"Nonbelievers Have No Objective Basis for Morality" vs. the Evidence

William Hawthorne recently expressed the sentiments of many Christians when he said...But you see, John, nobody is claiming that without God, humans must be immoral. The problem is whether and how the existence of objective value and moral facts can be explained in an atheistic world.

Well then, while the philosophers are debating this problem like they do the ontological argument and the brain/mind problem, life goes on doesn't it? Christian philosopher Terence Penelhum has gone on record as saying we cannot wait for the philosophers to conclude these kinds of debates before we make our religious choices. And G.E. Moore's shift probably applies here since he was more sure from the evidence that he's holding a pencil in his hand than that the arguments to the contrary are correct.

Let me briefly explain. You claim atheists and agnostics don't have an ultimate objective moral basis, and as such without it there is no logical reason prohibiting us from murdering, and raping, and cheating, and stealing at will without regard for any consequences. This would be your SPECIFIC claim, which is part of a more GENERAL claim. Your GENERAL claim is that all non-Christians are in the same boat as the atheist and agnostic with regard to not having an ultimate objective moral basis for how they should behave. If you want to make the SPECIFIC claim and not make the GENERAL claim, then I’d like to know your reasons for doing so.

Now here’s the rub. With the GENERAL claim you indict all non-Christians everywhere in all eras of human history, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Shintoists, and Buddhists. You’re claiming that none of these potentially 50 billion people have had an objective moral basis prohibiting them from murdering, and raping, and cheating, and stealing at will without regard for any consequences, and that this applies to them as well as to us skeptics. You’re saying that none of us non-believers have had an ultimate moral basis for being good, period, and so there is no logical reason why we should refrain from commiting horrendous evils. [60 billion is Frank Tipler’s estimate of the number of Homo Sapiens since we developed, from which I merely subtracted 10 billion for Christians since the NT times, which I think is being very generous).

All I need to do while the philosophers settle this debate is to look at the evidence, just like G.E. Moore did. Look around the globe. Look to our human past. There are many people who act morally who are non-believers and they have been doing so since the dawn of time. All someone needs to learn who makes such a claim as yours is a basic history lesson. There have been great Chinese dynasties, the great rule of Mohammed, along with the Greek Golden Age, the Roman Empire, and nearly all Japanese dynasties, NONE OF WHICH HAD ANY DOMINATING INFLUENCE FROM THE CHRISTIAN FAITH to gain their ultimate objective morals from. Some of them had no influence from Christian morals at all. And if you think Christianity is waning in America, then consider the evidence that even in this secular dominated culture our government works well with diversified religious and non-religious groups of people in it, as do all European countries.

So while the philosophers debate these issues, where is the evidence that backs up your claim? Surely if non-believers have no logical reason for upholding ultimate objective morals then we should see billions of non-believing people acting logically by murdering, raping, cheating, and stealing at will with no regard for any consequences. There should be great mayhem in this world, the likes of which should send the rest of us into the asylum. But if we do just fine without this supposed ultimate objective moral standard then why do we need one at all? And if there is no evidence supporting this claim of yours then I think the claim is false no matter how long the philosophers take to decide the issue (and I personally like participating in the philosophical debate as well).

75 comments:

Bruce said...

I hate to break it to the bible followers out there, but the bible is not an objective basis for morality. It was not written by any type of god dictating absolute truths but rather by a bunch of men with their own political and social agendas. And it has been altered and re-interpreted through the ages in order to adjust to the social mores of the time.

As far as I can see, atheists and bible believers are in the same boat here.

Vic said...

And let's not forget that they are quite, um, subjective with just how objectively they use this supposedly objective basis of the bible. How many of them eat shellfish and wear cotton/poly blends, to name just two things. (And if you want new testament, what about selling everything you have and giving it to the poor? Funny how THAT one always ends up getting a 'well, what he REALLY meant was...')

William Hawthorne said...

Thanks, John. I'll respond to this soon.

Bruce, the existence of an "objective basis for morality" is not to be conflated with the following views:

(1) One must read the Bible to know right from wrong.
(2) Ethical systems, whether found in the Bible or not, are never subject to change.
(3) The Bible contains an exhaustive set of detailed instructions for dealing with all ethical problems.

Arguing against (1)-(3) is not a relevant critique of moral objectivism. Please see here for some background reading.

John W. Loftus said...

Will, until Frank Walton is no longer found at "Atheism Sucks" do not link there again. You can use your own blog to link to something. Just post what you want there and link to it. But not to "Atheism Sucks," or it will be deleted since Walton does not reside in the civilized community of people, and he is banned from DC. Just a fair warning.

klas_klazon said...

Objective schmobjective. I have yet to see a theist defeat the Ethyphro dilemma. Until that happens, we're all in the same boat.

http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/GodGood.pdf

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for the link Klas. I just printed it off and it looks very good. I hadn't seen Wes Morriston's take on it before but he's a good philosopher.

Here is easy access to it.

Spontaneous Order said...

In case anyone missed it, interesting article at New York Times Weekend on the evolution and science of ethical behavior (also some challenges to brain/mind). May require a signup to access.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?ref=magazine

Evan said...

I agree with everything mentioned here, but the nuclear strike against the "universal morality proves God" argument has always been the theory of Christian soteriology itself to me.

Recall that Christians MUST believe that all people are inherently evil or the sacrifice of Jesus was useless.

In the words of Calvin: "For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive."

In the words of Luther: "All human beings are called liars (Psalm 116), since none of them keeps or can keep God's law from the depths of the heart. Everyone finds inside himself an aversion to good and a craving for evil. Where there is no free desire for good, there the heart has not set itself on God's law. There also sin is surely to be found and the deserved wrath of God, whether a lot of good works and an honorable life appear outwardly or not."

In the words of Paul: "All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God"

In short, Christianity DEPENDS on there NOT being a universally accessible moral core that motivates people to act. It is only useful if everyone is inherently depraved and is thus based on a false interpretation of the human condition.

The apologist tries to have it both ways by saying that people have the desire to good but not the ability, but there is nowhere in most Christian theology that suggests this.

In fact the apologetic argument only works with people who essentially reject the Lutheran/Calvinist/Pauline theory of human nature and wish to hang some sort of supernatural, God-inspired handiwork on the fact that most people are good most of the time.

J.S.Brown said...

This is easy to resolve. The god of Christianity has written the moral code in the hearts of all humans. Those who act morally are behaving according to what the Christian god gave them, and those who act immorally are ignoring it. This applies to all people no matter what their religion.

I realize this argument can't be falsified, but it is still offered on a regular basis.

Landon said...

John, though I do respect your view, I think you may be missing the point on this one. William believes that all 60 billion people throughout history *have* had access to a standard of objective moral values, since God created all of us in his image. Essentially, he is trying to argue the same moral argument that Dr. William Lane Craig argues:

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,
(2) Objective moral values do exist,
(3) Therefore, God exists.

Specifically, he has been trying to argue for the first premise (though I haven't seen any good evidence in his writings). For example, he *does* declare that acting consistently as an atheist is to embrace moral nihilism on a blog post titled "Atheists embrace moral nihilism and reject absolute truth." Thus, he believes that there is an inconsistency between the statement "God does not exist" and the statement "objective moral values exist." What your post should have done, John, is ask William to show why these two statements are logically inconsistent without begging the question. I don't think it can be done, but I might be wrong.

I wrote a research paper last semester for a history of philosophy course in which I subjected this moral argument to the Euthyphro Dilemma. In my estimation, the argument doesn't fare too well (especially considering the usual lack of proof for the first premise).

William Hawthorne said...

John, I responded to you in my latest entry. As you can see, I don't think we've made any progress here. I hope you'll take the time to understand my view carefully before you respond again.

William Hawthorne said...

John,

Just noticed this...

until Frank Walton is no longer found at "Atheism Sucks" do not link there again. You can use your own blog to link to something. Just post what you want there and link to it. But not to "Atheism Sucks," or it will be deleted since Walton does not reside in the civilized community of people, and he is banned from DC. Just a fair warning.

Not sure if you know this yet, but AS is under new management. Frank is no longer the owner, and, as I've said in the past, I think that any drama between you and Frank is not really any of my business.

In any case, I linked directly to my post, and not to anything of Frank's.

Hope this is OK.

AndreLinoge said...

Wow, I just checked out Frank Walton's blog and perused his reading list. Gary DeMar? GARY DEMAR?? The Reconstructionist? Reconstructionists want to turn America into theocracy based on Old Testament law. The stoning of insolent kids, execution of homosexuals, etc.

How can this clown be taken seriously?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Christians,

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,
(2) Objective moral values do exist,
(3) Therefore, God exists.

This is a classic non-sequitur.
What is the logical connection between God and objective moral values?
The bible?
But we only know about god from the Bible.
allegedly God helped write the Bible.
the only connection is what is said about god in the bible.
For god to have helped write the bible he has to exist.
We have to assume god exists to get him in place to help write the bible.

So the logical connection is built on an assumption.

For premise (2) has anyone defined "Objective Moral Vaues"? Please point me to it so I can buy it and read it.
Premise two is based on a subjective evaluation, a moving goalpost.

Therefore, it doesn't follow. It is a fallacy.

Ben said...

Someone is going to have to explain to me how the moral opinions of a thinking subject (God) could possibly be considered objective in the first place.

John W. Loftus said...

Will said...My view is that objective moral properties exist and that they would be unexpected, and indeed inexplicable, in a world in which atheism (or more precisely, naturalism) is true.

Okay, that is your claim, and along with your claim you also have argued for it, which is a philosophical argument that I have participated in and enjoy discussing.

However, you also said: "But you see, John, nobody here is claiming that without God, humans must be immoral." The problem with that statement was that it was located in a thread where William Lane Craig said just that, from which our comments began.

I'm not speaking philosophically in answer to what he said here. I'm asking for the evidence for that claim.

Craig's only defense for the lack of this evidence is to explain it just like JS Brown said: "The god of Christianity has written the moral code in the hearts of all humans. Those who act morally are behaving according to what the Christian god gave them, and those who act immorally are ignoring it. This applies to all people no matter what their religion."

But my question still applies. Where is the evidence for that explanation?

John W. Loftus said...

Landon, thanks.

The claim is not that "acting consistently as an atheist is to embrace moral nihilism," but rather that acting consistently as a "non-believer" or a "non-Christian" is to embrace moral nihilism."

Then my response is the same. Where is the evidence for this claim? Surely if non-believers have no logical reason for upholding ultimate objective morals then we should see billions of non-believing people acting logically by murdering, raping, cheating, and stealing at will with no regard for any consequences. There should be great mayhem in this world, the likes of which should send the rest of us into the asylum.

Lee Randolph said...

But you see, John, nobody is claiming that without God, humans must be immoral. The problem is whether and how the existence of objective value and moral facts can be explained in an atheistic world.

In my view, they can be explained relatively simply using simple cause and effect logic, observation and an understanding that people are motivated to do things that make them feel good.

As a kid, I didn't hit other kids because there was a good chance that I would get hit back.

Fear of retaliation. How do we handle that?
1. Hit my neighbor? no.
2. do not hit my neighbor? yes.
3. Let my neighbor hit me? no, Because i do not want to be hit. When i am hit I want to hit back. Do you think that when I hit my neighbor he feels the same way? well, if not, it sure does look like it and I think I'll make rule about that. If I assume my neighbor feels the same way I do, then I should treat him the same way I want to be treated.

I choose option number 2.

You can extend this principle quite a long way, even to the extent of making a "golden" rule only possible to be figured out by a god or a six year old.

Gee, If resources are not distributed equally, then some people will try to increase their share. Sometimes other people will try to take other peoples share when they have plenty of resources. Gee, I don't want my resources stolen, and I don't want less than anyone else, so If we all agree not to take each other resources, and we agree to try to minimize the inequity, we can mitigate this problem. If you don't agree then I'm going to hit you when I find you taking my resources.

If i make a rule to avoid doing things to my neighbor that will make them feel bad, or help them to feel better, then my lot in life will improve since I need them for companionship, friendship, protection, fill-in-the-blank.

excuse me for going out on a limb here, but I think that you can find "universal morals" generated on the fly on the playground.

John W. Loftus said...

In other words why don't nonbelievers act logically according to this argument? Surely people behave what logic tells them to. No one says to herself, "this is the reasonable or logical or best thing to do but I refuse to do it," unless she is mentally challenged. Do theists want to claim all nonbelievers are mentally challenged...that the overwhelming majority of them don't live consistent lives with what they believe? The evidence is against this.

Lee Randolph said...

oops, this didn't come out right
If i make a rule to avoid doing things to my neighbor that will make them feel bad, or help them to feel better, then my lot in life will improve since I need them for companionship, friendship, protection, fill-in-the-blank.
it should say

If i make a rule to avoid doing things to my neighbor that will make them feel bad, or if i make a rule to help them to feel better, then my lot in life will improve since I need them for companionship, friendship, protection, fill-in-the-blank.

John W. Loftus said...

Lee said..."excuse me for going out on a limb here, but I think that you can find 'universal morals' generated on the fly on the playground."

Exactly.

klas_klazon said...

Lee Randolph answered as I would have. And also, what is very strange under the under the theistic hypothesis is that our opinions about what is moral and not actually can differ quite a lot. No doubt most suicide bombers believe that their actions are moral, while other people condemn them, and no doubt that some people really think homosexuals should be imprisoned, while others would like to see them having rights equal to those of heterosexuals.

But maybe it's objectively good that not all of us have access to the objective moral facts?

John W. Loftus said...

If I leave the lack of evidence for such a claim as Will's by the wayside, let me respond with a counter argument:

My view is that objective* moral properties do not exist and that they would be unexpected, and indeed inexplicable, in a world in which theism (or more precisely, Christianity) is true.

THERE ARE NO OBJECTIVE* VALUES IF GOD EXISTS!

*Will and I have a difference of opinion on the word "objective," but I'm going with his definition here.

My argument is the Euthyphro.

So, wherever the bucks stops, with man as the measure or God as the measure, Will and I are in the same boat.

Shygetz said...

As someone who has had far too much experience in refuting this argument, let me start out by saying that there is no use in pointing out that so-called "universal morality" can be developed spontaneously by even low intelligence social animals. The invariate response I get is "Of course; God's moral law is so perfect that it becomes second nature to all creatures."

The whole "objective morality" issue is just an exercise in playing with semantics, if you ask me.

I have an opinion on something. No one can access this opinion directly except me. This is a subjective opinion, yes?

Regardless of your position on the mind/body problem, you believe that this opinion exists in some form, be it a physical pattern or otherwise. Given the fact that the opinion exists on some plane even though it cannot be accessed directly by anyone else, can it be called an "objective" fact? Not using the common vernacular, because no one else can access my opinion directly.

Now, let's stipulate that God exists, and that he has a morality that exists independent of humans. Is this now an "objective" morality? Not using the common meaning of "objective" because no one else can directly access this fact. It is no more objective than an otter's morality; it is just a subjective morality of a non-human. If we cannot possibly independently access a fact, then such a fact cannot be considered objective. And last time I checked, Christian doctrine was that "no one can know the mind of God."

So, let's stipulate for the moment that God does exist, and that we redefine "objective" to include His thoughts (it's a special pleading, but we'll let that slide for now). Now, no one here has suggested that we can perfectly know what God's "objective morality" is. All we have are our subjective opinions as to what this "objective morality" might be.

So tell me, even in this stipulated case that is most favorable to the Christian opinion, what is the functional difference between an "objective morality" upon which we only have subjective opinions, and a subjective morality. In other words, how can you tell the difference between one and the other?

You can't. Theists (I'm thinking not only of Christians, but also of many of the Islamic apologists) make this argument simply because of its name-calling appeal. They have grown quite adept at making the illogical but appealing leap from no-objective-morality to wholesale moral relativism to nihilism. It ranks right up there with calling atheists Communists, and is not worthy of serious theists.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Shygetz,
I like your comment except for
As someone who has had far too much experience in refuting this argument, let me start out by saying that there is no use in pointing out that so-called "universal morality" can be developed spontaneously by even low intelligence social animals. The invariate response I get is "Of course; God's moral law is so perfect that it becomes second nature to all creatures."
because in my example, the 'objective morality' was a function of using reasoning to create them on the fly, not any type of inherent knowledge.

They become a result of observation and inference between relationships. If they want to come back and say that gods moral law is a function of logic, then I'll bring up the fact that we can derive the universal rules and apply them to god to see if he meets his own laws, if not then he violates them and is not moral or they are not universal. If he violates them he violates our trust, since we can't be sure what a universal moral law is if there is no standard, which would be god. All we would have is our best guess at the universal moral and then it would be back in the subjective human frailty range.

Shygetz said...

Lee, I simply must disagree on a empirical basis that morality is a product of higher-order reasoning, as it can be found in all social animals. I think that logical justifications of standard morality are simply post hoc justifications of selected behavior. Either that, or animals are much smarter than we give them credit for.

Now, I will readily concede your point for "higher order" morality that is clearly artifactual by nature and relative latecomers to the scene (e.g. democratic liberalism, free speech, universal sufferage, etc.)

Landon said...

John, you wrote:

"Surely if non-believers have no logical reason for upholding ultimate objective morals then we should see billions of non-believing people acting logically by murdering, raping, cheating, and stealing at will with no regard for any consequences."

Dr. Craig has already addressed this point (and I think he addresses it every time he speaks or writes about the moral argument). Essentially, he says that atheists *don't* live consistently and logically, because everybody, deep down, knows that objective moral values do exist. Atheists just don't recognize that this is evidence of God.

Let me give you an analogy. Everybody knows that gravity exists, because it affects everyone in our day-to-day lives. However, before Einstein, nobody really knew that gravity was merely a warp in the fabric of spacetime. We can construct an argument as follows:

(1) If spacetime does not exist, gravity does not exist,
(2) Gravity does exist,
(3) Therefore, spacetime exists.

Now, the people before Einstein knew premise (2), just as Dr. Craig claims that everybody knows that objective moral values do exist. However, before Einstein, people didn't know that the first premise was true. Einstein's theory of general relativity showed convincingly that gravity *is* a warp in spacetime. So the people before Einstein were living without any opinion about the existence or nonexistence of spacetime (as some people do today about the existence or nonexistence of God). Yet we can stipulate that if any of them had a cognitive belief that "spacetime does not exist" (like "God does not exist"), he or she would be wrong.

Now, as I said, I don't buy into the moral argument. But Dr. Craig is not claiming that just because there are atheists (and non-spacetime believers), they will act logically and kill, rape, etc. (or act as if gravity does not exist). He is claiming that everybody knows deep down that objective moral values do exist (and that gravity does exist), but they just don't realize that this proves the existence of God (and spacetime). I hope my analogy was not too strained, and I hope it helps illustrate the point.

Essentially, we need to hold theists to prove the first premise of the moral argument by showing that the statements "God does not exist" and "objective moral values exist" are logically inconsistent.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Shygetz,
well I think we have a disconnect on how complex and how many contexts are covered by a "universal moral", but I don't want to get into it with you unless you want to pursue it offline.

zilch said...

William defines "moral objectivity" (in the form of "moral objectivism, or belief in an objective morality) as follows (from the link he posted):

Moral objectivism (or as it's sometimes called, moral realism) is the view that the rightness or wrongness of an action obtains independently of human opinions, linguistic conventions, theories, etc. Notice that this is an ontological thesis, not an epistemological one. (Notice, moreover, that it's not an inherently religious thesis, although several philosophers -- both atheists and theists -- believe that, if true, it has deep theological implications.

Now, I read this post, and this one, where he claims:

My view is that objective moral properties exist and that they would be unexpected, and indeed inexplicable, in a world in which atheism (or more precisely, naturalism) is true.

I also read all the comments to these posts, and found a strange thing: nowhere does William offer the least bit of evidence for this assertion. So, in addition to the practical problem of deciding what to do, since even Christians can't agree on what morals are "correct", there is also the problem that, at least as far as I can see, there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of morals independent of human beings (ignoring for the moment the possibility of chimp morals, dolphin morals, etc.).

Moreover, I read the articles about moral realism (aka moral objectivism) that William posted. Imho, they are mostly a morass of words chasing their own tails, a good example of what "logical enquiry" produces when decoupled from the real world. Typically for philosophy, they start with preconceived notions about the nature of "truth" and "facts", and go on to make syllogisms, such as:

(1) Moral sentences are sometimes true.

(2) A sentence is true only if the truth-making relation holds between it and the thing that makes it true.

(3) Thus, true moral sentences are true only because there holds the truth-making relation between them and the things that make them true.

Therefore,

(4) The things that make some moral sentences true must exist.


Now, the logical structure of such formulations may be impeccable. But garbage in, garbage out, as they say; and to describe morals as "truths" in the same sense as mathematical "truths" is misguided. As others here and I have often said, morals are a combination of genetically and socially evolved values that guide behavior. They are more realistically regarded as strictures for structure: the steps we do in order to dance our culture. The reason that similar morals are found everywhere is simple: they work to build society, which confers fitness. William speaks to this objection (I believe) thus:

Another common misunderstanding is that if morality has evolutionary roots, moral realism cannot be true. But it doesn't follow from the fact that, through gradual evolutionary processes, humans discovered x, that x is not true or x does not exist. The mathematical fact, 2+2=4, for example, expresses an objectively true proposition, regardless of whether humans may or may not have evolved to discover its truth. The same applies to moral facts.

While this may be true, if objective morals are not accessible to us (as shygetz points out), and there is no evidence for them which cannot theoretically be explained without recourse to the supernatural, then I submit that objective morals are not falsifiable. That puts them right up there with a God that hides any time we look for Him: not worth discussing.

larryniven said...

In case anybody's interested, there's a case being made currently (e.g., in "Consciousness: A User's Guide" by Adam Zeman) that morality is like language in that both exist as an inherent capacity (most of the time) but are expressed differently based on upbringing etc. This would explain both Craig's claim that everyone believes "deep down" in morality (i.e., it's neurologically hardwired into us to look for moral-type rules) and also the variety of moral beliefs in the world, all without requiring God or destroying any chance at an objective morality. This also sort of ignores all the non-religious moral systems out there, which is amazing - I mean, how do you disprove deontological ethics, for instance, just from the premise "God doesn't exist"?

thompjs said...

A real good reason here in the US to
not steal, rape, and/or murder is the
penal system. Sort of a hell on
earth, wouldn't you say?

Our laws do set out quite a few
"objective" moral values.

David B. Ellis said...

The most important facts to bear in mind on this issue:

1. No theist has ever presented a strong argument for the claim that the existence of God would entail the existence of moral facts and God's nonexistence would entail the nonexistence of moral facts.

2. The theist who claims there must be a god for there to be moral truths has to deal with intractable philosophical difficulties---like the Euthyphro dilemma, to name just one, which have not be solved despite centuries of effort by theologians.

3. If it were actually true that God's nonexistence entails that there are no moral truths then it follows that there is nothing intrinsically bad about there not being moral truths---yet theists speak of this possibility as if it WOULD be an intrinsically horrible prospect---contradicting their own reasoning---and demonstrating that, in truth, they find moral qualities, like love, of value in and of themselves,for their own intrinsic nature. Which, if valid to do so, provides a basis for moral truths independent of Gods existence.

4. Which brings us to the real basis for moral truths---the intrinsic value of such moral qualities as love, compassion, etc. If there must be a God for there to be moral truths then it logically follows that love and compassion have no intrinsic worth in and of themselves. This, I think, is sufficiently obviously false as to devastate any claim that nonbelievers have no basis for thinking moral truths exist.

5. Moreover, basing the concept of moral truths on the intrinsic nature of love and other moral qualities faces none of the problems associated with a theistic basis of moral truths (the euthyphro dilemma, etc). Clearly, then, the atheists is in as strong a position in regard to the existence of moral truths as the theist. The existence of God simply has no relevence to the question.

John W. Loftus said...

Landon, there is so much more I could say about Craig's argument it's hard to confine it to just these specifics. I did link to several things though.

Landon said…Dr. Craig has already addressed this point (and I think he addresses it every time he speaks or writes about the moral argument). Essentially, he says that atheists *don't* live consistently and logically, because everybody, deep down, knows that objective moral values do exist. Atheists just don't recognize that this is evidence of God.

Okay, Craig also explains geographical religious diversity by arguing, in his own words, “it is possible that God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost and that God has so providentially ordered the world that those who fail to hear the gospel and be saved would not have freely responded affirmatively to it even if they had heard it.” Now are you going to let him get away with this without asking him to supply evidence for that claim? I don’t. The probability that not one of the billions of people who have not heard the gospel would respond if they did hear the gospel can probably be calculated, if missionaries kept records of their efforts. To claim what he does against the overwhelming evidence of missionary efforts belies the facts.

I was initially speaking about Christians who claim that nonbelievers have nothing stopping them from moral nihilism. Craig does make that claim! However we can also deal with his explanation for why nonbelievers, as you put it, don't live consistently. As you say it's because everyone, deep down, knows that objective moral values do exist. Again, are you gong to just sit back and not ask for any evidence for that explanation? I don’t.

Landon said…I hope my analogy was not too strained, and I hope it helps illustrate the point.

Your analogy does not work because there is evidence for gravity, so you’re using an example which we all know is true. Your parallel point is that (2) below is supposed to lead atheists to see that (1) is also true, just as in your other example:

1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,
(2) Objective moral values do exist,
(3) Therefore, God exists.


Where is the evidence for (2) in Craig or Will’s case? I don’t see any consistently acted upon objective moral values around the globe nor down through history at all, even among Christians who claim these moral values can be found within a proper understanding of the Bible!

Now I know Craig will say it doesn’t have anything to do with whether humans understand these values properly or whether they live by them…they just are. But that further explanation is as far fetched as his explanation for religious diversity, don’t you think? Because the evidence is against all of these explanations.

Landon said…Essentially, we need to hold theists to prove the first premise of the moral argument by showing that the statements "God does not exist" and "objective moral values exist" are logically inconsistent.

I do that, don't get me wrong here.

But I don’t understand why you’re caving in to a claim where they offer no evidence for that claim and where there is plenty of evidence against it. As I see it, we can respond philosophically to this argument, which you are doing (and I do as well), or we can respond by asking for the evidence for it. I think all claims having to do with the world in which we live must be supported both by philosophical and empirical approaches (to various degrees on a continuum).

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Zilch said...I submit that objective morals are not falsifiable. That puts them right up there with a God that hides any time we look for Him: not worth discussing.

Exactly!

mobile68 said...

Check out this website that I discovered at the Prometheus 6 blog.

http://duggmirror.com/
comedy/1_Greatest_Quotes_from_
fundamentalist_christian_
chat_rooms/

Grate blog site. Keep up the good work!

Steven Carr said...

'The god of Christianity has written the moral code in the hearts of all humans.'

Really?

Then how come surveys show that more Christians can name the children in the Brady Bunch than can say what all 10 Commandments are?

Do people have an objective sense of beauty?

Do any people think a 90-year old woman is more beautiful than an 18-year old woman?

Presumably , God must create our sense of female beauty.

But, he damns us for looking at a woman lustfully, of course, although this alleged god created those feeling in us...

Or perhaps our sense of objective beauty is just a human thing, not a divine thing.

Steven Carr said...

Let us not forget Craig's claim that it is sometimes a virtue to commit sin.

Slaughtering Babies For God

CRAIG
'On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.'

CARR
So much for 'objective moral values'....

Bill Snedden said...

This claim from Hawthorne: "My view is that objective moral properties exist and that they would be unexpected, and indeed inexplicable, in a world in which atheism (or more precisely, naturalism) is true." strikes me as quite possibly self-defeating.

In order to get around Euthyphro (and indeed to have any chance of alleged moral facts being "objective"), theists will seek to ground moral facts in God's nature. That is to say, to ground it in characteristics or essence that is NOT subject to God's whim or will.

Fair enough (and it seems to me that this is the only possible successful answer to Euthyphro's dilemma). However, in what way is this functionally different than a non-theist's claim that moral facts are grounded in the nature of existence? I.e., in brute fact (that's just the way things are)? The question "why is God as He is?" is functionally the same as "Why is existence as it is?" Moral facts grounded in the nature of existence would therefore seem to be ontologically equivalent to those grounded in the nature of God.

What therefore could serve as any relevant difference between "God" and "existence" that could satisfy Hawthorne's condition such that the existence of moral facts would be "unexpected" and "inexplicable" if God were NOT to exist? The only difference appears to be will or intent, yet that is specifically what we must rule out if we want moral facts to be objective. So doesn't it seem self-defeating to argue that "objective" moral facts only make sense if they're the product of will or intent, thus rendering them non-objective?

lee said...

Let's see, there are over 33,000 denominations at the latest tally in the "Christian faith." In those 33,000 many hold differing views of what is permitted and what is not according to the bible. Aquinas used the very same bible we have today to justify death for heresy and apostasy, Augustine used the same scriptures to justify torture for the same. It would seem to me that there isn't an objective basis for morality using scripture now. It would seem that the christian and the non-christian are pretty much on the same footing.

Amenhotep said...

Fascinating stuff folks. Please allow a biologist to step in ;-) Bottom line: people do this thing called "moral behaviour". We assign labels to types of behaviour, such as "good" and "bad". It has been shown time and time again that behaviour that we would call "good" in our species (and indeed closely-related species) is an evolutionary stable state (ESS), in that dissension from practice of "good" on a regular basis results in problems for the dissenter (chiefly reproductive in the final analysis).

Therefore, and to cut a long story short, we should not be surprised to see humans behave (by and large) in a "moral" manner; this of course breaks down in a lot of circumstances, especially when the chances of retribution are low (such as in times of decreased social cohesion, e.g after a natural disaster). People behave precisely as we should expect them to behave.

So the theists have a problem - the model fits the system, and all they are left with is a whinge that they feel that morals "should" be "objective", despite the fact that all they are really doing, as per Euthypro as discussed ad nauseam, is simply inventing an opinion called "god", and electively declaring that opinion to be "objective". It is quite nonsensical, is not supported by any evidence whatsoever, and indeed is readily refuted by the observation that moral behaviour and labelling can arise in many biological systems, without any recourse to creators or lawgivers.

There does come a point where philosophy, while entertaining, has to yield to *evidence*. That is how many of us moved beyond belief to a much more constructive viewpoint. False premises are sometimes hard to spot, if we don't know that the conclusion is wrong.

M. Tully said...

This thread needs my two cents like it needs a hole in its head but…

But, I’ve come to view the argument from morality as just another “God of the gaps” argument where what the Theist is actually proposing is the following:

“I believe there are objective moral truths. I for the life of me can’t figure out how they would have come about naturally. Ergo God.”

So, in my mind, all it would take is one plausible way that objective moral truths (whether there actually are such truths is unimportant) could have come about naturally and the argument is moot.

Humans have evolved to value certain things that increase their individual chances for survival and to produce offspring. One of those evolved traits is to be a social creature. This requires them to successfully interact with other members of society. Those individuals who possessed the attributes necessary to perform actions that were beneficial to themselves and their societies and attributes that inhibited actions that were malevolent to themselves and their societies thrived. Those individuals who didn’t posses those attributes generally failed to reproduce and consequently people lacking the trait became a minority in the human population. This explanation not only explains what the human population looks like as a whole but also explains why moral decisions involving direct contact with other human beings are arrived more quickly and universally than those involving impersonal mediums of effect. Making the explanation plausible.

John W. Loftus said...

Amenhotep said...There does come a point where philosophy, while entertaining, has to yield to *evidence*.

My point! Thanks to you and some others here.

John W. Loftus said...

One last illustration. Karl Popper argues that scientific knowledge progresses by conjectures (or guesses) which are in turn refuted for better conjectures (or guesses). He claims science progresses because we learn from our mistakes. In fact he claims all knowledge progresses in the same way, and I agree. We have learned from our mistakes. That's why our morals have developed into that which makes for a safer, more productive, and less barbaric people than in ancient times, which is reflected in the Bible.

Scott said...

I'd note that many Buddhists do not believe in a God, but do believe in a type of universal morality, which is based on the law of cause and effect.

Actions which result in specific outcomes accrue negative karma, which has a negative effect on your next life. The specific results which are deemed negative are defined and enforced by the "universe" itself.

No God required.

John said...

I agree with m. tully. Evolution once agains provides a more simpler answer.
Scott:
Consequences. No Karma required.

zilch said...

Where are the Christian responses to this? Not here, and also not at the two links William posted (as of 16.1.07)... C'mon, defenders of objective morality! Show some spunk!

Solon said...

>>Look to our human past. There are many people who act morally who are non-believers and they have been doing so since the dawn of time.

Mr. Loftus, I assume "the dawn of time" is rhetoric - because obviously the human animal has acted very differently over time - but what is this "morality" you claim to know, and why do you give up the whole game and grant the mystic that it is true to begin with?

You both are declaring certain acts "morally true," then saying because people do them, they are moral. That's obviously flawed.

You need to prove first that it is true that those acts are moral; i.e., that there are moral truths.

It seems you have been seduced onto your opponents bed of metaphysical mysticism.

>>"Atheists embrace moral nihilism and reject absolute truth."

Yes, they should if consistent, but that doesn't imply a loss of value in this world unless you have placed all value there. It doesn't imply a great many other things either.

>>What is the logical connection between God and objective moral values? The bible?

No, of course not, "god" is thought to be true being.

>>Now, let's stipulate that God exists, and that he has a morality that exists independent of humans. Is this now an "objective" morality? Not using the common meaning of "objective" because no one else can directly access this fact.

The idea is that you actually partake in divine being, not relate to it, whether via the Christian mythology of a "soul," or Socrates/Plato and a divine vision of the Ideas, or Kant and our rational faculty, etc. All of them seek repose in the comfort of a form of being that is an escape from this world of becoming, the only world we know, in a world of static being.

It is truly nihilistic when you shunt value off onto a "true" world of static being and declare suffering to be "evil" in our "false" world of becoming when, by the very nature of it's becoming, and the very nature of our living, the world inherently includes suffering.

The question is not what or how morality, but rather whence and whither this morality?

atheos said...

Why do atheists want to insist there's an objective morality?

There is not.

It's subjective. Humans have human-based reasons for morality.

And that's all we need. To claim we need an "objective" morality to behave morally is simply wrong.

Certainly that means what's considered "moral" will change from culture to culture and time to time. It's completely disingenous to argue otherwise.

Humans will probalby always have discussions and debates about what is "right" and what is "wrong" and cultures and groups will subsequently make subjective decisions based on their values.

(BTW, I'm not sure what objective morality bible believers think they have as the writers of the bible clearly reflect the same type of subjective culturally- and time-based morality that changes throughout the bible. That is why you have completely barbaric and bloody beliefs in the first part of the bible and a quasi-loving god in the NT.)

David B. Ellis said...


I'd note that many Buddhists do not believe in a God, but do believe in a type of universal morality, which is based on the law of cause and effect.



Scott, this version of the basis of moral truths suffers the very same sort of problem the theistic basis of morality does---one could imagine a universe where cruelty and sadism would be rewarded by karma just as one could imagine one created by a cruel god. By this reasoning, basing morality on some "higher power" whether God or karma or anything else, in these logically possible universes, cruelty would be what is morally right. This makes morality essentially arbitrary.


I agree with m. tully. Evolution once agains provides a more simpler answer.
Scott:
Consequences. No Karma required.



Evolution is a horrible answer to the question of the basis of moral truths.

For example, just one of the many problems with using evolution as the basis of morality:

Imagine two intelligent species evolve on separate planets. One evolves into fundamentally caring beings (more so than humans, by far). The other evolves into a form of mentality which is highly cooperative, if brutally competitive, within its own society but enormously cruel and sadistic to anything outside its ingroup.

Saying evolution is the basis of morality provides nothing to tell us which of these types of being it would be preferable to be.

Yet there IS a basis for preferring one to the other. The real basis for moral truths. Love, for example, is to be valued not because its rewarded by Karma nor because it was selected for by evolutionary processes, but simply because of the nature of what it is to experience love, to be a loving individual and to live in a community bonded by love.

Very simple, very straightforward and rock solid. One need look no further for the basis of moral truths.

David B. Ellis said...

Atheos, you are partly right.

Morality is grounded in subjective experience (how could it not be; where there is no subjectivity, no beings having experiences, there can be nothing for morality to pertain to).

But subjective does not mean arbitrary. The fact that morality is based on the subjective does NOT mean there are no moral truths---no truths about what values are intrinsically better than others.

The situation is analogous to the reason for disvaluing physical agony. Agony is a subjective state of consciousness---and its to be disvalued precisely for the nature of that subjective state of being---to look anywhere else for the reason is pure foolishness.

Moral qualities are of the same nature---love is to be valued for what it is to experience love, for what it is to be a loving individual and what it is to be a community of loving individuals.

People fail to realize that the statements:

There is objective morality.

and

There are moral truths.

Do no mean the same thing. The first is an absurdity and the second is true.

On this simple misunderstanding, mistaking those two very different concepts for the same thing, the whole discussion of meta-ethical issues gets derailed into nonsense.

Scott said...

David / John,

I'm not saying I believe in Karma. I'm saying that theists can't claim what they would consider "objective morality" could only come from God.

Being a negative, atheism doesn't prevent you from believing in "objective morality". It's simply a lack of belief in God or Gods.

M. Tully said...

“Imagine two intelligent species evolve on separate planets. One evolves into fundamentally caring beings (more so than humans, by far). The other evolves into a form of mentality which is highly cooperative, if brutally competitive, within its own society but enormously cruel and sadistic to anything outside its ingroup.”

Well, I hate to break this to you, but all of the available evidence to date suggests that this is exactly what happened on planet on earth. Over time the rules of the family have been extended to the rules of the tribe and then to the clan and then to the “land” and then to the nation-state. It was a gradual process, happening over a long period of time, in slow, incremental steps.

M. Tully said...

Oh, P. S. David,

I would love to see it one day go from nation-states to all of humanity.

Tully

M. Tully said...

zilch said...
Where are the Christian responses to this? Not here, and also not at the two links William posted (as of 16.1.07)... C'mon, defenders of objective morality! Show some spunk!

Well Zilch,

Though I cannot say for sure, I tend to think that that the reason you don’t see more Theistic responses is that John’s original premise nails the thesis to the door (please excuse the euphemism.)
No matter what appeal to emotion you have ever embraced before, when faced with the overwhelming evidence that the pencil is your hand, you eventually must accept that the pencil is your hand. Or alternatively accept, that everything you accepted based on evidence (gravity, electricity, your own existence), may not exist at all (i.e. adopt a thorough going post-modernist world view.)

Dave said...

No need to respond. There is no argument. Whether or not someone acts consistently according to so called "moral absolutes" or ignores them... that doesn't change the fact that they are distinct from behavior. Dan Barker and others are fond of completely de-objectifying logic and morality, comparing it to a process like digestion. Thats fine with me, but that means you have to sit on the bench when objectivists want to talk about absolute foundations. You aren't living on any external standard, so why argue over whether you "should" do something? Quite silly if all we have are "is" equations.

David B. Ellis said...


I'm not saying I believe in Karma. I'm saying that theists can't claim what they would consider "objective morality" could only come from God.


And what I'm saying is that neither karma nor God can provide a basis for moral truths (objective morality is the wrong word to use for moral truths, in my opinion, for reasons I've already explained).

Solon said...

>>The real basis for moral truths. Love, for example, is to be valued
>> simply because of the nature of what it is to experience love, to be a loving individual and to live in a community bonded by love.

I declare that truth has nothing to do with moral truth, but rather power [or insert your preferred feeling here] is the basis for moral truth, simply because of the nature of what is is to experience it.

(Of course, that is as absurd and arbitrary as declaring "love" to be the basis, even if it doesn't sound as warm and fuzzy.)

Solon said...

>>The fact that morality is based on the subjective does NOT mean there are no [...] truths about what values are intrinsically better than others.

That is obviously false given the definition of "intrinsic" and "subjective."

Why not have the courage to say that morality has nothing to do with truth and then investigate what morality actually is?

Or simply state honestly that these are merely conditional truths open to test and debate? That IF (and only if) you want to achieve X, then usually Y (some act or arrangement previously called "moral") is a good means to it? But maybe not, and if you have a different goal, then it is false or irrelevant.

I don't see people putting this much effort into arguing that it is simply TRUE that fresh food is "good" and rotten food not, just because our particular species uses it to advance itself.

Whence the need to declare good and evil amongst our acts and hide behind the imprimatur of truth? Do you not have the courage for your goal, to reward and punish without it?

Shygetz said...

Saying evolution is the basis of morality provides nothing to tell us which of these types of being it would be preferable to be.

Evolution DOES tell us which would be preferable; it would depend on which society you belong to. If you had evolved into a hyper-competitive society, you would be more likely to have a strong competitive drive that would not be satisfied in a non-competitive environment.

However, this is not the case here. We are talking solely about human morality, and since humans share an evolutionary history we would expect humans to share a base rudimentary morality from our early history as social animals.

Yet there IS a basis for preferring one to the other. The real basis for moral truths. Love, for example, is to be valued not because its rewarded by Karma nor because it was selected for by evolutionary processes, but simply because of the nature of what it is to experience love, to be a loving individual and to live in a community bonded by love.

So you are saying that moral truths are true because you enjoy their consequences. Why do you enjoy love? Why do you dislike pain? The answer to both is evolution.

Solon, people always look at morality from the human perspective (how can we do otherwise?) and note that humans often share moral values even in very different social contexts. So, it is quite understandable that, since some moral values are shared among almost all sentient beings that the person knows, they would generalize them to the universe. Understandable, but unsupported.

David B. Ellis said...


Evolution DOES tell us which would be preferable; it would depend on which society you belong to. If you had evolved into a hyper-competitive society, you would be more likely to have a strong competitive drive that would not be satisfied in a non-competitive environment.


That tells us nothing about WHICH of those two societies/species it would be intrinsically better to be a part of (a question ideal observer theory, which my meta-ethical theory is related to, can).

Imagine, for example, a species which evolved such a sadism toward outsiders that they naturally practice the most terrible tortures possible on conquered peoples, including raping their children while the parents watch.

On your theory of an evolutionary basis of moral truths, this practice would be morally right.

Like theories basing morality on God, yours yields arbitrary results (where essentially ANYTHING can be morally good).

Moral truths which are arbitrary are not moral truths. Your theory fails---as does ANY theory which places the basis for moral truths outside the concrete characteristics of, yes, subjective experience itself.

As I said before, the real basis for moral truths is subjective but nonarbitrary. Any attempts to make the basis objective (existing outside of and independent of experience itself) inevitably makes morality arbitrary.

I'm not saying evolution is irrelevent to morality. Obviously it shapes the species, for the most part, for survivability---a morally relevent quality. But it is not itself the basis for morality.

Scott said...

David,

Christians posit something to the following...

(1) Something called objective morality exists.

(2) This something called objective morality can only come from God.

(3) Therefore God exists.

I'm merely pointing out that even if (1) was true, which I do not affirm, they can't get from (1) to (3) because (2) is false.

Therefore, we don't even need to argue against (1) as it's irrelevant to the existence of God.

Whatever the evidence is pointing to, objective or not, God is not required.

Jennifer said...

There are many people who act morally who are non-believers and they have been doing so since the dawn of time.

What was the object of their morality?
If past examples of pure atheist thought played out in lifestyle are an indicator of morality, I guess that morality includes adultery, liberal drug use, depression, alcoholism, sexual exploitation of children etc... I would like to hear what the object of atheist morality is.

david ellis said...

Agreed that God is not required for there to be moral truths, right and wrong.

But, again, I consider the word "objective" to be a mistaken way of describing the concept of moral facts.

And, more importantly, not only is God not required for there to be moral facts---it is simply NOT possible to basis the existence of moral facts on the existence of God (or of any other metaphysical fact or force, including karma).

In other words, (2) is false not because God isnt the only thing that moral facts can be based on but because moral facts CANNOT be based on God at all. This is equally true of Karma and evolution. Trying to base morality on any of the three makes morality arbitrary in ways I've already described.


So you are saying that moral truths are true because you enjoy their consequences.


A common misinterpretation of my position. No. Moral truths are not derived from personal preference (that would yield arbitrary results as much as God, Karma or evolution). They are derived from the intrinsic nature of the moral qualities themselves (love, for example, is of value because of its intrinsic nature---this would be so even if I, or anyone else, were sufficiently psychologically malformed as to be unable to value or appreciate love).

David B. Ellis said...


If past examples of pure atheist thought played out in lifestyle are an indicator of morality, I guess that morality includes adultery, liberal drug use, depression, alcoholism, sexual exploitation of children etc... I would like to hear what the object of atheist morality is.


What, theists don't commit adultery, abuse drugs and alcohol, get depressed or molest children?

You don't even bother to NAME any of these theoretical "past examples" of depraved atheists. I, however, could list dozens upon dozens of prominent theists, including leaders within christianity, guilty of precisely these sorts of crimes.

I could, for example, find many examples of christian leaders (protestant as well as catholic) guilty of child molestation.

Can you name even a single leading atheist who has been found guilty of the same?

People who live in glass houses.....

Jennifer said...

David,
Can you back up your position with history?

I really don't understand how you can hold the view that the myth of a culture can be separated from the morality of the culture. Historically, myth has been the moral fountain for humanity and as Jean Markale points out in his book The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture, "A myth can after all be a false story about real facts." (pg.15)

So...which came first, the morality or the myth? If morality came first why do you think myth would be necessary?

Solon said...

>>They are derived from the intrinsic nature of the moral qualities themselves (love, for example, is of value because of its intrinsic nature---this would be so even if I, or anyone else, were sufficiently psychologically malformed as to be unable to value or appreciate love).

David, this is so obviously false, as I pointed out in a post above, why do you persist?

Scott said...

What I find fascinating about most monotheistic religions is their idea that specific actions are morally wrong. Not the results of these actions, but the very physical acts themselves. Results are NOT the primary focus.

While this sort of thing works with three year olds, it really not very practical in the real world.

In contrast, If you look at the teachings of Buddhism, acts themselves are not wrong, but specific results are. The physical act of drinking alcohol is not morally wrong in itself, but the results effect your ability to perceive reality prevents you from being present in the here and now.

For example, I was watching a nature show with my Father about giant wasps and a Buddhist bee keeper. The Buddhist knew a near by nest of giant wasps could attack his bees and destroy the hive, however his beliefs prevented him from destroying their nest. This was in contrast to the other near by Japanese bee keepers who were always on the lookout for wasps nests and destroyed them to protect their bee hives.

My father, who is a theist, suggested "The bee keeper could just tell the non-Buddhist bee keepers the location of the giant wasp nest." Being somewhat of a student of Buddhist philosophy, I informed him that telling the other bee keepers would have the same results as if he destroyed the nest himself. As such it would be against his beliefs.

Having an affair with a married woman is likely to have significant consequences and require deception. In most cases these consequences can produce negative results, such as disrupting marriages and families. Marriage is a specific level of commitment between two people and extramarital affair usually is a violation of this level of commitment.

The result of Murder is the unwarranted denial of the victim's right to live without their consent. Our lives are the most precious things we own and murder is the equivalent of permanently and forcefully taking that right away. It's clearly wrong on many levels.

It's been suggested that humans, as a species, have only gained the ability to truly step back and think about our thoughts and actions within the last 3,000 to 5,000 years. Before then, our instincts acted as a auto-pilot until our conciseness could emerge as part of the evolutionary process.

If you look at human race as essentially toddlers when it comes to understanding our thoughts, desires and minds, the world around us makes much more sense. However, This would be a critical phase in our development since we would be transitioning between instinctual urges that have served us well in the far distant past and a new found conciseness.

As such, our current moral frameworks would based in part on instincts, such as cooperation as a means to survive, and empathy arising from our conciseness awareness of others.

David B. Ellis said...


David,
Can you back up your position with history?


Jennifer, it is YOU who made the claim that atheism causes depraved behavior.

It is you, therefore, who needs to back up their claim.


I really don't understand how you can hold the view that the myth of a culture can be separated from the morality of the culture.


Our culture is diverse and so are its myths. Historically, myths have been outgrown. Hopefully, this will be the case for christianity as it has been for religions in the past. I, for one, have already outgrown it and found life richer for having done so.

David B. Ellis said...


>>They are derived from the intrinsic nature of the moral qualities themselves (love, for example, is of value because of its intrinsic nature---this would be so even if I, or anyone else, were sufficiently psychologically malformed as to be unable to value or appreciate love).

David, this is so obviously false, as I pointed out in a post above, why do you persist?



Love is of value because of what the experience of love is like as an experience.

I stand by that statement and calling it "obviously false" doesn't make it so. If you wish to present an actual argument as to why its incorrect feel free to do so.

Solon said...

>>Love is of value because of what the experience of love is like as an experience.

>>I stand by that statement and calling it "obviously false" doesn't make it so. If you wish to present an actual argument as to why its incorrect feel free to do so.

I did that first time above, which is what I referred you to the 2nd time.

To try again:

Eating toast is of intrinsic value because of the experience of eating toast? It makes no sense. And whose experience??? Hence, it isn't intrinsic. And none of it bears any relation at all to the truth or falsity of moral claims.

David B. Ellis said...

Solon, you presented no actual argument. You said:


That is obviously false given the definition of "intrinsic" and "subjective."



That is not an argument.

If you wish to present an actual argument against my position I will be glad to discuss it.

As to your statement:


Or simply state honestly that these are merely conditional truths open to test and debate? That IF (and only if) you want to achieve X, then usually Y (some act or arrangement previously called "moral") is a good means to it? But maybe not, and if you have a different goal, then it is false or irrelevant.



You are referring to means and ends. I am referring to different characters and whether there is something intrinsically better about one than the other and, therefore, about the behaviors that naturally flow from them.

To illustrate, imagine a science fiction scenario in which you have the choice to "reboot" your own brain.

You have only two software packages to choose from. One will make you cruel, sadistic, unsocialable and unaffectionate. The other will make you kind, affectionate, loving, brave, and sociable.

A rational being, capable of fully comprehending what it would be like to be both of these sorts of person and able to view both without preliminary bias , would, I contend, see that the second of these packages involves qualities clearly intrinsically "better" than those of the first (you might note the influence of the ideal observer meta-ethical theory here).

Or, again, imagine a society in which individuals are caring, sympathetic and connected by bonds of affection. Another in which they are hate-filled, spiteful and constantly attempting to do harm to one another.

If you can honestly say you think there is nothing intrinsically superior and preferable about the first society, based on what it is like to be an individual of that sort in a society of that sort, then I propose, you are a flat-out fool.

Solon said...

>>Solon, you presented no actual argument.

I think you'll eventually agree it is actually you who hasn't. For example, maybe you didn't read the post quoting you before the one you cite?

And then the post that followed:

>>You said:
>>That is obviously false given the definition of "intrinsic" and "subjective."
>>That is not an argument.

Well, actually that is very good argument also. Not to be pedantic and spell it out too much, but something does not have intrinsic value if it is merely a subjective experience. Before our species came along did these states you prefer have "intrinsic" value for pond scum? When the planet blows up, will they still have "intrinsic" value? No.

>>You are referring to means and ends. I am referring to different characters and whether there is something intrinsically better about one

Yes, exactly, hence all my points about how your preferences are clearly not intrinsically valuable but simply subjective preferences.

>>you have the choice to "reboot"
>>A rational being [...] would, I contend, see that the second of these packages involves qualities clearly intrinsically "better" than those of the first

Is it rational to choose to "reboot" with a wife with bigger boobs? Are bigger boobs thus intrinsically valuable?

As you might see now, it is you who haven't presented an argument at all, instead just declaring things "intrinsic" if some particular animal with some degree of cleverness we call "reason" enjoys experiencing them - and then calling anyone who disagrees a fool. Prefer on what basis? If I prefer good food to rotten food there is nothing intrinsically better about that food, except as a means to an end, living, which is not a "rational" choice or intrinsically valuable either. Even old Kant couldn't come up with anything good in and of itself, except for some flimflam about a good will (as a back door into the "real" Christian world), so I highly doubt you will :-)

>>Or, again, imagine a society in which
>>If you can honestly say you think there is nothing intrinsically superior and preferable about the first society...

Sorry, again it makes no sense, there's not even an argument there. If I'm a hungry, warmongering, loner brontosaurus, does your society still have "intrinsic" value and is it still the "rational" choice for me? Of course not.

Why pretend to do away with god if you still want to hide behind his "truths"? This is why I often feel Christians are far more natural and honest what with their open faith than "atheists" with their shameful hidden one.

M. Tully said...

David,

You wrote, “They are derived from the intrinsic nature of the moral qualities themselves (love, for example, is of value because of its intrinsic nature---this would be so even if I, or anyone else, were sufficiently psychologically malformed as to be unable to value or appreciate love).”


I would like to take it one step further. Instead of, “I, or anyone else,” what if we make it, “if no one else?”

If absolutely no one on the planet placed any value on love, they didn’t feel it brought any value to their lives, it was something everyone considered to be a hindrance, it wasn’t anything that any human desired; would it still have value?

We may be talking semantics here, but when you use the word “intrinsic,” I think of intrinsic qualities, things that that would be the same regardless of human interpretation. Some examples would be gravity, conservation of energy, and biological evolution. These things are intrinsic properties; they require no human interpretation to give the same results.

To say there is intrinsic moral value, to me at least, means that a moral norm is inherently good regardless of human nature. But, without taking into account human nature as it currently exists, how can that claim be sustained?

This is not to say that there are not objective moral truths based on the current state of human nature (I haven’t come to a conclusion on that point yet), but just to say that discussing moral value as intrinsic, without regard to humanity seems untenable.

Jennifer said...

David,
I don't know if you'll see this...I've been away from the computer for a few days.

Jennifer, it is YOU who made the claim that atheism causes depraved behavior.

I must have been writing this when you were posting your comment.
This was in relation to showing through history that a lack of belief in a god has led to more civilized people groups. I'm fairly confident that you cannot show this because I have been studying history pretty intensely for the past few years and have not seen and examples.

I thought we were talking about general objective morality, not specific "leaders". While I never educated myself on the inner thought life of people who don't believe in a god, I did notice that those people I've known personally who have claimed to be atheists do not have any standard for morality.
My point was not to say that atheists are all going to be depraved, but that no object of morality...no specific reason for being "good"...does not work in history.

Granted, religion has caused division between people, but there has always been division between people.

Again I ask for the vision which you say will cure the world. Paint it for us.

Lenoxus said...

I'm glad to see this conversation is alive and roaring! Without getting too deeply into the semantics game everyone seems to be playing, I have one closely-related question: What does it mean when a theist states that moral truths require an authority who is also a supreme being? What does it mean for a truth to be dependent on a being, instead of just plain true?

I agree that moral truths are dependent on beings, specifically those beings which feel the effects of moral actions, but I don't think this is the same thing as saying that those truths require a "third party" Being to resolve moral questions. Or is it?