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Monday, October 29, 2012

Mailvox: the logic of God II

In which Passerby attempts to poke holes in the logical argument demonstrating the irrationality of his position concerning the simultaneous existence of evil and the nonexistence of God.
Well! I wasn’t expecting an entire fresh post devoted to my challenge in that other thread. I’m so honored. Pardon my late arrival.  Okay, first off, VD, looks like you threw a gutter ball from your second premise, as Riki-Tiki-Tavi already sensed. Let’s have a look at it:

2. The existent fact of wrongdoing necessarily requires that there is a material universal standard of right and wrong by which actions can be classified.

Incorrect. The existent fact of wrongdoing/evil does not require a material universal standard of right and wrong. The existent fact of wrongdoing is self-evident because the alternative is… the nonexistence of wrongdoing. Good luck making a sound argument for the nonexistence of wrongdoing. Think anyone can do it passably? I don’t and I suspect you don’t either. So we should agree there. That’s point number one.
Point number one is incorrect.  Notice here that Passerby is not only taking exception to my point, but to entire philosophies such as nihilism, existentialism, and, ironically enough, rational materialism.  His argument is surprisingly weak, based as it is on the self-evidence of wrongdoing.  Is it self-evident that stealing is wrong?  That not voting is wrong? 

Consider how little sense his argument makes if we substitute a non-existent fact for wrongdoing/evil.  The existent fact of unicorns does not require a material universal standard of unicorns and not-unicorns. The existent fact of unicorns is self-evident because the alternative is… the nonexistence of unicorns.

If we cannot tell the difference between a unicorn and a not-unicorn, then we cannot possibly declare that unicorns do or do not exist.  But if we have established the fact that unicorns do exist, we have necessarily established a material and universal standard for what a unicorn is and what a unicorn is not.  Therefore, point number one fails and the second step in the logical argument remains standing.
Point number two. Another thing wrong with this “necessary universal standard” claim of yours (I noticed you used that word “standard” seventeen times in your post, so to continue the bowling metaphor, it’s like your very bowling ball to bowl with, without which… well, game over -- but I’ll give you a dollar so you can go play some Ms. PacMan) is that six billion people in the world could have six billion different standards of wrongdoing, but everyone would nonetheless agree that wrongdoing does exist in the world.

So let’s imagine those six billion individuals’ six billion different standards of wrongdoing can be each given a numerical value. I’m not saying it can ever actually be done, but just go with me here. After they’ve all been given a numerical value, they’re arranged in order on a vertical meter with a red zone on the bottom and a green zone on the top. Put the meter on the lowest setting of “1”. That setting belongs to a guy who disagrees with all 5,999,999,999 people above him whom he considers to be an increasing bunch of prissy Miss Manners types who see wrongdoing in all kinds of ways he doesn’t. But he at least sees one instance of wrongdoing in the world and everyone above him agrees that he at least got one right. So it seems to me (I’m just now coming up with this, but I’ll try to land this thing in one piece) that this minimum setting of “1” is the standard, if anything, for the existence of wrongdoing. Below that is “0” which represents nonexistence of wrongdoing.

Point being, our subjectivity is flawed, but it’s far from useless! There is, after all, communication and agreement. It’s precisely because of our limitation as trapped individuals of subjectivity that science is the best idea we’ve ever come up with (or happened upon) to make gains on objectivity. To paraphrase Steven Pinker, science is our highest, purest expression of reason. Objectivity is perhaps an unattainable goal, but we’ve seemingly made lots of progress toward it given our technological conquests, our steadily decreasing rate of violence in ever larger, more complex populations, etc. I say seemingly because a cosmic rug pulling could be in store for us a la The Matrix at any time, but that caveat aside, it’s our processes of communication, cooperation, record keeping, rhetorical persuasion, experimentation, reason, science, etc. that we arrive at standards of right and wrong be they amoral (e.g., math, chemistry, physics) or moral. And we arrive at them, to the extent we do, through our own shared reasoning, thank you very much. No divinity needed or even evident. 
Point number two is not so much incorrect as irrelevant, bordering on a category error. In this section, Passerby fails to grasp that an objective standard is more than the sum of six billion subjective opinions, and in fact, no number of subjective opinions can produce an objective standard, by definition.  The more the standard is "influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice", the less objective it can be, regardless of whether those competing feelings, interpretations, and prejudices are harmonious or not.  Existent evil/wrongdoing requires a material and universal standard, even if our subjective experience of the objective reality is different in six billion different ways.

If the readers don't mind indulging me in following Passerby on one of his tangents, I will add that Stephen Pinker is wrong about science as he is wrong about so many things.  Science is most certainly not the highest and purest expression of reason.  Not only is it not reason at all, it was specifically conceived, developed, and utilized to replace pure reason.  This is why Science is so often at odds with Philosophy as well as Religion; Science is nothing more than the systematic codification of experience.

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110 Comments:

Anonymous The CronoLink October 29, 2012 1:26 PM  

"The existent fact of wrongdoing/evil does not require a material universal standard of right and wrong."

You can't call it "wrong" because the definition of the word itself presupposes a "right".

Anonymous Rantor October 29, 2012 1:44 PM  

Without a universal standard of wrong-doing you have 6,000,000,000 standards of wrong-doing?

Some of these standards won't have anything in common. I may decide that what you think is wrong, is an essential good. (Look at the male circumcision fight in Germany right now, to an anti-circumcision German it is evil to cut off a functioning body part, to a Jew it is a God-directed good thing to do).

With nothing in common and 6B observers, you quickly come down to some type of the greatest good for the greatest number or utilitarianism. Ask the Jews how that worked in Germany circa 1938. Or ask the Chinese about Chairman Mao's idea of good and evil.

You can not rationally reject another human's definition of evil if there is no absolute. You must fall into the, "whatever is right for you" or "Believe what you want to believe," fallacy which denies an absolute and embraces a meaningless subjectivity.

Blogger Longstreet October 29, 2012 1:51 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous BAJ October 29, 2012 1:57 PM  

I think it's funny that the atheists use the morality of the Bible to condemn God as a wrong-doer. :-/

Anonymous DrTorch October 29, 2012 1:57 PM  

They actually have books on this subject. It's painful to watch Passerby try to construct all of those arguments ex nihilo. Is it so wrong to think they might actually try reading something before they declare that they are the smartest human ever to have lived b/c they had a thought at age 15?

Not only is it not reason at all, it was specifically conceived, developed, and utilized to replace pure reason. This is why Science is so often at odds with Philosophy as well as Religion; Science is nothing more than the systematic codification of experience.


That doesn't make it necessarily at odds with reason. All good science incorporates reason.

You initially use the term "pure reason" to mean "exclusively" reason, but it hints at meaning "uncorrupted" reason, suggesting that science is based on corrupt logic. Moreover, we also know that the rationalists (e.g., Aristotle) led to bountiful foolishness.

Anonymous BAJ October 29, 2012 2:03 PM  

For those wanting to learn more about the problem of evil, I encourage reading the works of Plantinga and Craig. They offer brilliant insights.

For example, Plantinga says that without God as the absolute unassailable edifice of morality, good and evil happen to be whatever your peers will allow you to get away with. Furthermore, evil exists, but that does not mean God is evil. To eliminate evil would mean God becomes absolute tyrant which would be tantamount to a freedom-loving God creating a 3-sided square - an impossibility.

Anonymous Knarf October 29, 2012 2:12 PM  

I for one am impressed by Passerby's arguments. I haven't seen that level of dense, almost-intelligible, sophomoric paraphilosophical twaddle in nearly 40 years.

Put down the bong and stop babbling, dude.

Anonymous JartStar October 29, 2012 2:15 PM  

It’s been my experience with the more thoughtful atheists that they simply punt this issue and claim that a subjective standard is acceptable enough for everyday life for them. Of course it can be circular in that we have no objective standard of right and wrong and people survived to this point without it; hence we do not need the objective standard.

It is a good thing that atheists in general don’t reach the logical conclusion which is the lack of standard gives them the ability to band together and behave as they see fit.

Anonymous DrTorch October 29, 2012 2:18 PM  

It is a good thing that atheists in general don’t reach the logical conclusion

You say "good thing" like it's meaningful. ;-)

Anonymous physphilmusic October 29, 2012 2:18 PM  

The ironic thing about this trainwreck of an argument is that it can be applied to argue for the existence of gods or the supernatural. Percentage wise, I would bet that there are at least 6 billion people (~85% of the world population) who believe in gods of one kind or another. Remember that atheists are a minority in the world, similar to those people who think that there is no such thing as wrongdoing.

Six billion people in the world could have six billion different ideas of gods, but everyone would nonetheless agree that gods of some kind exist.

So let’s imagine those six billion individuals’ six billion different ideas of gods can be each given a numerical value. I’m not saying it can ever actually be done, but just go with me here. After they’ve all been given a numerical value, they’re arranged in order on a vertical meter with a red zone on the bottom and a green zone on the top. Put the meter on the lowest setting of “1”. That setting belongs to a guy who disagrees with all 5,999,999,999 people above him to be superstitious and gullible. But believes in at least one god, or one supernatural being, ghosts or whatever. Or perhaps a inscrutable kind of "spirituality" or something. And everyone above him virtually agrees he got that one right. So it seems to me that this minimum setting of “1” is the standard, if anything, for the existence of wrongdoing. Below that is “0” which represents complete disbelief gods, the supernatural, or an immaterial world of any kind.

Point being, our subjectivity is flawed, but it’s far from useless! There is, after all, communication and agreement.


Now, would Mr. Passerby agree that this train of reasoning is no less valid than the one he proposes regarding morality?

Blogger JD Curtis October 29, 2012 2:26 PM  

Related...

Horus Manure: Debunking the Jesus/Horus Connection

Anonymous Josh October 29, 2012 2:35 PM  

How is that remotely related?

Blogger Drew October 29, 2012 2:38 PM  

It doesn't help Passerby's argument when you consider that the majority of those 6 billion people believe morality stems from a god/spirit/higher-power type of existence. If morality is determined where the majority agrees then atheists are already standing in the wrong.

Anonymous Daniel October 29, 2012 2:41 PM  

The difference between these Saganic philosophers and a Rubik's Cube is that, eventually the cube will admit that you have matched the colors up.

Anonymous LES October 29, 2012 2:46 PM  

Actions in themselves are not absolute good or evil. Context and intent are involved. If I shoot and kill a person in cold blood that is wrong and evil. If I shoot and kill that same person to keep him from killing me or someone else then it is not wrong or evil. If I have consensual sexual relations with my wife that is good. If I rape a woman that is evil. Same actions, different context and intent.

Which makes me consider that Jesus reduced the commandments to two: love God and love your neighbor. He said that not only is murder wrong; to hate is just as wrong. Therefore, can morality, good and evil, be reduced to love vs hate?

Anonymous Azimus October 29, 2012 2:56 PM  

I was very hopeful for Passerby. I thought I might, if nothing else, learn one or two new thoughts on why the other side thinks they way they do.

Instead we get this: a quote from a guy who explains knowledge in terms of logic, and a convoluted morality-through-democracy ad nauseum.

Indescribably disappointing when the headliner was "I will destroy you", or whatever it was he said...

Blogger IM2L844 October 29, 2012 2:58 PM  

Therefore, can morality, good and evil, be reduced to love vs hate?

No. Even God hates wicked evildoers.

Anonymous The One October 29, 2012 3:03 PM  

The main problem I see is that the West has been taught a linear view of time. So any change made must be a move forward, hence the technological arguement, violence argument etc. most cultures teach a cyclic view of time

Anonymous LES October 29, 2012 3:06 PM  

@IM2L844: No. Even God hates wicked evildoers.

Then please list the moral absolutes that apply to all human beings.

Anonymous Daniel October 29, 2012 3:25 PM  

You are overthinking, LES. You've already listed a number of moral absolutes that apply to all human beings:

If I shoot and kill a person in cold blood that is wrong and evil. If I shoot and kill that same person to keep him from killing me or someone else then it is not wrong or evil.

Those are two universal absolutes right there. Those absolutes are true for all people in all times. Cold-blood murder (and just to prevent the, "but what about assassinating Hitler rabbit trail," ill focus this on shooting an otherwise nonthreatening person in the back for the pleasure or advantage of killing them) is evil. Self-defense is good and lawful.


If you really need a list of moral absolutes that are universally held, you can find them in ancient codes all over the place. Not all of them are morality laws, but those that are are universally true.

Anonymous Kriston October 29, 2012 3:36 PM  

Daniel October 29, 2012 2:41 PM

The difference between these Saganic philosophers and a Rubik's Cube is that, eventually the cube will admit that you have matched the colors up.


Not if you keep turning it.

Blogger Panzerdude October 29, 2012 3:45 PM  

An easier way to prove there is NO defense of an atheistic position of the existence of good and evil is this:

1. If there is no Creator, then everything has come about by random, chance processes.

2. Since we are simply a result of those random processes, our thoughts and actions are also nothing more than random, chance chemical reactions; there is no free will.

3. Therefore, there is no action that is "moral" or "immoral" since both are simply the result of different chemical reactions that happened independently and randomly.

4. The only "rational" (though there is no rational in the atheistic worldview, just random) position an atheist can take is there is no good or evil. We are all simply bio-chemical reactions, randomly existing at this point in the history of the universe.

Conclusion: any atheist that senses good and evil is at that very moment in conflict with his own purported belief system. One would think that would wake them up to the absurdity of their position. But it doesn't. Instead, it produces the works of "logic" Passerby comes up with..."Vox, you idiot. Since we can all tell the difference between good and evil, the difference is obvious. Good is good and evil is evil...you idiot."

Anonymous realmatt October 29, 2012 3:59 PM  

This guy is completely clueless.

I don't understand people who just don't stop even when it's all laid for them in plain English.

What's even more ridiculous is when it's done on the internet and you can reinvent yourself and pretend you never believed the nonsense you once spewed. They still refuse to give it up.

Anonymous Daniel October 29, 2012 4:02 PM  

Panzerdude, that's wrong: chance, random processes can lead to order (chaos theory) given enough time. After all, eventually all the air molecules are evenly distributed into a given volume even if they started in a random cluster in the corner.

Of course there's no free will, but that doesn't mean there isn't a perceived order that can be followed.

Ultimately, the atheist would agree with you: we are random, there is no objective good or evil outside of what we perceive. One can sense non-existent evil by random process just as easily as one can get a chill in a warm room. All is vapor, so may as well pursue the greater good, however one might perceive that.

Vox's 9 steps are about as efficient of a process as you can get without major loopholes (and even his 6 and 7 are blurry - each could have been two links apiece). Your list isn't long enough for the assumptions you adopt.

Anonymous Passer_By October 29, 2012 4:03 PM  

Just a note:

Not that it matters much, but the "Passerby" in question here is not the same as the one who posts under that name at HUS (which is me).

Anonymous Eduardo October 29, 2012 4:12 PM  

Your names are different dude XD

Anonymous JaimeInTexas October 29, 2012 4:23 PM  

What? Don't y'all like Genghis Khan's, and his society's, understanding of good and evil? The silk road not good enough?

"chance, random processes can lead to order (chaos theory) given enough time."

Don't buy it. If order is an outcome, eventually all becomes organized. But its a random outcome.

Blogger Panzerdude October 29, 2012 4:26 PM  

Daniel, chaos theory is a lame attempt to explain how random, chance processes, originating in an explosion, can result in the order of the universe. The example of air dispersing is not an example of order...air just does what it does.

A better example would be the nuclear forces holding the molecules together in the first place. Why did those forces just happen to fall within the tiny range that allows them to exist? Hence, the multi-verse theory. In other words, there isn't enough time for Chaos Theory to account for order, so let's imagine an infinite number of universes and ours just happens to be the one with order.

That is the theory atheists are hanging their hats on today.

Which brings us to your point that we can sense good and evil by random, chance processes, just like temperature differences.

This is an error. Unlike cold, good and evil are not detectable by our bio-chemical senses. In fact, all non-existent "laws", i.e. logic, are not detectable by our senses, regardless of your chemical process, gravitational pull or location in the universe. Sensing non-physical constants requires something other than our sensory input mechanisms to detect.

What could that "something" be? Why do humans innately know what is good and evil, or perfection for that matter, when there is no sensory mechanism for detecting them and no environmental example of them we can sense and measure?

Hence the problem for atheists. There is no naturalistic mechanism for knowing what should be unknowable, if everything is simply a bio-chemical process...because these things, like good and evil, logic, etc. are not bio-chemical in nature...

Have fun trying.

Anonymous bethyada October 29, 2012 4:46 PM  

He needs to untangle the epistic and ontic aspects of morality. His claim is that we all know that morality exists even if we don't agree on what it is. True, this is standard Romans theology, and what Lewis argues for in Mere Christianity. This is why Christians say that atheism does not prevent atheists from acting morally at times. But the knowledge that morality exists is hardly an explanation for why it exists, or the nature of it.

This is the entire point of the moral argument. Not that morality exists, this is a premise that theists and most atheists agree on. One can't just accept this premise and then claim that it is a reason for morality to be real, and not just apparent.

If morality is real, there must be an objective standard; acknowledging a standard is not an explanation as to why there is one.

Atheism cannot give a reason for a moral standard; moreover, if materialism is true then there cannot be a standard.

Anonymous Daniel October 29, 2012 5:19 PM  

Panzerdude, the assumption of the atheist is that perceptions of logic, evil, etc. really are just bio-chemical processes and feedback that we then believe ourselves to have ordered. I'm not saying it is sane - only that starting with the assumption of a creator (or in your instance) no creator really ends up leaving a lot more steps in the logic tree necessary to make the argument truly become an "if/then" statement in the mind of the atheist in the wild.

After all, when your objective is that you want to get the atheist to agree with your rationale, you must first demonstrate to him that his very thought process is devoid of reasons. You can't do that by arguing "reasonably" through the atheist assumptions.

In the end, he'll totally agree with you: there is no free will, everything is random, evil is a problem that can't be reasonably addressed, etc.

But because you didn't do anything to address the fact that his logical brain is broken and yet is telling him that he is reasonable in his unbelief.

Like a lot of logical people, you are cutting to the heart of the debate, but aren't acknowledging that it isn't the Truth (there is a Creator) that is broken, but the thinker's own brain that is.

When people complain that these debates never go anywhere, it is because the sane person made perfect sense, and the atheist was left no more sensible than when he was found.

Anonymous Daniel October 29, 2012 5:22 PM  

Note: having said that, you can't coach speed and you can't fix stupid, but if you ever want to have a chance of demonstrating the difference between belief and atheism, atheism must be acknowledged by everyone (including the atheist) for what it is:

An absence of reason that masquerades quite well as logic.

Blogger Markku October 29, 2012 5:30 PM  

If evil is determined by common opinion, then all moral reformers are always by definition evil. Martin Luther King? Evil.

"Well, surely the people THOUGHT him evil back then..."

Nope, doesn't work like that. Evil in the most fundamental way that is possible within an atheist framework.

Blogger IM2L844 October 29, 2012 5:39 PM  

Then please list the moral absolutes that apply to all human beings.

LES, here is a list, according to King Solomon, of "six things the Lord hateth, and the seventh His soul detesteth.":

A proud look.
A lying tongue.
Hands that shed innocent blood.
A heart that devises wicked plots.
Feet that are swift to run into mischief.
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies.
Him that soweth discord among brethren.

Here is a list of the 7 fundamental (Capital sins) sins that from some combination of which all others stem:

Lust (lechery)
Gluttony (over-indulgence, excess, selfishness)
Greed (avarice, covetousness)
Sloth (laziness, apathy, willful ignorance)
Wrath (hate, unnecessary violence, spite)
Envy (gratuitous desire, jealousy)

Anonymous Spectator October 29, 2012 5:43 PM  

So essentially according to Passerby, that one person who is the median of varying opinions would be, at that moment, the functional arbiter of right and wrong? and I how is that less arbitrary than or binding than believing that is endowed by the creator? Also if such opinion changed so that say, chicken rape were acceptable by more people than it was unacceptable would that then make chicken rape Not Wrong?

Blogger Earl October 29, 2012 5:45 PM  

The atheist argument for evil and wrong are as substantial as a 6 year old's argument for God. "It just exists; everybody knows it; you cant deny it; you're stupid!" Were these fags to turn their own standards for God existing around toward themselves and their notions of morality, free will, justice, human rights, etc. they would crush themselves.

Them saying evil/wrong exists as a social construct is identical to their complaint that god/religion is a social construct. By their standard we're all just making shit up that sounds good to "control the population". But i guess if you just make a bunch of shit up, plagiarize religion, and then call it "secular", you're ok with atheists.

Anonymous VD October 29, 2012 5:54 PM  

Indescribably disappointing when the headliner was "I will destroy you", or whatever it was he said...

The stag is just a stag, quoth the bison.

Anonymous Spectator October 29, 2012 6:07 PM  

Heh, just came across a quote in a movie that sums up VD's feelings on the interlocutors rather well

Ugarte: You despise me, don't you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

Anonymous Stickwick October 29, 2012 6:14 PM  

Indescribably disappointing when the headliner was "I will destroy you", or whatever it was he said...

I felt the same way after reading Dawkins' The God Delusion. He made a bold statement somewhere at the beginning that if he did his job properly, I'd be an atheist by the time I finished his book. Based on this (and not knowing much about him at the time), I was at least expecting some fairly challenging arguments, but they didn't even rise to the level of mildly interesting.

After all, eventually all the air molecules are evenly distributed into a given volume even if they started in a random cluster in the corner.

Just so's you know, in terms of thermodynamics, the initial cluster of air molecules in the room is considered a more highly ordered state than an even distribution throughout the room.

Anonymous Stickwick October 29, 2012 6:17 PM  

@ Spectator: There's a classic line in The Fountainhead along those lines.

Ellsworth Toohey: Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.

Howard Roark: But I don't think of you.

Blogger Lud VanB October 29, 2012 8:19 PM  

"1. If there is no Creator, then everything has come about by random, chance processes."

or , everything is the result of a series of unguided deterministic natural processes that have the appearance of randomness from a limited perspective such as ours.

"2. Since we are simply a result of those random processes, our thoughts and actions are also nothing more than random, chance chemical reactions; there is no free will."

or since we are the result of these unguided deterministic natural processes, so are our thoughts and feelings. A for the existense of free will, i suppose that depends on your definition of it.

"3. Therefore, there is no action that is "moral" or "immoral" since both are simply the result of different chemical reactions that happened independently and randomly."

or once can come to the realisation that moral and immoral are descriptors of certain actions taking place in the context of a social construct where moral acts are deemed beneficial to social cohesion and immoral acts are deemed detrimental to social cohesion. There would also be a third descriptor, amoral, which wouild be used for those actions that have little to no impact either way. and like other social behaviours these can be learned over time in a deterministic way.

Anonymous Eduardo October 29, 2012 8:44 PM  

If everything is deterministic, it makes no sense to call stuff imoral or moral. People have no choice whatsoever, so they did not hurt any existing norm, just maybe the illusion of norm in your head. That is naturalistic mixed materialism morality. Non-existent.

Anonymous MendoScot October 29, 2012 9:14 PM  

Here is a list of the 7 fundamental (Capital sins) sins that from some combination of which all others stem:

67 or 69 - I can never remember which was my problem.

So essentially according to Passerby, that one person who is the median of varying opinions would be, at that moment, the functional arbiter of right and wrong?

Worse, the lowest common denominator.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 29, 2012 10:47 PM  

I'm not an atheist, and I don't have a dog in this fight since I don't find the framework all that compelling; but I do think you guys aren't getting as far with logic as you seem to believe you are. So in the interests of just testing what logic can get you and what it can't, here are a few devil's-advocate style thoughts.

--You can argue that an objective universal morality is a creation of the Creator, but since we observe multiple conflicting moralities throughout human history and culture, we don't have evidence of a universal moral code which all human beings implicitly recognize. It may simply be a matter of historical anthropology that as human societies advance and become more complex, they come to realize that certain rules are highly beneficial to a functioning society and that when these rules are flouted, chaos ensues. And since many human societies develop along similar lines, it isn't surprising that their moral codes are similar. In the same way, it could be argued in terms of a simple matter of human brain development that as humans became increasingly intelligent and increasingly self-aware, and thus became aware of the reality of their own deaths, that they developed psychological coping methods for dealing with this shocking fact, and that some of these coping methods grew into religion.

--If it is possible to prove the existence of God simply through logic, does that mean that it is always the Christian God whose existence is proved? The Romans and Greeks had logic, they had a moral code, and they had gods, but they didn't have the Christian God. Indeed, many Romans thought that the existence of similarly-structured pantheons of gods popping up again and again in so many of the different societies they conquered or traded with, proved the existence of "the gods" universally because just about all men, whever they went, seemed to believe in more or less the same team of gods, just with different local names.


Anonymous Procol Harumph October 29, 2012 10:47 PM  

[more moral/logical brain teasers, continued]

--Think of human language compared to human morality for a moment as an example. Let's propose (I don't know if a linguist would agree) for the sake of argument that it is impossible for human beings to construct an advanced language that does not differentiate between nouns and verbs. We will posit that it's somehow known that the need to use nouns and verbs in separate semantic roles is a fundamental sine-qua-non of human language; it's simply the case that the human brain is structured that way, and can't process language without nouns and verbs being different. This would not logically prove the existence of a Creator who created language, nor would it prove the existence of a universal, binding-in-all-cases, ontological structure of language itself, which DEMANDED nouns and verbs. (Bees, for instance, communicate through a dance-like "language" but they seem to be strictly interested in giving one another directions.) All it would prove is that human brain architecture requires it, the same way that mammals inhale oxygen and exhale CO2. It could have been otherwise, it simply isn't.

The example doesn't prove that a Creator doesn't exist, it simply underlines the limits of where logic can take you in these matters.

--Speaking of the example CS Lewis gives of the stranger who "deliberately trips me up on the bus," we might ask this:
1. Since predators and prey are simply part of Nature, we don't say that a cat is evil when it eats a mouse.
2. But what do we say about a cat that tortures a mouse for an hour before eating it, swatting it around and pawing it and generally terrifying it? It's pure cruelty. But could we say that a cat is evil?
3. In the year 1256 A.D., in the Upper Hudson River Valley, centuries prior to Columbus, a Huron war party comes across a trio of Iroquois scouts. They take the Iroquois prisoners and bring them back to the Huron camp, where, in accordance with ancient Huron tradition, they torture the prisoners to death. This has been part of Huron morality for eons, and they haven't encountered Christian truth yet. Are they evil? Is the practive evil? (I'll add that the Iroquois themselves do not object on principle, since had the situation been reversed, they too would have tortured the Hurons to death, in time-honored Iroquois fashion.)

Just a couple of problems to set the pot bubbling. I could easily be wrong about any or all of these things, but I'd be interested to see how.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 29, 2012 10:54 PM  

"So essentially according to Passerby, that one person who is the median of varying opinions would be, at that moment, the functional arbiter of right and wrong?

Worse, the lowest common denominator."

On the one hand, not sure I myself find Passerby's thought experiment convincing, but OTOH I think some of you are giving it too short a shrift because I don't think you grasp what he's getting at.

His experiment is designed to show that, positing a world where morality has somehow been arbitrarily brought into being by humans rather than created, the existence of even the tiniest amount (his conjectural lowest moral guy) of moral consensus shared by all humans would be for all intents and purposes the same experiential thing as a universal moral code designed by a Creator, and therefore it would be functionally identical; and therefore it's possible for it to exist. It's a kind of moral Turing test.

A similar experiment would be to say, if we could somehow point to a single grain of sand which we somehow knew with certainty had come into being randomly, and NOT as part of the design of a Creator, if we knew of a single particle which somehow had not been consciously created, then it would be a powerful argument against the rest of the creation and its creator.

Again, I don't know that I buy it, but I also don't find it as prima facie ridiculous as some of you are making it out to be.

Blogger Earl October 29, 2012 11:23 PM  

Your theoretical particle that came into existence out of nowhere would violate the underlying asusmption of science: that all phenomena are rational. In other words, your theories are anti-science and irrational. And unfortunately, no matter how much you'd like to posit, there is no way out of the trap. We must use logic and reason to answer questions, BECAUSE we MUST use logic and reason to ask questions. In order to deny logic and reason we must stop questioning. In other words, if you got a problem with logic and reason, SHUT THE HELL UP. Forever.

Blogger IM2L844 October 29, 2012 11:28 PM  

And I'm the windbag, Scoob?

Anonymous Impraxical October 29, 2012 11:30 PM  

My problem with Passerby's lowest common denominator argument is that it is pure speculation, and in my opinion probably not even believable speculation. What is the one thing that everyone agrees is wrong? At least some assassins probably think murder is fine. All those tribal peoples that ate humans apparently didn't have a problem with cannibalism.

An argument that everyone has some things they believe are wrong might be believable, but that doesn't mean that there is any one thing that is common between all people.

Anonymous Rex Little October 30, 2012 12:51 AM  

Even if "what God says" is the objective standard of right and wrong, very few people actually base their moral code on that. They absorb it from their culture, their experiences, who knows what else. . . for all I know, part of it's built into the DNA. If and when they encounter the Bible, they may find that their moral code is in agreement with it. If not, they either rationalize the differences (we humans are good at that) or reject the Bible. I'm sure there are exceptions to this--people who actually changed something fundamental about their moral beliefs after being exposed to religious teachings for the first time--but I'd guess they're a small minority.

Consider the following statements:

A. Murder is wrong because God commands us not to do it.

B. God commands us not to murder because murder is wrong.

I'll bet if you asked everyone who considers himself a Christian or Jew which of these statements he most agrees with, the vast majority would say B--even though it implies a standard of right and wrong independent of God.

Anonymous Toby Temple October 30, 2012 1:13 AM  

I'll bet if you asked everyone who considers himself a Christian or Jew which of these statements he most agrees with, the vast majority would say B--even though it implies a standard of right and wrong independent of God.

That only proves that MPAI. Nothing more.

Anonymous Rex Little October 30, 2012 1:24 AM  

Wasn't intended as a proof of anything, just an observation.

Anonymous kh123 October 30, 2012 2:04 AM  

Upshot seems to be Germany was more correct than Poland in 1939, but that the Soviet Union was the most correct in 1945. One can even append the operation name (Barbarossa, Attila, etc) to one's argument for added QED weight or correctness.*

Basically, the morality of the blunt end of a club.


*"Correct", in the sense which Grady used in The Shining.

Anonymous kh123 October 30, 2012 2:12 AM  

"Indescribably disappointing when the headliner was "I will destroy you",..."

I figured it was said the same way as that wrestling pic in Barton Fink.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 5:07 AM  

"Your theoretical particle that came into existence out of nowhere would violate the underlying asusmption of science: that all phenomena are rational."

No it wouldn't. In fact the prevailing view in science at the moment is not that one particle came into existence out of nowhere, but that ALL of them did. For a logical, rational guy, you ain't very bright.

"In other words, your theories are anti-science and irrational."

My "theories" aren't theories. My 'remarks' were an attempt, for the purposes of furthering the conversation, to clarify someone else's thought experiment. A thought experiment isn't a "theory", nor is it "speculation" as somebody else put it. It's just a hypothetical, intended to take a look at what's going on from a different perspective.

"if you got a problem with logic and reason, SHUT THE HELL UP. Forever."

Ah, the pleasures of rational conversation. Man, you guys are really letting down the side.

"And I'm the windbag, Scoob?"

Thinking out loud in good faith about the topic at hand, even if it's at a bit of length, isn't being a windbag, it's just thinking. You know what is being a windbag? Hectoring people in a brittle fashion.

For instance, you were just a windbag in only five short words.

You guys have hitched a ride with Logic, who promised to drop you off in Chicago. However, Logic let you out in Gary, Indiana and just TOLD you that you were in Chicago. And, because you've never seen Chicago before and don't know the difference, you're assuming that Logic is right.

Hope you don't get mugged, Gary is a pretty rough town.

Anonymous FrankNorman October 30, 2012 6:53 AM  

JartStar October 29, 2012 2:15 PM

It’s been my experience with the more thoughtful atheists that they simply punt this issue and claim that a subjective standard is acceptable enough for everyday life for them. Of course it can be circular in that we have no objective standard of right and wrong and people survived to this point without it; hence we do not need the objective standard.

It is a good thing that atheists in general don’t reach the logical conclusion which is the lack of standard gives them the ability to band together and behave as they see fit.


Or they have, but they're not yet ready to admit that to people like you.

Anonymous FrankNorman October 30, 2012 6:59 AM  

--If it is possible to prove the existence of God simply through logic, does that mean that it is always the Christian God whose existence is proved? The Romans and Greeks had logic, they had a moral code, and they had gods, but they didn't have the Christian God. Indeed, many Romans thought that the existence of similarly-structured pantheons of gods popping up again and again in so many of the different societies they conquered or traded with, proved the existence of "the gods" universally because just about all men, whever they went, seemed to believe in more or less the same team of gods, just with different local names.


The similarities were not really as strong as they may have thought. If you compare the Egyptian pantheon with the classic Greek one, for example. And most of those ancient societies did not have a unified "creed", just a collection of different religious rituals and practices.

Blogger IM2L844 October 30, 2012 7:57 AM  

You know what is being a windbag?

Yes! A windbag is an exceedingly boring person who is tediously long-winded about their uninteresting and demonstrably wrong anti-logic perspective on an otherwise interesting topic.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 8:14 AM  

"their uninteresting and demonstrably wrong anti-logic perspective"

Then by all means: Demonstrate! I gave you plenty to work with, it should be cake. Ready, set, go!

But remember --- be pithy about it! But don't be wrong, by leaving important things out in your quest for pithiness. But on the other hand, DO be pithy.

You wouldn't want to be a windbag, now, would you?

...

So far, nobody's offered me any serious replies to the questions I raised, just abuse. If you think the questions are boring, that's fine, ignore them. But to just lob bitter unfunny insults at me and think that's a reply, well...

I thought you lot were the ones walking around with your high IQ scores printed on your t-shirts or something.



OpenID herenvardo October 30, 2012 10:06 AM  

" it’s our processes of communication, cooperation, record keeping, rhetorical persuasion, experimentation, reason, science, etc. that we arrive at standards of right and wrong be they amoral (e.g., math, chemistry, physics) or moral. And we arrive at them, to the extent we do, through our own shared reasoning, thank you very much. No divinity needed or even evident."

That's funny: funny that all that cooperation, record keeping, rhetoric, experimentation and reason, happened in places that *just happened* to have been soaked in Christianity for about a thousand years. Weird, that despite Christianity being the World's Worst Religion Ever (TM), and monotheism the Worst Thing That Ever Happened (hey, remember all those scientific advances the Romans came up with?), everything this git treasures owes its existence to it.

Blogger IM2L844 October 30, 2012 10:42 AM  

But to just lob bitter unfunny insults at me and think that's a reply, well...

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. It was wrong of me to presume your skin would also be thick.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 11:28 AM  

"your skin would also be thick"

Eh, semi-witty. But old. Why, keep it up and in another few decades you'll discover Dorothy Parker.

Still waiting for your pithy and irrefutable demonstrations of my demonstrable wrongness.

But I guess raiding from Al Jaffee's Big Book of Snappy Come-backs is all you've got the strength for. Not surprised.

Anonymous asdf October 30, 2012 11:50 AM  

Daniel made a point earlier I'll touch on.

Books and arguments can help lead the atheist to water, but its usually experience and the voice of God that will finally help him drink. We can only make the arguments available, usually its other events in their lives which will finally illuminate them and help them make sense.

In the meantime we should help that every professed Atheist remains a confused hypocrite. For a genuine Atheist who acted on that philosophy honestly would be a rather terrible person indeed.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 1:07 PM  

Still waiting for your easily-demonstrated demonstrable demonstrations of my utterly-demonstratably demonstrable wrongful wrongy wrongy-ness.

Or are you too busy now, rooting through old piles of Mencken, looking for another half-way good line to clip for a bitchy dick-measuring nonsense comeback?

Put up or shut up.

I can't wait for your amazing pyrotechnic demonstrations of logical skill. Not so keen for your decades-old put-down jokes however.

Man, I thought this place was the home of the "Dread Ilk"! So come on, Ilk-boy. Give me something to dread, besides unfunny deflective jokes.



Blogger IM2L844 October 30, 2012 2:11 PM  

Still waiting for your easily-demonstrated demonstrable demonstrations of my utterly-demonstratably demonstrable wrongful wrongy wrongy-ness.

You have proved to be much more efficient at this than I could ever hope to be. Carry on.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 2:29 PM  

IM2whateveritscalled bails. Bails, bails, bails --- no other excuse. You pussied out, and ran away.

Wow, you're an idiot, and a dullard, AND a coward.

Quite the trifecta.

Any other takers, from the dread logical high-IQ minds of the dreadfully logical Dread Ilk? Aren't your dreaded high IQs tattooed on your foreheads or something? You were all riotously insulting to Passerby and his thoughts earlier in this thread, now I've put you some hesitant propositions that may lead to his defense. I'm not even sure how good they are, and yet there they sit, and no one has attacked them, not even addressed them.

Anyone? Bueller?

Buncha pussies.



Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 2:44 PM  

Dread Ilkster "Earl" came at me with a combination of insults, silly ideas, and demands that I shut up -- FOREVER, no less. I put him away in like two sentences and he hasn't had the balls to come back. And yet, nobody came to his sorry-ass defense: y'all just let him go down in flames, even though he was advocating for logic and reason and who knows what else. Why, it's almost as if you felt he deserved it or something.

And now, IM2whatever backs away like a feckin chickenshit.

Come on, dudes! Hold up the side!

Just as a test case, I'm _taunting_ you here! You gonna let it slide?!




Blogger IM2L844 October 30, 2012 3:27 PM  

Come on, dudes! Hold up the side!

That's what you say, but this is what I'm hearing: "Somebody, anybody, please pay attention to me!"

Have you no pride, man? Somewhere, Chaucer is cackling madly.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 3:52 PM  

Hear what you like, you still pussied out. I've given you every opportunity to respond with your terrifying intellect, and you've pussied out every single time, Chaucer or no Chaucer, whatever you meant by that, and who cares. At every opening I gave you, you've pussied out.

So... Over and out.

Pussy.

Oh, and one more thing:

Only kidding, there isn't one more thing, I just wanted to call you a pussy one last time.

Pussy.



OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 3:52 PM  

You can argue that an objective universal morality is a creation of the Creator, but since we observe multiple conflicting moralities throughout human history and culture, we don't have evidence of a universal moral code which all human beings implicitly recognize.

It’s indeed possible to accept this position of moral relativism. But the fact is that many atheists, secularists, and humanists won’t believe it if you ask them. Do you believe that Nazi, Soviet, and North Korean concentration camps can be universally and objectively condemned as evil? If yes, then you believe in an objective morality, and this line of thinking is irrelevant.

It may simply be a matter of historical anthropology that as human societies advance and become more complex, they come to realize that certain rules are highly beneficial to a functioning society and that when these rules are flouted, chaos ensues. And since many human societies develop along similar lines, it isn't surprising that their moral codes are similar.

And your point here is? The relevant question is, despite this, do you still believe that there is an objective morality? Where it comes from, how it developed isn’t relevant at all to the question of right or wrong. It just makes it more interesting. Otherwise you would be committing the genetic fallacy. Imagine if a scientific investigation found that female genital mutilation is crucial to the evolutionary survival of several tribes in Africa. Would it make that practice morally justified?

In the same way, it could be argued in terms of a simple matter of human brain development that as humans became increasingly intelligent and increasingly self-aware, and thus became aware of the reality of their own deaths, that they developed psychological coping methods for dealing with this shocking fact, and that some of these coping methods grew into religion.

See above. Genetic fallacy. And this is quite a stale argument regarding religion, not a “brain teaser” at all.

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 3:54 PM  

If it is possible to prove the existence of God simply through logic, does that mean that it is always the Christian God whose existence is proved?

Ah, this is the “many different gods” Gnu atheist argument repackaged in a ingenuous, long-winded manner. The answer is no. None of the standard arguments for the existence of God, e.g. the moral argument, the cosmological argument, the fine tuning argument, etc., prove the Christian God specifically. They might prove a certain kind of God with some attributes, for example perhaps the God of classical theism, but not the Christian God. And Christians aren’t afraid to admit this. The reason that we argue for the existence of a certain God is to merely raise the stakes that Christianity is more likely to be true than not, and make a person more inclined to eventually accept the less obvious tenets of Christian doctrine. It is not to give an airtight case that Christianity is the one true religion.

However, what these arguments do show is that atheism is wrong. In this case, if you accept objective morality, atheism can’t be true. So the Romans could have been closer to the truth than modern-day atheists (depending on their conception of God and morality, of course).

All it would prove is that human brain architecture requires it, the same way that mammals inhale oxygen and exhale CO2. It could have been otherwise, it simply isn't.

The example doesn't prove that a Creator doesn't exist, it simply underlines the limits of where logic can take you in these matters.


I suppose the analogy to morality would be that “It is possible that morality simply had to evolve that way in order for human society to exist.” Isn’t that your point?

Now there are two ways to rebut this. First is the simple way. I repeat to you the question above: Imagine if a scientific investigation found that female genital mutilation is crucial to the evolutionary survival of several tribes in Africa. Would it make that practice morally justified?

If you say yes, then we can go on to the next way. If you say no, then your entire analogy is irrelevant.

The second way is to clarify what moral propositions are. You are conflating is/ought here. Morality is an “ought”. Human language is an “is”. It might be a fact that human language needs a certain structure for it to function properly. Similarly, it might be a fact that a society needs a certain morality for it to function properly. However, that has no bearing, once again, on whether an individual needs to keep his actions in line with that way of society functioning properly. Was Nazi society a properly functioning, stable society? I would say yes, as long as its leaders didn’t keep waging disastrous wars. The society could have survived for hundreds of years. But we would still not consider it to have moral laws.

If we examine closely by what we mean when we say, “It is wrong to torture an innocent person for fun”, we do NOT actually mean anything even remotely related to “It is disadvantageous to society to torture an innocent person for fun.” We simply mean that it is wrong to do that act, no matter what the consequences can be. Unless if you are a utilitarian. Then we would have a more interesting situation. But that would have different problems.

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 3:55 PM  

But could we say that a cat is evil?
Cats are not moral agents. They act on instinct – which doesn’t necessarily mean they have absolutely no power to make decisions, but what is clear is that they do not have a moral conscience like the way most humans do. You may disagree with this last point, but I am not interested in arguing for that, since I am no expert on animal psychology. The conclusion is that it doesn’t make sense to say a cat is good or evil.

This has been part of Huron morality for eons, and they haven't encountered Christian truth yet. Are they evil? Is the practive evil?

To a Christian, it is objectively evil. Do you think it’s evil? I would agree with you that it’s understandable that they acted that way, since they probably genuinely thought it was universally justified. But that’s different from saying that what they did was really absolutely morally right. Again, if you think morals are absolutely relative, then the entire scenario is irrelevant.

Just a couple of problems to set the pot bubbling. I could easily be wrong about any or all of these things, but I'd be interested to see how.

Any other takers, from the dread logical high-IQ minds of the dreadfully logical Dread Ilk? Aren't your dreaded high IQs tattooed on your foreheads or something?

If you actually follow the comments, you would know that unlike atheists liberals who like to simultaneously deny the significance of IQ as well as proclaim that they are smarter than everyone else, the Dread Ilk do not pride themselves on having high IQs. Vox openly declares his high IQ because it is simply the case.

And your “thought-provoking brain teasers” are neither ingenious nor logically rigorous. As I have shown above, they are a hapless hodgepodge of popular postmodern relativism and Gnu atheist talking points. You are indeed long-winded, because you wrote several paragraphs essentially saying the same thing – moral relativity.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 4:51 PM  

Ah, a taker! I'll get back to you shortly. In the meantime, just as a nibbler:

"And your “thought-provoking brain teasers” are neither ingenious nor logically rigorous." Your saying so doesn't make your case (which is true about a lot of your arguments above, but I'll delve more into that.) But they don't have to be ingenious or rigorous, if they happen to be right. Remember Johnson's refutation of Bishop Berkeley. (Not that I'm claiming anything I said was a priori right, I'm looking to kick the tyres and see where the flats are. In that regard your counterarguments are an aid to truth.)

"As I have shown above"

You haven't 'shown' much of anything. You've claimed a lot, however. That's fine, that's the basis for serious conversation. We'll continue.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 5:22 PM  

Cat: No reason to think it is evil, as there is no reason to think it has a conscience. It could turn out that it does and is acting against it (and then it would be evil), but that wouldn't be a problem with the concept, it would only be lack of knowledge about cats.

Huron: Evil, but most likely the sort of evil that is as blameworthy as if one of us did it, has happened numerous generations ago. At the point you are talking about, the practice has already entirely corrupted the population, so that there are mitigating circumstances for any individual we might pick from it. In Old Testament times, God might have entirely destroyed the people when it reached such a point.

Anonymous Passerby October 30, 2012 5:45 PM  

Pardon my lateness again. Again honored with the dedicated blog post... Okay, where were we? I’ll just barrel through without reading the comments yet, so if another Riki-Tiki-Tavi type already noticed one of the errors in VD’s logic I’m about to point out, kindly excuse my not crediting you. To continue…

Consider how little sense his argument makes if we substitute a non-existent fact for wrongdoing/evil. The existent fact of unicorns does not require a material universal standard of unicorns and not-unicorns. The existent fact of unicorns is self-evident because the alternative is… the nonexistence of unicorns.

This is a straw man because the next step is missing from the analogy which reveals (more clearly) its breaking down: Can a sound or merely passable argument be made for the nonexistence of unicorns? The answer here is yes. Contrast that with the original: Can a sound or merely passable argument be made for the nonexistence of wrongdoing? The answer here is no. All the difference. Fail. Point number one stands.

If we cannot tell the difference between a unicorn and a not-unicorn, then we cannot possibly declare that unicorns do or do not exist. But if we have established the fact that unicorns do exist, we have necessarily established a material and universal standard for what a unicorn is and what a unicorn is not. Therefore, point number one fails

This is too easy. I request VD tell us the difference, then, between unicorns and a not-unicorns. Horn size is my guess as to the determining factor, although I have no idea what it would be. Six inches? Perhaps any female readers of this blog could offer up their opinion. One inch? How about if the bone just barely breaks through the skin… unicorn or not-unicorn? I request VD look up the answer in Bible or maybe telepathically divine it from God and then tell us the objective standard. If he can’t, his entire argument collapses because a universal objective standard that is inaccessible is completely useless, which just proves my argument the correct one, that we have only our human reasoning and intuition to guide us in determining unicorns from not-unicorns, right from wrong, good from evil.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 5:50 PM  

Quick interjection (Markku's remarks, being brief, are quicker to answer than those of physphilmusic, which will take a bit more time, being lengthier)...

"Cat: No reason to think it is evil, as there is no reason to think it has a conscience." That seems reasonable, as far as it goes. Let me ask you this, though (not trying to be clever, just teasing the thing out further): if we think that unnecessary cruelty is "evil" in and of itself, then does it matter whether the cat has a conscience or not? Is the mere fact of the cruelty being unnecessary a sign that it is "evil" in its existence? Does evil require agency, or can it just "be"? Note that the reason I'm asking this is not to condemn cats, it's to try and stake out the bounds of what "evil" is, if we think it is universal, abstract, and consistently knowable.

"Huron: Evil, but most likely the sort of evil that is as blameworthy as if one of us did it, has happened numerous generations ago."

Since in the 1200s, no emissary of the Christian God had reached the Huron and told them NOT to do such things. Yet they not only did them, all their neighbors did too, and nobody in their era seems to have had a problem with it. Should they have been punished for being evil, and violating a law which nobody had ever told them about, and which, despite their being perfectly human (and therefore, presumably, sensible to a universal moral law), they appear to have been quite ignorant of?

Similarly, the Aztecs used to practice human sacrifice, and carve out the hearts of their still-living victims with obsidian knives. No prophet of the Christian God that we know of seems to have ever told them not to do that, prior to the arrival of the Catholic Spaniards. What responsibility for "evil" can we ascribe to them? If we thought that morality was naturally developed among various human groups not according to revelation, but according to their natural history, does it make any sense to say that the Hurons or the Aztecs were more evil than a cat torturing its prey?

(Again, note I'm just being a devil's advocate here, I'm not defending a certain position; I simply remain unconvinced that logic alone can tell us what to think here.)

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 5:54 PM  

Still more briefly, with regard to the cat: If you came across a cat eating a mouse, you probably wouldn't stop it, because we all know that cats eat mice and there is nothing much to be done about that. But if you came across a cat torturing a mouse prior to eating it, would you put a stop to that? If you didn't think the cat was doing something evil, why would you stop it? Because you are squeamish? Maybe torturing the mouse fulfills some natural process in cats that we don't understand. If you didn't think it was appropriate to stop the cat, but it still made you uncomfortable, why did it bother you?

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 6:05 PM  

To answer my own question: if I came across a cat torturing a mouse, I would put a stop to it, not out of any particular moral conviction, but simply because it would displease me to see the thing happening, and since I am a human and more powerful than the cat, I am in a position to make my own preferences prevail. Now you could argue that that is a sign of me detecting an aversion to evil; but since the evil came from a cat, which doesn't have a conscience, if you made that argument, what would it say about the nature of evil?

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 6:21 PM  

if we think that unnecessary cruelty is "evil" in and of itself, then does it matter whether the cat has a conscience or not? Is the mere fact of the cruelty being unnecessary a sign that it is "evil" in its existence? Does evil require agency, or can it just "be"? Note that the reason I'm asking this is not to condemn cats, it's to try and stake out the bounds of what "evil" is, if we think it is universal, abstract, and consistently knowable.

For the cat it isn't unnecessary cruelty, it is practice. I'd say that any creature that is genuinely sadistic, that is, takes pleasure in the fact of suffering and not in something else that requires suffering, is aware of morals. I can't be absolutely sure of this, but sadism seems to be a perversion of the sense of justice. Some vague sense of "others" having treated you badly, and now you are taking vengeance on those "others". Even if they aren't the same individuals. And any creature with such sense of justice has the mental faculties that would inform it that this is wrong.

Since in the 1200s, no emissary of the Christian God had reached the Huron and told them NOT to do such things. Yet they not only did them, all their neighbors did too, and nobody in their era seems to have had a problem with it. Should they have been punished for being evil, and violating a law which nobody had ever told them about, and which, despite their being perfectly human (and therefore, presumably, sensible to a universal moral law), they appear to have been quite ignorant of?

Realizing that torture is wrong is not the kind of a thing where you notice a verse in the Bible (to my knowledge, the Bible doesn't explicitly condemn torture but let's say it does and there is such a verse) and go "sh*t, this stuff is WRONG?" Rather, it would seem like the most obvious one of all moral rules. That's why I suspect that the practice started in some previous generation way earlies, and they knew as well as we might that they are doing wrong. Along the way the sense of morality became more and more corrupted, as everybody was doing it and there was no good example anywhere to be seen.

We cannot know how much blame rested on any single individual at the point in time you are talking about, as we cannot tell if they had any qualms about it at any point in their lives, such that they had to knowingly suppress that knowledge. Again, this is not a problem for the concept of evil in Christianity, as God does know that and therefore knows exactly the amount of evil that was done. The only problem is our lack of knowledge.

Genocide of the people might have still been on the table, but not for the purpose of taking revenge. Rather, for the purpose of ridding the planet of a population in such a hopeless state of corruption. But that is something for God to decide, and since only the Old Testament Israel received such information, we must not engage in genocide. Not because it is always wrong, but to err on the safe side.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 6:28 PM  

But if you came across a cat torturing a mouse prior to eating it, would you put a stop to that?

No.

I have actually read a book in cat psychology (perhaps it would have been less embarrassing on this forum to say that I have f*cked dudes. [No, I haven't]) and there is good reason to believe they do it for practice; Female cats often torture the mouse for a while so that it can't run so fast and then take it to their kittens to chase. The purpose seems obvious: Healthy mice would always manage to run away from kittens, providing no training, but a weakened mouse is a match for them.

I wouldn't enjoy it aesthetically, but I would solve that simply by leaving.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 7:21 PM  

Markku -- well that's a fair answer to the cat problem, I think.

So here's the next question: if we were to temporarily put into brackets [pace Husserl] the idea of the existence of God, and simply treat human beings as other mammals in their environment, then is there a reasonable objection to the behavior of the Huron that is different from a non-objection to the cat? Maybe by torturing their prisoners to death, the Huron are biologically "practicing" something, just as the cat is. Or marking territory, or doing any number of things that we see other advanced mammals doing. (For the record, though I don't object to your answer, knowing very little about cats, I will say that I have observed adult male cats torturing their prey, which rules out personal training and also maternal responsibilites; although it's not a categorical objection --pardon the pun-- since all that instinctual information could very well be stored in the same part of the brain for both males and females.)

Since the Huron in the 1200s have apparently not been visited by any prophet or emissary from the Christian God telling them in strong terms not to do such things (and since, circa the 1200s, Christians themselves were sometimes doing such things with a theological excuse), and since all the other tribes in the Hurons' vicinity have a similar moral code, if we thought for a moment that they had merely arisen and developed naturally without the guiding hand of a Creator (who if He existed, evidently could not be bothered to give them any moral instruction), then on what grounds do we say that they are different from the cat?

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 7:35 PM  

"Rather, it would seem like the most obvious one of all moral rules. That's why I suspect that the practice started in some previous generation way earlies, and they knew as well as we might that they are doing wrong."

I'm willing to admit this is a possibility, but it goes back to reasoning from the anthropological arguments I was talking about before. In other words, this premise, while plausible, assumes certain a priori ideas about humans; in other words, it's not a strictly logical nor absolute argument, but rather a contingent argument concerning the world as we historically live in it.

My purpose on this thread has been not to question the existence of God, which I don't doubt and which doesn't bother me, but the extent to which logic alone can satisfy us, without appeal to Scriptural authority, to faith, or to revelation, as to whether we can know God strictly through logic, and whether we can come to a knowledge of good and evil through our own reason and without the influence of God. That is the thing I'm calling into question here, not whether logic is logical or whether God exists or whether evil exists.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 7:36 PM  

So here's the next question: if we were to temporarily put into brackets [pace Husserl] the idea of the existence of God, and simply treat human beings as other mammals in their environment, then is there a reasonable objection to the behavior of the Huron that is different from a non-objection to the cat?

There would be no objection, it would be exactly the same. And if an atheist really, deep down, takes the view that all his moral objections are purely aesthetic, then he is consistent. But in practice, when they learn that I, say, oppose abortion, they nearly always seem to have the sort of moral indignation that I would expect only from a moral absolutist. Nor, when they are proselytizing for atheism, do they seem willing to openly talk about the intellectual consequences of their position. Such as that any attempts at moral reformation (like Martin Luther King) is evil in as fundamental a sense as someone who tortures babies for fun. Moral reformation opposes the majority view by definition.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 7:48 PM  

And let's take a pagan who has never heard of God. In all likelihood, someone has done what we would call evil to him many times, and he has taken vengeance (or tried to) with the same feeling of how it is just universally right, that we all feel. The problem is really that he doesn't apply the same standards to himself, and make amendments proportional to the revenge he would have, had it been someone else that did it to him. Suddenly it becomes "what can I get away with?".

If he did, it would give rise to the entire moral system. The only thing that Christianity would offer more, is that there is a way to pay all these moral debts.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 7:54 PM  

"But in practice, when they learn that I, say, oppose abortion, they nearly always seem to have the sort of moral indignation that I would expect only from a moral absolutist."

I've had similar experiences with them many times, and I agree. My own interpretation (viz. the one I've generally gone with by instinct; this thread is the first time I'm thinking aloud about these things in actual philosophical terms) is that their indignation stems from your denying the idea of the type of world which THEY, personally and individually, want to inhabit; and not from your denying a type of world which they objectively believe must, or ought to, be so. I tend to think atheists and leftists are profoundly and radically selfish in what they put forward. (My arguments with them against abortion frequently reference not my own Catholic moral position, since they mainly aren't Catholics, but the idea that abortion is simply against the national interest, and bad for the social ecology of the country; even this doesn't sink in against them; they just want what they want, and they don't care.) Consider the constant resort to arguments about extreme events like rape and incest, which make up a tiny percentage of abortion cases.

I can't presume to read their minds, but the evidence I've seen leads me to believe that they don't have an abstract objective position, merely a strongly-held personal preference, reinforced by lots of groupthink.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 8:09 PM  

I can't presume to read their minds, but the evidence I've seen leads me to believe that they don't have an abstract objective position

I don't think they have thought it through either. Certainly not that they secretly believe in the existence of moral absolutes, but try to hide it from me.

Rather, their position is morally justified if you make the (false) assumption that the baby isn't an individual, but rather like an internal organ of the mother. But what is noteworthy about it is how their innate moral sense always trumps their intellectual belief. Since they are supposedly wiser than us in this regard, and realize there are no absolutes in the universe, they might be expected to keep their "primitive" moral emotions in check due to that knowledge. But it always works the other way. I only want them to ask themselves, why this impulse is so strong that they don't even want to side with reason at that point.

Perhaps it is like C.S. Lewis said. (Paraphrasing here:) I am hungry and lo! There is food. I am thirsty and lo! There is drink. I am horny and lo! There is pussy.

Perhaps I am indignant and lo! There is right and wrong.

Anonymous TheoConfidor October 30, 2012 8:19 PM  

Passerby: This is a straw man because the next step is missing from the analogy which reveals (more clearly) its breaking down: Can a sound or merely passable argument be made for the nonexistence of unicorns? The answer here is yes. Contrast that with the original: Can a sound or merely passable argument be made for the nonexistence of wrongdoing? The answer here is no. All the difference. Fail. Point number one stands.

Outside of an objective definition of a unicorn, no passable argument can be made for the nonexistence of unicorns.

For example, apart from an objective standard of what constitutes a unicorn, I can claim that the Rubik's cube on my desk seems to me to be a unicorn. If unicorns are merely a subjective phenomena, then what I perceive to be a unicorn is a unicorn. Therefore, unless you can prove that my Rubik's cube doesn't exist, then it must be accepted that at least one unicorn does exist.

Anonymous JaimeInTexas October 30, 2012 8:36 PM  

Re: the Hurons

The Hurons definitely would call evil giving the "Iriquois" treatment to one of their own, absent some violation of Huron law.

Perhaps, the Huron also consider the Iriquois doing the same to a Huron evil.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 8:54 PM  

"Perhaps it is like C.S. Lewis said. (Paraphrasing here:) I am hungry and lo! There is food. I am thirsty and lo! There is drink. I am horny and lo! There is pussy.

Perhaps I am indignant and lo! There is right and wrong."

See, this is where I have an intellectual problem (not a moral nor a theistic problem, you understand). While many of Lewis's arguments are attractive and well-stated, I just don't find them water-tight. Meaning I don't see a fully persuasive Christian apologetics based solely on reason, without at least some recourse to faith, revelation, and authority. Consider:

Let's say I am a rabbit. I am hungry and lo! There is the farmer's lettuce. I am thirsty and lo! There is water in the stream right nearby the farmer's lettuce. I would prefer not to be eaten by a predator (here comes a fox! Aaaggh!) and lo! I am pretty fast and know where to hide. Or else, I would prefer not to be eaten by a predator, but this time he caught me off guard, so I get eaten regardless. Whether I am indignant about being eaten, or grateful for getting away, doesn't seem like much of a moral universe, it's just stuff that happens. As with my examples of the Huron, it isn't clear that that isn't also sort of what is basically happening with all humans most of the time; but I also don't see much evidence, based on logic alone, that that can be ruled out.

Blogger Markku October 30, 2012 8:59 PM  

I would prefer not to be eaten by a predator (here comes a fox! Aaaggh!) and lo! I am pretty fast and know where to hide. Or else, I would prefer not to be eaten by a predator, but this time he caught me off guard, so I get eaten regardless.

Likewise, the hungry man may not have food available, and the horny man's predicament is even more common. This isn't really the argument. Rather, it is that all other needs in man have clear teleology to them. The resource that they push the man towards, actually exists, and the need therefore serves a purpose. The need for justice would seem to be the odd need out, unless moral absolutes really existed "out there".

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 9:08 PM  

"The need for justice would seem to be the odd need out, unless moral absolutes really existed "out there"."

Yes, I get that, except that (if we're being truly skeptical) it is very much possible to define justice in a way similar to what Hannibal did to the Romans at Lake Trasimene -- that is, to wear down all the surface distinctions through constant peripheral pressure, until you have a pliable mass regardless of its original nature. If I am hungry and I also have seventeen children who are all wailing with hunger, it will become very easy for me indeed to define down "justice" to whatever it takes to get me food to feed my children, regardless of the other parts of the circumstance. In a case like that I am very likely to save my "indignance" for another day, or more likely to use it as self-justified righteous fuel for my food-getting project.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 9:28 PM  

reply to physphilmusic:

"It’s indeed possible to accept this position of moral relativism."

To begin: I am not arguing for moral relativism and I never have been. I have been arguing that it is questionable or doubtful that a fully-formed satisfying moral objective universalism can be arrived at through reason alone.

"Do you believe that Nazi, Soviet, and North Korean concentration camps can be universally and objectively condemned as evil? If yes, then you believe in an objective morality, and this line of thinking is irrelevant."

A silly and childish argument. First of all, you simply use your bogeymen of preference -- surely you are aware that Soviet and Nork apologists use the large black population in US prisons as a similar moral stick with which to beat the US. Concentration camps have become a symbol of hysterical thinking. Would you oppose the fire-boming of Dresden and Tokyo if I told you that omitting those bombings would result in the Allies losing the war? And again, since you've misunderstood the basic premise of my argument, your claim that moral objectivity renders X or Y "irrelevant" is itself irrelevant. How did it feel?

"And your point here is? The relevant question is, despite this, do you still believe that there is an objective morality? Where it comes from, how it developed isn’t relevant at all to the question of right or wrong."

Again, you haven't grasped what's going on. Follow along in the songbook, instead of trying to improvise. The key signatures are indicated by those funny symbols at the head of the treble and bass staffs.

"See above. Genetic fallacy."

Here's an idea. Why don't you see the famous "Fallacy of Constantly Looking for Fallacies Instead of Listening More Carefully to What Other People Are Saying"?

More to come, when I have the time. You asked for a beating, and you're going to get every lick.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 10:02 PM  

"Ah, this is the “many different gods” Gnu atheist argument repackaged in a ingenuous, long-winded manner."

Weak resort to ad hominem: D-minus. Missing the point: F-plus.

"None of the standard arguments for the existence of God, e.g. the moral argument, the cosmological argument, the fine tuning argument, etc., prove the Christian God specifically."

I asked about the logical argument, I didn't ask about every single blessed thing you've got stored away in your skull. Evasive and non-responsive: D-minus. Finally answering my question (which was asked in good faith, I didn't have a pre-planned answer) after a lot of blather: A. At last we're getting some honesty out of you. Presumably the Christian God is pleased with you here.

"The reason that we argue for the existence of a certain God is to merely raise the stakes that Christianity is more likely to be true than not, and make a person more inclined to eventually accept the less obvious tenets of Christian doctrine. It is not to give an airtight case that Christianity is the one true religion."

So in other words you're arguing about something entirely different than what I've been arguing about. Lookit, I'm sure you're quite the conversationist and I'm happy to treat you to dinner some day to talk about whatever it is you wish to talk about; it's just that none of this is what I've been talking about.

"However, what these arguments do show is that atheism is wrong. In this case, if you accept objective morality, atheism can’t be true."

Oh for pete's sake. I believe that earlier you were talking about fallacies. Personally I don't like throwing fallacies at people if I can avoid it, so I'll leave you to figure this one out.

"Imagine if a scientific investigation found that female genital mutilation is crucial to the evolutionary survival of several tribes in Africa. Would it make that practice morally justified?"

It most certainly might: it would depend a great deal on one's moral priorities, even within the context of a standardized morality, which, as I've been arguing, and as you've been failing to persuade, can't be arrived at through a simple appeal to reason. For instance, many people might find the appeal to racial survival of the 'certain several tribes' convincing; others may not. How and why did they get there? It's pretty difficult to say. Have a care to understand that this is not moral relativism, this is a question as to the ways and means by which the right answer can be known.

"If you say no, then your entire analogy is irrelevant."

Or more likely it underlines that you haven't understood my analogy or why I made it.

"The second way is to clarify what moral propositions are. You are conflating is/ought here. Morality is an “ought”. Human language is an “is”."

What you are failing to understand is the entire basis of my original question, to wit: (by analogy), What if we treated human morality as an "is" instead of as an "ought"? You have denied the hypothetical, and have thus forfeited the right to criticize it.

"If we examine closely by what we mean when we say, “It is wrong to torture an innocent person for fun”, we do NOT actually mean anything even remotely related to “It is disadvantageous to society to torture an innocent person for fun.” We simply mean that it is wrong to do that act, no matter what the consequences can be."

But you see, I have never been interested in what "we" might mean by that; I have been interested in what SOMEONE ELSE, who DOESN'T share our assumptions, might mean, and what we might say about that person if we, and that person, only had logic to go by.

Ugh.








OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 10:08 PM  

To begin: I am not arguing for moral relativism and I never have been. I have been arguing that it is questionable or doubtful that a fully-formed satisfying moral objective universalism can be arrived at through reason alone.

And so the question is, do you believe in "moral objective universalism" or not? My dear Procol, the moral argument for God always goes as following: Both atheists and theists agree on their moral epistemology. Whether it is by reason or by feelings, it doesn't matter. They agree that certain things are just objectively morally wrong. Then we start arguing about moral ontology, i.e. what those moral values are based on.

Now if you are arguing that we can never agree that anything is morally wrong, then the logical consequence is that there is no objective morality to argue about, and there's no more interest in the debate for me. That is what I termed "moral relativism", because it implies that the differing moral codes found throughout different cultures are just that - relative and subjective, with no objective significance. Unless, of course, you believe that arriving at a universal moral code through non-reason (e.g. through feelings) is just as valid as through reason.

A silly and childish argument. First of all, you simply use your bogeymen of preference -- surely you are aware that Soviet and Nork apologists use the large black population in US prisons as a similar moral stick with which to beat the US. Concentration camps have become a symbol of hysterical thinking.

This is completely irrelevant. It seems that you're just angry that I pushed some buttons in you. You're dodging the question. Do you think that Soviet concentration camps were objectively evil? Yes or no? If so, then you do believe in an objective standard of right and wrong. Your opinion on "large black population in US prisons" is completely irrelevant irrelevant. Because it would simply be another case of a moral evil.

Would you oppose the fire-boming of Dresden and Tokyo if I told you that omitting those bombings would result in the Allies losing the war?

Now, the difference in this case is that I might think that firebombing Dresden and Tokyo was completely morally justified, objectively speaking. So of course I would say that we have to firebomb the fuck out of Tokyo and Dresden, especially if it would help us win the war. And the same with the atomic bombs. If you disagree on that, then there's simply no point to go on with this question.

Again, you haven't grasped what's going on. Follow along in the songbook, instead of trying to improvise. The key signatures are indicated by those funny symbols at the head of the treble and bass staffs.

Here's an idea. Why don't you see the famous "Fallacy of Constantly Looking for Fallacies Instead of Listening More Carefully to What Other People Are Saying"?

Do you seriously think this is a serious rebuttal to what I said? Who's now making assertions and sending insults instead of properly replying?

The basic point is - you can talk about all sorts of evolutionary theories of how morality evolved, how religion evolved, how we obtained our current moral understanding. But all of that is irrelevant to the moral argument for God. The question is, do you, knowing all this, believe that our current moral intuitions still have any objective significance?

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 10:20 PM  

First off, I'm not going to respond to your snark. Let's just focus on the issues.

What you are failing to understand is the entire basis of my original question, to wit: (by analogy), What if we treated human morality as an "is" instead of as an "ought"? You have denied the hypothetical, and have thus forfeited the right to criticize it.

It is certainly possible to treat human morality as an "is". And I do think this is one of the few possible ways to argue out of the moral lawgiver conundrum. But my problems about that is that it wouldn't make it morality. The problem with that view is that your "is" morality no longer has any binding moral force. The reason is we have free will, or at least an illusion of it. Yeah, evolution may have brought us to believe certain things are evil, but it is certainly conceivable and feasible for me to go against that "is" and act in contrary to those moral intuitions.

Because in morality, it's not the case that "My moral intuitions tell me that act A is evil" is equivalent to "My brain and the taste receptors on my tongue tell me that I like to eat hamburgers". I cannot override my love of hamburgers, because it is really physically ingrained. But if I discover that there is no objectively morality, it is certainly possible that I stop thinking that act A is evil and that I stop refraining from committing it. I can freely decide to do that. That's why making it an "is" isn't successful.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 10:26 PM  

"The basic point is - you can talk about all sorts of evolutionary theories of how morality evolved, how religion evolved, how we obtained our current moral understanding. But all of that is irrelevant to the moral argument for God."

See, that's just the problem. I am not making a moral argument for God, nor a moral argument against God. I am questioning what the epistemological basis for such an argument can, or must, be. That is why I am "talk[ing] about all sorts of evolutionary theories of how morality evolved, how religion evolved" -- because they are potential counter-arguments to the idea that morality and theism can be derived strictly through reason. Morality could be plausibly organic to human brain development, but that still might not be true if it were simply the case that God after all HAD instilled it, regardless of what the evidence _seemed_ to look like.

As I've said over and over again here, I'm not an atheist. My own belief in God somehow does not bother me, neither intellectually nor morally. My feeling, though (and though you've failed to persuade me to the contrary it does not mean that I am rock-solid in this belief) is that logic and reason alone can take you a good part of the way towards a belief in God and God's morality, but that of themselves they are insufficient to make a philosophically water-tight case; and that therefore faith, revelation, and authority (none of which are strictly logical) are necessary. I think this is kinda-sorta indicated by Scripture itself, wherein Jesus commands his disciples to "Go, and make disciples of all men." -- if there existed a priori within the human heart the natural sense of Discipleship, then no mission would be required.

Since I don't base my own life entirely on philosophical strictures, this inadequacy does not bother me. But people here seem to take it very strongly, and since I doubt it intellectually, I've been questioning the idea with a bit of rigor, just to see what others would say and if it was persuasive. I thank you kindly for taking the issue seriously enough to respond to me. I don't happen to find your arguments persuasive, but I appreciate your seriousness, since I sort of get tired of the rhetorical dick-measuring contests one finds on blog threads.

Agree or disagree, you're a good egg, and I thank you for your sincerity.

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 10:27 PM  

But you see, I have never been interested in what "we" might mean by that; I have been interested in what SOMEONE ELSE, who DOESN'T share our assumptions, might mean, and what we might say about that person if we, and that person, only had logic to go by.

If someone else doesn't share the assumption that there is an objective morality, then there is no point advancing the moral argument for God anymore.

Additionally, if a person only has logic to go by, then I don't think he would be able to arrive at the conclusion that an objective morality exists. He would simply conclude that some civilizations have adopted moral codes, and that's it. There is no incentive for him (except perhaps egoistic, utilitarian ones) to get an "ought" out of there. The belief in objective morality is not arrived at through reason - e.g. my belief that torturing innocent babies for fun is wrong was not arrived at through reason at all.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 10:42 PM  

"Additionally, if a person only has logic to go by, then I don't think he would be able to arrive at the conclusion that an objective morality exists."

Oh, so you mean that after all this fuss, we basically agree. That's hilarious, and also kind of cool.

Well I'll have to buy you a drink some time.

That is, if your 'arbitrary' morality will permit it!

Cheers!

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 10:44 PM  

By the way - one of my replies to you seem to have disappeared. I am fucking furious about this, but I will write it out again since it is crucial to my point.

What you are failing to understand is the entire basis of my original question, to wit: (by analogy), What if we treated human morality as an "is" instead of as an "ought"? You have denied the hypothetical, and have thus forfeited the right to criticize it.

It is certainly possible to think of morality as an "is". In fact, this is the way I "resolved" the is-ought problem when I had to write a paper on ethics without mentioning divine command theory. But I think such a view has problems. The reason is because of free will, or at least an illusion of being able to make moral decisions. Saying that "My moral intuitions tell me that action A is objectively evil" is different from saying "My taste receptors tell me that I have a liking for hamburgers." It's because in the latter, my liking for hamburgers is physically ingrained into my body. It would be difficult for me to physically change that. However, in the former, it seems entirely conceivable and feasible for me to discard my belief that "Action A is evil" and refrain from stopping myself in committing action A. This shows that the "is" isn't binding at all.

See, that's just the problem. I am not making a moral argument for God, nor a moral argument against God. I am questioning what the epistemological basis for such an argument can, or must, be. That is why I am "talk[ing] about all sorts of evolutionary theories of how morality evolved, how religion evolved" -- because they are potential counter-arguments to the idea that morality and theism can be derived strictly through reason.

Careful there, you're in danger of conflating. Moral epistemology is usually a non-issue, and most people do not believe it is derived from reason. Even Bertrand Russell said that he recognized right and wrong like he recognized colors. Most atheists and theists don't differ much from that. How can you convince someone

Theism, specifically the moral argument for God, is indeed based on reason. But you shouldn't imply that people here are "arriving to morality and God through reason alone". No, it's the case that we are arriving to morality through intuition/feeling/faith, and arriving to God through reason. That's important.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 10:47 PM  

I'd quibble with this, though:

"If someone else doesn't share the assumption that there is an objective morality, then there is no point advancing the moral argument for God anymore."

It may not in that case be worthwhile to advance a logically "moral" argument for God, but Christians still have an obligation to argue for God, which can be advanced in other ways. A major one is example. There's a lot of different ways to go fish.

That point is a part of why I felt it necessary to continue arguing this to such lengths, just to see what I could accept or reject of my own thinking, and what can continue to be useful.

OpenID physphilmusic October 30, 2012 10:55 PM  

It may not in that case be worthwhile to advance a logically "moral" argument for God, but Christians still have an obligation to argue for God, which can be advanced in other ways. A major one is example. There's a lot of different ways to go fish.

Nobody implied that if the moral argument failed, then we couldn't or don't have to use other arguments.

Personally I do not like to advance the moral argument for God. The reason being that Christians and non-Christians in this day agree less and less on moral epistemology, i.e. what is permissible and what is not. More importantly, it is also because I think that an atheist's sense of moral objectivity is based on transient feelings and childhood indoctrination rather than a rational commitment.

Anonymous Procol Harumph October 30, 2012 10:56 PM  

"The reason is because of free will, or at least an illusion of being able to make moral decisions. Saying that "My moral intuitions tell me that action A is objectively evil" is different from saying "My taste receptors tell me that I have a liking for hamburgers." It's because in the latter, my liking for hamburgers is physically ingrained into my body. It would be difficult for me to physically change that. However, in the former, it seems entirely conceivable and feasible for me to discard my belief that "Action A is evil" and refrain from stopping myself in committing action A. This shows that the "is" isn't binding at all."

This is one of your few points worth a second look. While I believe your reasoning is interesting here (not overwhelming, but worth due consideration) I think you're giving too narrow a scope to the idea of potential ev-pysch or social-psych derivations of morality. Recall how much work has been done in psychological conditioning: e.g., Pavlov, etc. It would be, I think, not too difficult to postulate a case where, through the forces of upbringing, long-standing tribal mores and environmental pressures, not to mention cultural exclusion from other points of view, an "is" can plausibly be implanted in the human brain through natural influences. Neverthelss your reasoning does make it worth a second thought.

Anonymous Passerby October 30, 2012 11:52 PM  

physphilmusic - The ironic thing about this trainwreck of an argument is that it can be applied to argue for the existence of gods or the supernatural. Percentage wise, I would bet that there are at least 6 billion people (~85% of the world population) who believe in gods of one kind or another. Remember that atheists are a minority in the world, similar to those people who think that there is no such thing as wrongdoing.

Your analogy fails because you’re unfairly gaming it so the 6 billion people are purely from the ~85% pool of believers while excluding the ~15% whose opinions rightfully deserve to be included (like ~93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences). Of the current 7+ billion population, the 6 billion figure I rounded to, while I never mentioned it, implicitly excluded the youngest humans and the mentally incapacitated. While there’s no survey data, I think it’s reasonable to work from the given premise that adults/teenagers who claim there is no wrongdoing in the world are mentally incapacitated.

Panzerdude - An easier way to prove there is NO defense of an atheistic position of the existence of good and evil is this:
1. If there is no Creator, then everything has come about by random, chance processes.


Gutter ball from the first premise. All of you who insist there has to be a creator are guilty of unfairly using a double standard. You insist it’s impossible for the universe to have order for free, but you let your god have order for free. Your imagination gives a pass to one and not the other. Make your imagination bigger and try giving the same pass to the other. There’s nothing logically preventing it. NOTHING.

@TheoConfidor - You’re just repeating VD’s argument. My answer to you is therefore the same. Go back to the same post and see the challenge in the second part. (It starts with, “This is too easy...”)

Anonymous physphilmusic October 31, 2012 12:42 AM  

Your analogy fails because you’re unfairly gaming it so the 6 billion people are purely from the ~85% pool of believers while excluding the ~15% whose opinions rightfully deserve to be included (like ~93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences).

I'm already including their opinion. They get the rating of 0. They're still the minority opinion, Passerby. There are 2,480 members of the NAS (including foreign associates). That means about 2,300 atheists. Now, the population of India alone is over 1 billion. The overwhelming majority believe in gods of some sort. That's SIX orders of magnitude larger than your America-centric NAS. By your logic, NOT mine, they are more likely to be wrong and "mentally incapacitated" with regards to the existence of gods than the rest of the world.

While there’s no survey data, I think it’s reasonable to work from the given premise that adults/teenagers who claim there is no wrongdoing in the world are mentally incapacitated.

"Mentally incapacitated"? What kind of "reasonable assumption" is that? I would actually even say that a mentally incapacitated adult is more likely to believe in moral wrongdoing than normal people. On the other hand, a significant proportion of professional American philosophers do not believe in objective right and wrong.

Anonymous Anonymous October 31, 2012 6:23 AM  

If someone would define a "jingo" by giving exact characteristics allowing to differentiate jingo from non-jingo, that would be objective definition of jingo, even though someone who gives that definition is not objective. The objects with characteristics "jingo" would objectively exists, despite their existence and the criteria needed to differentiate jingo from non-jingo were not created by God.

In the same way, if people would agree what is definition of evil, they will define universal, objective criterion, isn't it?

What's more, the existence of universal, objective criterion does not require existance of someone who objectively set up those criteria. Fact, that we cannot be sure about whether such criteria objectively exist, does not prove that they need for their existence some intelligent being.

Objective: I believe you are arguing this definition of objective: "Having actual existence or reality."

E.g. unicorns may objectively exist, even if we are unable to differentiate unicorns from non-unicorns, and if we are unaware of existence of any criterion. The existence of unicorns would indeed imply that the objective criterion exist, but would not imply that such objective exists needs God

(szopen)

Anonymous Passerby October 31, 2012 7:57 AM  

I'm already including their opinion. They get the rating of 0.

So you’re including and equating atheists in your version to the mentally incapacitated adult/teenage crazies I excluded in my version? And you see nothing wrong with that? Plus you left out agnostics.

They're still the minority opinion, Passerby. There are 2,480 members of the NAS (including foreign associates).

Yeah, they’re only part of the cream of the crop of high intellects with super-analytical minds who’ve successfully expanded the edges of human knowledge. And you make them correlates to the mentally incapacitated crazies excluded from my version. Amazing.

Now, the population of India alone is over 1 billion. The overwhelming majority believe in gods of some sort. That's SIX orders of magnitude larger than your America-centric NAS.

Irrelevant. See previous.

By your logic, NOT mine, they are more likely to be wrong and "mentally incapacitated" with regards to the existence of gods than the rest of the world.

What? Are you saying my logic is bigoted towards people from India? wtf Look, when I said mentally incapacited, I was referring to senility, schizophrenia, hardcore drug abuse, etc. Not religiosity. Of course there are more mentally incapacitated people in India than in, say, Iceland by virtue of the vast population difference. That doesn’t mean “my logic” says people from India are by their nature more mentally incapacitated than people from Iceland. wow

“Mentally incapacitated"? What kind of "reasonable assumption" is that? I would actually even say that a mentally incapacitated adult is more likely to believe in moral wrongdoing than normal people. On the other hand, a significant proportion of professional American philosophers do not believe in objective right and wrong.

Mental incapacitation matters. My version separates that out. Yours doesn’t. sigh

As for those philosophers you’re talking about, they’re moral relativists which does not equate to belief in nonexistence of wrongdoing in the world. Moral relativism starts by acknowledging that right and wrong are not binary, but on a continuum. And for every situation that one culture or individual views as more right than wrong, invariably there’s another culture or individual that views it as more wrong than right and the moral relativist simply imparts validity to both sides.

And actually, by doing so, the moral relativist doesn’t see either side getting all the way to nonexistent wrongness (a.k.a. pure rightness) whereas you moral objectivists often do. So not just a false charge, but an ironic one too.

Yes, social conservatives/moral objectivists with their binary thinking. So simplistic. So authoritarian. So wrong. Just so uncomfortable with continuums and gray areas.

Meanwhile, hospitals deal with moral gray areas all the time, such as with people who need medical care but can’t afford to pay.

Scenario: A nurse floor supervisor thinks a 58 yr-old man with no health insurance whose hospital stay has already put him $80,000 into debt is well enough to be discharged, especially because she’s really pressed for bed space. The 58 yr-old man’s doctor disagrees with the supervisor and thinks the man should stay another day or two. Who’s right? Can the Bible show them the answer? Nope. Can they ask God for the answer? Sure, but what if after praying they still disagree? Who’s right? Face it, theists, your universally objective standard of right and wrong is an illusion.

And if theists attempt to say that whatever the outcome, whether the nurse floor supervisor convinces the doctor or vice versa, that it will turn out to have been the objectively right moral answer because it’s part of God’s plan, then guess what? No free will.

Anonymous physphilmusic October 31, 2012 11:29 AM  

So you’re including and equating atheists in your version to the mentally incapacitated adult/teenage crazies I excluded in my version? And you see nothing wrong with that? Plus you left out agnostics.

Yep, I am. There's nothing wrong with that. It's the exact parallel. We can say that people who don't see killing innocents as an objective moral evil is morally blind. Similarly, we can say that a person who isn't able to sense the divine as spiritually blind. And that's simply because the overwhelming majority of people in the world are theists of some sort. Yes, even if you count the agnostics as non-theists. You really haven't traveled around enough. I challenge you to gather 1 billion atheists and agnostics in the world. And that can't include the people who say they're non-religious but believe in a "life force" or the latest New Age stuff.

And by the way, you have not offered any evidence whatsoever that people who think there is no moral wrongdoing in the world are on the whole "mentally incapacitated", in the sense of having schizophrenia or using drugs. In fact, the people who I know who believe that tend to be more analytical and rational than most others.

Yeah, they’re only part of the cream of the crop of high intellects with super-analytical minds who’ve successfully expanded the edges of human knowledge. And you make them correlates to the mentally incapacitated crazies excluded from my version. Amazing.

What makes you think the members of the NAS have any more insight on the existence of God rather than the rest of the world combined? NAS stands for the National Academy of Sciences. Not National Academy of Investigators for the Question of God's Existence.

And for every situation that one culture or individual views as more right than wrong, invariably there’s another culture or individual that views it as more wrong than right and the moral relativist simply imparts validity to both sides.

If you impart validity to both sides, then morals become no more significant than the tastes of different foods. You can no longer condemn North Korean concentration camps as evil. Nazi society was a really stable and great society. And persecution of atheists in the past was really a necessary and honorable thing to do. Using the sheer might of the majority, I'm going to try to fight to reinstate that. Happy now?

Yes, social conservatives/moral objectivists with their binary thinking. So simplistic. So authoritarian. So wrong. Just so uncomfortable with continuums and gray areas.

Bullshit. The only authoritarian in the room is you. You're the one who's giving the NAS the status of the authoritative elite on spiritual matters. I'm the egalitarian here - I give everyone's opinion equal weight, following your earlier example (which you contradict when I subvert your argument such that it argues for gods).

And more importantly, the existence of gray areas actually proves that objective morality exists. Moral dilemmas are exactly that: we have two conflicting moral commitments - for example, to refrain from killing, or to do something to avoid even greater disaster? But what is clear is that both moral commitments are objectively thought of as good, which is why the gray area exists in the first place.

Anonymous physphilmusic October 31, 2012 11:29 AM  

Who’s right? Can the Bible show them the answer? Nope. Can they ask God for the answer? Sure, but what if after praying they still disagree? Who’s right? Face it, theists, your universally objective standard of right and wrong is an illusion.


And out comes the communist utilitarian. "What's the use of letting a 58-year old man, who's sick and poor and contributing nothing to society and the greater good, be burden to the People? Why, this isn't a question of keeping him in the hospital or not - this is a question of whether we should shoot him to death or beat him to death! We have a MORAL DUTY to do that! Hmm, which method will use less resources and burden the People less?" What can you say against that? Can the NAS members tell me what's right and wrong in this case? Ooops, perhaps the communist utilitarian happens to be one of them...

And if theists attempt to say that whatever the outcome, whether the nurse floor supervisor convinces the doctor or vice versa, that it will turn out to have been the objectively right moral answer because it’s part of God’s plan, then guess what? No free will.

What a hilarious strawman. You obviously need to learn more about how theists actually decide what is right and wrong. I'm not even sure what you're arguing for here, because it sounds so ridiculous. So no matter what happens, a theist will view something as objectively right because it's part of God's plan? What the FUCK dude? If theists really followed your logic then would wrong doing even be logically possible?

Anonymous JoshuaM October 31, 2012 11:50 AM  

Passerby, you say that "[theist's] universally objective standard of right and wrong is an illusion," and propose as evidence a scenario where a doctor and a nurse disagree on whether to discharge a patient. But from your scenario, your conclusion doesn't follow. The existence of moral right and wrong does not require knowledge of either--we could be completely ignorant of what is right and wrong according to the objective standard, but that standard would still exist. Thus, the fact that the doctor and nurse disagree on what is right and what is wrong doesn't mean that there isn't an objectively right answer. Likewise with your mention of different cultures: the fact that Culture A thinks some conduct is more right than wrong, while Culture B believes the same conduct to be more wrong than right doesn't mean that one or the other isn't incorrect, and the objective truth is that the conduct is wrong (or is right, but not both).

As to the original post, is there a formal name for the fallacy committed by the first objection raised to VD's position? It clearly begs the question regarding the existence of wrongdoing, but it also cuts off any further discussion of that subject. Maybe we could call it the "Wizard of Oz" fallacy? In any event, it's interesting to note that the criticism flows very nicely into William Lane Craig's formulation of the moral argument for God's existence--VD's critic has just affirmed the second premise of that argument, but effectively demands not to be forced to confront the first premise.

Anonymous TheoConfidor October 31, 2012 3:56 PM  

@TheoConfidor - You’re just repeating VD’s argument. My answer to you is therefore the same. Go back to the same post and see the challenge in the second part. (It starts with, “This is too easy...”)
Just saying that something is a strawman doesn't make it so.

You did not respond to my rebuttal of your claim that "a sound or merely passable argument be made for the nonexistence of unicorns."

Additionally, I showed that apart from an objective definition of unicorns, there exists a unicorn on my desk at work right now. You have yet to respond to that.


Furthermore, the establishment or provision of an objective standard of evil is useless without consensus that evil objectively exists. For any definition I could supply of what constitutes objective evil, the relativist will simply say, "that's just your interpretation." Hence, the challenge offered in the second part of your post is unanswerable until the existence of objective evil is accepted.

Anonymous asqopeuropwe October 31, 2012 8:28 PM  

Instead of "in which" at the beginning of this kind of post, I suggest you use "wherein."

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