What Can Account for Morality, We're Asked?

In David Eller's excellent book, Atheism Advanced, Eller basically explains morality as those moral rules made up by people in order to define what it means to be part of any culture. They are usually based upon the religious myths each culture accepts. There is no morality then, only "moralities."

He finds that there are moralities among animals like Chimps, so it shouldn't surprise us when language bearing humans came up with more elaborate moral rules. And since we're talking about human beings, it's no surprise that our moralities have some major similarities since we are social animals who need to get along, to be loved and to love, to help and to be helped. Anyone who doesn't accept the moral rules of a culture are not allowed in the group, or we banish them, ostracize them, imprison them, and kill them. Do you want the benefits of being in the group? Then obey the moral rules, or at least don't get caught. Otherwise, you’re on your own. As such, there is nothing prohibiting someone from not accepting the moral rules of a culture if s/he doesn't want the benefits of the group (which would be a Freudian "death wish"). Are acts like murder, rape, and theft objectively and universally "wrong" then? That's probably a nonsensical question.

Therefore, there can be no argument for the existence of God based on morality. Human beings make up their own moralities because we're social beings who need to belong and get along. Morality is part of our survival instinct. We need other people to survive!

----------
For a Christian who might be stunned by the conclusion that it's probably a nonsensical question whether or not murder, rape, and theft are objectively and universally "wrong," then think again. Look at your own Bible. There is plenty of that to be found in it, all sanctioned by your barbaric God. Elsewhere I've argued that rational self-interest can account for our morality.

52 comments:

justjohn said...

As man has always been a social animal, "morality" clearly is a survival mechanism and thus is a product of evolutionary pressures.

Nor is morality confined to humans. Any organism that lives within a larger group must trust and be trusted by the group's other members. Thus it becomes evident that not only humans, but our hominid predecessors, primate cousins, and many other animals possess moral codes of varying complexity.

In essence...we just aren't all that special!

strangebrew said...

Absolutely agree with those points made above...
Morality is mechanism of survival in close groups...instinctive and altruistic attitudes allowing co-operation and purpose.

A definite trait that would be selected for in early hominid history.

It gives me a wry smile when fundamental xians...that more or less loath evolutionary theory... rant & rave that only they can be moral because jeebus taught them!...when it was evolution all along...that is a tad more then ironic methinks!

Will G said...

So goodness is ultimately all about selfishness, that is, survival? Goodness is all about what's best for me? I would have thought goodness was good for the sake of good.

Indian said...

The other day I was reading east v/s west. I am a Hindu. I was reading why Hindu civilization took so much beating by Islamic and Christian marauders. The answers were obvious ones but why it continues so? Because Hindus "try to be good" where as the Islamists and Christians "try be clever". True in the midst of a survival scenario. The goodness stops where law stops. In the west If you can get away with it you will do it. I am talking in civilizations and in historical terms. On a individual level there are good humans everywhere now. But on a civilizational moral scale the goodness became the weaknesses in the past and it continues in the present.

Eric said...

John, I'm not quite sure what the argument is.

From what I can gather, though, it seems to be blatantly question begging (god isn't needed to justify morality because morality is man-made), a non sequitur (god isn't needed to justify morality because different societies have different, though similar, moralities), or premised on a confusion of an explanation for x and a justification for x (god isn't needed to justify morality because we have a naturalistic explanation of morality in terms of a 'survival instinct').

If you think that these criticisms are off base, I'd request a clearer formulation of Eller's argument.

Endiana.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Endiana.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CodewordConduit said...

@ Eric

The point is that group morality could have easily evolved as a way to ensure the survival of the group.

Harry McCall said...

Anyone who doesn't accept the moral rules of a culture are not allowed in the group, or we banish them, ostracize them, imprison them, and kill them. Do you want the benefits of being in the group? Then obey the moral rules, or at least don't get caught. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Here is a prime example of this atheistic morality at work in that we have an excellent example right here at our own DC: “We've banned people like Andrew, Frank Walton, and Daddy Cool for their lies and slander.” And Jason for his dogmatic stupidity!

Eric said...

"The point is that group morality could have easily evolved as a way to ensure the survival of the group."

Codewordconduit, I have no problem with that as an explanation, but it doesn't even approach a justification. After all, our selfishness evolved too, and it's still with us in abundance, so it has its survival value; if morality and selfishness have the same source, and both have survival value, you can't appeal to either evolution or survival if you want to justify a prescriptive moral proposition (though, as I said, you could explain morality in this way).

Harry McCall said...

I work at the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

We have to sign and obey codes against sexual harassment; racial harassment and decimation; and a business code of ethics and general work place code of employment conduct if we want to keep our jobs.

Now compare this totally secular list at the state government level to the half-ass codes of the Bible of which most applied ONLY if your were another Israelite.

So what would Jesus do (WWJD)if a 10-45 (Dead Animal) was mashed and rotting in the highway?

What about an auto fatality that EMS has to deal with (as a Torah obeying Jew, Jesus would consider rotting animal and human bodies unclean)?

WWJD?

How would the Church run the SCDOT?

Fire all the women from their foreman jobs like the Southern Baptist have done in their seminaries?

Not allow women to be in authority over any man as most churches do by ordaining men only?

Not allow men and women to be married if in leadership rolls as the Catholics do?

So just how would a Christ centered Bible Believing Church run this secular state government agency?

Atheists know we sure the hell don't need any Biblically based ethics and morality!!!

Eric said...

"Eller basically explains morality as those moral rules made up by people in order to define what it means to be part of any culture."

I would also add that this hypothesis is, it seems to me, rather weak when it comes to explaining the appeal certain individuals make (e.g. many OT prophets, Wilberforce, Wollstonecraft, Gandhi, Solzhenitsyn, Mandela, King) to moral principles that are neither widely practiced nor accepted by their particular societies -- principles the advocacy of which is usually detrimental to the survival of the individual prescribing them! And, of course, there is the diachronic appeal of these principles -- how many people today, across cultures, would argue that Alcibiades was moral and Socrates immoral?

CodewordConduit said...

@ Eric

What if morality is in itself selfish when it comes to preserving the group that services your survival?

Eric said...

"What if morality is in itself selfish when it comes to preserving the group that services your survival?"

First, I suspect that very few of us categorize intergroup acts of selfishness as 'moral.' I'd wager that we'd tend to judge, say, an act of compassion, not an act of selfishness, toward a wounded enemy as moral(ceteris paribus). Again, this is something that can be seen across cultures and throughout time (though it's not, of course, universal).

But second, and more importantly, your position could only bear the weight you've put on it if only intergroup selfishness were beneficial; however, that's decidedly not the case, since intragroup selfishness is far more common than intergroup selfishness (which is to be expected: we spend the vast majority of our time with our 'group,' however broadly or narrowly defined).

Third, the idea that morality and selfishness can be somehow identified evinces something of a tin ear when it comes to humanity's great poetry and literature.

Piero said...

Will G, "goodness is good for the sake of good" makes no sense. What is good? Why would "good" mean "good" for the sake of itself? You are trying lift yourself by pulling your bootstraps.
If what you meant was "goodness is acting for somebody else's benefit without expecting a reward", then that does not exist. Nobody ever does anything unless they get a reward out of it; the reward can be the pleasure obtained by making others happy, but it is a reward nonetheless.

Lee Randolph said...

From what i can see,
morality is a form of self-organization derived from the self interest of many agents and has an analogy in economics. Like Adam Smiths "Invisible Hand".

consider these examples
- I don't hit you because I don't want to get hit back.
- i grow vegetables well, jill farms animals well, harry is a good hunter, John makes good pants, and we all trade amongst ourselves for the things we need
- I love Jill and when she is sad it bothers me so i try to cheer her up. Cheering her up makes me feel better.
- I trade with harry and he feels bad so he's not hunting, so I try to make harry feel better so I can get more meat
- momma aint happy so nobody's happy, so we try to make her happy.

- we have biological attachments to our children, and families, these are documented in research.
- our desires to benefit them are derived in part from our emotions. The initiation of an emotion is not controllable for the most part, but we can do things to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence, or calm down, or work ourselves up, or decide to behave under the influence of the desires brought on by emotion.

"self-organization" and "emergence" are a phenomenon that explains quite a bit in the world and shouldn't be overlooked.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Eric,
maybe I've misunderstood you but I think you've used some labels for fallacies fallaciously.

- it seems to be blatantly question begging (god isn't needed to justify morality because morality is man-made),
question begging is when the premise appears in the conclusion. For example "we should believe Tim because he never lies". The premise depends on the conclusion, the conclusion does not depend on the premise, the conclusion is the premise. To break out of the circle, we need to go outside and get some supporting evidence that Tim never lies.

"God isn't needed to justify morality because morality is man made."
I don't need the police to do anything with my son when he takes a twenty out of my wallet, and I don't need the church to teach my son that his behavior is unacceptable on many levels.

- a non sequitur (god isn't needed to justify morality because different societies have different, though similar, moralities),
Since morality emerges in other species and other cultures, why is God needed to explain it? And which god are we talking about? And how do you know which god? And how can someone else you verify that you are right? And if you say "the bible says" then why should anyone trust the bible when the time of origin, the place of origin, the authors, the credentials of the authors are unknown, and there are is a lot of wrong data, even inconsistent data in the bible?

- or premised on a confusion of an explanation for x and a justification for x (god isn't needed to justify morality because we have a naturalistic explanation of morality in terms of a 'survival instinct').
I don't even understand this sentence. A justification is a reason for something. Reason is a process where the data supports the conclusion. The data supports that "moral" behavior emerges out of the interactions between self-interested agents similar to economics and Adam Smiths "invisible hand", so Where does god fit exactly as either an explanation or a justification?

if morality and selfishness have the same source, and both have survival value, you can't appeal to either evolution or survival if you want to justify a prescriptive moral proposition (though, as I said, you could explain morality in this way).

why not?

Once the agents identify what it is they want to talk about, give "sharing" a name, give "empathy" a name, define what it is that is going on, capture the phenomena in language so it can be discussed, then they can take steps to refine it and make it better, to set some parameters and boundaries, make some rules.

I think that at least in the case of "love" that the process of capturing that concept is not finished. We talk about all the "types" of love when we should really give them their own word to make it easier to discuss them without confusing them. We need to define them better. What does it mean to say that "god loves us"? Does he love us like a lover? Does he love us like a father? Mother? son? Daughter? my Dog? Then once you define how he loves us, does the description match his behavior? Gods love should be defined by his behavior toward us, and should that ever happen, we'll see that Gods love is less like the common idea of love and more like apathy. An apathetic love is consistent with nothing being there to do the loving.

Anyone that wants to argue that god has anything to do with morality has a very narrow point of view and is ignoring a ton of disconfirming qualifiers.

Lee Randolph said...

Eric,
I'd wager that we'd tend to judge, say, an act of compassion, not an act of selfishness, toward a wounded enemy as moral(ceteris paribus).
what is the origin of the desire to help that enemy? An emotion? An uncomfortable feeling? Helping the enemy helps to resolve that uncomfortable feeling.

it ultimately is an act of self-interest.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, both Eller and I are answering the following question posed by the theist: "On the assumption that God does not exist how can morality be accounted for?" Our answer lends probability to the atheist contention that there is no God since we don't need a God for morality.

Eric said...

Hi Lee. I just wrote out a detailed response but lost it (what keys on the bottom of the keyboard cause the page to change? It's happened to me before). Here's a short response, in which I'll just present some substitution instances of the arguments I was criticizing to make my points a little more clearly (I hope!).

Lee: "question begging is when the premise appears in the conclusion. For example "we should believe Tim because he never lies". The premise depends on the conclusion, the conclusion does not depend on the premise, the conclusion is the premise. To break out of the circle, we need to go outside and get some supporting evidence that Tim never lies."

Here's the argument I was criticizing, followed by a substitution instance:

"god isn't needed to justify morality because morality is man-made"

"[evolution] isn't needed to justify morality because morality is [god-made]."

Lee: "Since morality emerges in other species and other cultures, why is God needed to explain it? And which god are we talking about? And how do you know which god? And how can someone else you verify that you are right?"

None of this is relevant to the point I was making, which is that the following argument is a non sequitur (again, a substitution instance will make this clear):

"god isn't needed to justify morality because different societies have different, though similar, moralities"

"[evidence] isn't needed to justify [economic policies] because different societies have different, though similar, [economic policies]"

Lee: "I don't even understand this sentence. A justification is a reason for something. Reason is a process where the data supports the conclusion. The data supports that "moral" behavior emerges out of the interactions between self-interested agents similar to economics and Adam Smiths "invisible hand", so Where does god fit exactly as either an explanation or a justification?"

The problem here is with the ambiguity inherent in the term 'reason.' Moral philosophers distinguish 'explanatory reasons,' which describe how such and such came to be the case, from 'justificatory reasons,' which support why such and such should be the case. It's a fundamental error in moral reasoning to confuse an explanation with a justification.

Lee: "why not?

Once the agents identify what it is they want to talk about, give "sharing" a name, give "empathy" a name, define what it is that is going on, capture the phenomena in language so it can be discussed, then they can take steps to refine it and make it better, to set some parameters and boundaries, make some rules."

Sure, but this account is clearly incomplete. After all, we do the same thing when we agree upon the rules of baseball; however, when someone deliberately breaks those rules, we don't only follow the rules for breaking rules (e.g. eject him from the game): we make a moral judgment, e.g. label him a cheater. Now, if he were to get away with breaking the rules and thereby win the game, what then? The rules themselves provide us with no resources for criticizing him (a surreptitiously broken man made rule, the breaking of which leads to a desirable outcome for an agent, cannot be judged 'immoral' on your account, as long as the agent considers himself justified in breaking the rule; however, we'd all judge such a person as immoral, whether his violation of the rules was found out or not).

However, all this is beside the point I was initially making. If you justify X and Y in the same way, yet choose to advocate X and repudiate Y, you must either be acting arbitrarily or implicitly appealing to some premise or set of premises. So, if both 'moral' and 'selfish' behavior are justified with an appeal to evolution, yet you advocate moral behavior while repudiating selfish behavior, you're either choosing arbitrarily or appealing to some implicit premise(s) which itself needs to be justified.

Eric said...

"Eric, both Eller and I are answering the following question posed by the theist: "On the assumption that God does not exist how can morality be accounted for?" Our answer lends probability to the atheist contention that there is no God since we don't need a God for morality."

Hi John
I think that the ambiguity I referred to in my response to Lee is problematic here as well: If by 'account for' you mean 'explain,' then you're still left with the problem of justification (which can be conceived in any number of ways); if by 'account for' you mean 'justify,' then I don't see how (the admittedly brief) reasons you've given can do this sort of work.

BTW, I'm looking forward to hearing you on 'The Things That Matter Most'!

John W. Loftus said...

Eric said...Moral philosophers distinguish 'explanatory reasons,' which describe how such and such came to be the case, from 'justificatory reasons,' which support why such and such should be the case. It's a fundamental error in moral reasoning to confuse an explanation with a justification.

Eller’s and my arguments are to be considered primarily as “explanatory reasons” for morality. The “justificatory reasons” for morality are based upon the inherent human need to belong and to survive this otherwise cruel world. That's the only kind of justification possible in my worldview. And no other justification is needed anyway.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, an action is immoral on my worldview when it harms people because people matter to my survival, the people I love, and our common need for belonging as social animals. If someone objects to what I consider immoral then I must make my case that s/he isn't being rational with who we as social animals are in this world. If s/he further objects then this merely shows us there is no morality, only moralities. I think there are definitely better moralities based upon who we are as social animals, and I flat out reject behaviors which are anti-social or hurtful to the common good and dehumanizing to people.

Eric said...

John, how would you or Eller respond to this thought experiment:

Take a possible world in which Hitler had been victorious in WW2, and had killed all those who disagreed with him, except for a small number of Jews who managed to hide their identity. Hitler's world society now is, the small number of Jews excepted, in complete agreement with the notion that anti-semitism is moral, and that for the good of society all Jews must be killed.

The situation described above seems to fit your criteria, and it therefore seems to me that you'd have to conclude that antisemitism would be moral in such a world. However, I doubt you'd be willing to bite this bullet, and I suspect that your intuitions would tell you that even in such a world, antisemitism would be immoral. However, I fail to see how the view you've been defending has the resources to make this judgment. Does Eller deal with such considerations (I'd bet he does, since the question is so obvious, assuming I've understood you correctly)? If not, how would you respond?

Eric said...

Sorry John, I posted my previous post before I read your post at 12:54.

Still, our survival, our social nature and the notion that morals are agreed upon rules are entirely consistent with the demonization of some small, distinct group. While *you* may disagree with the inhabitants of the possible world I referred to, I don't see how you can, given your commitment to Eller's conception of morality (as I understand it), properly categorize their actions as 'immoral.'

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, with regard to anti-Semitism and Hitler's regime I think I would've had a better basis for rejecting his extermination policies than German Christians who were his willing executioners and who based their anti-Semitism on Biblical considerations and Martin Luther's writings. Hector Avalos details these kind of things in this two-part essay. Here’s what Martin Luther advised Christians to do to Jews:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, blaspheming of his son and of his Christians....

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasures of silver and gold be taken from them for safekeeping...

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]).


Everything Luther proscribed was done to the Jews in Hitler’s day by German Lutheran Christians.

Don't tell me that the justifications for my morality are worse than theirs, or for that matter the history of the church itself.

Cheers.

Deist Dan said...

Any time a Christian brings up morality just ask them about the morality of their god.

He commanded the death penalty for disobedient children, working on the sabbath, taking his name in vain, worshiping an idol, adultery,for a woman found to not be a virgin on her wedding night, even for a woman who gets raped and does not scream.

Not to mention the morality of slaughtering unarmed women and children in wars, and even taking the young virgin girls as plunder (Joshua 6, Numbers 31).

A god who kills David's baby to punish David (so much for being pro-life).

A god who floods the world because he doesn't like the way things are going.

A god who will keep people alive forever to be tortured because he didn't like the way they lived for 70 years.

What a shining moral beacon of light that god is!

Eric said...

John, with all due respect, you didn't answer the question!

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, I had linked in the OP to my atheist ethic. I think I explained it there, especially in Part 5.

Cheers.

Scott said...

Take a possible world in which Hitler had been victorious in WW2, and had killed all those who disagreed with him, except for a small number of Jews who managed to hide their identity. Hitler's world society now is, the small number of Jews excepted, in complete agreement with the notion that anti-semitism is moral, and that for the good of society all Jews must be killed.

Eric,

You seem to have glossed over many of the points made the the original post and related coments. Specifically...

Anyone who doesn't accept the moral rules of a culture are not allowed in the group, or we banish them, ostracize them, imprison them, and kill them. Do you want the benefits of being in the group? Then obey the moral rules, or at least don't get caught. Otherwise, you’re on your own. As such, there is nothing prohibiting someone from not accepting the moral rules of a culture if s/he doesn't want the benefits of the group

Let's apply this to Hitler's actions against the Jews and their culture.

As John duly noted, Hitler copied from the anti-Semitism play book of the Bible and Luther.

Hitler wanted to benefit from the Jewish culture by taking it's wealth, but is unwilling to abide by it's rules. He destroyed their homes, property, literature and art. He administered punishments based on non-Jewish laws. He enslaved their youth.

So, here, we see Hitler invading the Jewish culture by force. And what what his justification for such actions?

Whether he believed it or not, Hitler gave the impression that was punishing the Jews for their involvement on Jesus' crucifixion. He also claimed that the Jewish race was inferior and the German race was superior.

Was there significant evidence that supported his position on race? No. Was there a consensus on such position. No. For the sake of argument, even if such a consensus existed, would forceful removal of wealth, enslavery and even death be agreed upon? No.

So, by the definition above, Hitler was acting immoral.

Next, let's reverse the situation. Had the Russians made the same racial claims against the Germans, do you think they would have laid down and allowed them steal, enslave and kill their people because some other culture thought they were inferior? Do you think the US would have acted any different?

Hitler's actions were based on assertions which he could not substantiate, nor would he consider such actions against his own culture "right." As such, he was acting inconsistently inside his own moral framework.

Eric said...

John, I'm not sure how your defense of rational egoism jibes with Eller's notion of morality as the "rules made up by people in order to define what it means to be part of any culture." I think you'd be assuming quite an onus if you want to argue that we in America define ourselves according to your conception of rational egoism.

Scott, you missed the point of the thought experiment. What Luther or any Christian has said, or whether there was any consensus, and so on, is completely irrelevant. The question is, in a possible world such as the one I described, would Eller's conception of morality provide us with the resources to assert what we'd all like to assert, to wit "Antisemitism is immoral, even if it defines what it means to be part of such and such a culture?"

Will G said...

Will G, "goodness is good for the sake of good" makes no sense. What is good? Why would "good" mean "good" for the sake of itself? You are trying lift yourself by pulling your bootstraps.

I think there was a recent poll somewhere that asked 'If you knew for sure that something was the right thing to do, would you feel obliged to do it?' I think the vast majority of people said 'yes'. So there is something about good that simply obliges you do whatever the 'good' is. You have in a sense, no choice about it if you think it *really* is the right thing to do.

Then how come people aren't perfect? It's because we constantly think of reasons why our situation or instance is special. So it's OK for e.g. me to cut in line because I'm in a hurry, to use a small example (there are others you could think of). We all do the wrong thing from time to time because the brain is good at coming up with rationalisations for our behaviour. Outside of rationalisations that make our specific situation unique or special, we all feel obliged to do the right thing, I think.

If what you meant was "goodness is acting for somebody else's benefit without expecting a reward", then that does not exist. Nobody ever does anything unless they get a reward out of it; the reward can be the pleasure obtained by making others happy, but it is a reward nonetheless.

This is a truth by non-contradiction, an analytic truth. If you define pleasure as 'Something that motivates' and an act as 'Something requiring motivation to do' then by definition 'Something that motivates' will always motivate an 'Act that requires motivation'. So we will always get something out of doing the right thing because it requires motivation, which pleasure is. I don't think that says anything about people being basically selfish; it has to be true no matter what.

Scott said...

Eric,

What Luther or any Christian has said, or whether there was any consensus, and so on, is completely irrelevant.

I was using John's comment as a laundry list of Hitler's actions against the Jews. Nothing more is implied.

The question is, in a possible world such as the one I described, would Eller's conception of morality provide us with the resources to assert what we'd all like to assert, to wit "Antisemitism is immoral, even if it defines what it means to be part of such and such a culture?"

Even if Hitler had won, you could simply fast forward to some point in the future and replace the Russians with the Japanese or China. You could even use an opposing sub-faction of Germans who though they were genetically superior base on height, etc. Again, it seems unlikely that Hitler would agree with such an assertion, give up his wealth and allow his faction to be enslaved and killed, based on such claims.

By failing to agree with his own moral stance he himself used against the Jews (those who assert they are genetically superior should be allowed to take what they want from, enslave and kill those who they deem genetically inferior) His actions are morally inconsistent. Had such actions actually been considered moral by Hitler, they wouldn't just apply to others. It would have applied to himself as well.

Eric said...

"By failing to agree with his own moral stance he himself used against the Jews (those who assert they are genetically superior should be allowed to take what they want from, enslave and kill those who they deem genetically inferior) His actions are morally inconsistent."

Right, he certainly would be inconsistent, but Eller isn't speaking only about logic; Hitler's inconsistencies become, according to Eller, immoral, and immoral in an odd (to us) sense: to the extent that his society has come to embrace his previous moral prescriptions, his assertions to the contrary (e.g. the genetically superior cannot morally oppress the genetically inferior in his case) must be judged *immoral* -- yet none of us would be willing to accept this conclusion. So it seems to me that *if* this is where Eller's reasoning leads us, we have strong prima facie grounds to be very skeptical of it.

"Had such actions actually been considered moral by Hitler, they wouldn't just apply to others. It would have applied to himself as well."

This isn't true, given Eller's conception of morality (as I understand it from John's sketch of it). What matters isn't Hitler's moral judgments, but society's moral judgments. To the extent that his actions and judgments jibe with his society's moral rules, he's moral, and to the extent that they don't, he's immoral.

Eric said...

Here's a simple way, I think, to get my (basic) point across. Abigail Adams gave the young John Quincy Adams this bit of advice:

When conscience claps, let the world hiss.

Do you agree or disagree? I'd wager that most of us would agree with this proposition; it's why we admire people like Thoreau. However, Abigail's proposition is inconsistent with Eller's conception of morality as the "moral rules made up by people in order to define what it means to be part of any culture."
Eller's maxim would be,

"When the world claps, let conscience hiss."

Surely, few of us would agree with this. But if that's the case, why agree with Eller?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, I know you're a smart guy but it seems to me that you just do not understand what cultural relativism is all about. You're judging it as an outsider and you think you have the right to do so.

All cultures think their own cultures are better than others and that the others are weird. Head hunters are judged by us to be wrong. They would think men who fail to hunt heads are wimpish. It was a badge of courage to them.

This does not entail we cannot argue that ours is a better culture. That's why cultures change as they come into contact with each other. And it does not entail that someone inside a particular culture cannot demand reform either.

Any description about this will either be too simplistic if done in a few paragraphs, or much too long to write and be read.

Look at it this way. If we evolved and there is no ultimate standard for right and wrong, which I think is the case, then human beings make up their own rules to live by. There will be some major similarities to the rules we create because we are human animals. But there will be differences as well, sometimes major ones, like child sacrifice as practiced by OT peoples and Mayans. I think there is a better, more rational basis for our rules then some other rules because it's based upon an analysis of who we are as human social animals devoid of religious beliefs. We'd have to talk in terms of specifics and this could be a long discussion. In those cultures where polygamy and child marriage was acceptable those societies worked well. But our society does not accept those rules at all and for reasons we think are acceptable.

Bottom line is that if there is no ultimate morality we must choose the rules that we think are the best ones for ourselves. It might eventually be the case that in a global world of the future the whole world might come to an agreement about most all of the same rules. At that point there would be one world culture which would be every bit a cultural relativism as what we experience now. And in that future world culture I would like my rules to be accepted based on the reasons I provided.

Eric said...

"it seems to me that you just do not understand what cultural relativism is all about."

John, that may indeed be the case. There's a heck of a lot that I don't understand, which is why I read informative blogs like yours.

I understand the empirical thesis of cultural relativism, as I think we all do, but I've never seen a decent case made (in my judgment) for the metaethical thesis of cultural relativism. I will add that it's not only theists who say this; there are a large number of atheistic modern philosophers who advocate various conceptions of moral realism. In fact, you'll find just as many, if not more, moral realists in philosophy departments as you will moral relativists (of course, I haven't checked every philosophy department in the nation; this is simply the sense I get from speaking to students from other departments and from following the work of contemporary moral philosophers).

CodewordConduit said...

Eric, you are using anti-semitism as an example or "wrongness" for want of a better word.

Is this because you believe that the elevation of one race for special treatment above all others is wrong (as in the case of Hitler's Aryanism?)

If this is the case then how do you attepmt to square the circle of God's preferential treatment of the Jewish people throughout the OT?

The Mosaic laws that allowed a Gentile to be treated in an unequal manner to a Jewish person?

Gandolf said...

Some American Indian tribes evolved to accept a form of euthanasia.Their elderly or sick often took it upon themselves to go out into the wilderness to be left to die ending pain and saving dependency thus in a certain way strengthening the tribe.

Other tribes in other parts of the world elsewhere evolved with different morals whereby this type of thing did not happen.

Did the American Indian feel guilty like they had done anything wrong by not following some ultimate morality supposedly available for all humans worldwide.

No they did not!.

Their morals that they followed were naturally formed and at the time worked best for the strength and survival of the tribe.

Eric said...

Hi Codewordconduit
I think your analogy is premised on a flawed understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and god.

The OT Jews were looked favorably upon by god because they accepted the Torah, not because they were inherently 'better' than others. Indeed, according to the Talmud, the Torah was offered to all peoples, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it. In some versions of this story, the Jews were offered it last; in others, they were chosen by god because they were among the lowliest of people, so their successes would be have to be seen as the work of god! Note also that the Jews lose any 'special status' they have with god any time they abandon the Torah; this alone demonstrates that it has nothing to do with the inherent superiority of the Jewish people themselves. Now, I'm not saying that I take any of this to be historical truth; rather, I'm showing how the Jews own stories about their relationship with god are not consonant with the presuppositions of your analogy.

CodewordConduit said...

The OT Jews were looked favorably upon by god because they accepted the Torah, not because they were inherently 'better' than others.

No, I don't thinks so, as the pentateuch and oral law tradition began roughly with Moses many years again after the promise to Abraham.

Genesis 18:18-21

"On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—

19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,

20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,

21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.


And there we have the Promised Land, well before the Torah was around to be accepted or otherwise. This land was promised specifically to the descendents of Abraham through Sarah. Agreed? And the promise was nothing to do with a nonexistant Torah, agreed?

This "Promise" gave the Israelites the right to take the land of Canaan as their own, despite not actually owning any of it at the time.

In other cases we would call this an invasion.

Note also that the Jews lose any 'special status' they have with god any time they abandon the Torah; this alone demonstrates that it has nothing to do with the inherent superiority of the Jewish people themselves.

No they don't lose their special status - God "rebukes" them but never forgets them - and their racist, segragist laws still stand - even in exile (as much as they could).

They don't lose their "chosen" status with God, and according to the Bible never will.

I also question the validity of using hearsay to back up your points; and would rather you presented your argument with applicable scripture or historical evidence instead of a cut-and-paste job of the first "Google" site that fitted your search criteria.

CodewordConduit said...

Oh, also @ Eric

From your argument is it then acceptable to have racist laws regarding anyone not of the same faith as you?

Eric said...

"I also question the validity of using hearsay to back up your points; and would rather you presented your argument with applicable scripture or historical evidence instead of a cut-and-paste job of the first "Google" site that fitted your search criteria."

Hi Codewordconduit
Ah, but pure speculation about my sources is acceptable? I didn't 'cut and paste' a word of my response, and I didn't 'google' to find a site that that backed up my points. People who have read widely very often cannot recall a source offhand, and people posting extemporaneously on internet blogs don't generally feel obliged to cite everything they bring up. If you doubt this, read through a number of perfectly respectable threads on this (or on any decent) blog -- don't see many citations, do you? If you ever get around to studying informal logic, the first thing you'll learn is to keep in mind the *category* of discussion you're having, since *that's* what determines your obligations.

"No, I don't thinks so, as the pentateuch and oral law tradition began roughly with Moses many years again after the promise to Abraham."

You've completely missed a rather important question, the answer to which contains the key to this whole discussion:

What made Abraham, the 'first' Jew, a Jew? Was he a Jew before his covenant with god? No, he wasn't. If his covenant with god made him a Jew, then what does that say about the nature of Jewishness as such? Is it on a par with 'racial superiority,' as you suggest, or with a people trusting god and accepting his law? The answer is obvious, isn't it? How can it be identified with racial superiority if the first Jew was not, in any sense whatsoever, a Jew by virtue of his race?

(Incidentally, since the source of the Jewish people was to be Abraham's son, it's farcical to expect god to give the law in its 'complete' form to a people who didn't yet exist! But you're certainly right, there were Jews before the Torah, and I concede I misspoke; I was thinking about how Jews are defined today and projecting that conception back on the OT Jews as a whole; I should have spoken more generally of covenantal reasons, and instead incorrectly restricted my criteria to the Torah alone. N.B. However, this doesn't in any way affect my main point: **they were Jews because of their covenants with god; they weren't party to those covenants because they were Jews**. Hence, your analogy still fails.)

"They don't lose their "chosen" status with God, and according to the Bible never will."

I never identified the 'special status' of the Jews with their identity as god's chosen people, so this is a strawman.

"From your argument is it then acceptable to have racist laws regarding anyone not of the same faith as you?"

First, you're conflating 'race' and 'faith' here -- two distinct categories. But more to the point, given that my argument comprises a critique of Eller's conception of morality, this question is literally incoherent.

However, speaking as an advocate of a broadly Aristotelico-Thomistic conception of natural law (which is to say, as someone who *reasons* from the *fundamental principles* of AT natural law, not as someone who accepts dogmatically every *conclusion* various advocates of AT natural law, including Aquinas himself, have reached) I would not find such laws acceptable.

CodewordConduit said...

Taken from the very first site I found when I googled the topic:

According to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2b), G-d offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it.

You wrote:

Indeed, according to the Talmud, the Torah was offered to all peoples, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it.

They wrote:

In some versions of this story, the Jews were offered it last; in others, they were chosen by god because they were among the lowliest of people, so their successes would be have to be seen as the work of god!

You wrote:

In some versions of this story, the Jews were offered it last; in others, they were chosen by god because they were among the lowliest of people, so their successes would be have to be seen as the work of god!

They wrote:

Because of our acceptance of Torah, Jews have a special status in the eyes of G-d, but we lose that special status when we abandon Torah.

You wrote:

Note also that the Jews lose any 'special status' they have with god any time they abandon the Torah...

Source

http://www.jewfaq.org/gentiles.htm

Your entire counterpoint was almost verbatim plagiarism - unless you'd like to assert that your memory is that good.

You could have just posted the link. Forgive me if I refrain from discussing your other points, as you've pretty much proven yourself to be a liar and a thief of other people's work.

Eric said...

"Forgive me if I refrain from discussing your other points, as you've pretty much proven yourself to be a liar and a thief of other people's work."

No, you're avoiding discussing my other points because I've simply demolished your argument. Reasoning isn't for everyone.

Speaking of reasoning (or the lack thereof), let's look at the charge you're making. Take the first sentence of mine you quoted, and google it. How many sources do you come up with that both deal with the same issue and contain matching fragments? Am I 'plagiairzing' all of them? Let's look at a few...

Here's my first sentence:

"Indeed, according to the Talmud, the Torah was offered to all peoples, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it."

Here's what we find on the first page of a google search (note, we don't find the source you cited):

"The Lord offered the Law to all nations; but all refused to accept it except Israel"
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=478&letter=C


"According to the Rabbis, the Torah was offered first to the other nations of the world, but they all rejected it..."
http://books.google.com/books?id=3oHg70lQL0IC&pg=PA427&lpg=PA427&dq=Indeed,+according+to+the+Talmud,+the+Torah+was+offered+to+all+peoples,+and+the+Jews+were+the+only+ones+who+accepted+it&source=bl&ots=f4JU8A-miz&sig=IKAJ5pLyj_CmZs78d7cVNKtui1A&hl=en&ei=Ga6sSbX3MMiVnge3rqHBBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result

"According to the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2b), G-d offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it."
in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081218074134AAhzXfQ

"This is quite at variance with their belief that they are "God's chosen people," because "God offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it," and so "Jews have a special status in the eyes of God" (Rich)."
http://www.readingislam.com/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1153698300117&pagename=Zone-English-Discover_Islam%2FDIELayout

Wow. You know what -- with the exception of that last example, in which a source was provided, I think they're all guilty of plagiarism -- that is, given your lame criteria. Please. We're dealing with general knowledge that is often expressed (as my examples above demonstrate quite clearly) in similar language.


Your second example is most telling, and puts you in a particularly bad light. You quote my words, then pretend to have quoted from your source, which you claim is *exactly* the same as my sentence. Talk about a blatant lie! Let's see what your source *actually* says, after looking again at the second quote you provided from my post:

Eric: "In some versions of this story, the Jews were offered it last; in others, they were chosen by god because they were among the lowliest of people, so their successes would be have to be seen as the work of god!"

Your source: "The story goes on to say that the Jews were offered the Torah last, and accepted it only because G-d held a mountain over their heads! (In Ex. 19:17, the words generally translated as "at the foot of the mountain" literally mean "underneath the mountain"!) Another traditional story suggests that G-d chose the Jewish nation because they were the lowliest of nations, and their success would be attributed to G-d's might rather than their own ability."

Hmmm, that's not exactly the 'verbatim' quote you claimed it was, eh? So, who's *demonstrably* lying now? All one has to do is to look at your last post, in which you claim I lifted my entire sentence from the source you cite; however, as I've shown above, that's not at all the case. Shameful.

If you can't deal with my arguments (and the lack of substance and understanding in all of your posts indicates that you can't), admit it or ignore them, but don't make yourself look ridiculous with the equivalent of claiming that anyone who says 'E=MC^2' without citing Einstein is guilty of plagiairsm.

CodewordConduit said...

Everything you said was on one website page in the exact same order and almost exact wording.

Shut up, liar.

Eric said...

"Shut up, liar."

You're making an inference that I'm lying, but I have incontrovertible proof that you're lying. All one has to do is look at the second sentence you quote from my post, and compare what you *claim* is the quote from your source -- which conveniently matches mine word for word -- with what your source *actually* says -- which is not even close to matching mine verbatim. It doesn't get any clearer than that.

But this is all nonsense. If you want to deflect attention away from your inadequate arguments with unsubstantiated charges, fine. I prefer to focus on the arguments.

Incidentally -- and this is a fine point of logic, so you may not be capable of understanding it -- we could *both* be lying about this tangential issue, and it wouldn't affect the resolution of the fundamental issue in the slightest. Which, again, demonstrates the importance of focusing on the arguments themselves if truth is what you're interested in.

CodewordConduit said...

Ah, yeah I see the one that I repeated there; my mistake with the old CTRL + C CTRL +V etc.

Despite this oversight which I apologize for, your entire first argument still mirrors this site.

Too closely, in sentence structure etc - not just sentiment.

CodewordConduit said...

Nevermind, I'll deal with your points in a bit. Sorry for the agression Eric.

Scott said...

Eric,

To clarify...

Hitler wanted the wealth and labor of the Jewish culture, but wasn't willing to abide by it's rules. This clearly fits the description given.

Post hypothetical victory, Hitler would fail to "put his money where his mouth is" if he were found in the same situation. This implies that Hitler didn't really see his rational as moral, in the conventional sense, but as something he could get away with by means of exploitation and use of force. (Which is itself another moral quandary)

To assume otherwise requires Hitler to have a substantial justification in this specific case, should another race asserting to be more "genetically fit" made the same claim on his own society. None was provided.

However, there are indications that Hitler though of himself as being "divinely" chosen by God or nature, despite having no substantial evidence to support this position. Most would agree this was some form of delusion. In the same way, it seems unlikely that Hitler would give in to any opposing force that later claimed divine right over his wealth, labor, etc.

Of course, this is the the fundamental problem with claims moral higher ground due to divine revelation. God's enemy is conveniently your enemy and vice versa.

CodewordConduit said...

Eric

"What made Abraham, the 'first' Jew, a Jew?"

“Jew” means of Judea, or of the kingdom of Judah. Abraham wasn’t a Jew. God’s chosen people however are the descendents of Jacob (Israel). Edomites were not considered to be Jews and indeed in Malachi they are described as being inhabitants of “…the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD…”. Abraham remarried and his second wife Kenturah bore the fathers of the tribes of Canaan.

The reason that people say that the Jews are God’s chosen people is probably because after the kingdom split into Judea (tribes of Judah and Benjamin) and Samaria (the remaining eleven); it was Judea that held onto the purer of the Judaic traditions. The Samaritans were of both Israelite and Assyrian blood and engaged in polytheistic tradition that brought scorn of the people of Judea onto their heads.

Perhaps you would like to redefine what you were saying with more correct terminology and historical accuracy?

Cheers


Sarah.

CodewordConduit said...

In fact, I was guilty of saying "Jewish person" earlier in the thread which may have misled you somewhat - I sometimes make that mistake when tired.

I should have said (as I usually do - Hebrew people or Israelites).