    If you only avoid the torture of children because you have been commanded not to do so, how is your behavior moral rather than simply obedient.

    Your lack of moral discernment is pretty terrible. You think that someone who only abstains from torturing babies because God commands it is not acting in a morally praiseworthy way? So obedience to a morally right authority is not itself morally praiseworthy? In what sense are you qualified to be commenting here at all?

    Since you’re evidently ethically challenged, here’s an obvious counterexample: S suffers from psychopathy (as apparently up to 1 in 10 people do) in an acute form that leads him to want to torture babies for fun. However, S is a Christian, and knows that God commands us to love our neighbor as ourself. Thus, S rightly concludes that torturing babies for fun is morally impermissible. Since S desires to obey God, even though he feels no guilt or remorse about his actions, S decides not to torture babies for fun. Has S behaved (1) Immorally? (2) Amorally? (3) Morally?

    In fact, obedience to moral commands is morally praiseworthy. Only in Atheist La-La Land is it a cogent objection to suggest there’s something wrong with acting morally only because God commands it.

    Not by any definition of arbitrary that I know of, nor by any known science.

    Well, we’ve already covered your ignorance of basic definitions. To defeat the arbitrariness objection you’d have to show that the universe is the way it is necessarily—and not only that, but necessarily in a way that is relevant to human morality!

    Why should we think the universe is the way it is necessarily though? I’m not aware of any scientific theory that posits this. In fact, the universe is so obviously contingent in its properties, could so obviously have existed in a vast number of other ways, that scientists have to posit a completely unscientific theory—the multiverse—in order to avoid the fine-tuning argument. But perhaps you know something they don’t.

    Moreover, unless your god was adhering to some external standard or reason for natural law as it is, his “choice” of the present state of affairs fits the definition of arbitrary quite nicely.

    Even if that were true, since human morality is not grounded in natural law under my view, but in the necessary nature of God, the objection is irrelevant. That said, you’re once again making an ass of yourself in claiming that I don’t understand what arbitrariness is. Remember, “determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle”. Now, in Christianity, do you think the nature of the universe is determined by whim, or by reason?

  5. Sam Hight
    Sam Hight says:

    Regarding “no force whatsoever” to versions of right and wrong which are based upon the human condition:

    William Lane Craig quoted someone in his debate against Stephen Law that illustrates that lack of force. When asked not to do something because it is bad/wrong, the bully replies, “Says who?”

    There is no answer to this, unless you want to bully the bully to make him follow your opinion of the rules! With God as the creator of all people, the bully can be told, “Your Maker, the one who gave you the life that you now use to abuse others. And your Maker will ensure you receive justice for your actions.”

    God’s justice is the force of a God given morality. There is no force, except the fist of the stronger dictator, under naturalistic morality. This was what was wisely understood by the Founding Fathers of the US.

  6. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Again I don’t think it is conceivable that a species could evolve to torture babies because it is not selectively advantageous. I’m not sure why you don’t think this an argument. Given natural selection it is obviously true.

    I think I know what you mean about the laws that govern natural selection being arbitrary. They could have been otherwise, perhaps. They just ARE, and then we discover them.
    But we are a product OF those forces. If it were selectively advantageous to torture babies, then our nervous systems would have evolved to enjoy torture. And it would no longer be torture because a baby would respond positively to it, and it would increase a babies survival rate.

    Your error. I think, is that you want to transplant your current notion of torture into another world. But this is not valid. The equivalent is a person who says that if the laws of physics were slightly different, life could not have evolved. But they are transplanting their present notion of ‘life’ into another scenario.

    I think your friend is right. Moral values do exist outside of our preferences. They are formed by nature. It is perfectly possible to draw prescriptive moral obligations from the descriptive. Empathy is a biological impulse, and also leads to prescriptions.

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Again I don’t think it is conceivable that a species could evolve to torture babies because it is not selectively advantageous. I’m not sure why you don’t think this an argument. Given natural selection it is obviously true.

    On the contrary, it seems trivial to come up with examples. We can imagine a species that was subdivided due to environment, where one group could only flourish at the expense of another. Killing the infants of the opposing group would be the simplest way of ensuring one’s own group’s survival; and killing infants would therefore lead to positive feedback. This in turn could lead to more and more lengthy, painful ways of killing the infants, to maximize the feedback. That seems just as plausible as any other evolutionary account I’ve ever seen, and a heck of a lot more plausible than accounts of things like the evolution of sexual reproduction, or warm blood!

    But we are a product OF those forces. If it were selectively advantageous to torture babies, then our nervous systems would have evolved to enjoy torture.

    Which undermines your entire argument that moral values are non-arbitrary. If under your view good could just as well have been evil, and evil just as well have been good, then you don’t have a real system of morality. Not morality as we intuitively understand it. You’re replacing morality with happenstance.

    Your error. I think, is that you want to transplant your current notion of torture into another world.

    I’m not even sure what you mean here. Seems like you’re just compounding the arbitrariness problem.

    I think your friend is right. Moral values do exist outside of our preferences. They are formed by nature.

    Either you are saying that moral values exist as independent entities in nature—which I’m sure is not what you’re saying—or you’re simply contradicting yourself. If moral values exist outside of our preferences, where do they exist? In what manner do they exist? What is their ontology?

    It is perfectly possible to draw prescriptive moral obligations from the descriptive.

    Actually no, it’s not. Trying to do so is called the naturalistic fallacy. That’s Ethics 101.

    Empathy is a biological impulse, and also leads to prescriptions.

    If that’s so, you should have no trouble filling in the blank to show me the logical inference that supports your conclusion:

    1. I feel empathy for S.
    2. ???
    3. Therefore, everyone ought to behave in X way toward S.

  8. Lee
    Lee says:

    You’re not using the word properly. For something to be ‘arbitrary’, there must be a thing choosing. Arbitrary is not synonymous with chance occurrence or ‘could have been otherwise’, there must be a chooser that selects an option randomly, “on a whim”, etc. If the world could have been another way, the actual state of the world is a chance occurrence, a roll of the dice as it were. Alternatively, if the world could have been another way, and god chose one option randomly, or ‘on a whim’, then the state of the world is arbitrary.

    That only holds if the human condition is not arbitrary. But clearly it is. We can imagine a species evolving to have a positive reaction to torturing babies for fun. In that world, morality is the opposite to ours. So your morality is COMPLETELY arbitrary.

    Chosen by whom, on who’s whim? This is my point. It is not arbitrary if we have good reasons for having a negative reaction to torturing babies for fun(i.e. evolutionary), and the path evolution has taken can only be considered arbitrary if someone chose the path. The charge of arbitrariness, which so rankles you divine command theorists, cannot be simply turned into a “I know you are, but what am I” rejoinder.

    Unfortunately for you, simply declaring that something constitutes morality does not make it so.

    Right, which is precisely what I accused you of doing:

    It seems to me that to call morality teleological is to assume your conclusion. Secular ethics generally holds that morality is a human convention, and while you may disagree, it’s bad manners to simply define your opposition out of the game.

    If it is not acceptable for me, why is it so for you?

    To defeat the arbitrariness objection you’d have to show that the universe is the way it is necessarily—and not only that, but necessarily in a way that is relevant to human morality!

    I don’t, in fact, have to do anything of the sort. We are in the same exact position with regards this question of necessity: I can summon just as much evidence to suggest that the world ‘is the way it is necessarily’ as you can to suggest that the world could be another way. Zero. It is disingenuous to demand a level of proof that you cannot offer in return. You are welcome to claim it is “obvious” that it could be another way, as you have a number of times, but you freely (even gleefully) point out that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the multiverse hypothesis.

    Since you’re evidently ethically challenged, here’s an obvious counterexample: S suffers from psychopathy (as apparently up to 1 in 10 people do) in an acute form that leads him to want to torture babies for fun. However, S is a Christian, and knows that God commands us to love our neighbor as ourself. Thus, S rightly concludes that torturing babies for fun is morally impermissible. Since S desires to obey God, even though he feels no guilt or remorse about his actions, S decides not to torture babies for fun. Has S behaved (1) Immorally? (2) Amorally? (3) Morally?

    There is so much error in this paragraph it is difficult to know where to start. First, psychopathy doesn’t entail a desire to inflict torture, it is the absence of empathy that makes such people immune to the normal internal discord that acting in such a manner engenders in the rest of the population. They just don’t see a relative difference. Second, S would not conclude that such a thing is “morally” impermissible, he/she would conclude that such a thing is likely to result in punishment. Wishing to avoid punishment (as psychopaths are not immune to pain and suffering), S would conclude that obeying is the proper course for self-preservation and personal comfort. S has behaved (2) Amorally.

    What you are trying to do is say that for an outside observer, the action is good moral behavior. This is not in dispute. The question is whether S has performed good moral behavior for MORAL reasons, or whether S has performed good moral behavior by accident. It stands to reason that if S were given the choice of torturing children or being punished for disobeying a command to do same, S would clearly choose to torture babies. This is the difference between obedience and moral behavior, and it is a distinction that you continue to ignore.

    Even if that were true, since human morality is not grounded in natural law under my view, but in the necessary nature of God, the objection is irrelevant.

    The necessity of His nature escapes the objection of arbitrary, this is true. But this is to say that his nature had to be a certain way for a certain reason. In context, you are saying that God’s nature had to be what it is because he is good. As you have done in our previous conversations, you escape one objection only to run full force into the other: why is the nature he has necessary, what necessary condition is satisfied by this particular composition?

    That said, you’re once again making an ass of yourself in claiming that I don’t understand what arbitrariness is. Remember, “determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle”. Now, in Christianity, do you think the nature of the universe is determined by whim, or by reason?

    Well, I’ll just wait for you to respond to what I have written instead of insulting you over and over again as though one comment is the source of repeated, deliberate error.

  9. Lee
    Lee says:

    “William Lane Craig quoted someone in his debate against Stephen Law that illustrates that lack of force. When asked not to do something because it is bad/wrong, the bully replies, “Says who?””

    An old trick. Perhaps you will recognize the “logic” if you recalled the playground bully from our youth asking whether your mother knows you are gay. Does she? Or is the question merely equivocating grammar with logic. Moreover, even if you curtly respond “I’m not gay(not that there is anything wrong with it)”, there remains an unanswered question that never fails to draw a smug smirk from the questioner. This is why such tactics are effective on the playground, and in debates, but don’t carry much weight in adult conversation.

    Lee.

  10. Simon
    Simon says:

    Lee, I’m the non-theist (I like that term!) Bnonn referred to. Let me say I’m heartened to read your comments, you express the issues very well. I did feel, repeatedly, in a rather long fb discussion, that Bnonn was stealing the commonly accepted meaning of morality to his own interpretation, and insisting that any other view was illegitimate. Which is kind of ironic, given that it is the commonly accepted understanding of morality (that does not insist on some deity) that Bnonn insists is illegitimate.

  11. Simon
    Simon says:

    Says who? I think there is an obvious answer. Says the society within which that bully lives. Says the characteristics of the human condition, which are obvious to the members of that society.

    What’s difficult about oughts springing directly from the realities of our own selves and our contexts? Those realities are sufficient to let thinking people know that some things are beneficial, while others are not. And we devised terms to describe these things… we call them right/wrong/good/evil. These terms do not require reference to a deity in order to be meaningful. They already have the meaning we’ve given them. Morals are constructs, made by us. And yes, they are based on feelings and intuitions and instincts that have evolved.

  12. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Unfortunately in your scenario, they would end up also killing their own infants. Or if not, then your scenario needs more detail.

    “If under your view good could just as well have been evil, and evil just as well have been good”
    No, you are misunderstand. You would be completely correct if ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were independent of our evolution. But they are not.

    “If moral values exist outside of our preferences, where do they exist?”
    In the same place that a human’s need for food exists.

    I don’t see what is wrong with the following:

    1. My tire is flat
    2. I don’t want to get injured
    3. I should fix my tire.

    Not wanting to get injured is not just a preference.

  13. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Lee,

    You’re not using the word properly. For something to be ‘arbitrary’, there must be a thing choosing.

    I don’t know why you think arbitrariness entails agency. It often does, but that’s hardly required. But you can use the term “contingent” instead if it makes you feel better. The result is the same. You’re trying to sidestep the argument with semantics—but a fish by any other name still smells as bad.

    I can summon just as much evidence to suggest that the world ‘is the way it is necessarily’ as you can to suggest that the world could be another way. Zero.

    This kind of comment shows that you’re simply ignorant about the topic you’re pretending to be qualified to have an opinion on. For example, are you even familiar with what modal logic, which describes things like necessity and possibility, is? It’s trivial to show that the universe is contingent. In fact, if the universe existed as it does out of necessity, you quickly end up with logical absurdities, like the disappearance of dispositions.

    It is disingenuous to demand a level of proof that you cannot offer in return.

    I think it’s telling that you assume I’m as ignorant as you are.

    First, psychopathy doesn’t entail a desire to inflict torture

    I never said it did. You’re so eager to score points that you don’t even bother to read what I say.

    Second, S would not conclude that such a thing is “morally” impermissible, he/she would conclude that such a thing is likely to result in punishment.

    Since I stipulated that S is a Christian, this is just patent attempt to weasel out of an obvious error. S knows that God only punishes morally impermissible behavior.

    Wishing to avoid punishment (as psychopaths are not immune to pain and suffering), S would conclude that obeying is the proper course for self-preservation and personal comfort. S has behaved (2) Amorally.

    Amazing. Your moral compass is spinning so freely that even a clear counterexample can’t help it find north.

    The question is whether S has performed good moral behavior for MORAL reasons

    You act as if you’re pointing out something insightful. But this was a basic requirement of my example: that S himself be making an internally moral choice.

    It stands to reason that if S were given the choice of torturing children or being punished for disobeying a command to do same, S would clearly choose to torture babies. This is the difference between obedience and moral behavior, and it is a distinction that you continue to ignore.

    The fact that your worldview leads you to believe that people only obey commands out of fear of punishment is quite revealing about the way your worldview eviscerates morality.

    As you have done in our previous conversations, you escape one objection only to run full force into the other: why is the nature he has necessary, what necessary condition is satisfied by this particular composition?

    And you continue to be oblivious to the distinction between internal and external reasons. A necessary being does not exist by necessity of something outside himself.

  14. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Peter:

    your scenario needs more detail.

    Add in whatever detail you want. The point is, it’s plausible to imagine a species evolving to torture babies.

    If you don’t like that example, imagine one intelligent species evolving to predate on another. Both are sentient. By pretty much any secular definition, using a sentient species for food is morally impermissible. Of course, you’re welcome to deny that. But so much the worse for your view of morality. In either case, your worldview claims that obviously evil things are evil only by accident, and that indeed obviously evil things could equally have been good had evolution taken a different course.

    There’s no real need for me to argue against a worldview like that. You see, I’m not under any illusions that I’m going to convince someone as resolutely set against reason as you are. Indeed, I think you’d say pretty much anything to maintain the consistency you need to deny God. But other people reading this thread are not as foolish. They can see the absurdity of your position. I really don’t need to add anything to what you’ve already admitted.

    No, you are misunderstand. You would be completely correct if ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were independent of our evolution. But they are not.

    I’m afraid it’s you who misunderstands. Since we could have evolved in another way, it makes no difference that morality is based on evolution. It is still accidental. Evil could still be good, and vice versa, given some other accident of evolution. Indeed, give us a few million more years, and perhaps in combination with technology we’ll have evolved to the point where torturing babies is morally obligatory. Your worldview simply can’t rule out such ethical absurdity.

    “If moral values exist outside of our preferences, where do they exist?”
    In the same place that a human’s need for food exists.

    And where, pray tell, is that? Does it have a location in space? What are the properties of these needs and values? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to mock you, it’s just that you’re saying something so patently silly.

    1. My tire is flat
    2. I don’t want to get injured
    3. I should fix my tire.

    I don’t know if this is meant to be syllogism. I’m guessing it is, because I asked for one. But I can’t see any charitable way to interpret it. There is simply no inference holding it together in its current form. It’s like you don’t know how to use logic. Aren’t you familiar with modus ponens and so on?

    In any case, even if the syllogism held up, which it doesn’t, the conclusion [3] is not a moral statement! The ethics of your worldview is so fundamentally broken that you can’t even tell the difference between a pragmatic statement and a moral one. You see the word “should” and just take it to mean something moral. But that’s fatally equivocal, and not exactly in a hard-to-spot way.

    Does the “should” in [3] mean “I am morally obligated to fix my tire”? No, of course not. It means something like, “in order to achieve my desired goal, I will need to fix my tire”. It’s simply stating a necessary condition.

    Not wanting to get injured is not just a preference.

    Well, what is it then? If it is not just a preference, then presumably it is more than a preference. Presumably there is some quality or property added to it on top of being a preference. So what is that quality or property?

  15. Lee
    Lee says:

    I don’t know why you think arbitrariness entails agency. It often does, but that’s hardly required.

    The word you are looking for is relative, or contrived, not arbitrary. You, and the OP, used ‘arbitrary’ because it is often used in response to your own moral philosophy (and that probably stings). We all know that nothing feels better than to turn an objection squarely on the objector. However, the ruse is up, you are not using it properly, and it’s time to man up and just let it go.

    Contingent is not the correct word either, yet it’s immediately clear why you want to use it. However, this isn’t about whether the universe itself exists necessarily, but whether the laws of nature are the way they are because they are necessarily so, or whether they are the way they are for some other reason (or by random choice), and could be otherwise. You’re treating language like a game, taking a word as you would a rook and quickly carving it into the piece you need to win. Stop.

    You also seem to have forgotten your own analogy. You did, in fact, say, “S suffers from psychopathy[…] in an acute form that leads him to want to torture babies for fun.” My quote, “psychopathy doesn’t entail a desire to inflict torture” omitted the “babies for fun” portion, but is otherwise in line with, though in opposition to, your original comment. If you are making the claim that some forms of psychopathy do entail, in addition to lacking empathy, a want to torture condition, I reject this claim as spurious. That desire would have a source other than simple psychopathy.

    S knows that God only punishes morally impermissible behavior.

    Yes, but it is the punishment being avoided, not immoral behavior, for a run-of-the-mill psychopath. They are incapable of moral reasoning, and becoming a Christian will not suddenly grant a psychopath this capacity. It is a mental deficiency, not a worldview issue.

    The question is whether S has performed good moral behavior for MORAL reasons

    You act as if you’re pointing out something insightful. But this was a basic requirement of my example: that S himself be making an internally moral choice.

    S, you may recall, is a psychopath. I didn’t create this analogy, you did, and it doesn’t require a clinical physician to grasp the fact that psychopaths are incapable of moral reasoning. They act purely out of self-interest, no other motivation could even produce so much as a finger twitch. They may act as though they are doing something morally praiseworthy, and an outside observer would have to admit that they are, but they are not doing it to be a good person, or adhere to some moral standard; they’re doing it to get something they want. That is the fundamental difference between the psychopath and the rest of society.

    The fact that your worldview leads you to believe that people only obey commands out of fear of punishment is quite revealing about the way your worldview eviscerates morality.

    Your analogy, your psychopathic “S”. Stop blaming this on me, and stop pretending that a discussion about the behavior of a psychopath is somehow revealing to my own worldview.

    And you continue to be oblivious to the distinction between internal and external reasons. A necessary being does not exist by necessity of something outside himself.

    Again, you neatly sidestep the question. I did not suggest that a necessary being is contingent. I am asking, since you claim that His nature is necessarily a certain way (presumably good), what condition is satisfied by his nature being that way? Something makes this particular composition necessary, what is that something? To simply say ‘it couldn’t be another way’ is just to ape the definition of necessary, and avoid the question. To be more specific, why is it necessary that “rape is bad” or “love is good” be a part of God’s nature? What makes that necessary?

  16. Lee
    Lee says:

    @simon:

    Thank you, fellow anti-theist! Unfortunately, I think your attempts to ground morality in the human condition are question-begging. I hasten to add that the consequentialist side of me lauds your methodology, but my inner skeptic finds any attempts to solidify morality as effective as trying to catch wind in a net. One need only consider, as I have on my blog, the circumstance in which a higher order species comes to domesticate the human race. What possible argument can we muster to affirm our sovereignty if they are as advanced of us as we are to the animals we already domesticate (cattle/horses). It seems to me that both appeals to human evolutionary moral codes and the pious bleatings coming from the various flocks would do little, if anything, to build our case. In my humble opinion the only course of action is to appeal to their empathy and hope they possess it, which is why I think empathy is a necessary condition for morality. As Bnonn has tried to argue, even a psychopath without empathy could be a proper Christian, and this is why I feel his ethical system fails.

  17. Godlesson
    Godlesson says:

    Divine Command is the worst of any possible theory of morality, especially if you want to argue an “ought”. The existence of a supreme being, no matter the threat, or the power of that being, is no reason to suggest that one ought to do anything. I find it bankrupt for a theist to argue that there isn’t an “ought” for the atheist, since the atheist is only required to act in accordance with their personal mores. The theist, on the other hand, must believe there is an objective “ought” that can only come from a subjective point of view, for them to act in a certain manner.

    Can you show me the “ought” that forces you to act in a moral fashion?

  18. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Godlesson: sounds like you’re describing voluntarism, not DCT. You should probably bone up on the distinction between those two.

  19. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Lee:

    The word you are looking for is relative, or contrived, not arbitrary.

    Okay, I don’t know if you’re just a product of New Zealand’s education system or what—maybe it’s not your fault. But as a writer, I just have to tell you to stop.

    “Relative” and “contrived” are not synonyms for the concept we are discussing. Let’s call our concept X. Now, roughly, X is true of Y iff:

    (1) Y is not determined by reason or principle
    (2) Y is determined by chance or whim

    Notice that neither determination nor chance imply intelligent agency. And notice that X is not true of Y iff Y is relative (to what?) or Y is contrived. In fact, “contrived” means “obviously planned or calculated; not spontaneous or natural”—so it’s clear that if “contrived” is true of Y then X cannot be true of Y, since “contrived” entails the contradiction of [1].

    this isn’t about whether the universe itself exists necessarily, but whether the laws of nature are the way they are because they are necessarily so

    A distinction without a difference. Since the laws of nature are properties of the universe, if the universe exists necessarily then the laws of nature exist necessarily.

    If you are making the claim that some forms of psychopathy do entail, in addition to lacking empathy, a want to torture condition, I reject this claim as spurious.

    I simply referred to an acute form of psychopathy. It is a fact that psychopathy often leads to violent behavior. Now, if it is true that in a clinical sense it must be combined with some other antisocial behavior to lead to torturing babies, feel free to interpret my example charitably and add that extra antisocial behavior.

    Yes, but it is the punishment being avoided, not immoral behavior, for a run-of-the-mill psychopath.

    To the best of my knowledge, this is not so—punishment is not a deterrent to psychopaths. That is precisely why psychopathy is associated with reckless behavior and three times the rate of repeat imprisonment.

    They are incapable of moral reasoning

    They are incapable of empathy. But equating empathy with moral reasoning is just an exercise in question-begging.

    They act purely out of self-interest, no other motivation could even produce so much as a finger twitch.

    Again, this seems to beg the question against Christianity. But if you don’t accept this example, why not simply take the example of a normal person who, prior to conversion, routinely committed X immoral acts, but then after conversion refrained purely because he believed it was wrong?

    I am asking, since you claim that His nature is necessarily a certain way (presumably good), what condition is satisfied by his nature being that way? Something makes this particular composition necessary, what is that something? To simply say ‘it couldn’t be another way’ is just to ape the definition of necessary, and avoid the question.

    Well, given the doctrine of divine simplicity, God is not composed of parts or properties—so he does not have a “particular composition” per se.

    Under a truthmaker analysis of simplicity, the condition that satisfies the predication “God is necessarily good” would simply be the truthmaker “God’s necessary goodness”, which in turn is logically equivalent to God himself. If you’re looking for some other intrinsic condition being “satisfied”, or something that “makes” God necessarily good, I guess I’d have to ask:

    1. Why you think such exists at all.

    2. Why you think we’d have even a chance of knowing what it is (let alone why I must give an account of it).

    3. What you even mean by “condition” or “something” and in what sense it “makes” or is “satisfied” by God’s necessary goodness. How does that cash out? You presumably aren’t talking about broadly logical necessity, since that is covered by the truthmaker “God’s necessary goodness”. Perhaps you mean some kind of metaphysical necessity. But that’s a pretty treacherous field to find footing on. Or maybe you mean some kind of causation. But that seems incoherent in light of divine simplicity and aseity.

    In other words, I really don’t know what you’re asking :)

  20. Lee
    Lee says:

    Looks like it’s not relative or contrived either.

    A distinction without a difference. Since the laws of nature are properties of the universe, if the universe exists necessarily then the laws of nature exist necessarily.

    Again. . .this is not a question of existence, rather, it is a question of whether the laws could be another way or if they must, of necessity, be one way. The cosmological constant would still exist (presumably) if it were another “value”, if that’s the proper term. What evidence or argument can you muster to show that the laws of nature could exist in another form. Please, take a moment to look back at where this line of discussion began. We are approaching escape velocity from the original point.

    To the best of my knowledge, this is not so—punishment is not a deterrent to psychopaths. That is precisely why psychopathy is associated with reckless behavior and three times the rate of repeat imprisonment.

    They perform risk assessment, a sort of cost-benefit analysis, not anything remotely resembling the moral reasoning you or I would perform. You also have to consider the reward side of the equation: perhaps some view imprisonment as an acceptable price to pay if they get caught doing something they wish to do. The reward may outweight the potential risk, in their mind.

    They are incapable of empathy. But equating empathy with moral reasoning is just an exercise in question-begging.

    I suppose it is. It just seems to me, obvious that the difference between genuine moral reasoning and mere obedience to orders is the capacity for, and exercise of, empathy. Lacking that capacity, I don’t see how they could even start making moral decisions.

    Again, this seems to beg the question against Christianity. But if you don’t accept this example, why not simply take the example of a normal person who, prior to conversion, routinely committed X immoral acts, but then after conversion refrained purely because he believed it was wrong?

    Well, of course, this is an example of moral behavior. Truth be told, I rather liked your analogy, it cut to the heart of our disagreement. Your initial example(which I didn’t fully reject) was to demonstrate that the psychopath can act morally even if he/she does not believe immoral acts are wrong. I disagreed, pointing to the fact that said individual may be acting in conformity to a moral code, but he/she is not doing so for moral reasons. You sort of sneered at my insistence on this distinction, but I stand by it still. This new analogy is a bit of a cop-out; you’re asking whether a person acting morally for moral reasons is acting morally for moral reasons. I’m slightly mystified as to what this is supposed to prove.

    As to the footnote we have grown at the bottom of both our posts:

    1. Things do not exist necessarily in a particular way for no reason whatsoever.

    2. If you don’t have said reason, you have no reason to believe that such a thing is necessarily the way it is.

    3. If God’s nature is what it is because it is necessary that it be such, the necessity would satisfy some condition. Without the condition needing to be satisfied, it would not be necessary that His nature be any particular way at all.

    It just seems that to say “God is good” or “God is the logical equivalent of good” or however you want to phrase it, in the absence of some referent for the word ‘good’, it is an empty utterance. It’s like saying “God is the logical equivalent of siscabwash”. Ok, what is siscabwash? Nothing is resolved when you just close the loop by saying “Siscabwash is God”.

    Lee.

  21. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Again. . .this is not a question of existence, rather, it is a question of whether the laws could be another way or if they must, of necessity, be one way. The cosmological constant would still exist (presumably) if it were another “value”, if that’s the proper term. What evidence or argument can you muster to show that the laws of nature could exist in another form.

    I think we need to take a step back and break down the question into some decently clear modal statements.

    To start with, it’s not obvious what kind of necessity you have in mind. I thought you were speaking of a broadly logical necessity, singling out this specific universe (aka “the universe”)—which would in fact entail the laws of nature as we know them, via simple identity relationship.

    But the laws of nature don’t seem logically necessary, since we can certainly conceive of them not obtaining, or of obtaining differently, without apparent contradiction. So maybe you meant that they are metaphysically necessary. So what kind of metaphysical necessity do you have in mind? Nomological necessity seems out, since it presupposes the laws of nature to begin with. Necessity simpliciter looks like your best bet—but then you run the risk of being hoisted on your own petard.

    I can ask: in virtue of what are the laws of nature the way they are necessarily? Ie, in your own words, what condition is satisfied by the laws of nature being this way? What is the “something” that “makes” this particular composition necessary? To simply say “it couldn’t be another way” is just to ape the definition of necessary, and avoid the question. Right?

    It just seems to me, obvious that the difference between genuine moral reasoning and mere obedience to orders is the capacity for, and exercise of, empathy. Lacking that capacity, I don’t see how they could even start making moral decisions.

    I don’t share that intuition. The capacity for empathy doesn’t seem commensurate with the capacity for moral reasoning. For instance, if a crippled man’s little girl falls into a river and is about to drown, I can exercise empathy (having a little girl myself), and I can exercise moral reasoning, concluding that I have at least a supererogatory obligation to save her. But if the same thing happens in a movie, I can exercise empathy without exercising moral reasoning at all.

    The two may well be related, but it’s certainly not clear they’re the same thing.

    I disagreed, pointing to the fact that said individual may be acting in conformity to a moral code, but he/she is not doing so for moral reasons.

    On reflection, I think we’d need to meet some Christian psychopaths to clear up the details of this counterexample. I don’t think the distinction between acting because one believes something is right, and acting because one wants something, is as clear-cut as you want to make out. But this gets into issues of action theory—reasons responsiveness and so on—and that’s something I don’t feel qualified to discuss just yet.

    1. Things do not exist necessarily in a particular way for no reason whatsoever.

    I’ll assume you’re referring to simple metaphysical necessity, since the reason logically necessary things exist is that their not existing would entail a contradiction. With that assumption in mind, it looks like you’re giving a specific application of the principle of sufficient reason. But that’s problematic…

    For one thing, the PSR would seem to demand an explanation for itself. If for any state of affairs A there must be an explanation of why A is the case, then for PSR there must be an explanation of why PSR is the case. But what is that explanation?

    By your own lights in [2], if you can’t articulate it then “you have no reason to believe that such a thing is necessarily the way it is”. But in that case, you can’t use it against me. Either you have to drop the PSR altogether, in which case there’s no reason I must furnish an explanation for God’s goodness; or you have to attenuate your position to accept the PSR in ignorance of an explanation for it, in which case I can do the same with God’s goodness.

    There’s also the question of whether the PSR applies to necessary truths. It has a great deal of intuitive force as regards contingent truths, I’ll grant you—but for necessary truths it becomes murky. For instance, perhaps any necessary truth is a logically necessary truth. So when we say God is necessarily good, it is actually because for God to not be good would result in a contradiction. We can’t see the contradiction—but so what? Perhaps our epistemic limitations simply prevent it.

    Note, I’m not saying God’s goodness is logically necessary—just that the possibility seems to offer a way around the PSR, even ignoring the other issues.

    Finally, since God exists a se, the explanation of his being good cannot be extrinsic. So it must be intrinsic. But given divine simplicity, the explanation then reduces down to God himself. In other words, the reason for God’s goodness simply is his being good.

    This seems perfectly congruent with the truthmaker account I mentioned before, but raises the question of what exactly the distinction is between this explanation and a brute fact. And why can God’s goodness not simply be a brute fact?

    Personally, I don’t think the PSR applies to God. I think it leads to philosophically problematic (if not incoherent) issues such as self-causedness or self-necessitation. And since I think all necessary truths are grounded in God, I’m inclined to say the PSR applies only to contingent truths. So I’m not sure there’s any way you can obligate me to give an explanation of God’s goodness in terms of the PSR. Why should I?

    2. If you don’t have said reason, you have no reason to believe that such a thing is necessarily the way it is.

    Okay, I’ve already used this against you, but as I observed then, you’d be well within your rights to adopt an attenuated view of the PSR, maintaining that every truth must have an explanation, even if we are ignorant of what it is. And the reason that attenuated position is acceptable is simply that [2] is nonsense.

    Imagine, for example, that you observe X. You don’t know the reason for X’s happening, and you aren’t even able to come up with a plausible speculation as to the reason. Is the rational course, therefore, to conclude that X did not happen?

    There’s a categorical difference between having reasons for believing the truth of X, and knowing the reasons for its truth.

    It just seems that to say “God is good” or “God is the logical equivalent of good” or however you want to phrase it, in the absence of some referent for the word ‘good’, it is an empty utterance.

    Why? We know what goodness is. Not only do we have an intuitive understanding of it as a category, but we have examples of what it means for someone to be good as opposed to not good. So it is in no sense an empty utterance. Its content is clear and comprehensible.

    Maybe you don’t like the circularity of goodness being grounded in God. But again, why? It poses no logical problem. And the alternative is an infinite regress of referents for the term “good”. Surely you aren’t suggesting that.

  22. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Bnonn,

    “Add in whatever detail you want. The point is, it’s plausible to imagine a species evolving to torture babies.”
    No it’s not. And, in fact, I don’t know of any species that is evolved to go out to find opposing infants to kill them. I suggest they don’t exist.

    “In either case, your worldview claims that obviously evil things are evil only by accident, and that indeed obviously evil things could equally have been good had evolution taken a different course.”
    No this is not the case either. For the act of torture to be good, evolution would have to look completely different. For instance, perhaps it could be beneficial to dismember and disable your infant(!). But for that to work, evolution would have to be very strange, and very, very – unimaginably to me – different to how it is in this world. GIVEN evolution as we know it, good and bad are largely fixed.

    “There’s no real need…’
    This reads like you need to feel like you’ve won. But I agree that people reading will be able to see the merits of our arguments. You also seem to think that my primary purpose it to deny god. I guess I can see that for a religious person to believe that their views are undeniably the correct ones, people with other views must be purposefully and wickedly denying god. Me – I don’t see the point in arguing about god – at least not until I see evidence to talk about.

    “And where, pray tell, is that? Does it have a location in space? What are the properties of these needs and values? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to mock you, it’s just that you’re saying something so patently silly.”
    I don’t understand your perplexion here. I’m sure you’d agree that a snail can experience hunger merely by the laws of nature and the architecture of the snail (formed by nature). This is true for humans also. Where is this hunger? Does it have a location in space? It seems to me that moral values are like this hunger.

    1. My tire is flat
    2. I don’t want to get injured
    3. I should fix my tire.

    I know little of logic, but being rather grounded in observable evidence I’ve never found I’ve needed it in an explicit sense, I suppose, and I think that most of the time it’s not useful. I bet ethicists seldom use it. You seem to like it, though most people I’ve encountered who defend their worldviews don’t seem to use it. Maybe you do so because there is little evidence in any other realm for your worldview?

    “Does the “should” in [3] mean “I am morally obligated to fix my tire”? No, of course not. It means something like, “in order to achieve my desired goal, I will need to fix my tire”. It’s simply stating a necessary condition.”
    The ‘should’ in 3 seems moral to me if I don’t want to get injured. And I don’t. It seems moral to me to help others avoid injury, because I don’t want them to get injured either. It seems moral to a soldier when he fights for a cause.
    If you are correct that these are all just goal-oriented behaviours, why is your adherence to (I presume) ‘biblical’ morality not goal-oriented? Or your insistence that morality can not arise from within nature?

    I do agree, though, that we have a sort of expectation put on us about what is right, a sort of (mostly) agreed way to behave. It almost seems an extension of group behaviour beyond the intended size of the group. But it feels disembodied a lot of the time. It helps to see people as just like ones self, I think. It feels far more natural than clinical rules.

    “Not wanting to get injured is not just a preference”
    “Well, what is it then? If it is not just a preference, then presumably it is more than a preference. Presumably there is some quality or property added to it on top of being a preference. So what is that quality or property?”

    It seems to me that it is like the snail’s hunger. Not merely a preference.

  23. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    No it’s not. And, in fact, I don’t know of any species that is evolved to go out to find opposing infants to kill them. I suggest they don’t exist.

    All right, let’s dispense with imaginary examples, since you disagree on their possibility. Let’s look at some actual examples…

    No this is not the case either. For the act of torture to be good, evolution would have to look completely different. For instance, perhaps it could be beneficial to dismember and disable your infant(!). But for that to work, evolution would have to be very strange, and very, very – unimaginably to me – different to how it is in this world. GIVEN evolution as we know it, good and bad are largely fixed.

    It’s funny you mention disabling and dismembering an infant. Many animal species eat their young. So your knowledge of how evolution works seems patchy at best. Given that some species eat their young in certain circumstances, it is no stretch at all to imagine those species evolving to the point of sentience while retaining that behavior. And since the reason they eat their young is to confer a survival advantage, it isn’t even a stretch to imagine that baby cannibalism would be morally obligatory in some circumstances. So that’s a fairly concrete example of evolution leading to ostensibly moral conduct which is completely at odds with our own understanding of morality.

    Of course, none of these kinds of examples are needed for my point to go through, because my point is simply that even if evolution tends to produce certain kinds of behavior and mitigate against others, the process of natural selection itself is not moral or teleological. It is an arbitrary process which results from arbitrary natural laws. So even if moral conduct typically ends up one way rather than another under evolution, that moral conduct is still arbitrary.

    I guess I can see that for a religious person to believe that their views are undeniably the correct ones, people with other views must be purposefully and wickedly denying god.

    It’s not an inference I came to on my own. It is simply a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, born out by my own experience as an atheist prior to my conversion.

    Me – I don’t see the point in arguing about god – at least not until I see evidence to talk about.

    You’re welcome to read back through previous articles here to familiarize yourself with the mountains of evidence available.

    Of course, if you’re tendentiously defining “evidence” as “emperical data interpreted through the lens of philosophical naturalism”, you might be disappointed.

    I know little of logic, but being rather grounded in observable evidence I’ve never found I’ve needed it in an explicit sense, I suppose, and I think that most of the time it’s not useful.

    Really? Try repeating that same thought, but this time without logic.

    Just because you don’t formalize your thinking into syllogisms doesn’t mean you aren’t using logic. Just because you don’t develop an awareness of the inferences you make doesn’t mean you don’t make inference.

    Mind you, if you’re unaware of the inferences you make, and if you don’t formalize your thinking, you usually end up with very sloppy reasoning and very poor conclusions.

    I bet ethicists seldom use it.

    I’ll take that bet. Easy money.

    You seem to like it, though most people I’ve encountered who defend their worldviews don’t seem to use it.

    So what you’re saying is, most people who defend their worldviews don’t use the principles of reason and inference to do so? So…what do they use? Blind faith and assertions? Emotion and subjective impressions?

    I don’t even know how you would go about defending some set of propositions (for that is what a worldview is) without using logic. If you’re arguing, you’re using logic. If you’re reasoning, you’re using logic.

    Maybe you mean that people don’t self-consciously set out their reasoning in a way where you can see the premises and conclusions, evaluate their soundness, and test the validity of their inference. But then that’s just a sad indictment on most people’s education and ability to think clearly.

    The ‘should’ in 3 seems moral to me if I don’t want to get injured.

    Well, okay. Please explain in what sense it is moral.

    It seems moral to me to help others avoid injury

    Sure, but then you’re changing the goalposts. The original argument didn’t contain that premise.

    If you are correct that these are all just goal-oriented behaviours, why is your adherence to (I presume) ‘biblical’ morality not goal-oriented? Or your insistence that morality can not arise from within nature?

    Because under my worldview, morality is prescriptive, not descriptive. (If you’re not sure what that means or why it’s important, you should probably familiarize yourself with the basic terms used in this kind of discussion.)

    It seems to me that it is like the snail’s hunger. Not merely a preference.

    This doesn’t tell us anything. It raises more questions than it answers. What are the salient properties or qualities of “not wanting to get injured” that make it more than a preference?

  24. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Ah, hello Bnonn, that was quick!

    “It’s funny you mention disabling and dismembering an infant. Many animal species eat their young…..And since the reason they eat their young is to confer a survival advantage……completely at odds with our own understanding of morality.

    Ah…….yes to dispatch with an infant. Not torture, though. Do you not agree that it is more moral for a parent to remove an infant than to end the whole family? For there is no choice with an animal – they do not have the warewithall to, say, find extra resources to care for surplus infants. This is an argument both for contraception and for abortion. I had not seen it before. Thanks!

    “It is an arbitrary process…..”
    I completely disagree. This is just an assertion, nothing more.

    “You’re welcome to read back through previous articles here to familiarize yourself with the mountains of evidence available.
    Of course, if you’re tendentiously defining “evidence” as “emperical data interpreted through the lens of philosophical naturalism”, you might be disappointed.”
    Unfortunately there are any number of religious (and non-religious) worldviews which claim mountains of evidence and that I am misinterpreting things. No, I am just like anyone else, I have and am coming to conclusion as best I can. And if there is a god and he decides to throw me to hell for honestly getting it wrong then, well, it’d be better to be in hell than with a character like that.

    “Really? Try repeating that same thought, but this time without logic.’
    Like I said, I don’t explicitly use it. The smartest people I’ve known don’t have much time for forming syllogisms – and they often admit how unsure they are. The opposite of you, actually. You remind me a lot of muslim fundamentalists – in how black and white and certain you seem/are.

    “I don’t even know how you would go about defending some set of propositions (for that is what a worldview is) without using logic. If you’re arguing, you’re using logic. If you’re reasoning, you’re using logic.”
    But if you’re creating, if you’re Living, you’re breaking it.
    What about a person arguing (and may well be religious) for the worldview that uncertainty of propositions is the ‘correct’ worldview. In this way, logic just cannot be contained.

    “Because under my worldview, morality is prescriptive, not descriptive. (If you’re not sure what that means or why it’s important, you should probably familiarize yourself with the basic terms used in this kind of discussion.)”
    My point is that if my syllogism is goal-oriented, I can accuse you of the same. This includes your claim that morality is prescriptive. Nuts and bolts: personally I think that many people feel unease with shades of grey, but that that’s just how the world is. As a response to this, people (who sound) like yourself dearly want morality to be something concrete and black and white. Their insistence on morality being external and ‘out there somewhere’ is merely a means to quell that unease.

    “This doesn’t tell us anything. It raises more questions than it answers. What are the salient properties or qualities of “not wanting to get injured” that make it more than a preference?”
    It is evolutionarily, biologically inevitable.

    I have to say, I am enjoying our exchange. :)

  25. Lee
    Lee says:

    Hello again, Bnonn.

    I can ask: in virtue of what are the laws of nature the way they are necessarily? Ie, in your own words, what condition is satisfied by the laws of nature being this way? What is the “something” that “makes” this particular composition necessary? To simply say “it couldn’t be another way” is just to ape the definition of necessary, and avoid the question. Right?

    Right. All you have done is shifted the burden of proof onto me. I can provide no sound evidence or argument to suppose that the universe is necessarily the way it is, any more than you can to suppose that it could be another way. Conceive-ability or speculation =/= evidence or argument. I have merely pointed out that neither of us can establish that the other is wrong, and as such, your “arbitrariness” charge is groundless.

    The two may well be related, but it’s certainly not clear they’re the same thing.

    No, nor did I claim they were. I made the (tentative) claim that empathy is a necessary condition for moral reasoning. I’m open to the possibility that I am wrong, but the presence of empathy in a situation without moral reasoning is going about the objection backwards. I would be curious to hear of an instance of moral reasoning in which empathy does not play a part. That would help me see my way to your point of view.

    On reflection, I think we’d need to meet some Christian psychopaths to clear up the details of this counterexample.

    I’m not sure what that would accomplish. Perhaps if we considered a completely meaningless (to the individual) moral injunction, something they could avoid doing but with no understanding as to why, other than the injunction (call it G). Would the avoidance of G be a moral act for moral reasons, and thus moral behavior, or would it be a moral act in obedience to a moral authority, and thus obedient behavior? I may have actually just stumbled onto our disagreement: is the adherence to a command by a competent moral authority enough to constitute moral behavior? or is the additional requirement that this adherence be for understood and/or accepted moral reasons what is required to make it moral behavior? Or: Does obedience to a competent moral authority qualify as a moral reason?

    I’ll assume you’re referring to simple metaphysical necessity, since the reason logically necessary things exist is that their not existing would entail a contradiction. With that assumption in mind, it looks like you’re giving a specific application of the principle of sufficient reason. But that’s problematic…

    I’m pretty sure this is a trick. It is fine to criticize everything, but it is counter-productive to criticize everything at once. However, even it it weren’t a trick, the fact that you aren’t “obligated” to give an explanation doesn’t validate your belief. You are perfectly entitled to believe whatever you wish, but it is not rational to believe things for which you have no reason. Absent such a reason, while you may default to believing, I can quite confidently default to disbelief.

    Imagine, for example, that you observe X. You don’t know the reason for X’s happening, and you aren’t even able to come up with a plausible speculation as to the reason. Is the rational course, therefore, to conclude that X did not happen?

    No. It is rational to disbelieve something that you have not observed, for which you have no reason for believing has happened. Observation is a reason to believe X has happened (assuming you trust your sensory perceptions). Further, it is beyond the scope of reason to claim that X happened by necessity, and it is ludicrous to then pretend you don’t have to justify this belief.

    So when we say God is necessarily good, it is actually because for God to not be good would result in a contradiction. We can’t see the contradiction—but so what? Perhaps our epistemic limitations simply prevent it.

    Then why believe there is a contradiction in the first place?

    This seems perfectly congruent with the truthmaker account I mentioned before, but raises the question of what exactly the distinction is between this explanation and a brute fact. And why can God’s goodness not simply be a brute fact?

    Because in order to understand the brute fact, or really for it to qualify as any type of fact, the term “goodness” has to refer to something. There is a categorical difference between a meaningless phrase and a brute fact.

    There’s a categorical difference between having reasons for believing the truth of X, and knowing the reasons for its truth.

    Sure. I’ll accept something from either category. Just mail me the bill :)

    Why? We know what goodness is. Not only do we have an intuitive understanding of it as a category, but we have examples of what it means for someone to be good as opposed to not good. So it is in no sense an empty utterance. Its content is clear and comprehensible.

    I should have preempted this response, as I had originally planned. We get our understanding/intuition of goodness from God, presumably, on your view. So to appeal to our understanding of goodness is circular. when used to counter my objection. God pre-dates man.

    Maybe you don’t like the circularity of goodness being grounded in God. But again, why? It poses no logical problem. And the alternative is an infinite regress of referents for the term “good”. Surely you aren’t suggesting that.

    Perhaps it doesn’t have an objective meaning, and therefore needn’t require a ground nor spend infinity chasing itself in the absence of same. This seems like a false choice, and I’m not altogether convinced that the existence of God could even accomplish such meaning.

    Alternatively, I can play the same game you have. You say “It poses no logical problem.” Well, so you say, but I say there is a contradiction:

    We can’t see the contradiction—but so what? Perhaps our epistemic limitations simply prevent it.

    Lee.

  26. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Peter:

    Ah…….yes to dispatch with an infant. Not torture, though. Do you not agree that it is more moral for a parent to remove an infant than to end the whole family? For there is no choice with an animal – they do not have the warewithall to, say, find extra resources to care for surplus infants.

    Am I to take it that you believe infanticide is morally justifiable for human beings in some situations? Your worldview continues to impress.

    In the same line of thought, I sure hope I don’t ever get stuck drifting in a lifeboat with you.

    I completely disagree. This is just an assertion, nothing more.

    Is it not the case that your worldview explicitly takes as given that both the laws of nature and the process of natural selection are determined by chance—not by principle or reason?

    If so, then they are arbitrary by definition.

    But if not, you need to show that there’s at least a plausible reason to believe, under your own view, in the possibility of accounting for these things being determined by principle or reason.

    Unfortunately there are any number of religious (and non-religious) worldviews which claim mountains of evidence and that I am misinterpreting things.

    Are you admitting that you’re incapable of evaluating the arguments and coming to conclusions based on their strength or weakness? If not, why bring this up?

    No, I am just like anyone else, I have and am coming to conclusion as best I can. And if there is a god and he decides to throw me to hell for honestly getting it wrong then, well, it’d be better to be in hell than with a character like that.

    If there is a God and a hell, then Christianity is true, and you did not honestly get it wrong. You should check out Romans 1:18ff. I think it would help you understand one of the basic differences between Christianity and other religions. Seems like if you’re going to reject Christianity, you should at least know basically what you’re rejecting.

    Like I said, I don’t explicitly use it. The smartest people I’ve known don’t have much time for forming syllogisms – and they often admit how unsure they are.

    Funny, the smartest people I know use them all the time, and are seldom unsure. Maybe there’s something to be said for logic, since it seems to help smart people come to firm conclusions instead of wallowing in ignorance?

    There’s nothing inherently virtuous about either skepticism or ignorance. Yet the way you talk of these people, you almost seem to think there is.

    You remind me a lot of muslim fundamentalists – in how black and white and certain you seem/are.

    Talked to a lot of Muslim fundamentalists have you? Rest assured I shan’t try to decapitate you or bomb a public building because you disagree. Even though your incompetence at basic argumentation frankly offends me ;)

    No, seriously, I am certain about many things, because I have evaluated the evidence and the argumentation carefully and I believe it is highly conclusive.

    I am far less certain about other things. In this very thread I have admitted my hesitation in forming a solid conclusion about whether the principle of sufficient reason applies to necessary truths. There are questions we can answer definitively, and there are questions we cannot answer definitively.

    Take an obvious example: I bet you don’t consider it intellectually virtuous or respectable to be very skeptical about whether other people exist. In fact, you would have little patience for someone who held that view—and you might even consider it clinically insane. Yet a philosopher by the name of Alvin Plantinga has argued very persuasively that there is a strong analogy between our mutual intuition that other people exist, and Christians’ mutual intuition that God exists.

    I’ve also noticed that many atheists are super-willing to pay lip service to the “humble” scientific notion that it’s impossible to know things for sure—but then in the same breath they espouse a complete confidence that God not only does not exist, but that the very idea of him is retarded and despicable.

    Frankly, it is wearying.

    What about a person arguing (and may well be religious) for the worldview that uncertainty of propositions is the ‘correct’ worldview. In this way, logic just cannot be contained.

    I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. For one thing, the mere uncertainty of propositions isn’t much of an issue. We don’t need to have complete certainty to have warranted beliefs.

    But if you’re talking more colloquially about a worldview based on some kind of radical skepticism, then there’s nothing difficult about that in regards to logic. It isn’t that logic can’t “contain” it. It’s simply that the worldview itself is illogical.

    You can’t hold to a radically skeptical worldview, because to do so consistently you would have to be radically skeptical of the worldview itself. It is self-refuting. Logically contradictory.

    Far from being a problem with logic, the problem is simply with the irrational worldview.

    As a response to this, people (who sound) like yourself dearly want morality to be something concrete and black and white. Their insistence on morality being external and ‘out there somewhere’ is merely a means to quell that unease.

    This might describe some people, but it does not describe me. I don’t have a problem with shades of gray. I think God gave us the moral faculties to evaluate those sorts of situations and act accordingly, without requiring a set of written rules for every possible contingency.

    The reason I “want” morality to be concrete is that without an objective grounding for it, it collapses into complete relativism, and becomes meaningless. If moral values don’t exist except as biological impulses programmed by a random process of natural selection, then moral values don’t exist, because we all intuitively know that moral values are not randomly-programmed biological impulses. We can accept our taste for chocolate or vanilla being that kind of impulse, but when we try to say that matters of good and evil are of the same sort, it’s just obviously absurd.

    That’s why so many atheists are so concerned with coming up with ways to objectively ground ethics given a naturalistic worldview. Like Sam Harris. Unfortunately, the problem is one that simply cannot be overcome, in principle, because of the nature of moral values. They literally cannot exist in the way we want them to if naturalism is true. And we can see that if they cannot exist in the way we want them to, then morality is not really morality.

  27. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Lee:

    I can provide no sound evidence or argument to suppose that the universe is necessarily the way it is, any more than you can to suppose that it could be another way.

    But the burden of proof is on you, because in the absence of any reason to think the universe is necessarily the way it is (a handful to type, so hereafter ◻U), it appears obvious that it simply isn’t. It’s contingent.

    This is particularly so in light of the fact that our understanding of cosmology is advanced enough that we can see the equations describing the universe could have vastly different values plugged into them for things like the strength of gravity or the electroweak force, and still be mathematically sound. In fact, all the physical constants have incomprehensibly large possible ranges. This raises the question: why are they the specific values that they are? There’s nothing in the math to suggest that’s necessary. Quite the opposite.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some explanation. But to simply posit that they are the way they are necessarily, as a brute fact, would seem to be a very anti-scientific approach. It would put an end to any further investigation in that regard.

    There’s also the problem that ◻U commits you to some very bizarre conclusions, such as that it is metaphysically necessary that I ate oats for breakfast this morning. It is metaphysically necessary that I’m having this discussion right now. In fact, given ◻U, everything is metaphysically necessary—which is to say that there are no contingent truths—◻U would remove an entire category of truth (which holds enormous intuitive weight) and replace it with a single category (that is highly counterintuitive).

    So it seems you’re more willing to accept conclusions that nearly any philosopher or scientist would consider outrageously untenable…than entertain the idea of God as an explanation of the universe.

    Conceive-ability or speculation =/= evidence or argument.

    You may want to bone up on some basic philosophy. Conceivability is almost universally taken as a requirement for logical possibility. If something is conceivable, then it is broadly logically possible. If it is inconceivable, then it is logically impossible.

    neither of us can establish that the other is wrong, and as such, your “arbitrariness” charge is groundless.

    Since I don’t grant that we’re on equal footing here, it’s not groundless at all.

    No, nor did I claim they were. I made the (tentative) claim that empathy is a necessary condition for moral reasoning.

    Fair enough. But what exactly do you mean by “moral reasoning”? Do you mean “reasoning to a morally true conclusion” or just “reasoning about moral questions”?

    Also, what role must empathy play? Ie, is it necessary that I draw a moral conclusion because of a feeling of empathy? What if I draw a moral conclusion in spite of a feeling of empathy?

    Would the avoidance of G be a moral act for moral reasons, and thus moral behavior, or would it be a moral act in obedience to a moral authority, and thus obedient behavior?

    Assuming that G is something this person would otherwise have done (perhaps merely out of routine), this has the obvious problem that a moral act in obedience to a moral authority is a moral act for moral reasons.

    If God tells me never to wear red underpants again, I will then believe that wearing red underpants is morally wrong. Hence, I will not do it. Since morality is intrinsically about obligation, and obligation is intrinsically about authority, obedience to an authority is an intrinsic part of morality.

    Indeed, this seems to rule out your empathy theory. For what could I possibly feel empathetic about with regards to wearing red underwear?

    I may have actually just stumbled onto our disagreement: is the adherence to a command by a competent moral authority enough to constitute moral behavior? or is the additional requirement that this adherence be for understood and/or accepted moral reasons what is required to make it moral behavior?

    Indeed. I would say that adherence to a command by a competent moral authority is a basic definition of morality. Even empathy, which is expressed in the Golden Rule, boils down to the implicit belief that we should behave towards others as we would like them to behave towards us. And that “should” refers back to God’s competent moral authority, which he has given us a built-in understanding of, via the conscience.

    So I guess I don’t really understand what you mean by “adherence for understood and/or accepted moral reasons”. Moral reasons that are different from adherence to the commands (implicit or otherwise) of a competent moral authority? What would those reasons be?

    I’m pretty sure this is a trick. It is fine to criticize everything, but it is counter-productive to criticize everything at once. However, even it it weren’t a trick, the fact that you aren’t “obligated” to give an explanation doesn’t validate your belief. You are perfectly entitled to believe whatever you wish, but it is not rational to believe things for which you have no reason.

    It’s not a trick. I’m just pointing out that you seem to have contradicted yourself.

    Look, let’s call this statement R: “it is not rational to believe things for which you have no reason”.

    I absolutely grant the prima facie force of R. But what is the reason for believing R?

    If you can’t articulate a reason to believe R, then according to R, believing R is irrational!

    No. It is rational to disbelieve something that you have not observed, for which you have no reason for believing has happened. Observation is a reason to believe X has happened (assuming you trust your sensory perceptions). Further, it is beyond the scope of reason to claim that X happened by necessity, and it is ludicrous to then pretend you don’t have to justify this belief.

    Well, hang on. Now you’re contradicting yourself again. Remember ◻U? According to you, ◻U is possible—indeed, ◻U is so plausible that I have no grounds for dismissing it in favor of its contradictory.

    But ◻U entails that X happened by necessity. This, you say, is beyond the scope of reason, and it is ludicrous to pretend we don’t have to justify that belief. Well heck, I agree! But then ◻U is beyond the scope of reason, and it’s ludicrous to pretend you don’t have to justify that belief. In which case, morality in your worldview is arbitrary.

    So you seem to be caught on the horns of a dilemma here.

    Then why believe there is a contradiction in the first place?

    I think I was pretty clear that I wasn’t claiming there was a contradiction. I was just noting the possibility.

    Because in order to understand the brute fact, or really for it to qualify as any type of fact, the term “goodness” has to refer to something. There is a categorical difference between a meaningless phrase and a brute fact.

    But “goodness” does refer to something. It refers to itself. Or, put another way, it refers to God. I think you need to have a bit more of a think about this. There’s nothing problematic about self-reference. You seem to want to treat God as something distinct from goodness, as if God is a being who exemplifies or possesses the property of a universal called goodness. But that’s fundamentally wrong.

    We get our understanding/intuition of goodness from God, presumably, on your view. So to appeal to our understanding of goodness is circular. when used to counter my objection. God pre-dates man.

    I’m not sure I’m following. If God is good, how else would we understand goodness unless he gave us our understanding of goodness? Where else would an understanding of goodness come from? It has to be predicated on the actual reality of goodness, right?

  28. Lee
    Lee says:

    If God tells me never to wear red underpants again, I will then believe that wearing red underpants is morally wrong. Hence, I will not do it. Since morality is intrinsically about obligation, and obligation is intrinsically about authority, obedience to an authority is an intrinsic part of morality.

    What if God told you not to wear red underpants because the color red doesn’t look good on you? This would be an instance of a command by a competent moral authority which is not moral in nature, and thus they are not one and the same. However, if red underwear makes babies cry, and it is immoral to deliberately cause babies to cry, this would be a moral injunction. This is why I feel moral reasons are an important facet of moral behavior.

    Indeed, this seems to rule out your empathy theory. For what could I possibly feel empathetic about with regards to wearing red underwear?

    It should come as no surprise to you that I find it hard to reconcile such a command with anything I would call moral behavior. It could just as easily be an a-moral command, and indeed such a thing seems more likely than not, and so I reject this as ruling out my empathy theory. Do you really think wearing red underwear would be immoral if the command was only aesthetic? Plus, everyone knows you don’t wear red underwear, that hardly requires a command ;p

    Indeed. I would say that adherence to a command by a competent moral authority is a basic definition of morality. Even empathy, which is expressed in the Golden Rule, boils down to the implicit belief that we should behave towards others as we would like them to behave towards us.

    Which is a patently question-begging definition, problematic for reasons I gave above. Empathy does not imply that we ought to feel as we do, it is only a claim that non-psychopaths tend to feel this way. I don’t think empathy is a sufficient condition for morality, only a necessary one. I don’t rightly know what it requires beyond empathy and rational self-reflection, or whether there needs to be something beyond that to fulfill the requirements for moral behavior. I don’t think a command by a moral authority is sufficient to constitute moral behavior, as the non-moral possibilities of your own example would go to show.

    Moral reasons that are different from adherence to the commands (implicit or otherwise) of a competent moral authority? What would those reasons be?

    They would be things like: we don’t keep slaves because it is patently immoral to own other human beings and treat them like farm equipment. Why? Because I wouldn’t want to be treated like that. If the bible is to be believed, we not only have permission to keep slaves, but instructions are laid out detailing just what constitutes moral behavior towards our slaves. We don’t stone adulterers anymore, at least in America, presumably because it is immoral to permanently end someone’s life for sexual transgressions, same with homosexuals. These are reasons that we have used to deem certain behaviors, contra-theology, immoral. There was no appeal to authority, only an exercise in rational self-reflection and empathy (well, at least I can’t see the appeal). The appeal is inherent in your definition, but I reject your definition.

    Look, let’s call this statement R: “it is not rational to believe things for which you have no reason”.
    I absolutely grant the prima facie force of R. But what is the reason for believing R?

    You are asking for a reason to believe that you need a reason to believe. Why be rational, you might ask? Why indeed, but you implicitly endorse R even as you reject it. This is not what one is engaged in when one says ‘God is necessarily good’. To reject this is not to endorse it inescapably. This is why I think this is a trick, and the difference between rejecting R and rejecting claims like ‘God is necessarily good’ is quite enough to establish that the latter wants for argument.

    Well, hang on. Now you’re contradicting yourself again. Remember ?U? According to you, ?U is possible—indeed, ?U is so plausible that I have no grounds for dismissing it in favor of its contradictory.

    We have only one observation: that is that the world is the way it is. If I say the world is necessarily the way it is, I have not pushed the bounds of observation (for what would I observe to verify this claim, the non-existence of other combinations?), only possible knowledge. As such, I cannot prove (it is beyond the scope of reason to claim) that it is necessarily the way it is. On the other hand, to say it could be another way is to push the bounds of both observation and knowledge generally. I have not, nor have you, observed the universe in another way, so, without reason or observation in support, it is beyond the scope of reason to suppose that it could be another way. Therefore, to claim one or the other, and then accuse me of holding to an arbitrary moral system on the basis of this claim, is to tender a groundless assertion. The fact that you agree that the belief that ?U must be justified is to agree that not-?U must be justified, which steals the ground from your objection.

    If God is good, how else would we understand goodness unless he gave us our understanding of goodness?

    I think you are misunderstanding the context of my remarks. I am not speaking of our evaluation of God’s nature, I am referring to the “brute fact” which necessarily precedes the possibility of our evaluating it, and therefore to say we know what goodness is and can fill the empty utterance I alluded to is to argue in a circle. God is good, he gave us knowledge of the content of his nature, we evaluate his nature with the knowledge he gave us, and conclude that god is good. If it’s not obviously circular, it is at the least working in the wrong direction!

  29. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    What if God told you not to wear red underpants because the color red doesn’t look good on you?

    Right, I see your question. It doesn’t seem that would be a command, though, does it? More like advice or a helpful suggestion.

    It should come as no surprise to you that I find it hard to reconcile such a command with anything I would call moral behavior. It could just as easily be an a-moral command, and indeed such a thing seems more likely than not, and so I reject this as ruling out my empathy theory.

    Indeed, it comes as no surprise at all :) The difficulty is that, arguendo, God is a competent moral authority, and it seems intuitively obvious to me that when a competent moral authority issues a command, then it is immoral to violate the command, regardless of the command’s content.

    Although a competent moral authority does not issue arbitrary commands, it does seem at least possible that he could issue commands that seem prima facie amoral or immoral, yet would still be binding. Take the example of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac. The command was prima facie immoral, yet Abraham would, it seems, have been wrong to disobey. (This is one of those instances where the epistemic limitation caveat is important—God had good reason to make this command, but Abraham could only trust that this was the case.)

    Do you really think wearing red underwear would be immoral if the command was only aesthetic?

    I think the better question is: If the “command” was only aesthetic, would it be a command at all? Or would it just be a suggestion?

    Which is a patently question-begging definition, problematic for reasons I gave above.

    I’m not sure why it’s question-begging. I’m simply pointing out the implications of some of our deepest and most commonly shared intuitions about morality. We take it that moral behavior is obligatory. But obligation implies an authority.

    The problems you raise don’t seem fatal; in fact, they almost seem like curiosities. And it’s worth mentioning that you haven’t really provided an alternative account. You’ve sketched what you see as one necessary condition for morality, but even that is highly contestable.

    I don’t think a command by a moral authority is sufficient to constitute moral behavior, as the non-moral possibilities of your own example would go to show.

    Well, even if that argument goes through, it’s fairly trivial to bring in the boundaries a little and demarcate where a command is moral and where it is not. But I’m not confident the argument goes through at all.

    They would be things like: we don’t keep slaves because it is patently immoral to own other human beings and treat them like farm equipment. Why? Because I wouldn’t want to be treated like that.

    There’s an obvious problem with this reasoning, in that you’ve jumped straight from the premise “I wouldn’t want to be treated as a slave” to the conclusion “Therefore it is patently immoral to own other human beings”. But where is the minor premise? What is its content? You can’t just go straight to the conclusion without any inference.

    If the bible is to be believed, we not only have permission to keep slaves, but instructions are laid out detailing just what constitutes moral behavior towards our slaves.

    You should bone up on your covenant theology. This is simply a strawman.

    We don’t stone adulterers anymore, at least in America, presumably because it is immoral to permanently end someone’s life for sexual transgressions, same with homosexuals.

    Even if that were the reason, which it is not per se, how would you know that it is immoral? That do you mean that it is immoral? Surely not that it is objectively immoral? For under your own worldview, is it not just that some people have evolved a preference to stone adulterers, and others have evolved a preference to avoid that behavior?

    Are you saying that stoning adulterers “really is” immoral, and ought to be punished?

    I guess I’m wondering in what sense punishing people who stone adulterers is any different to punishing people who prefer chocolate to vanilla? What is the relevant distinction between these views? They are both just biologically-programmed impulses brought about by natural selection. There doesn’t seem to be any notable difference between them.

    You might say, well, human life is valuable, while chocolate and vanilla are just tastes. But that begs the question. Why is the preference for valuing life different to the preference for liking chocolate? It seems like you need a way to tell which of your preferences is better.

    But you can’t very well base the answer to that question on your preferences themselves, can you? That would be question-begging of the worst kind. If your particular preference is to punish people for stoning adulterers, or eating chocolate ice-cream, or listening to Justin Bieber, there’s certainly no way to tell if that’s better or worse than people who prefer to endorse those actions, or do nothing about them. In fact, since “better” simply relates back to preference, it’s hard to see how the term can be applied here at all.

    If what is moral is simply what people prefer to do, then anything and everything can be moral. If you want to claim that your particular “moral” preferences really are BETTER than those of adulterer-stoners, you’re going to have to appeal to some outside standard. But under your view, no such standard exists, as far as I can tell.

    You are asking for a reason to believe that you need a reason to believe.

    Yes. If you don’t have a reason to believe R, then you can’t get off the ground.

    Why be rational, you might ask?

    Wait, are you equating R with rationality? In what sense? Means-end irrationality? Proper function irrationality? What makes the rejection of R (at least in some cases) irrational?

    Mind you, this does nothing to escape the problem you face. If you can’t give me a reason for R, then you are being irrational. You can’t exempt R from its own principle by fiat, as if declaring it as a rule of rationality will clear it of the need to be internally consistent. That’s just special pleading.

    Why indeed, but you implicitly endorse R even as you reject it.

    I’m not sure what you mean. Requiring that you account for R on R’s own terms is hardly a case of me endorsing R.

    I have not, nor have you, observed the universe in another way, so, without reason or observation in support, it is beyond the scope of reason to suppose that it could be another way.

    I don’t think we’re making any headway here. There are plenty of reasons to think the universe is contingent. At this point I’m just repeating myself; see http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/02/could-the-natural-world-have-been-otherwise.html and http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/01/ayn-rand-on-necessity-and-contingency.html.

    In addition, nothing you say here defeats my objection that you’re contradicting yourself. On the one hand you say that the universe (U) could be necessary; on the other hand you say that “it is beyond the scope of reason to claim that X happened by necessity, and it is ludicrous to then pretend you don’t have to justify this belief.” But the necessity of X is a simple consequence of the necessity of U. So either the necessity of U is also beyond the scope of reason, or the necessity of X is as reasonable as the necessity of U is.

    Personally, I think you’re absolutely right to say that it’s ludicrous to think X happened necessarily without some extremely strong justification. But that puts paid to the rationality of holding to the necessity of U. You can’t eat your cake and still have it too.

    God is good, he gave us knowledge of the content of his nature, we evaluate his nature with the knowledge he gave us, and conclude that god is good. If it’s not obviously circular, it is at the least working in the wrong direction!

    So what if it is circular? Take the following parallel:

    An external world exists. We have knowledge of the external world through our senses. We evaluate the evidence of our senses and conclude that an external world exists.

    Is that problematic? Or is it in fact entirely reasonable? Is it working in the wrong direction, or is it working in exactly the right direction?

  30. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    “Am I to take it that you believe infanticide is morally justifiable for human beings in some situations? Your worldview continues to impress.”
    It seems obvious to me. Would you have it that one die or, say, four?

    “Is it not the case that your worldview explicitly takes as given that both the laws of nature and the process of natural selection are determined by chance—not by principle or reason?”
    How the hell could i know that the laws of nature are random? I’d never claim that.
    Your idea that the laws on natural selection are arbitrary is just bunk. A baseless assertion.

    “Are you admitting that you’re incapable of evaluating the arguments and coming to conclusions based on their strength or weakness? If not, why bring this up?”
    I think I am. And so do you. The difference is that I am not among a menagerie of religious views based on “non-methodological-naturalism” evidence. I think that people move away from religion for rational reasons, and towards religion for emotional reasons.

    “If there is a God and a hell, then Christianity is true”
    Are you purposefully being dishonest?

    “You should check out Romans 1:18ff. I think it would help you understand one of the basic differences between Christianity and other religions. Seems like if you’re going to reject Christianity, you should at least know basically what you’re rejecting.”
    So the difference between Christianity and other religions is that god will show me his wrath? I daresay I am probably rather less wicked than many christians, making this passage extra-nonsense.

    “Funny, the smartest people I know use them all the time, and are seldom unsure. Maybe there’s something to be said for logic, since it seems to help smart people come to firm conclusions instead of wallowing in ignorance?”
    “Talked to a lot of Muslim fundamentalists have you? Rest assured I shan’t try to decapitate you or bomb a public building because you disagree. Even though your incompetence at basic argumentation frankly offends me ;)
    No, seriously, I am certain about many things, because I have evaluated the evidence and the argumentation carefully and I believe it is highly conclusive.”
    Now I am going to appeal to people reading this. I think that many, if not most, of your fellow christians would want nothing to do with your arrogance. I’m thinking that all this ‘logic’ is a patch-up job, to cover over the fear of not being right. And perhaps you won’t publish this response, it’s your forum after all, why not have a double-standard?
    All of this, and you can’t produce one iota of evidence to a modern standard of your worldview. You are a shocking advert for christianity.

    “Take an obvious example: I bet you don’t consider it intellectually virtuous or respectable to be very skeptical about whether other people exist.”
    I think it is perfectly defensible if one also concludes that nothing that they observe exists. If you’re going to throw away a person, why not a tree also.

    “Yet a philosopher by the name of Alvin Plantinga has argued very persuasively that there is a strong analogy between our mutual intuition that other people exist, and Christians’ mutual intuition that God exists.”
    What an idiot. We can do repeatable experiments on people. We can poke them, talk to them, hear them and see them. But when we try that of ‘god’ we get nothing.

    “I’ve also noticed that many atheists are super-willing to pay lip service to the “humble” scientific notion that it’s impossible to know things for sure”
    I’ve never heard of this. Examples? Oh – it’s probably part of your ‘logic’ – don’t worry.

    “This might describe some people, but it does not describe me. I don’t have a problem with shades of gray. I think God gave us the moral faculties to evaluate those sorts of situations and act accordingly, without requiring a set of written rules for every possible contingency.”
    This is a false shades of grey. You are still saying there is black and white, just that we can’t see it.

    “The reason I “want” morality to be concrete is that without an objective grounding for it, it collapses into complete relativism, and becomes meaningless.”
    And you claim you’re not black and white?

    “If moral values don’t exist except as biological impulses programmed by a random process of natural selection”
    Same baseless assertion: “random process”.

    “…then morality is not really morality.”
    Yes, not in the way you want it to be. Welcome to the real world, rather than the ‘logical’ world you want it to be.

  31. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    How the hell could i know that the laws of nature are random? I’d never claim that.
    Your idea that the laws on natural selection are arbitrary is just bunk. A baseless assertion.

    Obviously you haven’t been following this thread very closely. In your worldview, are the laws of nature determined by chance, or are they determined by reason?

    I think I am. And so do you. The difference is that I am not among a menagerie of religious views based on “non-methodological-naturalism” evidence.

    I’m confused. You seem to be admitting that you’re incapable of performing a principled evaluation of the evidence available for any given religious view?

    I think that people move away from religion for rational reasons, and towards religion for emotional reasons.

    Do you have any evidence to substantiate that opinion?

    For my own part, I moved away from religion for emotional reasons, and moved back to it some years later for rational reasons. So what does that do to your theory?

    So the difference between Christianity and other religions is that god will show me his wrath?

    Did you read the passage I suggested? One of the key differences between Christianity and other religions is that Christianity does not believe man is inherently good or neutral. It believes man is inherently evil, in willful rebellion against God.

    I daresay I am probably rather less wicked than many christians, making this passage extra-nonsense.

    Since Christianity doesn’t claim that Christians are less sinful than non-Christians, I’m not sure why you think that observation renders this passage nonsense.

    Now I am going to appeal to people reading this. I think that many, if not most, of your fellow christians would want nothing to do with your arrogance.

    Assuming you’re right on this point, what does this have to do with anything? Does it prove that my beliefs are wrong somehow?

    I’m thinking that all this ‘logic’ is a patch-up job, to cover over the fear of not being right.

    Assume it is. If the logic is sound, then in fact I have succeeded in allaying my fear of being wrong by…being right.

    And perhaps you won’t publish this response, it’s your forum after all, why not have a double-standard?

    You seem to think I’m afraid of criticism. But it would be rather strange for me to co-found Thinking Matters in that case, since it puts me and my views in public opposition to people like you, and invites a great deal of criticism—and worse.

    All of this, and you can’t produce one iota of evidence to a modern standard of your worldview. You are a shocking advert for christianity.

    I’m not sure what you think “evidence to a modern standard” is. Sounds like an exercise in begging the question for some kind of positivism. But where is your evidence for that particular standard of evidence?

    Why do you think that arguments like the one in the OP, among the numerous others for Christianity, don’t count as evidence?

    I think it is perfectly defensible if one also concludes that nothing that they observe exists. If you’re going to throw away a person, why not a tree also.

    You think that solipsism is perfectly defensible? I guess we have less in common than I thought.

    What an idiot. We can do repeatable experiments on people. We can poke them, talk to them, hear them and see them. But when we try that of ‘god’ we get nothing.

    Okay, here’s how this works.

    If you call people idiots without evaluating their arguments first, you’re not debating in good faith. Debating in good faith is a requirement of posting here. This isn’t a soapbox for you to grind your favorite ax on and get off your little New Atheist talking points. It’s a place for people of differing views to discuss those views and argue their case reasonably.

    Notice that despite a rocky start, Lee and I managed to do that very successfully. Follow that example and you’ll be fine. But if you call one of the world’s leading philosophers an idiot without even reading the argument you’re calling him an idiot for…well, you’ll just be taken for a troll and a joke, and not allowed to post.

    I should also point out that your “objection” to Plantinga’s argument simply begs the question. To Christians, our intuition that God exists is just as strong as our intuition that other people exist. The fact that we can “do repeatable experiments” on people doesn’t factor into it. At best, thinking it is relevant at all is a basic category error.

    I’ve never heard of this. Examples? Oh – it’s probably part of your ‘logic’ – don’t worry.

    Right, so my own experience talking to atheists doesn’t count. Not that it matters—one of the basic principles of science is that you cannot prove the truth of anything. You can only prove the falsehood of something. That’s a basic tenet of the scientific method.

    This is a false shades of grey. You are still saying there is black and white, just that we can’t see it.

    Next time, try arguing for your position and against mine. That way, I’ll continue to approve your comments.

  32. Tom Larsen
    Tom Larsen says:

    If I understand Plantinga correctly, his argument is that we can know that God exists in the same way that we know other minds exist. Sure, there are creatures that walk around that look like people, but how do we know they aren’t just “zombies,” beings without consciousness and personhood?

  33. peterpieman
    peterpieman says:

    “Obviously you haven’t been following this thread very closely. In your worldview, are the laws of nature determined by chance, or are they determined by reason?”
    I haven’t been following this thread very closely? So in order to for me to establish my own worldviews I have to look to this thread? What utter nonsense.
    In my worldview, anyone who claims to know the how the laws of nature are ‘determined’ – given mankind’s current knowledge – has an epistemology that can be used to ‘prove’ anything. A useless epistemology.

    “For my own part, I moved away from religion for emotional reasons, and moved back to it some years later for rational reasons. So what does that do to your theory?”
    It substantiates the fact that reasoning is often a tool for the psyche.

    “Did you read the passage I suggested? One of the key differences between Christianity and other religions is that Christianity does not believe man is inherently good or neutral. It believes man is inherently evil, in willful rebellion against God.”
    I guess if that resonated with me I’d think that it might pique my interest in christianity a bit. But it doesn’t. I think we are inherently evil, and also inherently good. But this verse is also undisproveable nonsense. Because if someone doesn’t think that the verse is true then the likes of yourself can just say that that person is being willfully rebellious.
    But still:
    “If there is a God and a hell, then Christianity is true, and you did not honestly get it wrong.”
    This is just a multi-non sequitur.

    “Assuming you’re right on this point, what does this have to do with anything? Does it prove that my beliefs are wrong somehow?”
    As you have said yourself, people reading this can make up their own minds. I think that most christians would take issue with your arrogance. This is a belief about how one should behave, so yes, I think that most christians would take issue with your beliefs.

    “You seem to think I’m afraid of criticism. But it would be rather strange for me to co-found Thinking Matters in that case, since it puts me and my views in public opposition to people like you, and invites a great deal of criticism—and worse.”
    I don’t think you are afraid of criticism from others. I suspect that you needed to convince yourself of a ‘logical’ reason for heading back to christianity. Unfortunately, logic can be used to prove anything. We just don’t evaluate axioms(propositions?) in a vacuum.

    “You think that solipsism is perfectly defensible? I guess we have less in common than I thought.”
    Yes, because how would I ever show someone that it is wrong?

    “To Christians, our intuition that God exists is just as strong as our intuition that other people exist.”
    I can certainly see why people would want to insist this but I don’t believe it for a second.

    “The fact that we can “do repeatable experiments” on people doesn’t factor into it. At best, thinking it is relevant at all is a basic category error.”
    This is a kind of solipsism, though. It is a willful refusal to use data from the ‘real’ world, and a collapsing of everything to merely being things inside one’s head. It’s….well, solipsistic.

    “Next time, try arguing for your position and against mine. That way, I’ll continue to approve your comments.”
    I did. As I charged, you want morality to be black and white, and so you build a system where it is. That you have to evaluate things for yourself is immaterial, there is still a right evaluation and a wrong evaluation, no?

  34. Bnonn Tennant
    Bnonn Tennant says:

    I haven’t been following this thread very closely? So in order to for me to establish my own worldviews I have to look to this thread? What utter nonsense.

    I’m not sure what you mean. My point was that I’ve been discussing this exact issue with Lee in this thread. It seems pointless to rehash the same ground. If you think your worldview escapes the problems raised, you need to interact with my arguments, not just ignore them.

    It substantiates the fact that reasoning is often a tool for the psyche.

    So if someone chooses Christianity for emotional reasons, that proves Christianity has no rational force. But if someone chooses Christianity for rational reasons, then that proves they’re just using reasoning as a “tool for the psyche”.

    Yet most of the deconversion stories I’ve read from atheists have been cases of them leaving Christianity for emotional reasons (bad experiences with Christians, unable to countenance Christianity’s God, etc). And where they left for rational reasons, it’s hard to see how they can avoid of just using reasoning as a “tool for the psyche”.

    Or…maybe this whole line of “argument” is absurd, and why any given person chooses to believe any given proposition actually has no bearing whatsoever on that proposition’s truth. Why don’t we evaluate the arguments for Christianity and atheism, rather than the motivations of their adherents?

    Because if someone doesn’t think that the verse is true then the likes of yourself can just say that that person is being willfully rebellious.

    You seem to think that pointing out the “convenience” of the verse somehow casts doubt on it. But what if it is true? Wouldn’t we expect to see exactly the behavior from people like you that we do indeed see? So on the face of it, the evidence is at least equally good in favor as not.

    This is just a multi-non sequitur.

    I don’t know why you think that, but frankly it doesn’t seem worth discussing further.

    I think that most christians would take issue with your arrogance.

    I don’t think I’ve been arrogant. I have been aggressive in taking you to task for some quite silly and seemingly intellectually dishonest statements. Of course, people who are wrong often see people who are right as arrogant.

    I suspect that you needed to convince yourself of a ‘logical’ reason for heading back to christianity. Unfortunately, logic can be used to prove anything. We just don’t evaluate axioms(propositions?) in a vacuum.

    I’m not sure why you think logic can be used to “prove” anything. If that were true, why would we bother even discussing issues on which we disagreed? After all, if logic can prove anything, and the only way to arbitrate between conflicting positions is with logic (ie principles of reasoning), then there’s in fact no way to arbitrate between conflicting positions at all.

    Your continued discussion with me belies your claim that logic can prove anything. If you thought that, you wouldn’t bother debating with me.

    This also seems to cut both ways. If logic can prove anything, then I can simply turn your psycho-analysis around on you. Clearly, you are only holding to atheism because you want to deny God’s sovereignty over your life, and escape his judgment. You use logic to “prove” even a view as self-evidently absurd as atheism.

    Unsurprisingly, that’s a pretty unproductive avenue of debate.

    Yes, because how would I ever show someone that it is wrong?

    Can’t logic prove anything? Why can’t it prove solipsism false then?

    You don’t seem to grasp that premises have varying levels of plausibility. You don’t have to prove with certainty (whatever that is) that the external world exists in order for it to be completely unreasonable to think that it doesn’t.

    I can certainly see why people would want to insist this but I don’t believe it for a second.

    So now you are calling Christians liars? You simply deny their testimony about their internal experience and intuitions? How is that not the height of arrogance?

    I can assure you that, in fact, my “sensation” of God’s existence is just as immediate and just as seemingly reliable as my sensation that there really are minds associated with the bodies of the people I meet every day. I have no idea why you won’t or can’t believe this for a second, but it certainly makes further discussion difficult.

    This is a kind of solipsism, though. It is a willful refusal to use data from the ‘real’ world, and a collapsing of everything to merely being things inside one’s head.

    I don’t think you understand the argument that Plantinga makes at all. Your objections just seem fundamentally off target, like you’re shooting in the hopes of hitting something, based on what you’ve assumed about your target. But your assumptions are just wrong.

    Basically, as a helpful note in Wikipedia puts it, “Believing that other humans have minds arises from many of the same mental tools and environmental information from which belief in gods or God comes…no scientific evidence exists that proves people have minds”—yet we consider it entirely rational to think they do. We believe it “instinctively”; it is a properly basic belief.

    In the same way, Christians have an “instinctive”, properly basic belief in God.

  35. Peterpieman
    Peterpieman says:

    “Your continued discussion with me belies your claim that logic can prove
    anything. If you thought that, you wouldn’t bother debating with me.”
    “Can’t logic prove anything? Why can’t it prove solipsism false then?”
    I’m sure it can. But it could prove it correct, too, given the right axioms.

    “So now you are calling Christians liars? You simply deny their testimony
    about their internal experience and intuitions? How is that not the
    height of arrogance?

    I certainly deny their interpretation of their internal experience. It is no more arrogant than they are, as they deny the internal experience of others, just as you believe me to be Willfully ungodly, which I deny.

    “I can assure you that, in fact, my “sensation” of God’s existence is
    just as immediate and just as seemingly reliable as my sensation that
    there really are minds associated with the bodies of the people I meet
    every day.””
    You have brought up a good point, that Plantinga’s argument crucially relies upon the plea “please believe me that minds ‘feel’ like god to me”. This isn’t much of an argument.

    “Basically, as a helpful note in Wikipedia puts it, “Believing that other
    humans have minds arises from many of the same mental tools and
    environmental information from which belief in gods or God comes…no
    scientific evidence exists that proves people have minds”—yet we
    consider it entirely rational to think they do. We believe it
    “instinctively”; it is a properly basic belief.”

    There are just so many problems with this argument.
    – There is plenty of observable evidence that other minds exist. Even just the fact that there are ‘people’ around that look like me and act similarly. There is nothing like this for god. So the evidence for minds and god are completely different. Any sane christian will tell you this.
    – If there is no scientific evidence that proves that minds exist, then there is no scientific evidence that proves anything. Throwing out scientific evidence is egregiously stupid. I am perennially amazed at the length people will go to to convince themselves that god exists.
    – But people often throw empirical evidence to justify what they want to believe. Why would I believe the theist who tries to tell me that god is on a par with other minds over the necromancer who tries to tell me that talking spirit are on a par with quantum physics – an equally embarrassing claim.
    – And fatally, why would it be entirely rational to instinctively believe that people have minds, but not rational to instinctively believe our observations which make up empirical evidence? Especially since the idea that there are other minds at all is an empirical observation.

  36. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Peter, I’m sorry but you simply haven’t understood Plantinga’s argument. You need to educate yourself before you try to respond again. You’re just embarrassing yourself, and it’s not progressing the discussion at all.

  37. Peterpieman
    Peterpieman says:

    No, i think I understand it. He’s claiming that it is rational to believe that there are other minds, and that this rational belief is like the belief for god.

    But as I have shown this is silly. Believing that there might be no other minds is silly – or if it is believed it should have no effect whatsoever. And wanting to say that knowledge of god is like knowledge of other minds is just painting axioms that you want to believe.

    Even christians know this. Try to tell someone that maybe the world exists entirely within their head and they’ll forget about it five seconds later – and rightly so. Ask them why you can’t see god like you can other people and they’ll happily try to explain.

  38. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Peter, simply asserting that you “think” you understand it isn’t very convincing when you patently do not.

    For example, what is silly about thinking other minds do not exist? What evidence is there that they do?

    Even christians know this. Try to tell someone that maybe the world
    exists entirely within their head and they’ll forget about it five
    seconds later – and rightly so. Ask them why you can’t see god like you
    can other people and they’ll happily try to explain.

    Needless to say, this completely misses the point. Plantinga’s argument is not an argument that you should believe in God. It is an argument that belief in God is rationally warranted even if there were no other evidence for him than our internal perception. It defeats the charge from atheists that Christian belief is irrational, even if somehow their charge that there is no evidence for God goes through. And many philosophers believe his case is very strong. If you think they’re wrong, I’d suggest you actually familiarize yourself with the relevant literature so you can interact with it, instead of just making blanket assertions and pretending you know what you’re talking about.

    Of course, Plantinga’s argument does not entail that Christians actually think there is no evidence for God—nor that they won’t happily explain these reasons for believing to anyone who asks.

  39. Mark
    Mark says:

    Hi Bnonn.

    In Ethiopia and Kenya, female genital mutilation is practiced as a tribal custom by both Muslims and Christians, with circumcised mothers often insisting on circumcised daughters. Presumably the Christian practitioners know their bible well, and it does seem to be silent on the issue of FGM.

    My question is: Is FGM immoral? Is yes, then why?

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