Jan 07 2013

Morality – Religion, Philosophy and Science

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431 Responses to “Morality – Religion, Philosophy and Science”

  1. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 9:03 am

    It seems I posted my discussion/question over at your last post literally 1 minute before this went live (at least according to my RSS reader).

    It seems my thoughts were more or less in line with what you have written which actually makes me feel pretty good about myself considering how out of depth I (still) feel on the topic.

    One interesting thought I had whilst reading your post was this:

    Would you consider it ethical to take someone against their will, kill them, and harvest their organs in order to save the lives of 5 people (or 6, or some other arbitrary number)? Most people would say no. However, you are saving 5 lives at the expense of 1, and it can be demonstrated that this will maximize happiness all around.

    There is an added wrinkle – the knowledge that at any time you may be the one harvested (assuming random selection) would be likely to lower the overall happiness of society and could very well decrease overall happiness, irrespective of the negative right not to be killed.

    Or if the decision is to make only a specific subset of the population harvestable, which for argument’s sake would be easily and objectively defined and a small minority of the population at large, then the massive decrease in happiness from the minority in aggregate could also outweigh the increase in happiness of the population at large.

    Or the fact that (for example) I – and presumably others – would be unhappy knowing others were being harvested regardless of whether I am in danger of being harvested or not.

    All of these scenarios could be taken into account by an appropriately robust scientific model (though one must assume some sort of quantized objective measure of “happy units” which may or may not be feasible since now we get into the qualia of life and I can tell you that my fiancé experiences much more “happy” for things than I can possibly feel and I often envy her this).

    A last interesting question – what if we grew fully developed organs in a vat for harvest and transplant, no human ever required? What if we grew full human beings, minus a brain for the same purpose? What if we grew full human beings, but they were never awake? (There is an episode of the old TV show Sliders about this topic, for those geeky enough to recall).

    So I reckon I agree – they are complimentary to each other and that philosophy is necessary to answer the questions about which outcome is most desirable as generated by science and science is necessary to constrain the philosophers to reality (otherwise we get theologians which we have seen fails spectacularly). But I think that there is, at least in principle, a larger role for science in answering the questions than may be assumed by Massimo or yourself, but less than Harris thinks.

    Or maybe I just don’t have a clue what I am talking about. I always feel it incumbent to caveat that I am a neophyte in topics of philosophy.

  2. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:21 am

    Steven,

    Just because there is not agreement on a matter doesn’t mean it is untrue. That’s simply illogical. For example, the laws of mathematics would still be what they are if we didn’t understand them at all.

    “Related to this is the issue of religious freedom. It is impossible to base laws on religious beliefs without oppressing the religious freedom of those who do not share those religious beliefs.”

    Except we do this all the time. While I agree you cannot legislate morality effectively, we still impose our beliefs on others all the time – whether it be humanism, Judeo-Christian principles, etc.

    You said,
    “Another fatal problem is that, even if we lived in a universe where there is a god who has moral commandments, nobody knows what those are.”

    This implies that you have knowledge in which to be able to say that every religious view is wrong. You might be right, but you are assuming this when you shouldn’t. You simply do not know.

    “There is no one who objectively and verifiably knows the will of God, and God has not seen fit to unambigously make their will known to all of humanity.”

    Christians don’t agree with you. Neither do Muslims for that fact. What makes what you are saying true? It might be, but it’s a belief you hold.

    You said,
    “We are therefore left with the interpretation of God’s will by people, and therefore at best all we know are the interpretations by very fallible and culturally biased people.”

    This is all based on personal opinion. You can’t prove any of this with science.

    You said,
    “If the multitude of religious traditions is any indication, this is an extremely variable and flawed filter through which to see the will of God.”

    Again, this is based of the gambit that says because we don’t agree all are wrong or truth can’t be known. It’s a form of the ad populum fallacy.

    You said,
    “If God’s morality is perfect and absolute, is it so because it comes from God, or is it inherently perfect and God, who is omniscient, is simply able to discern it as so?”

    This is Euthyphro’s dilemma – Is an act right because God says it’s so, or does God say it’s so because it’s right?.
    This is a false dichotomy and Christians would reject both options. Rather, morality stems from neither. Morality stems from God’s character. See the following link for a basic explanation of this.

    http://www.gotquestions.org/Euthyphro-Dilemma.html

    You said,
    “the morality of the god of the old testament was brutal and even evil by today’s standards – God apparently thought it was OK to murder children for poking fun at his prophets, to rape women, to engage in slavery, and to commit genocide.”

    1. God kills lots of people, 100% of the population to be exact, and it doesn’t appear that the statistics are improving.
    2. Correct on the genocide.
    3. False on the slavery.
    4. False on the rape.

    Regardless, you claim the Old Testaments morality is burtal and evil. This implies that you are comparing this with some objective standard of right and wrong – Please, by all means hand over this objective standard from which we can then condemn this God’s evil morality….

    I am glad to see you reject Sam Harris’ view of morality. I was disheartned that someone with a philosphy background could make such basic errors in his view.

    You said,
    “Science plays a role in all this – science can tell us about why we have the moral senses that we do. This is based mostly on evolutionary theory and on neuroscience. For example, most humans seem to have an inherent sense of reciprocity and justice. We feel that if we do something good for someone else, they should give back to a similar degree. Further, if someone does something bad against another person or (worse) the group, they should be punished in some way. These are evolved senses, based in the hard wiring of our brains.”

    This is wrong on several accounts. Westernized culture might have traces of this, but by in large humanity has not functioned in this manner. Not only that, but it goes against evolutionary theory to say that we should care about those outside our family/tribe.

    Even worse, you have the problem that pre-Christ you completely lose the notion of “love your neighbor as yourself/the Golden rule”. Now, I know your objection to this, and it’s misplaced. I agree many religions say to do unto others as you would have them do unto you – Christianity is not alone here, but that’s not my point. Christianity revolutionized this belief. Christianity came along and redefined who your neighbor was, your neighbor wasn’t only those who were nice back to you, or those who caused you no harm, your neighbor was also your enemy! Make no mistake, this is unique to Christianity.
    Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the good Samaritan
    Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

    You said,
    “None of this, however, can tell us if we should punish those who commit crimes.”

    Christianity can, and does.

    You said,
    “We still have to decide what outcomes we want, and how to value different outcomes when they conflict. How do we balance freedom and safety, for example?”

    This is largely correct, and a good question, how do you answer it?

    “Science cannot answer these question for us – it can only inform our choices by telling us what the likely outcomes will be. Those defending science as the final arbiter of ethics either knowingly or unknowingly are taking a consequentialist view. Even if this view can be defended as the best system of ethics (and I do not believe it can), that is still a philosophical choice that needs to be defended philosophically.”

    True again. Glad you said it, coming from me it would cause a storm.

    You said,
    “Religious traditions also come with a great deal of baggage derived from the beliefs and views of fairly primitive and unenlightened societies.

    Every world view comes with baggage, don’t be mistaken here. The Eugenics movement was derived from naturalism/Darwinianism. Liberty itself was even used to commit atrocities in her name… the list goes on.

    Secondly, you might believe cultures to be wrong, but lets be real here, you don’t have an objective standard to demonstrate that they are wrong, you only have your personal opinion, which is largely based in your culture. So you might not “like” them, but who cares what you or I happen to fancy?

    Zach

  3. Ori Vandewalleon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:28 am

    I’m going to preface my comments by saying that I do not believe that any gods exist, and that I do not believe anyone has true knowledge about what system of morals is the correct one.

    That said, I have a great deal of understanding for the religious point of view which says that morality stems from religion. To those that subscribe to this belief, they also believe in a world in which their god created the universe and all the rules that govern it. From that point of view, morality can be seen as a property of the universe in the same way that gravity is.

    That is to say, morality is an objective system for determining what is right and wrong. There are no other assumptions required to start thinking about morality from this perspective. And this is where the religious perspective wins points with me. While many see the Old Testament god committing genocide as an obvious flaw in the morality of that system, they’re making the unfounded assumption that morality is about what is good and bad for the human species.

    It’s easy to see why we so often make this mistake. As Dr. Novella points out, we have an evolved sense of morality. And this sense of morality is clearly derived from its capacity to further the survival of the human species (or at least certain selfish genes of the human species). And it’s also pretty clear that any moral rules we have that derive from our religious beliefs are almost always our evolved sense of morality dressed up with religious justifications.

    But this doesn’t change the fact that any objective morality built into the fabric of the universe doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with humans or life at all. We hear the refrain from religious followers that God works in mysterious ways. This is usually an attempt to deal with the problem of evil, but it makes the point well: morality might not be concerned with humans in any way.

    Perhaps the morality system built into the universe values the creation of omelets above all else. If that’s the case, then it is morally justifiable to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

    At this point, many people will say that, okay, that may be the system built into the universe, but if it has nothing to do with us, then why should we care? We should adopt whatever system benefits humanity the most.

    The problem with this approach is that it fails to realize just what objectively correct really means. It’s akin to saying, who cares if gravity exists, I can walk on air. And you can certainly try to walk on air. Nothing in the laws of physics prevents you from trying. But there will be consequences. Typically, you will fall down.

    Similarly, you can try to ignore the objective morality built into the universe, but there will be consequences. You may burn in the fiery pits of Hell, or you may cause the creators of the universe to lose the cosmic game of Chess they’re playing with our neighboring universe. Whatever the case, your actions are objectively wrong, in the same way that it is objectively wrong to say that the natural place of heavy things is the ground.

    All that said, I have no idea what system of morality is built into the universe’s rules, or if there even is such as a system. My only hope is that through the accumulation of knowledge (at least all knowledge in the universe), we might begin to figure out if such a system exists, and what that system says.

    But most people just aren’t going to care about that. Most people are only going to care about what’s good for life, or the human species, or their family, or themselves. And in that respect, this is where the perspective that many religious people have loses points with me. Many religiously-inclined individuals believe that nonbelievers (of whatever stripe) are incapable of being moral. This is wrong from two standpoints. Firstly, if morality is some objective thing that we are unaware of, then it’s perfectly possible for anyone to be moral, but we could only be moral accidentally. Secondly, if the only morality we can hope to know about is creating good for humanity, then our natural, evolved sense of morality will work for anybody who’s not a sociopath. (None of this holds up, of course, if that one person’s religion does happen to be true.)

    So, then, how to produce the most good for the human species? Well, that’s a question left for philosophers. Dr. Novella is largely right here that science can help us evaluate decisions (and create tools that allow us to do better for humanity), but it can’t actually tell us what is right and wrong. Science runs into the is-ought problem here, or even the naturalistic fallacy. You can look at science and observe that everyone dies, and therefore conclude that dying is good/natural. But we clearly don’t believe that to be what’s best for the human species. So a deeper, subtler analysis is required, and that has to come from thinking about what is best for the species.

  4. Kawarthajonon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:29 am

    Funny that advocates of religion as the only source of morality speak of it as a unified gold standard on how to act. In reality, morality is relative, even among very religious people. Take Catholics, as an example. While the use of birth control is not allowed by its members according to the official Church doctrine, each of it’s members have their own practice when it comes to using birth control. In Quebec, for example, where the vast majority of people identify themselves as Catholic, the vast majority of people are also in favour of using birth control (As an aside, they have the lowest birth rate in Canada, likely a function of their views on birth control).

    Another excellent example is the Christian Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Some people interpret this as murder, meaning that it is ok for soldiers to kill their enemies or for police officers to kill people who threaten them or others (because it’s not murder). Others interpret this to mean that thou shalt not kill ANYONE, including your enemies.

    An additional problem is that there are so many religions and sects within each religion. Each religion and each sect have different (sometimes very different) interpretations of similar religious texts and have different takes on morality. Sometimes, as in the case of the Anglican Church, people inside the Church cannot agree on what is moral and what isn’t (as in the case of the Church’s position on homosexuality). New sects are popping up all the time.

    The problem is similar with non-religious and atheists – morality is based on your own diverse set of beliefs and even when the Church (or government) tell you to believe one thing, you may not agree and act in a way that fits with your own morality. Morality is a very tricky thing and not as black/white as some advocates of religion make it out to be.

  5. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 10:03 am

    You do a nice job of discrediting any single God-free support for morality. Then in your conclusion give your own opinion about how morality should be determined using a blend of these flawed methods with religious methods.

    If we are going to argue about the source of morality, first we must start with its definition. Morality is a standard of right and wrong. It is a concept that is understood to be universal. If it is not universal then it is meaningless and devolves to nothing more than individual preference. From your article, I think you would agree with this definition.

    I read your link to “Another Response from Martignoni on Objective Morality
    “. In it you made the statement that an “objective” morality should be based on “logic, fairness, and universality”. I don’t see this as any support for morality at all.

    Logic requires premises from which to derive concepts. What would be your premises? Some specific moral I would guess.

    Fairness is itself a moral. From where do you derive this moral?

    Universality is a characteristic that morality must have by definition. I fail to see what you mean by making it a basis for morality.

    So you basically are saying we should base morality on morality itself. This is an incredibly weak argument. Basically your response is no response at all. You are simply pushing the question further back.

    I also wanted to address this argument:
    “Science plays a role in all this – science can tell us about why we have the moral senses that we do. This is based mostly on evolutionary theory and on neuroscience. For example, most humans seem to have an inherent sense of reciprocity and justice. We feel that if we do something good for someone else, they should give back to a similar degree. Further, if someone does something bad against another person or (worse) the group, they should be punished in some way. These are evolved senses, based in the hardwiring of our brains.”

    This explains only how certain morals might have evolved. It does not explain whether they are “right” or “wrong”. Scientific arguments can be made for how racism evolved and would be useful for a society. I thing you would probably agree with me that racism is morally wrong. Why? In order to have the “universality” that you seek in your morality, you must have an authority. There is no other way.

    I believe(Sorry, no scientific proof) the existence of God is made known through our conscience. Our conscience is given to us by God in order to lead us to Him. Because of our human nature, we can not fully understand God or fully follow the true moral code that He gives us. That should not stop us from seeking Him out.

  6. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:03 am

    Zach, the distinction you seem to be making between “rules” and “moral behavior” is curious and self-defeating. On the one hand you say that God is the source of perfect and unchanging morality, but on the other hand you say that the rules a person must follow to be a moral person changed from the OT to the NT.

    So which is it?

    Dr Novella said:

    “There is no one who objectively and verifiably knows the will of God, and God has not seen fit to unambigously make their will known to all of humanity.”

    To which you replied:

    “Christians don’t agree with you. Neither do Muslims for that fact. What makes what you are saying true? It might be, but it’s a belief you hold.”

    Christians don’t agree with themselves. Mormons believe one thing, Catholics believe another, and (as I understand them) those beliefs are incompatible.

    If you consider yourself to be a Christian, and a member of the class of Christians you are referring to when you say “Christians don’t agree with you”, then you are (in effect) saying that Catholics and Mormons (and yourself) objectively and verifiably know the will of God. If all 3 know the will of God, then why do they say it is different things?

  7. Steven Novellaon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:06 am

    nybrus – that’s a good point and I did think of that interpretation. We can come up with endless other scenarios, however. What if only convicted criminals were killed to harvest their organs? What about people who have less than six months to live anyway? What about just harvesting organs from people who die but who did not consent to have their organs taken?

    What about animal rights? Now, do we consider animal happiness in our equation?

    All of these questions are philosophical. Plus, when you start counting societal happiness you blur the lines with value ethics.

    Bottom line – a measure of net happiness is an insufficient basis for a moral system.

  8. Flailon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:18 am

    Harris addresses utilitarianism directly in his book. His position is not that morality is maximizing happiness, but that it is maximizing human flourishing. He leaves “what is flourishing?” as a somewhat nebulous concept.

    We do all acknowledge that societies can be moral or immoral. A society that throws acid in the faces of women that don’t cover themselves with burkas is less conducive to flourishing than a society where women can participate equally. There is no objective proof of that statement, but if you disagree with it then I doubt we could have a meaningful conversation about morality in any case. That isn’t to say that I completely agree with Harris’ views on morality, but I find he is often misinterpreted or unfairly represented.

  9. Steven Novellaon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:19 am

    Zach – You said:”This implies that you have knowledge in which to be able to say that every religious view is wrong.”

    This is simply not true, and is a straw man argument. I am not saying that every religion must be wrong. I am saying no religion can prove, or even make a cogent argument, in my opinion, that their religious beliefs are the one true set of beliefs. Further, the many religious differ from each other, often in mutually incompatible ways. So by necessity you will have to argue that religion A is correct and religion B is wrong – try doing that without oppressing religious freedom.

    I agree that we restrict freedoms in society, that was not may point, however (so this is another straw man). My point is that if we are going to restrict freedoms, we need to justify it as a society based upon arguments that are valid and stand on their own – not based upon one subgroup’s traditions or religious beliefs. As a society we can come to a consensus about what moral values and rules to codify in our laws. This is an ongoing conversation, and hopefully we progress to ever more enlightened and nuanced laws.

    Finally, you keep challenging me to provide an “objective standard” of morality. Perhaps you missed the deeper point of my post but – there is no ultimately objective standard of morality, just as science does not give us final Truths. The standard is the best we can do as flawed humans, using science to help us understand ourselves, to understand the consequences of our actions, and using philosophy to reflect on a system that makes internal sense, maximized goals we can agree upon are good goals, and thinks through all the ramifications of moral decisions. It’s not perfect, but it can be very good, and it’s the best we have.

    Objective morality is an illusion. As I said – even if you think such exists, then you have to demonstrate how you know it exists, and how anyone can know what it is. Faith is insufficient.

    Regarding the brutality of the old testament, from Kings:

    2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
    2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

    Please defend God mauling 42 “little children” for calling a man baldy.

  10. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 10:24 am

    Bottom line – a measure of net happiness is an insufficient basis for a moral system.

    It’s also far from obvious how to objectively measure a subjective state like happiness, which itself can be defined in a variety of culturally biased ways.

    Still, I find it refreshing when a concept of happiness (or, better yet, flourishing) enters into moral discussion. It would really suck if we our ethics took no account of how we feel.

  11. bgoudieon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:52 am

    Despite claims that this “holy text was written by a god” , or this is what the god in flesh told me” we have no actual reason to think any religion’s morality is based on anything divine or supernatural. All we know for certain is that certain societies and groups of humans have taught and interpreted these moral guidelines.

    Even if we accept that the supernatural might exist (which is itself a giant leap away from rational thought) there is no way for us to determine which of the many competing faith’s is the one that got the message right. The “choice” of has it correct ends up generally being a matter of which culture were you raised in.

    All morality is defined by humans. We (as an aggregate) make the choices of what is and is not acceptable.

  12. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:15 am

    “On the one hand you say that God is the source of perfect and unchanging morality, but on the other hand you say that the rules a person must follow to be a moral person changed from the OT to the NT. So which is it?”

    Morality and rules are different, I fail to see how that is self-defeating…
    Are their similarities, yes, but to say that different rules equate to a diffenent morality is simply false.

    Let’s take murder and killing. Is it wrong to murder? Christians would argue yes. Is killing wrong, Christians would argue no. Is this a change in morality since in both situations it’s the question of ending a human life? Of course not, it’s a change in the rules applied to given circumstances.

    I’m not sure if that one will explain it for you so I’ll go a step further.

    Return back the drivers licence analogy (keeping in mind all analogies break down at a certain level).

    The rule tells me at 15 I cannot operate a motorized vehicle. The rules tell me then 2 years later than I now can operate a motorized vehicle…

    According to your logic we should call this a broken system since it is inconsistent. Can I or can I not drive a motorized vehicle…. well it depends. At 14 no, at 16 yes, but only if I have gone through the process of being licensed to do so.

    This is the same thing with Christianity and the Old Testament and New Testament. Notice, I am not talking about if the O.T. laws are icky, wrong, or savage, we are talking about the change – since that is all that matters for this conversation.

    In the Old Testament it is like a 14 year old wanting to drive – not ready yet. In the New Testament we are 16, and can drive. The moral nature of God remains the same, but a major event (Christ’s death on the cross) has come along allowing certain things to be different. It’s not a logical problem.

    You said,
    “Christians don’t agree with themselves. Mormons believe one thing, Catholics believe another, and (as I understand them) those beliefs are incompatible.”

    This doesn’t matter. Do all scientist agree on every aspect of scientific theory? Of course not. Does that mean the truth is not there and can’t be known, of course not. Now all scientist might be wrong, but the premise that unless you have universal agreement there an be no truth is fallacious.

    Steven,

    You said
    “This is simply not true, and is a straw man argument. I am not saying that every religion must be wrong. I am saying no religion can prove, or even make a cogent argument, in my opinion, that their religious beliefs are the one true set of beliefs. Further, the many religious differ from each other, often in mutually incompatible ways. So by necessity you will have to argue that religion A is correct and religion B is wrong – try doing that without oppressing religious freedom.”

    1. No, this isn’t a straw man, it’s an inference from what you said, I’ll show you why.
    2. When you say that no religion can prove itself or make a cogent argument (though you preference it with your opinion), that their religious beliefs are the the one true set of beliefs are you making the mistake of Niche. This is a self-defeating statement since it’s is a claim at the one true set of beliefs about all beliefs. It’s the biggest power claim on knowledge of them all. Religions are nothing but world views, and to assert your view of all world views as the only correct view is very thing you are condemning religions for doing.
    3. I will argue that Religion A is superior to religion B. Now, I do not think we should legislate religion per-say, and I believe one should be able to practice their religion (no matter how absurd it may be) so long as it does not infringe on individual human rights – a presupposition I hold that also is founded on my religious texts – what is yours founded on?
    4. All world views are not created equally. Nor are all religions. The bottom line is truth/knowledge is very difficult to decipher, but we have no other choice.

    You said,
    ” My point is that if we are going to restrict freedoms, we need to justify it as a society based upon arguments that are valid and stand on their own – not based upon one subgroup’s traditions or religious beliefs.”

    So you are putting forth humanism as your world view in which societies should make laws? Why is your world view superior to others world view? Do you have an objective standard from which to demonstrate this?

    “As a society we can come to a consensus about what moral values and rules to codify in our laws. This is an ongoing conversation, and hopefully we progress to ever more enlightened and nuanced laws.”

    This is largely false. In one breath you condemn religons contribution to that consensus, but then in the next you say it’s a consensus. Is this not an ad-populum fallacy? Please explain how that is not? Does majority rule? Might make right?

    Using words like enlightened means that you believe there is a better/worse morality – so what objective standard are you appealing to that will let us know when we are hot or cold (more enlightened or less).

    You said,
    “Finally, you keep challenging me to provide an “objective standard” of morality. Perhaps you missed the deeper point of my post but – there is no ultimately objective standard of morality, just as science does not give us final Truths. The standard is the best we can do as flawed humans, using science to help us understand ourselves, to understand the consequences of our actions, and using philosophy to reflect on a system that makes internal sense, maximized goals we can agree upon are good goals, and thinks through all the ramifications of moral decisions. It’s not perfect, but it can be very good, and it’s the best we have.”

    This really doesn’t mean much of anything.
    If there is no objective morality then what’s the point of this conversation? Morality is then nothing more than “I like this” or “we like this”. And who cares about what you or I like… and even worse, what determines who’s view of morality we go with? The Nazi’s? Might makes right?

    You said,
    “Objective morality is an illusion. As I said – even if you think such exists, then you have to demonstrate how you know it exists, and how anyone can know what it is. Faith is insufficient.”

    Then there is no morality, and survival of the fittest is all their is. The strong eating the weak is a major part of evolution, so why are you upset if humans do what is completely natural in the animal kingdom? Are we not just animals after all? Do you get upset when one animal kills the other for dominance? Why the double standard?

    “Please defend God mauling 42 “little children” for calling a man baldy.”

    First off, the Hebrew word is not for little children, it’s actually for teens, much much older. But regardless, I don’t need to defend God’s actions here, you need to defend your position that mauling teens (or even little children) is wrong. Please provide an objective standard for why it is wrong? When you do, we can then together condemn Yahweh as immoral, until then there is no immoral so who cares about mauling little children. You might not like his actions, but it’s nothing more than a preference then.

    The bottom line is your world view completely stands against the notion that humans are more valuable than rocks, trees, ants, or bees. Yet you continue to argue that they are by your illogical clinging to some moral system that isn’t even absolute as you just claimed its not.

    You have once again essentially cut the tree branch you are sitting on.

  13. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 11:46 am

    Zach: The bottom line is your world view completely stands against the notion that humans are more valuable than rocks, trees, ants, or bees.

    Valuable according to whom? To most humans? I should think so – or at least to those whom we love or have no quarrel with.

  14. Kawarthajonon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:52 am

    Zach:
    “Let’s take murder and killing. Is it wrong to murder? Christians would argue yes. Is killing wrong, Christians would argue no. Is this a change in morality since in both situations it’s the question of ending a human life? Of course not, it’s a change in the rules applied to given circumstances.”

    Depends on your denomination. Making a blanket statement that all Christians would say one thing is inaccurate, as each sect has its own unique set of beliefs. These beliefs have changed dramatically over time – take, for example, the Christian expansion in Europe. At one time, it was acceptable and encouraged to wipe out (i.e. murder) all of the inhabitants of towns or communities that were not Christian (i.e. Jews, Muslims, Pagans, etc…). Today, this would be considered a war crime/genocide, as it was during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990′s. As would widespread burning of women at the stake – was this not murder? Some believed it was, some believed it was justified and not murder.

    Morality is deeply contextual and changes as society changes. A few decades ago, no Christian denomination would have approved or supported same-sex marriages. Now, there are a number of sects that support this. Same could be said of pre-marital sex, co-habiting couples, divorce, etc… To say it provides a unversal moral standard is simply untrue. Morality is a moving target and it is relative to the times and the individuals within that time. Morality is not objective, it is subjective.

  15. Steven Novellaon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:53 am

    Zach – your reasoning is profoundly muddled. You are first creating a false dichotomy – absolute objective morality, or no morality at all, survival of the fittest.

    We as humans can agree on certain first principles – like, all things considered we would like to live in a world in which sentient beings have certain rights, like the right not to be killed. We can largely agree on a few such principles, and then work out from there, using logic, a system of ethical thinking that works toward those principles. That is the philosophy of ethics.

    This is not an argument ad populum because there are no empirical claims here (remember, this is philosophy, not science). This is not a law of the universe – just mutually agreed upon rules by which we are going to run our society. You are the one interjecting the whole notion of “objective” morals. You are assuming that, but it’s a faulty premise, and something you have to prove, not just assume.

    By this system – a philosophical system based upon first principals and logic, I can say that mauling children for making fun of someone is grossly immoral. It is such a blatant violation of any reasonable ethical principal that the notion of just saying – God works in mysterious ways – is laughable.

    Trying to boil this down to world views is also a red herring. Once again – you are trying to frame the discussion with your premises as conclusions. It’s not about world view. It’s about thinking very carefully through the logic and implications of a system of behavior. Philosophers have done this for centuries, and they actually have some pretty good arguments at their disposal. Logic, transparency, and basic first principles is not a world view – it is the only system that can hope to cut across cultural boundaries and justify ethical positions.

    You are offering faith and tradition to support a system that, in many cases, offends basic logic.

    Your argument about applying the same rules in different situations does not hold. This implies there is a deeper underlying ethical system, that, in your example, takes maturity and the resultant ability to consent into consideration. I do not see any analogy or extension of this, however, that can explain how it is morally objectively right to murder 42 teenagers for being sassy.

    That is an excellent example of how ideology distorts reasoning beyond all recognition.

  16. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 11:59 am

    PS: That we can abstract from that more concrete forms of love (e.g. towards family and friends) to a wider circle (e.g to society or humanity as a whole, the vast majority of whom are strangers) says something about human nature and potential. It says little or nothing about metaphysical postulates, like gods, angels, demons, fairies, etc., however.

  17. SARAon 07 Jan 2013 at 12:03 pm

    There is an inherent problem with a morality that is applied to world in it’s entirety. Morality is demonstrably a very flexible concept.

    The universe is disinterested in right and wrong. We created those concepts in order to have a productive structure in which to co-exist. That is more than sufficient reason to embrace a certain level of morality.

    Essentially, I think all of our ethics and morals are informed by the implicit social agreement that nybrus points out – which is that we all agree certain rules must be followed or none of us feels safe. Those rules are the more obvious laws and expectations that inform our judicial system. But individuals break those rules regularly and entire groups get excluded from those agreements.

    However, studies show that humans (all of us, religious or otherwise) have sliding scale of moral behavior and it is heavily influenced by our immediate environment and recent suggestion.

    The bible’s conflicts of morality are in fact just a literary history of this very human process. Humans act very much in a “when in Rome” manner. So, when everyone in the tribe thinks it’s OK to kill babies or own slaves, then to people in that tribe, it is.

    When an individual is in a position to re-frame the social agreement without consequence, and to their own gain, they often will. And their particular religious or ethical background will not stop the fact that they will change the guidelines of their behavior on a situational basis.

    Morality is not immutable the way certain physical laws are. It is a concept with infinite variations.

  18. DOYLEon 07 Jan 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Morality stems from species evolution.The steady development of the social animal that recognizes,whats good for another is good for the individual,who must consider the aspect of the future as a cooperative survival system.

    ps. consider the reason of the mirror neuron system.

  19. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Steve

    You said:

    “Zach – your reasoning is profoundly muddled. You are first creating a false dichotomy – absolute objective morality, or no morality at all, survival of the fittest.

    If the word morality is to have meaning it must be universal, else you are only pushing the preference of one group over another.

    You said:

    “We as humans can agree on certain first principles”

    This is laughable on the face. When did this happen that everyone on earth can agree on first principles? If we as humans can all agree on the principles, everyone would follow them or at least try very hard to. You may find a consensus, not unanimity, on some principles. You could also find a consensus on racism at certain places and times in history. If you use first principles you must choose whose principles to use and impose them on others. Why are these principles right? Why does it even matter if there are any principles at all?

    Zach need not defend a specific God to show that an authority is necessary for morality to make sense.

  20. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 12:37 pm

    SARA: Morality is not immutable the way certain physical laws are. It is a concept with infinite variations.

    Logically, yes. But, given the pro-social emotional and cultural traits that we inherit (or at least the overwhelming majority of us), those variations are in reality highly constrained.

    NotAnAtheist: Zach need not defend a specific God to show that an authority is necessary for morality to make sense.

    There are secular thinkers who would agree and argue that reason (or ‘Reason’) is the best and only authority here. That view has been hotly contested by other secular thinkers, however. As Hume put it:

    Reason is confined in its operation to matters of fact and the relations among ideas. Reason cannot and does not motivate action – it simply helps you satisfy your desires which have their origin not in reason but in passion. If passion dictates the destruction of the world, reason will simply lay out the means to that end. It is therefore ‘not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.

    Still, no society functions for long on an “anything goes” ethic. On that I think we can all agree. It’s only a question of which actions our society is willing to accept under which circumstances and which it isn’t – for whatever “reasons” (i.e. passion-motivated arguments).

    No mention of gods (or angels, demons, fairies, or other imaginary beings) is required in order to have this discussion.

  21. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 12:40 pm

    PS: Sorry, only the last portion of that quote is a direct quote from Hume (beginning with ‘not contrary to reason…’). The rest is a third-party description of his view. – source

  22. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 12:57 pm

    mufi

    You said:

    “Still, no society functions for long on an “anything goes” ethic. On that I think we can all agree.”

    So what if society functions? Why is that my concern.

    You said:

    “No mention of gods (or angels, demons, fairies, or other imaginary beings) is required in order to have this discussion.”

    You are correct in saying that no mention of gods is necessary for one group to force their own will on another group. Now to claim that their will is one with a moral basis, an authority is absolutely necessary.

  23. tmac57on 07 Jan 2013 at 1:03 pm

    If you think that there is some unequivocal,objective Christian “word of god”,then take a look at this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_version_debate

    The late start in writing down the text of the bible,and the many translations, interpretations,and culling of books of the bible results in a mish mash of flawed ‘information’ that contains historical anomalies and errors.
    Hardly the foundation for the last word on universal morality,I would surmise.

  24. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 1:06 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    You said “If the word morality is to have meaning it must be universal, else you are only pushing the preference of one group over another,” in response to Steve saying ““Zach – your reasoning is profoundly muddled. You are first creating a false dichotomy – absolute objective morality, or no morality at all, survival of the fittest.”

    You’ve confused objective with universal. They do not mean the same thing.

    You then said “This is laughable on the face. When did this happen that everyone on earth can agree on first principles? If we as humans can all agree on the principles, everyone would follow them or at least try very hard to. [etc.]” in response to “We as humans can agree on certain first principles.”

    You are not reading with any serious effort at understanding your opponent’s position. “We can do X” and “We already have done X” aren’t the same thing. Steve did not claim that we have a universal consensus on first principles. He claimed it would be possible (by rigorous philosophy) to come to such an agreement.

    What’s more, you’re failing to understand the concept of first principles. You’re thinking of it in terms of moral judgements–about racism, to point out the specific example you use. That’s not the point at all. A first principle would be something like “Life is preferable to death.” “We ought, when possible, to promote human well-being.” First principles are axioms from which the rest of the discussion can proceed. There’s nothing implausible about this.

  25. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 1:17 pm

    A long post explicating complicated details is one thing. A long post jumping from topic to topic all whilst asserting as accepted facts and ideas which are far from it is a Gish Gallop. The rational amongst us here know which camp Zach falls into.

    For example:

    This is wrong on several accounts. Westernized culture might have traces of this, but by in large humanity has not functioned in this manner. Not only that, but it goes against evolutionary theory to say that we should care about those outside our family/tribe.

    Of course, someone who denies the veracity of evolution can’t be expected to understand what evolution actually says, but it is telling the types of caricatures are painted as an attempt to rebut. Altruism – even between species let alone tribes of the same species – is not only not against evolutionary theory, but predicted by it, accounted for mathematically, and witnessed regularly in the animal kingdom and a staggering variety of ways (even to the point where a cat and an owl can become playmates).

    Besides the fact that Zach can’t actually hold a coherent philosophy together, it is beyond blatantly obvious he doesn’t understand the science he so vigorously fights against.

    Sorry mate, but you are so far out of your depth here it’s beyond laughable it is just tedious. Though it is reminiscent of William Lane Craig and further evinces why so few people actually care to debate the pompous windbag.

  26. Steven Novellaon 07 Jan 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Also – a general agreement does not imply 100%. Most people do not want to be murdered. So – can we as a society agree to the basic principal that it is morally wrong to murder someone else? OK – but then let’s think carefully through all the implications of that, and other principals that may conflict.

    Some ideas are so non-controversial that we can use them as starting points of moral reasoning. No authority is needed.

    We can also agree on the principal of fairness that the same rules should apply to every person, with certain exceptions to minors and those who are unable to manage their own interests. Again – no rule or principle is absolute – they are just starting points.

    Stop using some hypothetical perfect absolute morality as the arbitrary standard. It’s and absurd premise, and is not necessary. All I am advocating is a workable and usable system of ethics, usable by us humans for our own society and behavior to meet our own interests.

    In any case – there is no perfect absolute morality, and there is no authority on which to base morality. If anyone claims that such exists and they have access to it, the burden of proof is on them. So far the evidence is so laughably childish as to not even warrant taking seriously. (i.e. bears mauling naughty teens)

  27. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 1:25 pm

    @SARA:

    An interesting thought experiment a professor once had us do:

    Can you create a society where murder – the indiscriminate killing of anyone for any reason – is sanctioned and perfectly legal? In other words, can a society exist were any death of any kind always goes unpunished?

    This taps into the concept of an evolutionary society which Zach seems to think is the only other option to one based on an objective universal morality – after all what separats us from the animals that kill and eat each other without jail sentences?

    Well, the argument is that such a society cannot exist. Because inevitably the society will fractionate into groups that agree NOT to kill each other and protect each other against the other groups that would kill you.

    So the notion that a “first principle” is laughable is itself laughable. To think that it seems to be lauded as divine insight that “thou shalt not kill” is handed down from god himself and inscribed in stone is absolutely puerile. In any society – human or animal – the smallest functional unit is one in which the members agree not to kill each other and protect each other to flourish. That is not only consistent with evolutionary theory, it is necessary for it to work! And you can see examples of it in the wild amongst and between species.

    The problem is access to resources being limited. The corollary to the first principle of freedom from killing is the necessity to live – and if that means killing others it will happen. The difference with humans at this point is that we have the ability to ensure everyone has the resources necessary to live and thus the smallest functional societal units can be very large. Where resources are scant, and Maslow’s hierarchy is not met, you can see the fractionation of society. Just compare parts of Africa and the Middle East with places like the US, Australia, or other developed nations.

  28. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 1:29 pm

    @Philosofrenzy

    Is this right?. Objective means that it may be applied from outside of a system. Universal means that it applies to everything in a system. I think both must be a characteristic of morality for the word to have meaning.

    Apologies if I misunderstood Steve’s position on agreement on first principles. I imagine that a future agreement on first principles must be right around the corner.

    I have no such misunderstanding on what first principles are. We will use yours.

    ” A first principle would be something like “Life is preferable to death.””

    Why is life preferable to death?

    What about:
    Terminally ill?
    Mentally handicapped?
    Unwanted children?

    Even if everyone agreed that life is preferrable to death it is still an arbitrary agreement unless there is some authority behind it.

  29. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Also – a general agreement does not imply 100%. Most people do not want to be murdered. So – can we as a society agree to the basic principal that it is morally wrong to murder someone else? OK – but then let’s think carefully through all the implications of that, and other principals that may conflict.

    And even then there will inevitably be outliers – like the man who agreed to be killed and cannibalized even eating his own flesh before being killed and the rest of him cooked.

  30. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Objective means that it may be applied from outside of a system. Universal means that it applies to everything in a system.

    Objective means everyone can agree to its veracity, not that it need be applied to the system as a whole or at all.

    Universal means it is everwhere in a system, regardless of whether we want it there or not.

    We can objectively say that cyanide will kill any human being in sufficient quantities. We may not want to actually apply that to the system but rather avoid it.

    We can say that senescence is universal to all humans, but we are actively trying to delay and prevent it.

    Neither are necessary terms for morality to be valid and functional and in fact a universal morality will be the only one certain to be immoral, since it cannot take into account circumstances or individual or community needs and preferences. This is why the religious right attempt to ban abortion in all cases citing it an objective and universal evil to abort a fetus is subject to so much backlash – it leads to idiotic statements by congressmen and deaths of women in Ireland.

  31. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 1:45 pm

    NotAnAtheist: So what if society functions? Why is that my concern.

    Because you either live in a society that protects you and your interests or you desire to do so.

    If not, then by all means, try to survive outside of a society. I’m sure the wildlife will be very interesting in debating morality with you. :-)

    Now to claim that their will is one with a moral basis, an authority is absolutely necessary.

    The term “morality” can be used either

    1) descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
    a) some other group, such as a religion, or
    b) accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
    2) normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

    source

    Now, with this (nuanced) definition in mind, a minimal criterion for morality is that it refers to a “code of conduct”, the basis of which can vary from tradition to personal choice to rational reflection.

    If you wish to call those bases “authorities”, then I won’t object, so long as we’re clear that they are not necessarily theistic – or even cosmic – in nature.

  32. mnestison 07 Jan 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I see lots of comments suggesting that morality is linked with religion, belief in God, etc. I also saw in previous days commenters suggesting that Steve does not understand philosophy and that morality ad philosophy inherently are not scientific. In support of Steve’s position that religion is not necessary for morality and philosophy, I provide the example of medical ethics. There is an ongoing debate about the ethics of new technologies and procedures that do not involve religion and are not derived from such. Instead, modern day ethicists use logic and evidence in coming to proposals. The end result comes from consensus, yes – but that consensus is derived from actual evidence and logic. The ethical codes of various professions (AMA, APA, etc.) are frequently updated with new considerations based upon new evidence, technology, etc. – and while none of these are perfect, the aim is to improve each iteration. They begin with underlying principles (beneficence, non-maleficence, equality) which form the basis of later principles. They are not perfect, and there are instances in which an ethical principle is in conflict with another – in which case one is provided recommended steps to consider to come to the best alternative (and always using the underlying core principles to guide one’s actions). This contrasts with religious morality – which is based upon the past and not updated to meet new demands or incorporate new knowledge.

  33. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 2:15 pm

    It seems that we’ve fallen into the typical pitfall of arguing with fundamentalist religious types, a la creationists, who attempt to obfuscate the problems with their arguments by muddying the waters and derailing the conversation.

    What it seems to me to be happening is a lot of academic nitpicking about minutiae as a red herring intended to distract from the fact that the people who claim absolute morality exists haven’t been able to satisfy burden of proof that it actually does exists in the first place. As an analog, this is exactly the same reason why atheists are atheists, because theists haven’t been able satisfy their burden of proof for the claim that their deity exists. So, what we see happening is a long string of logical fallacies, moving the goalposts by redefinitions, and intellectual dishonesty, all in order to maintain a belief that does not jibe with reality.

    One can rely on history to demonstrate that absolute morality indeed likely does NOT exist since what is considered moral in past societies has changed so often, even among those who have claimed absolute morality all along. So, not only has the burden of proof that absolute morality exists not been satisfied, there is evidence to the contrary. Keep in mind that this is not a strong position – I am not claiming that it DOESN’T exist, just that I see no evidence that it does AND that there’s evidence to the contrary – I’m open to new evidence that could compel me to rethink my position (if it ever arises).

    I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about what has already been discussed. I do believe that morality is society-based and typically comes from the human need and desire for cooperation for the mutual benefit of the group members. Even in the most heinous dictatorship, this must exist to some degree in order for society to function at all, even if the “mutual benefit” is for those running society.

    Unfortunately, no matter what system is in place, not ALL group members will ever be satisfied about every aspect, and some will invariably find happiness with the breakdown of the society, or unhappiness from having societal coherence “forced” upon them. In this regard, NotAnAtheist is correct: there is no system (that I can think of) where there’ll be complete consensus of ALL society members, and force will be necessary at some point.

    That being said, to rely on an ancient book whose authors lived thousands of years ago in pre-scientific superstitious societies is not relevant to today’s society. Heck, texts written hundreds of years ago wouldn’t be relevant (and is why we have amendments to our Constitution). Many rules in it will now be irrelevant. Many would be downright detrimental. Many are absurdly arbitrary. This is why secular humanity is vastly preferable, because it CAN change with the times as needed.

    Those who claim absolute morality are not thinking things through. Even just 50 years ago, many people had religiously moral objections to integration and interracial marriage. During suffrage, there was religiously moral outrage that women seek equal rights. Back in 19th century America, people had religiously moral reasons for owning slaves. Before then, it was moral to burn witches at stakes and wipe out so-called “godless” cultures. It’s a good thing that THESE morals are not absolute!

  34. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 2:23 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    While “Life is preferable to death” was obviously a gross simplification–and I don’t think I would stand by it as a good starting point–the form of your objection implies that if a principle isn’t *sufficient* on its own, it can’t be necessary. That’s a serious confusion.

    In any case, the whole point is that we can work through it rationally–with exactly this sort of give and take of figuring out where to start, and go from there to create a workable ethical system. The very fact we can have the discussion–and that someone can recognize that your objection (cases where death might be preferable) makes sense shows that we’re operating from a common axiom–something like what Sam Harris points out: that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad, and that we ought to avoid it to greatest extent we are able. If ‘ought’ means anything, that’s what it means. And if you ask “why should we avoid the worst possible misery for everyone?” then you’re either confused or dishonest.

    In any case, there’s no alternative to this approach to morality. It’s all we’ve got. There *might* be some objective “truth” about morality, but if there is, we have no access to it. And so whether there is or not, we’re left to work it out on our own as if there isn’t. It’s no different from physics, where the best we can do is create more and more accurate models–models that work better than then their predecessors.

    It might be the case that morality has some objective truth to it–but at some point in the chain, there comes a point where there’s an axiom that reads something like “We ought to…X.” Promote human well-being. Obey the Lord, your God. Whatever it is, the “ought,” enters the system in an axiomatic statement like this. And so regardless of the system, the sociopath gets to ask the question “Why? Why ought I to do that?” So the “Why?” question isn’t an objection to the rationalist morality; it’s an objection to morality, *period.*

    Ethics/Morality is a social technology. We make discoveries by thinking about it, discussing it, and by seeing what works and what does not. To frame this as being about different cultures having different “preferences,” is a a ridiculous parody.

  35. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 2:26 pm

    As a sidenote, I want to make clear the position of most atheists, since I’ve been seeing the argument flying around that atheism is a faith-based position claiming with certitude that there is no god. This is a strawman, because few atheists are gnostic about their beliefs. Atheism, by definition, simply implies lack of belief in a deity or deities – it does not delve into what a person claims to know or not know. That’s the realm of gnosticism/agnosticism. That’s why most atheists consider themselves agnostic as well.

    Indeed it WOULD be a faith-based position if an atheist claimed with 100% certitude that there definitely no God (few atheists, when pressed, will admit this). The only way to know that for certain would be to be omniscient. Most atheists maintain intellectual honesty by adopting an agnostic stance (incidentally, something you don’t see most theists do).

    This is relevant here since the claim has been made that atheism is every bit as faith-based as theism, and therefore an arbitrary stance based on personal preference. That argument is also a red herring since theism and secular humanity are NOT mutually exclusive. Case in point: the Executive Director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State happens to be an a ordained minister with the United Church of Christ.

  36. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2013 at 2:30 pm

    NaA, there does not need to be an “authority” for a common and shared system to develop among humans. Language is not derived from an authority, it is synthesized by the group of children that is growing up together.

    This is an extremely important aspect of human communication and human culture. When children re raised in a society where the adults speak a “well formed” language, the children learn and speak that “well formed” language as their first language. If the adults are not communicating with a “well formed” language, then the cohort of children growing up together takes the communication primitives that the adults are using and uses them to synthesize a “well formed” language de novo. This is how pidgin languages spoken by diverse adult immigrants are turned into a “well formed” Creole.

    There is no “authority” that dictates the “well formed” rules of the new Creole. The Creole arises spontaneously in the group of children. Language is an emergent property of a group of children growing up together. To a very large extent, a sound sequence has no intrinsic meaning, it only has meaning in the context of the language that has been synthesized.

    When humans need new terms, they can be coined and assigned meaning which can be logically fit into the structure of the language. New terms can be derived by analogy from old terms.

    A system of morality can form the same way. People collectively decide what actions are “moral” the same way that people collectively decide what meaning is attached to which sound sequence. People can deviate from those collective norms, but then they are considered to be immoral, or speaking gibberish. If you make a small “meta-leap”, and consider that just as all words need to mean the same thing to everyone, moral actions need to have the same universality; that is if everyone behaved that way the society would be stable and worth living in.

    Of course treating everyone “the same” is anathema to all of the patriarchal religions, even those that claim the same founder. They all demand that the self-proclaimed religious leaders have more rights than anyone else, and claim this is due to “The Universal and Unchanging Perfect Morality from God”, and if you don’t agree with them their “morality” tells them to kill you.

  37. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 2:33 pm

    mufi

    You make make yourself the authority if you like. I will choose not to recognize your authority over morality. My point is that all rational people do have an understanding of morality to some degree ingrained in us not just for how we should act but for how your neighbor or even someone across the ocean “ought” to act. This urge we have is universal. Not all follow this urge and choose to follow other conflicting urges. Why should we have a notion of how someone completely unrelated to us “ought” to act?

    I believe that urge comes from God. Others may believe that urge comes from evolution. If so then it has no authority over me. I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority. I may make a huge empire and do whatever I please. Why would it be better to follow some arbitrary rules based on some evolutionary urge that I have no problem suppressing? Why work a boring 9-5 job when I can have the exciting life of a renegade. Why would I follow “mufi’s rules for living” if I can have my empire by going against the rules? You are free to disagree and choose the 9-5. You are free to get together with likeminded people and make my lifestyle illegal. What you can’t do is say what I am doing is “wrong” without some authority.

  38. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 2:38 pm

    daedalus2u

    You are correct that no authority is necessary for morality to develop. It is necessary however to determine whether a morality is “right” or “wrong”. I am not arguing if there is another way to explain the existence of morality. I am arguing that an authority is necessary for there to actually be a “right” or “wrong”. The morality of the sort that could allow one to judge a society that promoted slavery as an unjust, immoral society. Anything else is just preference.

  39. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 2:42 pm

    @ rezistnzisfutl:

    Once again very well said.

    I will also add that, of course, I am an agnostic atheist. I cannot know there is no god or gods, but I have enough evidence against the possibility and no evidence for it to be confident enough to eschew the agnostic bit and just say atheist. It was quite funny when the newspapers went ablaze went Dawkins stated that he was an agnostic last year – as if that and his atheism were mutually exclusive and it was some new revelation that he was admitting the possibility of a god… all despite the fact that all this is clearly explained and stated in his book. Theists tend to cling to any hope that their theism could still be valid, however precious little there is. It reminds of the movie Dumb and Dumber when Harry is told there is a one in a million chance Mary would date him. “So you’re saying there’s a chance! Woohoo!”

    Lastly, while a must be agnostic towards the generic god or gods, I can be gnostic towards specific gods since their existence is predicated on claims that can be tested. No god proposed to date – even the Abrahamic one – passes this test as they are all either self contradictory or have sufficient evidence against their existence (or some combination thereof).

    So an agnostic atheist like me can say that Yawheh doesn’t exist – just the same as Vishnu and Allah don’t – and still be correct and intellectually honest.

  40. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2013 at 3:03 pm

    NaA, so the society of the OT was unjust and immoral even though they were following “the rules” that God had dictated because they kept slaves? And allowed those slaves to be beaten provided they didn’t die for a couple of days?

    Exodus
    21:20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
    21:21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

  41. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 3:08 pm

    NotAnAtheist: What you can’t do is say what I am doing is “wrong” without some authority.

    Sure I can…with the implicit proviso that I’m expressing an opinion – however worthy (e.g. grounded in sensitivity to commonly shared core values, plus logic and evidence) an opinion it may be.

    Now, you’re free to imagine that some authority figure exists, whose opinion outweighs mine and every other human on the planet (both individually and collectively). But it’s not very likely that you’ll convince someone who doesn’t already share that delusion that s/he should play along with you, which makes it a practical non-starter with anyone except the most gullible.

  42. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 3:10 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    Your insistence that you need an authority confuses the right to enforce with being ability to recognize the truth of the proposition. You don’t need an “authority” to recognize that objects near the earth’s surface fall at 9.81 m/s^2. You just need the intellectual persistence to figure it out and demonstrate that it’s true. Neither would you need an authority to recognize when an action violates ethical principles.

    Once you understand “wrong” to mean “an action inconsistent with human well-being,” for instance, it’s true to say “murdering that child is wrong.” In fact, it’s *objectively* wrong–and anyone who thinks about it long enough will be able to say that without needing an “authority.”

    Again, the theist holds atheistic, rational morality to a standard theistic morality doesn’t meet either. Compelling people to behave morally is a problem of motivation and encouragement–it has nothing to do with the ontology or epistemology of ethics.

  43. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 3:41 pm

    daedalus2u

    I did not defend the passage in Exodus. You used your moral authority(from wherever it is derived) to condemn it though.

  44. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 3:44 pm

    @nybgrus

    Some very interesting and thoughtful points, as usual. The Dawkins situation is definitely indicative of how profoundly misunderstood atheism is by society at large. I would guess that likely that comes from the fact that most people get their definition of atheism from other theists, primarily their holy leaders who attempt to bestow what they consider the evils of apostasy and disbelief and villianize those who go that route.

    In this context, theists seem to be attempting to undermine those arguing against the notion of absolute morality (aka absolute authority) by conflating that with atheism, an ad hominem that attempts to point to a person’s personal belief (or lack thereof) instead of their actual argument. That’s why I had to mention that secular humanity and religious belief are not mutually exclusive.

    In other words, it’s another attempt to obfuscate their inability to meet the burden of proof for their positive claims and to derail the conversation by muddying the waters with their nitpicking at minutiae.

  45. NotAnAtheiston 07 Jan 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Philosofrenzy

    “You don’t need an “authority” to recognize that objects near the earth’s surface fall at 9.81 m/s^2. You just need the intellectual persistence to figure it out and demonstrate that it’s true. Neither would you need an authority to recognize when an action violates ethical principles.”

    Sure, I can agree to that. You first must decide which ethical principles and that WOULD require an authority.

    You said

    “In fact, it’s *objectively* wrong–and anyone who thinks about it long enough will be able to say that without needing an “authority.””

    How is it *objectively* wrong without an authority? I do not see it. What meaning would you be using for the word objective? Thinking about it long enough=objective?

  46. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 4:07 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    You seem to have unnecessarily strict criteria for considering something objective. You seem to use the word to mean almost “necessarily true,” or something like that. Objectivity isn’t some magic property; it means little more than “factual.” In order for it to be objective it only needs to be the case that the facts are true, and that the conclusion follows logically from them, such that someone aware of the facts cannot rationally conclude anything else.

    Murdering children creates a scenario in which human flourishing is vastly diminished. This a fact about the world that can be observed and learned–not “just an opinion.” Once it is learned, “it is wrong to murder children” follows logically from the axiomatic premise “it is wrong to engage in activities that move us away from a higher degree of human flourishing and toward the worst possible misery for everyone.”

    So anyone adopting this axiom–and I contend that nobody disagrees with it, except hypothetically, and for the sake of argument–anyone aware of the facts can speak, objectively, about the wrongness of murdering children.

    But please, you’re still ignoring the challenge: how does a theistic, god-based morality avoid any of the problems you’re raising against rationalist morality?

  47. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 4:29 pm

    @Philosofrenzy

    “But please, you’re still ignoring the challenge: how does a theistic, god-based morality avoid any of the problems you’re raising against rationalist morality?”

    I see what you’re trying to achieve here, and that’s cool if you want to go that route, but it seems to me that we’re just playing his semantic games. With the highlighted statement, we’re operating under the assumptions that a supernatural god exists and that it’s a specific god of a specific religion, that that god defines morals, that some of them are absolute, and that those morals are preferable to anything humans are able to come up with on their own – not only preferable, but necessary or else. Raising issues with rational morality on these bases is simply another red herring in attempts to alleviate their burden of proof, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Doing so is an academic exercise at best, and I for one would like to see them address their burden of proof first.

    Going under the assumption that god exists and his morals are outlined in the bible (to pick on christians a bit here), it seems to me that the only real benefit of having an authority that dictates absolute morals is that it allows followers to defer to that higher power without having to think about it. I can see where that would be comfortable to people as it doesn’t actually require work or thought.

    NAA argues that rational morality still requires a moral authority. Even if that were true in some cases, which is arguable, it’s still preferable because it’s predicated upon the maximum well-being and the minimum hardship and suffering of ALL citizens. The “authority” comes directly from humans (which I argue has always been the case) instead of a handful of religious prophets who claim to be speaking for their god.

  48. Karl Withakayon 07 Jan 2013 at 4:31 pm

    @NotAnAtheist,

    “I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority. I may make a huge empire and do whatever I please.”

    You may certainly try to do so, until the those in authority and the rest of society try to stop you.
    ——————————–

    “Why work a boring 9-5 job when I can have the exciting life of a renegade. Why would I follow “mufi’s rules for living” if I can have my empire by going against the rules?”

    Well, the rest of us probably won’t let you openly live that renegade life or build that empire unless you do so while abiding by our rules.
    ——————————–

    “What you can’t do is say what I am doing is “wrong” without some authority.”

    You really need to rephrase that, because anyone clearly can say that what you would be doing is wrong, with or without any authority. Collectively, society can decide that what you would be doing is wrong. You may not agree that they are correct, but anyone absolutely can say it.
    ——————————–

    Regarding your need for authority,

    From dictionary.com:

    au·thor·i·ty

    1. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
    2. a power or right delegated or given; authorization: Who has the authority to grant permission?
    3. a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.
    4. Usually, authorities. persons having the legal power to make and enforce the law; government: They finally persuaded the authorities that they were not involved in espionage.
    5. an accepted source of information, advice, etc.

    No mention is made in any of these definitions of divine investment as a requirement for valid authority.

  49. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Philosofrenzy to NotAnAtheist: You seem to have unnecessarily strict criteria for considering something objective.

    Not only that, but philosophers categorize Divine Command theory (that is, the meta-ethical view that “for a thing to be right is for a unique being, God, to approve of it, and that what is right for non-God beings is obedience to the divine will”) as a form of Ethical Subjectivism (e.g. see here).

    After all, even putting aside the more blatantly anthropomorphic language that we often hear (e.g. references to body parts, like “hand of God”), theists traditionally ascribe personal/psychological attributes to their deities (cf. Buddhist karma, which Gautama described as impersonal forces of cosmic justice). That alone renders them subjects (e.g. conscious beings) that, on a-priori-logical grounds alone, make them vulnerable to Euthyphro-like critiques, like the one that Plato made thousands of years ago and which Dr. Novella echoed in his post.

  50. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Steven,

    “Zach – your reasoning is profoundly muddled. You are first creating a false dichotomy – absolute objective morality, or no morality at all, survival of the fittest.”

    Prove it. Simply throwing out fallacies without backing up your proof is pointless.

    “We as humans can agree on certain first principles – like, all things considered we would like to live in a world in which sentient beings have certain rights, like the right not to be killed. We can largely agree on a few such principles, and then work out from there, using logic, a system of ethical thinking that works toward those principles. That is the philosophy of ethics.”

    Are we living in the same world? Are we reading the same history books?

    The point is, this is not a universally held belief – and if it was it still requires a source or it is based on fallacy.

    You said,
    “We can largely agree on a few such principles, and then work out from there, using logic, a system of ethical thinking that works toward those principles. That is the philosophy of ethics.”

    This is wrong on every level.

    1. No we can’t work out such principles. – please show me a society that has ever done that? Societies are always divided. Your idea of individual rights and treating everyone equally is largely a western idea, don’t impose that belief on the rest of the world unless you have something other than, “I like this” to back it up. It’s nonsensical and hypocritical.

    2. Regardless this is all vague rhetoric, you aren’t embracing real issues and real questions and are just talking in generalities.

    You said,
    “This is not an argument ad populum because there are no empirical claims here (remember, this is philosophy, not science). This is not a law of the universe – just mutually agreed upon rules by which we are going to run our society. You are the one interjecting the whole notion of “objective” morals. You are assuming that, but it’s a faulty premise, and something you have to prove, not just assume.”

    1. It is ad populum – you are relying on a consensus that is rooted in opinion to justify something that your world view says cannot truly exist universally.

    2. What do you mean there are no empirical claims in philosophy and what does that have to do with ad populum not being applicable… You are justifying your position on a majority rule fallacy – there is no debate here. This isn’t just abstract ideas that don’t effect anything – these views matter and change the world.

    You said,
    “This is not a law of the universe – just mutually agreed upon rules by which we are going to run our society.”

    So if society agrees it’s ok to feed disrespectful teens to bears then you would be ok with that? Or would you object, and if so you’re entire point breaks down.

    “You are the one interjecting the whole notion of “objective” morals. You are assuming that, but it’s a faulty premise, and something you have to prove, not just assume.”

    No I don’t, unless you believe morality is nothing more than I like this or I don’t like that, and he doesn’t like this and he does like that – then it’s an arms race to see who enforces who’s favorites.

    “By this system – a philosophical system based upon first principals and logic, I can say that mauling children for making fun of someone is grossly immoral.”

    What system? majority rule fallacy? Might makes right? Morality is just opinion so on things you happen to like and not like?
    Ok, by the same system I can also say that mauling children (teenagers but you refuse to learn) for making fun of someone is moral and right.

    Now who’s system do we go with? Incoming might makes right fallacy.

    You said,
    “It is such a blatant violation of any reasonable ethical principal that the notion of just saying – God works in mysterious ways – is laughable.”

    More of the same – your entire view of morality relies on ad populum fallacy and argumentum ad passiones (Appeal to emotion).
    This is nothing but pontification.

    You said,
    “Trying to boil this down to world views is also a red herring. Once again – you are trying to frame the discussion with your premises as conclusions.”

    So you are telling me that you have not already pre-decided your conclusion?

    You said,
    “It’s not about world view. It’s about thinking very carefully through the logic and implications of a system of behavior.”"

    Ok, lets think them through. Now what? This statement requires an answer, you obviously have some pre-decided idea to what morals should move towards – that is where you fail to realize what you are actually appealing to. It’s your own personal opinion on what you care for. And why should anyone care about what you care for? Another conclusion you are now justifying, the very thing you said I just did.

    “Philosophers have done this for centuries, and they actually have some pretty good arguments at their disposal. Logic, transparency, and basic first principles is not a world view – it is the only system that can hope to cut across cultural boundaries and justify ethical positions.”

    More vague rhetoric that doesn’t mean anything.

    “You are offering faith and tradition to support a system that, in many cases, offends basic logic.”

    Actually I haven’t pushed that point yet, you refuse to acknowledge the basic logical processes that you are claiming to appeal to. I have simply said that if you are going to call any person corrupt (including the God of the Old Testament), you had better be able to provide some other

    “Your argument about applying the same rules in different situations does not hold. This implies there is a deeper underlying ethical system, that, in your example, takes maturity and the resultant ability to consent into consideration. I do not see any analogy or extension of this, however, that can explain how it is morally objectively right to murder 42 teenagers for being sassy.”

    Again, you have missed the point. I am showing the continuity between the Old and New Testaments – not defending that they are superior to other systems, there is a difference. Remember, the new testament isn’t all peaches and cream and love your neighbor. It ends with God killing half the world’s population, then the rest of the non-believers in the end and sending them to hell. Now, you might not believe any of this, but that doesn’t matter, I am talking about the continuity between the two that you try to deny.

    Also, you might not like the God of the Bible, but so what? That’s another appeal to emotion unless you can provide me with an objective alternative you are merely providing more fallacious reasoning to why it’s immoral.

    “I do not see any analogy or extension of this, however, that can explain how it is morally objectively right to murder 42 teenagers for being sassy.”

    Hey, you used teenagers this time, I’m truly impressed that you updated your argument. However, this is the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance).
    Just because you can’t think of a reason doesn’t mean there isn’t one, and secondly God killed them not the prophet. I’m pretty sure 100% of the population dies so what’s the problem here? You are clearly appealing to some other objective moral standard, what it is?

    You said,
    “That is an excellent example of how ideology distorts reasoning beyond all recognition.”

    Cheap shot and irrelevant. Start answering my questions instead of glazing over them with trite meaningless romanticized based generalities.

    Tmac57

    “If you think that there is some unequivocal,objective Christian “word of god”,then take a look at this:”

    What’s the problem here? language evolves, so the need for constant new translations will always be there.

    “The late start in writing down the text of the bible,and the many translations, interpretations,and culling of books of the bible results in a mish mash of flawed ‘information’ that contains historical anomalies and errors.
    Hardly the foundation for the last word on universal morality,I would surmise.”

    Late start? What is late? 1st century 1st hand eye witnesses is late?

    Better throw out every historian then.

    Steven

    “We can also agree on the principal of fairness that the same rules should apply to every person, with certain exceptions to minors and those who are unable to manage their own interests. Again – no rule or principle is absolute – they are just starting points.”

    What world are you looking at? Entire culture’s disagree with this in practice all the time. India – caste system….

    You said,
    “All I am advocating is a workable and usable system of ethics, usable by us humans for our own society and behavior to meet our own interests.”

    Your definition of workable is a preference not agreed upon by mankind, so why is your view superior?

    “If anyone claims that such exists and they have access to it, the burden of proof is on them.”

    That sword slices both ways. You are making a claim about morality so that claim must be backed up. Please provide an objective standard from which we can determine if your view is correct or not.

    NotAnAtheist: So what if society functions? Why is that my concern.

    Mufi you said,
    “Because you either live in a society that protects you and your interests or you desire to do so.”

    Mufi, this isn’t a reason, you are just re-explaining the same thing. Why should he care about society accept when it suits him and directly benefits what he wants?

    This is sort of like asking the question what is the point of football – one responds, “to score touchdowns”. No, for scoring touchdowns is itself the game football. The statement is true, but doesn’t need to be said. (This is clearly demonstrated by C.S. Lewis by the way, just pointing this out encase someone accuses me of plagiarism).

    NotAnAtheist

    “I believe that urge comes from God. Others may believe that urge comes from evolution. If so then it has no authority over me. I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority. I may make a huge empire and do whatever I please. Why would it be better to follow some arbitrary rules based on some evolutionary urge that I have no problem suppressing? Why work a boring 9-5 job when I can have the exciting life of a renegade. Why would I follow “mufi’s rules for living” if I can have my empire by going against the rules? You are free to disagree and choose the 9-5. You are free to get together with like minded people and make my lifestyle illegal. What you can’t do is say what I am doing is “wrong” without some authority.”

    Nailed it on the head. I truly can’t figure out why this point is so difficult for atheist/agnostics to swallow…

    “I did not defend the passage in Exodus. You used your moral authority(from wherever it is derived) to condemn it though.”

    Waiting patently for them to provide where this standard comes from that allows them to condemn it.

    Wrote this in a hurry – please excuse typos. And don’t take my directness as me being rude, I am writing quickly as it’s a busy day, and didn’t take the time to sugar coat things as much as normal.

    Respectfully,

    Zach

  51. RickKon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Philosofrenzy, even though I’m most definitely an atheist, I have to agree with half of NotAnAtheist’s side of this debate. He says there can be no “objective” morality without an authority, and that’s true. I’m quite confident there’s no invisible guy-in-the-sky authority. The closest we come to “objective rules of morality” are examples of hard-wired evolutionary tendencies that are pretty much universal across (and beyond) human societies.

    Interesting that you use the example of murdering children. If you take the anti-abortion community’s definition of “children”, then we quite often murder children in a socially acceptable manner. The native people of Tikopia Island provide another example. Because of limited resources and their isolation from any external trading partners, their society could only persist through rigid population control. Infanticide was one of the accepted control mechanisms. If they hadn’t practiced infanticide or some other form of murder/suicide, they would have suffered the same societal collapse as Easter Island experienced. What is worse – the intentional death of a percentage of the population, or the unintentional death of the entire population?

    I would be interested in the Christian solution to the Tikopia problem, as we may one day face it on a global scale. But that’s a digression.

    There are tendencies wired into human psychology and behavior. But history demonstrates that there is no such thing as absolute or objective morality. That’s why philosophy is important, to provide guidelines by which we can adjust morals and societal norms to fit a variety of situations.

    Religion is just philosophy attributed to an omnipotent agent. Sadly, while many such agents have been claimed, none have been seen. An omnipotent being who doesn’t want to be found is indistinguishable from a being that doesn’t exist.

  52. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 5:11 pm

    So I had a thought as I read through these posts.

    This is a skeptical blog, devoted almost entirely to demonstrated the principles of logical fallacy and cognitive bias. Post after post after post, with discussion, understanding, constructive critique, and refinement. Not a peep from any of the theistic contingent we see here today.

    Then a post directly dealing with religion and all of a sudden out of the woodwork they come pouring. I can’t believe that these folks have not been reading the rest of the posts all along and came here just for the ones turning skepticism on religion. Yet until this point they are clearly content to read and at least outwardly seem to have no beef with the skepticism of the posts here… until it abuts their theism. Especially if Christianity is even hinted at. I’d love to see an experiment where Dr. Novella posts about the inanities of the Hindu religion and deconstructs some of the Vedas. Do you think these folks would still come out and howl fallacy after fallacy at us? I would argue no, since their cognitive dissonance is not triggered when they can laugh along at how silly a four armed elephant god is. But point out that a bearded white dude in the clouds is just and silly and boy howdy how incredibly arrogant, strident, militant, and stupid we are; confusing science and philosophy, not understanding such simple premises as the fact that there not only is but must be an absolute objective more standard.

    I have to force upon myself some understanding though. It was (and still is) hard to turn the skeptical eye inward on myself. But I was also never indoctrinated in any particular ideology or world view as a child – all ideas were presented equally to me (well, with the exception that academic rigor and education is paramount to a succesful life). I read Greek mythology before I read Christian mythology. And by then the Christian stuff was boring. The Greeks told a much better story and had much more interesting and useful gods. I was baptised (long story) at about the age of 6 and even then remember thinking how incredibly weird this was and wondering if I was being put on. But I never had anyone beat it into my head that it was a “truth” or “right” to do so… merely that it was the cultural tradition of the family which sponsored our escape from the Soviet Bloc and we accomodated them as a courtesy to repay their kindness. LOL, I still remember thinking the holy water was disgusting since everyone dipped their fingers in it all the time and wondering what that weird metal thing making all the smoke was.

    It truly is a challenge to figure out how to get the likes of the theists we have here to realize that the “facts” and “truths” and “accepted premises” they keep laying down are only accepted by those who have had it driven into their heads to do so unquestioningly and that to anyone rational – or even irrational but not of their faith – they make no sense, let alone can be accepted as axiomatic.

  53. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:15 pm

    @ Mufi

    Exactly. :)

  54. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 5:21 pm

    This urge we have is universal. Not all follow this urge and choose to follow other conflicting urges. Why should we have a notion of how someone completely unrelated to us “ought” to act?
    I believe that urge comes from God

    And this is a perfect example of the utter fail. It is like when the Republican National Convention some years back had a speaker proclaim quite confidently that the Republicans hadn’t invented marriage, but marriage has always been between one man and one woman, in all cultures, and across all time and they were just there to defend it. The conclusion seems reasonable, but the premise is utter horse hockey.

    The urge is universal? Well I have an urge to make sure that my homosexual, bisexual, transexual, and polyamorous friends all have the right to and freedom to live happily and express their love to whomever in whatever way they wish with any number of consenting adults without judgement or scorn, with equal protections under the law. I have always felt this way (though not able to articulate it fully or feel as strongly) since I can remember… despite the fact that I am (and always have been) heterosexual and currently engaged to be married to a beautiful rocket scientist. Somehow there seems to be a fairly large portion of the population who seem to have an “urge” antithetical to mine.

    I also have this urge to ensure that young boys can grow up happy, healthy, and unmolested. The Catholic church doesn’t seem to share this urge with me.

    When you make absolute statements like the kind we have been seeing here (entirely from theists if you pay attention, though not all theists – here or otherwise – do so) one little contrary example shatters your entire argument leaving you pitifully defending nothing, like the Black Knight wiggling around in the leaves.

    Of course the never ending appeal to “authority” makes sense as well – they have willingly (or brainwashedly) subjugated themselves to an authority and if that is wrong, then everything they place value on is wrong.

  55. mufion 07 Jan 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Zach: Why should he care about society accept when it suits him and directly benefits what he wants?

    Strictly speaking, there’s nothing stopping someone from thinking & feeling this way, although (as Dr. Novella alluded in his post) there are certain brute facts about human nature (e.g. regarding our pro-social instincts, such as a tendency to reciprocate) that tend to work against the potential for anti-social behavior. And when nature & cultural upbringing fail (e.g. in the case of sociopaths), then we have legal and law-enforcement institutions to deal with those special cases.

    Sure, you can call this a “game” if you like. But, unlike in football, playing is not optional. It’s a game that we were all born to play and which society requires that we play in one version or another, whether we like it or not.

    Inventing some divine Game Master or Referee may or may not serve some added motivational purpose (provided one is not bothered by its implausibility). But I think it’s more likely to be a needless distraction at best.

  56. RickKon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Re false dichotomy of absolute god-given morality or no morality, Zach said: Prove it. Simply throwing out fallacies without backing up your proof is pointless.”

    People with no experience of anything you’d call a God, Zach, still develop moral codes. Even other primate species demonstrate rudimentary moral behavior – fairness, reciprocity, etc. Do you deny this?

    Zach – what are you arguing? You keep criticizing Steve on the basis that not everybody agrees to a given society’s set of morals. So what? Do you think “God” is a solution to that? How many Christian sects are there? How many other versions of God and of religion? There’s a lot of people out there that think God will reward them for jihad against infidels – will yours?

    There’s no question that inventing a divine authority as a sort of omnipotent “Big Brother” is a great way to get people to be more moral when nobody is looking. It works – no question. But so does the concept of karma, so does getting people to pledge to be good every morning, so does your mother’s warning that “she will always know”, so do cameras in every room. You can achieve better compliance in a variety of ways without having to conjure up an impossible always-vigilant phantasm.

  57. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:27 pm

    NaA, I don’t need an authority to tell me that beating people to near death is immoral.

    Applying the reasonable person criteria, and my empathy as a human being, I presume that servants being beaten such that they die in 2 days consider being so treated to be unacceptable and immoral. I presume that the servants being beaten to near death did not grant permission to be so beaten. It is not the presence of an authority that dictates that beating someone to near death is immoral to render such actions immoral, it is the lack of authority from the person being beaten that renders the action immoral.

    Your idea that an authority can authorize a behavior and by so doing it render it “moral” is called the “appeal to authority” fallacy when it applies to facts, it is no less a fallacy when it applies to moral actions.

  58. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I read Zach’s posts and all I can think is “wow.” As in “wow, I still always have trouble believing people can actually be so blinkered.”

    I mean for f&^%’s sake! He’s arguing the semantics of mauling chidlren versus teenagers as if that somehow means anything to the argument.

    Of course, it is patently obvious to me that he is yet another William Lane Craig acolyte since that is exactly the rhetorical tactics and examples he uses. His recent lecture about how the massacre in Newton was actually a gift from a loving god to remind us of the true meaning of the original Christmas was truly sickening… and could only be the product of such a warped mind poisoned by ideology and desperate rationalization.

    I really shouldn’t bother writing, reading, or engaging any of this drivel. But it is fascinating to me – like a rubbernecker watching a horrific accident in slow motion.

  59. tmac57on 07 Jan 2013 at 5:37 pm

    It just occurred to me that we should be VERY careful to not convert any theist who thinks that all morality MUST come from a higher source,because they would instantly become immoral,and who knows what they then might be capable of…right?
    Apparently they are right on the edge of mayhem but for the word of God.

  60. autumnmonkeyon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Zach: “Not only that, but it goes against evolutionary theory to say that we should care about those outside our family/tribe.”

    Nope, it’s not against evolutionary theory at all. We’ve evolved to a broader view of what constitutes our tribe.

    Zach: “Christianity came along and redefined who your neighbor was, your neighbor wasn’t only those who were nice back to you, or those who caused you no harm, your neighbor was also your enemy! Make no mistake, this is unique to Christianity.”

    Not true. This idea was borrowed from Stoicism, along with other pilfered concepts.

    Zach: “In the Old Testament it is like a 14 year old wanting to drive – not ready yet. In the New Testament we are 16, and can drive.”

    You’re analogy fails in respect to the difference between the OT and NT. A proper analogy would be: A 14 year old drives a car, he gets stoned to death. Two years later, the driving center says we’re not stoning people anymore; people of all ages can now drive. The rules AND morality have in fact arbitrarily changed whether you can see that or not. The change makes absolutely no sense. There’s a rational sense between forbidding a 14 year old from driving on the streets and allowing a trained 16 year old. There’s no sense in killing children and then saying we don’t do that anymore because of a mythical zombie.

    Zach: “But regardless, I don’t need to defend God’s actions here, you need to defend your position that mauling teens (or even little children) is wrong. Please provide an objective standard for why it is wrong?”

    This is the logic found in a playground argument. You cannot defend the action, hence you declare you don’t have to defend it. Then, ABRACADABRA, you conclude it’s your opponent who has to prove the opposite! Bill Craig at his finest!

    daedalus2u: “If you consider yourself to be a Christian, and a member of the class of Christians you are referring to when you say ‘Christians don’t agree with you’, then you are (in effect) saying that Catholics and Mormons (and yourself) objectively and verifiably know the will of God. If all 3 know the will of God, then why do they say it is different things?”

    It’s amusing how they all claim to have a personal relationship with the same deity and yet their deity tells them all different things. This fact alone should stop them in their tracks in claiming an objective morality.

    NotAnAtheist: “If so then it has no authority over me. I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority.”

    There’s no evidence that believing in a deity will stop you from doing those things. In fact, history shows the deity provides cover (at least those within the club) to do those crimes.

    NotAnAtheist: “I did not defend the passage in Exodus. You used your moral authority(from wherever it is derived) to condemn it though.”

    You offer an objective morality which forbids murder (from no less than the OT!!!) but when someone points out that the rampant and senseless murder in the OT is wrong, you say he can’t make that judgement without referring to some other source of objective morality? Your source of objective morality fails according to its own standards. The deity tells his people it’s wrong to murder, then tells them to murder. And atheists are the ones being illogical???

    AM

  61. Philosofrenzyon 07 Jan 2013 at 5:47 pm

    @ nybgrus

    “His recent lecture about how the massacre in Newton was actually a gift from a loving god to remind us of the true meaning of the original Christmas.”

    Ugh. I want to be surprised he would say such a terrible thing, but honestly, I’m more surprised that I hadn’t heard it until now than I am that he said it in the first place.

    After all, the same William Lane Craig who argued that we should pity the Israelite soldiers who were commanded to kill every man woman and child in the territories they conquered–not the people that were being murdered, but the poor soldiers who were commanded to do such difficult, tasteless work.

    You have to wonder how an intelligent man can honestly say things like that without hearing how absurd and terrible it sounds.

  62. ccbowerson 07 Jan 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Oh wow. Very nice post Steve, you gave a very nice overview of the morality issue and the roles and contributions of science and philosophy, and I think you are spot on. I appreciate your contribution to the comments as well.

    I’m only about half way through these comments (hospital is busy today), but I hope to read them all. The discussion/comments in this post is much more focused than the previous days posts, which makes it a bit more enjoyable to read.

  63. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 6:03 pm

    “I believe that urge comes from God. Others may believe that urge comes from evolution. If so then it has no authority over me. I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority. I may make a huge empire and do whatever I please. Why would it be better to follow some arbitrary rules based on some evolutionary urge that I have no problem suppressing? Why work a boring 9-5 job when I can have the exciting life of a renegade. Why would I follow “mufi’s rules for living” if I can have my empire by going against the rules? You are free to disagree and choose the 9-5. You are free to get together with like minded people and make my lifestyle illegal. What you can’t do is say what I am doing is “wrong” without some authority.”

    This line of thinking is one of the most absurd, and insulting, line of thinking religious fundamentalists think of. Let me pose you this question: why is it that you don’t see atheists constantly in the news committing all sorts of horrific crimes? Why is it our prison systems are filled mostly with theists? What stays the hand of atheists from committing all of these crimes? Why don’t I want to go out and do these things? Why would an atheist want to help anyone? Why do they help others when they don’t have to?

    You guys really don’t think these things through. The “authority” comes from a self-realization that I don’t want to live in a society where murder, stealing, raping, and pillaging are acceptable and expected. Society wouldn’t be able to function if those things were acceptable and commonplace, it would be an anarchistic dystopia. I have empathy for how others feel because I can imagine what bad things must feel like myself, and I don’t want them to feel the same thing. THIS is where we get our morals from. That and I don’t want to spend time in jail, die, or be socially outcast.

    In reality, authority only EVER comes from our willingness to abide by it, whether it’s from an ancient book or from the realizations I described above. No one can make anyone willingly do anything. Given that it’s your religious FAITH (aka belief without evidence) that what the bible says is true gives it moral authority over you, you still have to agree to abide by that authority anyway.

    So, you can believe that “urge” comes from God all you want. That is your baseless religious belief that you cannot demonstrate and not everyone shares. There are thousands of other religions who have just as strong as claims as you do, with no evidentiary bases themselves, either. Secularists, on the other hand, base their morality on reality and how it truly affects the real world.

    I love how you guys create the false dichotomy of theism v. evolution, as if they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. There are MANY theists who accept evolution. Or are you now going to employ the No True Scotsman fallacy? Also, you get evolution wrong (as usual): considering that there are evolutionary advantages to cooperative teamwork and empathy for others, then it would actually be AGAINST evolution to commit harmful acts like murder, theft, rape, and pillaging.

  64. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 6:19 pm

    @philosofrenzy:

    At your own peril:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWHUmuDFXjc

  65. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 6:22 pm

    One example of arbitrary rules based on meaningless religious morality is the idea that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, and that they should not have the same rights as everyone else. There simply is no good reason for this whatsoever. Homosexual marriage does not affect anyone whatsoever, nor is it harmful to society. The only harm that EVER comes from such unions is from the bigots, religious fundamentalists, and homophobes, and that’s THEIR problem, not the homosexuals.

    So, the idea that same-sex marriage is wrong and that marriage is only valid between a man and a woman has no basis in reality. In fact, there’s evidence that it’s helpful – it promotes familial stability, long-term monogamy, a stable environment for children (any couple wanting to adopt is typically more ready to raise children than those who have unexpected children), more fulfilled careers, greater societal happiness, etc. There is also evidence that restricting equal rights and respect under the law is harmful.

    How is this relevant to this conversation? It goes to illustrate the superiority of secular morality. Whereas religious morality is derived from the authority of ancient religious prophets who were steeped in superstition, fear, and scientific ignorance, secular morality is based on what is actually realistic for the greatest societal happiness and stability for ALL citizens, and what is least harmful. Since there is no real-world evidence that same-sex marriage is harmful nor does it affect opposite-sex marriage in any way, there is no need to reduce the happiness of a segment of the population, and therefore increases the happiness and stability of the population at large. Reducing the rights of others is nearly always denigrating.

  66. JJ Borgmanon 07 Jan 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Wow is right. The only conclusion I keep coming back to is that this has got have those rascals Novella, Jay and Bob, behind it.

  67. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 6:29 pm

    @ rezistnzisfutl:

    As usual, spot on.

    I also pointed out the inanity of claiming evolution = mass murder and do whatever you please. There are so many examples of animal cooperativity for the benefit of the group at the expense of self it is mind boggling. And the mathematics of population genetics explains and predicts it perfectly, including K vs R selection. Unless God also has commandments for Ground Hornbills who can’t reproduce except at the reproductive expense of relatives that does seem to fall apart, doesn’t it?

    But even then all you need is one example to completely shatter the argument to pieces. And if you look at my med school class you’ll have a few hundred atheists who work hard to bring good to humanity – many of them even above and beyond med school duties.

    Or just look at me – as anti-theist as they come, yet somehow I am not filled with the urge for wanton murder and rampage and find the idea of rape and abuse of children to make me physically ill.

    Of course, that is why a theist like Marvin Olasky can write (and scores of theologians can think) over at Christian World Magazine that:

    Atheists don’t exist. Everyone believes in a god of some sort. Atheists even know that God exists. Chapter 1 of Romans tells us that, and so does a piece of lesser evidence: “Hallelujah,” a song written by Canada’s Leonard Cohen, initially released 28 years ago but decade by decade resonating ever more powerfully.

    Really? I don’t exist? I guess I don’t when you so desperately need to justify your world view. It’s pitiful really.

  68. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 6:43 pm

    JJB and AM:

    Right? Wow indeed.

    ——

    I also forgot to add that it makes much more sense that morality is doing good things regardless of who is watching, promise of reward, or fear of punishment. Not because some authority told you.

    It doesn’t even pass the sniff test:

    Little Timmy: I don’t want to hit Jimmy even though nobody will ever catch me because that would be mean.

    Little Johnny: I don’t want to hit Jimmy because my dad is watching and he will ground me if I do.

    Which little boy is more moral?

    I am also often genuinely shocked and afraid when I hear that argument from Christians. It has happened to me in person. Are you really telling me that you have a seething desire to kill me and literally the only thing stopping you is your sky fairy saying you’ll go to hell if you do? What an incredibly horrible person you must be! If I think about what it would be like to kill someone intentionally and then think about how my mother, father, sister, and fiance would feel if I was the target of that murder and the pain and angst they would undoubtedly feel literally wells up inside me. I just couldn’t imagine doing it, law or not, sky fairy or not, Ceiling Cat or not.

    And they sit there and feel morally superior because the only thing constraining their vicious horrible selves is a book written by bronze aged goat herders in the most intellectually backwards part of the world at the time. Bah.

  69. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 6:43 pm

    @nybgrus

    Yea, I’ve heard that justification before, that there are “no real atheists”. Considering the passage that’s so often thrown at us that “only a fool in his heart says there is no god”, as well as the fact that the bible claims that disbelief is the one unforgivable sin, that would contradict the notion that there are “no real atheists”. If we truly believed in God, then there would be no need to add such passages or level the threat that disbelief is the one true sin, because disbelief in God would not exist.

    The bit about evolution is again a strawman and a false dichotomy. Strawman in that they get what Theory of Evolution is and says wrong, which stems from their scientific illiteracy, and the false dichotomy that if somehow evolution were disproven, that must mean the bible is true and God is real.

    If they only knew how utterly absurd and laughable their beliefs are to us, they’d probably quite trying so hard. I’ll always respect their right to believe whatever they want (as long as it isn’t harming anyone), and I’ll respect them as human beings, but I cannot respect their insane beliefs, especially when they allow those beliefs to inform their actions.

  70. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 6:47 pm

    @nybgrus

    If you haven’t already done so, check out Matt Dillahunty’s “Superiority of Secular Morality” series.

    What it comes down to for me is, even IF I believed in the christian god of the bible, I wouldn’t worship him for moral and ethical reasons. I’m better than that.

  71. tmac57on 07 Jan 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Philosofrenzy-

    You have to wonder how an intelligent man can honestly say things like that without hearing how absurd and terrible it sounds.

    Craig (and Zach) are two of the people I had in mind when I said that we should be careful that they NOT ever become atheists,for surely they will have no moral compass at that point, and are most likely very dangerous people who are projecting their inner ‘demons’ on to us.

  72. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 7:37 pm

    If they only knew how utterly absurd and laughable their beliefs are to us, they’d probably quite trying so hard. I’ll always respect their right to believe whatever they want (as long as it isn’t harming anyone), and I’ll respect them as human beings, but I cannot respect their insane beliefs, especially when they allow those beliefs to inform their actions.

    I agree fully. Although sometimes I make myself laugh imagining some contrived movie scene where I am the fearless protagonist yelling at a hypothetical Congress about to pass thought-crime laws, “No damnit! This man deserves the right to believe in absolutely crazy and stupid $hit!”

    If you haven’t already done so, check out Matt Dillahunty’s “Superiority of Secular Morality” series.
    What it comes down to for me is, even IF I believed in the christian god of the bible, I wouldn’t worship him for moral and ethical reasons. I’m better than that.

    It sounds a lot like much of what Hitch has said in his debates and writings, and something I fully agree with as well. If you proved to me – to my own scientific satisfaction – that Yawheh of The Bible actually existed and was exactly as described in the book I still wouldn’t worship it.

    I liken it to the movie Independence Day. When faced with an overwhelming threat of death and eternal slavery, we don’t roll over and bow down… we fight damnit! It is such a common plot in movies I can’t fathom how no theist draws the parallel. Even if we talk about “creator” vs “magically or technologicall superior” (recall Arthur C. Clarke: Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic) there are heaps of movie plots revolving around righteous rebellion against unfit parents.

    No matter how you slice it the god and religion hypothesis fails and fails spectacularly. But as the other saying goes, if you are going to lie, lie big!

    As for Dillahunty – I have heard of him, have watched a bit of him, and absolutely respect him and his work. I just have enough on my plate that I don’t feel I can justify another rehash of the same stuff I’ve learned and read elsewhere. Nothing against Dillahunty – just that I happened to read others and have just about had my fill. After all, unlike science where there is always more to learn, religion gives us nothing new so once you learn all the arguments it becomes rote tedium.

    Craig (and Zach) are two of the people I had in mind when I said that we should be careful that they NOT ever become atheists,for surely they will have no moral compass at that point, and are most likely very dangerous people who are projecting their inner ‘demons’ on to us.

    Indeed. What a scary thought. Though I reckon that the deconversion would (most likely) be accompanied by an understanding of the humanistic underpinnings of why to deconvert as well. Though an abandonment of belief in isolation would be a truly frightening thought.

  73. HHCon 07 Jan 2013 at 7:39 pm

    So Steve, you don’t like the Old Testament book written about 5,773 years ago? Did you know that European and Americans claimed they were reading a New Testament during the years 1933 through 1945?

  74. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 8:19 pm

    RickK, nybgrus, Philosofrenzy, tmac57, and the others.

    If you are interested, Tim Keller deals with some of the issues I am trying to explain below. It’s his talk he gave at Google followed with a Q&A session. I’d really be interested to hear your critique of him – but bear in mind he realizes that some points he doesn’t have time to make properly and fairly, but he does acknowledge that to one of the questions that is brought to him. I like Keller, he huge into philosophy and history. Quotes from modern skeptics all the time and doesn’t demonize them. I really dislike it when Christians demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with them as evil Satan possessed banshees.

    Tim Keller at Google doing a talk
    (A bit longer – but good, especially the Q&A at the end.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxup3OS5ZhQ

    nybgrus
    “Not a peep from any of the theistic contingent we see here today.”

    Well, I’m not sure about IAmNotAnAtheist, but the only reason you are hearing a peep out of me on this is because an skeptic agnostic friend of mine pointed me here to read the article on the light travel problem. After I provided my thoughts in a critic he encouraged me to engage in a conversation with Steven directly. So here I am. I had never heard of Steven or this blog until now.

    Nybgrus said,
    “It truly is a challenge to figure out how to get the likes of the theists we have here to realize that the “facts” and “truths” and “accepted premises” they keep laying down are only accepted by those who have had it driven into their heads to do so unquestioningly and that to anyone rational – or even irrational but not of their faith – they make no sense, let alone can be accepted as axiomatic.”

    Well, I am not trying to be stubborn headed, I am convinced on what I am convinced on and so are you. We are in the process of dialog and trying to convince each other of our own views. If this isn’t your thing you don’t have to jump in, but I for one REALLY enjoy it. If it wasn’t for my skeptic/agnostic friend, I would not have the interest in these conversations I do today. Iron sharpness iron and all that sort of thing. So I enjoy these conversations – they can get a bit heated, but it’s a discipline to not confuse disagreement with stupidity and get frustrated over the fact that someone doesn’t agree with you. If someone doesn’t at least understand my point of view I strive to not get frustrated with them, but work at being a better communicator. Now if someone understands my view and disagrees, well that is what it is and is still usually profitable conversation.

    The best conversations are ones that are actual conversations – as opposed to games of “Gotcha”, which usually is what internet conversations turn into – hence why I am trying to shy away from commentators here who simply just want to argue and not have a friendly conversation.

    I hope that clarifies your concerns.

    Mufi,

    You said,
    “Sure, you can call this a “game” if you like. But, unlike in football, playing is not optional. It’s a game that we were all born to play and which society requires that we play in one version or another, whether we like it or not.”

    Hey Mufi, I didn’t mean to say that the conversation of morality is game – it was just an analogy that I tried to use that someone else used to help me once in the situation. If it doesn’t help with understanding my point, feel free to drop it. Analogies are hit or miss for a person.

    RickK

    Hey RickK,

    You said,
    “People with no experience of anything you’d call a God, Zach, still develop moral codes. Even other primate species demonstrate rudimentary moral behavior – fairness, reciprocity, etc. Do you deny this?”

    No, I do not deny this at all. Would be pretty silly of me if I did huh. But this is a good question.
    My point is not that without God people will have no morality, every person alive clearly has some moral system whether they articulated it.
    The point I have been seeking to drive home is whether you hold to a certain morality or not, without a foundation it is only a personal opinion – and I have major concerns that that is an explainable way to justify moral nature.

    You said,
    “Zach – what are you arguing? You keep criticizing Steve on the basis that not everybody agrees to a given society’s set of morals. So what?”

    This is another great question. I’ll try to explain it.
    My entire point sums up to this – how do we differentiate which moral system is right – and how do we decide our morals.
    Steven appeals to a sort romanticized appeal to the common good will of mankind to work together and to perfect this over time. I believe he is mistaken for several reasons. I don’t think logic and science can direct our morality to a foundational basis for deciphering right from wrong.

    Let’s take this point to the practical application of it. I have already broken Godwins law so I guess I will just continue to do so. The Nazi’s believed they were morally right for exterminating the weaker races. They were a very modernized and scientific culture, this is unfortunately true. So on what basis do we tell them to stop doing what they believe to be right?

    As a Christian I argue that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore have inalienable human rights. Now as Steven has pointed out, he think’s that’s a bad foundation for human rights and morality since God kills people, etc. etc.
    The point is not that my view is correct – a point which comes around to be argued later, the point is that even though I might be wrong, I at least have a logical foundation in which to rest my morality on. You might argue that it is bad morality, or w/e, but it’s the foundation that is the point. My question to Steve is what is his foundation for deciphering right from wrong? I assert he doesn’t have one that can be rooted in logic. That is VERY different from saying he has no morality. Sure he can say he believes that humans should be treated fairly, but on what basis does he say that? I have provided my basis, though you disagree with it, you must replace it otherwise you enter the realm of subjective morality based on different competing logical fallacies. I.E. Ad Populum (majority rule), appeal to emotion, etc. etc.

    You said,
    “Do you think “God” is a solution to that? How many Christian sects are there? How many other versions of God and of religion? There’s a lot of people out there that think God will reward them for jihad against infidels – will yours?”

    Yes I believe God is a logical sound conclusion to that. Notice I did not say that God is the absolutely necessary conclusion for that – there is a difference. But at this point I simply would like Steven to provide another possible sound conclusion for morality that takes all the different claims of his world view into the picture without cherry picking the applications of that. For example, evolution thrives on survival of the fittest – it is necessary that the strong eat the weak. Now, Steven doesn’t like this when it happens among humans…. ok, neither do I, but what does it matter what I like or what Steven likes? Reality is reality whether we like it or agree with it. The universe is a very cruel place full of death – everything dies. So based off Steven’s world view (and I assert he is a philosophical naturalists) how does he account for the “ought” of reality when the “is” is all his world view can accommodate?

    You said,
    “There’s no question that inventing a divine authority as a sort of omnipotent “Big Brother” is a great way to get people to be more moral when nobody is looking.”

    Sure, but that’s largely not my point as i demonstrated above. it’s not directly about getting people to fall into line (the mistake Steven keeps charging me of, saying if I appeal to religion then I will violate religious freedoms), but it is about a logically sound foundation from which to assert the “ought” of morality.

    Daedakys2y

    You said,
    “NaA, I don’t need an authority to tell me that beating people to near death is immoral.”

    I agree with you. You can tell yourself that you simply don’t believe this is correct behavior, but then you will be left without a logically sound foundation from which you can charge that mankind “ought” to not mistreat other human beings. You can believe it as hard as you want, that’s the not issue. The issue is where do you get off telling another human their morality that is different that yours is wrong. As I said, I have no problem telling another human being this, because I believe my foundation (which is logically sound) allows me to fight for human rights regardless of whether the nazi’s agree with me or not. If you believe morals stem from logic and basically comes from a consensus (as Steven does), how do you logically justify that? I don’t see how you can.

    You said,
    “Applying the reasonable person criteria, and my empathy as a human being, I presume that servants being beaten such that they die in 2 days consider being so treated to be unacceptable and immoral. I presume that the servants being beaten to near death did not grant permission to be so beaten. It is not the presence of an authority that dictates that beating someone to near death is immoral to render such actions immoral, it is the lack of authority from the person being beaten that renders the action immoral.”

    Now, I have to ask and I’m really not trying to be obnoxious about this, but it is a serious question I have, what do you do if someone say the same thing back to you but believes the exact opposite? They could argue logically that mankind is nothing more than the result of blind chance and unbiased processes that have created him to be exactly as he “is”, so what’s with the “ought”? He could argue that he is an animal and he can do as he feels and pleases – this is logical, but repulsive to you and I, but what do you about it? How do you justify your views as superior to his? Some appeal to an idea of what’s best for humanity as a whole? He will likely respond that why should give a damn about society as a whole except for when it happens to suit his tastes and benefits?

    You said,
    “Your idea that an authority can authorize a behavior and by so doing it render it “moral” is called the “appeal to authority” fallacy when it applies to facts, it is no less a fallacy when it applies to moral actions.”

    I think this is wrong. Here’s why. I don’t believe God authorizes behavior one day to be moral, and the next day to be immoral at a whim/roll of the dice. I believe morality stems from the nature of God – I linked a pretty good article explaining how
    Euthyphro dilemma’s is a false dichotomy. If you get the time to read it, it might make my position a bit clearer.

    Autumnmonkey

    You said,
    “You’re analogy fails in respect to the difference between the OT and NT. A proper analogy would be: A 14 year old drives a car, he gets stoned to death. Two years later, the driving center says we’re not stoning people anymore; people of all ages can now drive. The rules AND morality have in fact arbitrarily changed whether you can see that or not. The change makes absolutely no sense. There’s a rational sense between forbidding a 14 year old from driving on the streets and allowing a trained 16 year old. There’s no sense in killing children and then saying we don’t do that anymore because of a mythical zombie.”

    I don’t think you are right here, I’ll explain why. As I stated before, I am not attempting to prove with this analogy that the morality of the Bible is correct (that’s a different conversation), I am attempting to show that the morality of the Old Testament and New Testament is not one of the options of the Euthyphro’s dilemma.

    You might not “like the morality of Yahweh, and to be honest much of the things he does I don’t like either, but unless I have some other objective standard from which to say, “X is wrong, it should be Y”, I am really just giving an emotional response which I admit is largely a part of my cultural preferences and raising.

    I think the analogy works very well once you understand the point I am trying to make with it. God is not inconsistent and he doesn’t change his moral nature. Are the rules somewhat different at different times, yeah, but that’s not a shift in moral nature, it’s a difference like the one I stated above with the driver’s license, or the rules of the house changing depending on your age. If my analogy doesn’t work for you, I urge you to check out the one Paul himself employed when speaking to Old Testament Jews who had the same concern you do. In Romans he talks about the law extensively and how Christ is the end of the law to all those who believe. I really don’t want be dismissive and pontificate here, but it really is a huge conversation to explain how the death of Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law. It’s complex, but just because it’s complex doesn’t mean it’s illogical.

    Let me know if you want more information on that. I hope that helps make my position more clear – even if you don’t accept it.

    Rezistnzisfutl

    You said,
    “Let me pose you this question: why is it that you don’t see atheists constantly in the news committing all sorts of horrific crimes? ”

    Do you have any evidence for this? Also, do you really buy into the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens argument that religious basically causes all the problems in the world?

    I mean I agree with you, religion is a major vehicle of problems in our world. But where I would disagree is that it is the main or only cause. I assert that the problem is with mankind who uses his beliefs to feel superior to others and then justify their mistreatment of them. This is not a religious only process.

    You said,
    “The “authority” comes from a self-realization that I don’t want to live in a society where murder, stealing, raping, and pillaging are acceptable and expected.”

    If this is all morality truly is, what do you with societies who don’t agree on this? Kill them? (Might makes right).

    You said,
    “I love how you guys create the false dichotomy of theism v. evolution, as if they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. There are MANY theists who accept evolution.”

    I don’t think anyone did this. Tim Keller (my second favorite author who majored in philosophy) is an old earther who believes that God used different aspects of evolution. I linked his video above. I high nothing but respect for him.

    Gentlemen, would this help if I agreed that many atheists and agnostics are just as if not more moral as many “Christians”. I know Muslims who are much better persons/fathers than I am. Its really not a matter of which system allows you to be better at rule keeping.

    Now… if one of you would be so kind as to inform on how to do these fancy quotes that look so fancy.

    Zach

  75. HHCon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Unfortunately, none here will understand the concept, I am that I am.

  76. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:20 pm

    “Do you have any evidence for this? Also, do you really buy into the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens argument that religious basically causes all the problems in the world?”

    Why yes. According to 1997 Federal Bureau of Prisons Statistics, approximately 0.2% of respondents identified as atheist. The rest of the respondents replied that they have some sort of religious affiliation that includes theism.

    I’m not aware that Dawkins or Hitchens ever said that they believe ALL the problems of the world are caused by religion. I’ve heard this claim by many theists, and nearly always they are either quote mining or misquoting. If you have citations, please post them. I do believe religion causes more problems than it solves, that there are no things religion can do that can’t be done by secular means, and secular humanity can have all the good trappings of religion while abandoning many of the bad ones. So in that light, I do believe that secular humanity is better, and that religion causes a lot of problems.

    “I don’t think anyone did this. Tim Keller (my second favorite author who majored in philosophy) is an old earther who believes that God used different aspects of evolution. I linked his video above. I high nothing but respect for him.”

    ” ‘I believe that urge comes from God. Others may believe that urge comes from evolution…’ ”

    Even with your first statement, it’s still a false dichotomy. I’m glad that you acknowledge that there are theists who accept evolution (in some form at least). However, your statement that “I don’t think anyone did this” is refuted by the last quotation by NotAnAtheist, which you said you agreed with. So, while at least you acknowledge that many theists accept evolution, and that there are many evolutionary biologists who are also theists, there are MANY theists who do not accept evolution because of their religion (YEC). Are you telling me that you do accept evolution? And to put it out there, accepting only some of evolution and rejecting other aspects is not accepting evolution, because it’s not a piecemeal proposition. One of the basic arguments of YECs is to attempt to undermine and overthrow evolution, as if by doing so will make their theism true. So, instead of trying to support their argument that theism is true, they instead argue that evolution isn’t true. That is a false dichotomy.

  77. Peter T. Hansenon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:31 pm

    This isn’t supposed to be a deep philosophical comment where every word is “proven”, but..

    Every time I read Novellas posts and comments they just seem so straight forward and make sense logically and “emotionally”. Where I see a round hole, Novella has a round peg.

    However, every time I read Zack and Nat my brain almost hurts, much in the same was as when reading conspiracy theorists and CAM arguments. Everything seems upside-down. It seems they try to find (or create) any tiny crack in the argument and then give the crack and the original argument the same plausibility, without any self-criticism. Zacks comments don’t even provide me a square peg, but something of a whole different class of objects.

    Are peoples brains wired together in so different ways? Can we say something from a neuroscientific point of view about this?

    Best regards,
    Peter

  78. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:32 pm

    “Its really not a matter of which system allows you to be better at rule keeping. ”

    While it’s true that individual morality is, well, individual, how we govern societies is not. What I’ve seen here all along is you insisting that God exists, that absolute morality exists, that it comes from the abrahamic God of the bible, and that’s not only preferable, but demanded on the threat of hell, and that’s how everyone should live.

    There are numerous problems with this when it comes to how to morally behave. First, all of those listed above are unfalsifiable and unprovable – it’s your specific religious belief that not everyone shares. Secondly, there is no evidence that absolute morality exists. The history of humankind is evidence against any sort of absolute morality. Thirdly, even if you demonstrate that absolute morality exists, what does it consist of? You have yet to demonstrate that your abrahamic God exists and that what is written in the bible is what he says they are and that that is better than what we could come up with otherwise.

    The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate a) your specific abrahamic God exists, b) that biblical scripture is indeed his written word and how he desires for us to live today, and c) this is preferable to what we could come up with independently as humans.

  79. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:37 pm

    @Peter T. Hansen

    “Are peoples brains wired together in so different ways? Can we say something from a neuroscientific point of view about this?”

    I used to BE those guys in my younger days, a creationist. While I didn’t outright deny evolution and science (I didn’t know much about it at the time), I did believe that God created the world and humans in his image as they are.

    Since then, I’ve grown up and become an agnostic atheist. My brain is still the same, it’s just that I went through a long, and sometimes painful, process of uprooting my confirmation biases. My intelligence didn’t increase nor my brain chemistry change, I just got an education.

    Sorry for the personal anecdote, but to be fair, most atheists in America started out in some sort of theism, and what I’ve seen is that they too have had similar experiences.

  80. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Hey rezistnzisfutl

    “Why yes. According to 1997 Federal Bureau of Prisons Statistics, approximately 0.2% of respondents identified as atheist. The rest of the respondents replied that they have some sort of religious affiliation that includes theism.”

    That’s a super narrow view of the question, and I doubt your atheist/agnostic friends would agree with you on this. It’s pretty bad cherry picking of data.

    You said,
    “Are you telling me that you do accept evolution? And to put it out there, accepting only some of evolution and rejecting other aspects is not accepting evolution, because it’s not a piecemeal proposition.”

    Part of the problem is that the definition of evolution is not universally agreed upon. Now I’m not even talking about YEC boys, I’m saying, I accept the aspects of micro evolution of course, but if one supposes that this implies that all creators trace back to a common ancestor then I will depart from evolution there.

    You might say that’s the same thing as rejecting all of evolution, but I don’t think that’s accurate or fair.

  81. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 9:51 pm

    @Zach

    “For example, evolution thrives on survival of the fittest – it is necessary that the strong eat the weak”

    This is NOT what Theory of Evolution says, nor what survival of the fittest means. Fitness does not mean that the strong necessarily prevail. It means that organisms tend to survive and flourish better than others that are the most fit to live in whatever niche they live in. They could range from lichens to elephants. The most powerful creature that ever lived may not be as fit to survive in their environment as a less powerful creature, and could very well be wiped out by the less powerful, but more “fit”, creature.

    When it comes to humans, we tend to flourish when we work cooperatively. This is an evolutionary adaptation that can be seen in other animals as well and why it has been proposed that science and secular humanity can be used, and indeed can be better, than any religious belief for determining morality.

    Furthermore, you still are left with the burden of proof that your abrahamic God exists, that absolute morality exists and is what’s in the christian bible, and that it’s preferable and “logical” (as you express it) to anything humans can create on their own.

    Without satisfying your burden of proof, you really have no leg to stand on in saying that your moral compass comes from God, much less that it’s superior and preferable. Without it, it’s just another religious opinion, and in my estimation, not worthy of today’s society.

  82. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:02 pm

    “That’s a super narrow view of the question, and I doubt your atheist/agnostic friends would agree with you on this. It’s pretty bad cherry picking of data.”

    How is that cherry picking? It’s really the only data we have. You asked what evidence do I have that atheists aren’t going around committing all sorts of heinous crimes because they are atheists. Other than there BEING no other evidence that is the case, which is evidence in an of itself, showing a statistic that atheist comprise a VERY small portion of the prison population in the US is a strong indicator of how few atheists are indeed going around committing all sorts of heinous crimes.

    “Part of the problem is that the definition of evolution is not universally agreed upon.”

    Actually, no, that’s not the case. At least within the scientific community, there is an overwhelming consensus. Outside of that in the general population, then yea, that’s the case, but that doesn’t really count, now does it? What does it matter what Joe Bloe off the street’s definition of evolution is? You are again attempting to erroneously redefine terms in order to fit your preconceived worldview. Your definition of evolution is NOT what the actual definition of evolution is. I could tell people all day long that the atmosphere is 100% oxygen, but obviously that’s not precise or accurate.

    Seeing that macroevolution is simply the long-term form of microevolution, and that no biologist discriminates between the two, then yea, rejecting macroevolution IS rejecting evolution. “Macroevolution” is no less evolution than “microevolution”, distinctions that really only creationists use.

  83. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:22 pm

    @Zach

    It’s very difficult to have any meaningful conversation with a person about the science when they consistently get the science wrong. I’m not sure if this is intentional on your part or if you are just truly ignorant, or what. It seems to me that you’re just not willing to learn what it is, and that’s a large part of the problem here. Much of the time is spent correcting you on what the science actually says, and you aren’t absorbing it. You continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over, and it’s discouraging to continue a conversation with someone so close-minded.

    No one is asking you to agree with the science, but at least get what it says correct. You have one of the most powerful search engines ever known at your fingertips, so there’s really no reason not to know. Heck, there are professional biologists here who could help you.

    Unfortunately, when you continue to repeat the same mistakes and creationist strawmen over and over again, you’re not going to get very far. If I were quoting a passage from Mark that is actually in Peter, and claiming that the Peter passage is really in Mark and what the Mark passage is all about, you’d probably try to correct me and get grumpy when I continued to use the Peter passage. It’s the same thing here when you get the science wrong and use creationist sources that also get the science wrong. It’s dishonest, disingenuous, and fruitless.

  84. ccbowerson 07 Jan 2013 at 10:28 pm

    rezistnzisfutl-

    “I used to BE those guys in my younger days, a creationist. While I didn’t outright deny evolution and science (I didn’t know much about it at the time), I did believe that God created the world and humans in his image as they are.
    Since then, I’ve grown up and become an agnostic atheist. My brain is still the same, it’s just that I went through a long, and sometimes painful, process of uprooting my confirmation biases. My intelligence didn’t increase nor my brain chemistry change, I just got an education.”

    I appreciate the anectdote. In retrospect, I imagine that you had the “aptitude” (for lack of a better word) for becoming an agnostic atheist. I don’t necessarily mean this specific to religion, but sometimes it appears that some people hold dearly to ideologies and have a confirmation bias way of thinking as a default. I assume that this was not how your mind worked/works but perhaps religion was a topic you did not challenge critically until later in life. Is this an accurate approximation? I am curious about these things.

  85. Zachon 07 Jan 2013 at 10:33 pm

    rezistnzisfutl are you deliberately avoiding my points and questions? I can’t figure out why you keep ignoring them and then rolling back to just complaining about how much you hate the YEC position… we aren’t even discussing that here….

    You aren’t striking me as being a very objective person by this behavior. If you aren’t interested in my position, then let it be, move on and be happy with w/e system it is you use, that you have yet to provide, for a foundation for morality.

    Peter T. Hansen

    I will respond with an appropriate Christian response taken from C. S. Lewis.

    “It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of–all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain–and, of course, you find that what we call ‘seeing a table’ lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of.

    A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not and the modern world usually is not — if you want to go on and ask what is really happening — then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.

    Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made ‘religion’ simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your time. Notice, too, their idea of God ‘making religion simple’; as if ‘religion’ were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.”

    rezistnzisfutl

    “Without satisfying your burden of proof, you really have no leg to stand on in saying that your moral compass comes from God, much less that it’s superior and preferable. Without it, it’s just another religious opinion, and in my estimation, not worthy of today’s society.”

    I’m not sure where you think I did this, but I never even came close to demonstrating proof towards this. That’s another conversation entire, re-read my posts about showing logical soundess or not.

    The conversation is about morality requiring a moral law bringer, else there is no other possibility that does not abuse logical fallacies.

    I have demonstrated that my position is sound, I haven’t demonstrated that it is valid. There is a difference.

    Please provide an alternate objective standard.

  86. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Heads up – I’m going to put up a bunch of shorter posts to try and separate thoughts and avoid a giant wall of text.

    First off, has anyone noticed a very palpable change in the tenor of Zach? I mean a very obvious (to me at least) shift… almost a personality change. I’m not saying it is a bad thing – in fact, I think it is quite good. It is just throwing me for a loop.

    Next, since he asked, I will explain HTML markups real quick – they are simple, but I am not an expert so hopefully it will come out properly.

    First off the tage is always surrounded by the alligator brackets which look like this

    Next come what you would like it to do:

    i = italics
    b = bold
    blockquote = setting aside the quote

    like this

    the slightly tougher one is linking a URL to text it looks like this:

    a =href”http://www.url.com”

    Then you must “close” each one by using the same markup but with a / in front of it so:

    i then /i
    b then /b
    blockquote then /blockquote

    for the URL it is just the a part so

    a =href”URL” then /a

    So pretend that [] is the same as because otherwise it won’t show up it will just appear as the markup

    [i]italics[/i]
    [b]bold[/b]
    [blockquote]blockquote[/blockquote]
    [a href="URL"]LINK TEXT[/a]

    The only space that exists in any of that is between the “a” and the “href”

    Hope that helps.

  87. ccbowerson 07 Jan 2013 at 10:57 pm

    “The point I have been seeking to drive home is whether you hold to a certain morality or not, without a foundation it is only a personal opinion – and I have major concerns that that is an explainable way to justify moral nature.”

    You keep holding every moral system to an absolute objective morality standard, and if it fails that you see it as a flaw, but you fail to see that this is not a flaw, because an absolute objective morality does not exist. Even adding religion does not solve this problem as you describe it (it then becomes everone’s personal opinion of what their religions say), and it adds many other problems (which we do not have to go into).

    “Steven appeals to a sort romanticized appeal to the common good will of mankind to work together and to perfect this over time. I believe he is mistaken for several reasons. I don’t think logic and science can direct our morality to a foundational basis for deciphering right from wrong.”

    He did not say that science and logic alone can decipher right from wrong, in fact he said precisely the opposite. You often argue against statements that were never made (often the opposite), and I’m not sure why. It reminds me a bit of when Dr Novella went on the Oz show.

    “The Nazi’s believed they were morally right for exterminating the weaker races. They were a very modernized and scientific culture, this is unfortunately true. So on what basis do we tell them to stop doing what they believe to be right?
    As a Christian I argue that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore have inalienable human rights.”

    So you think this is a solution to such actions? If we use gods as a foundation for arguing against a genocide (to use your example), the counter-argument could just as easily use their gods use of genocide for justification of the action. It fact I would argue it is much easier to justify terrible acts if they are mandated by gods. Its harder to make the case on a large scale if no ideology is driving justification for terrible acts.

    “Sure he can say he believes that humans should be treated fairly, but on what basis does he say that? I have provided my basis, though you disagree with it, you must replace it otherwise you enter the realm of subjective morality based on different competing logical fallacies. I.E. Ad Populum (majority rule), appeal to emotion, etc. etc”

    They are based upon agreed upon conclusions using science to determine facts, and then using logic and philosophy to analyze these facts in light of our collective values. Sure there will be some disagreements, but that is the nature of the problem. (Its not as if religion removes the disagreements, it just creates new ones)

    I would argue that most moral decision making is not done by analyzing religious teachings for even those who are religious. We make moral decisions all of the time, and it is largely done on the basis of our own moral judgements, which are constructed over the course of our lives influenced by our own thoughts and feelings at the time the decisions are made.

    “Now, Steven doesn’t like this when it happens among humans…. ok, neither do I, but what does it matter what I like or what Steven likes? Reality is reality whether we like it or agree with it. The universe is a very cruel place full of death – everything dies. So based off Steven’s world view (and I assert he is a philosophical naturalists) how does he account for the “ought” of reality when the “is” is all his world view can accommodate?”

    Morality is a human construct, and we can create this in a universe that doesn’t otherwise care about it. Just as “purpose” is.
    That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, they exist because we create them. It is not true that there is no “ought,” the ought is what we decide it is, but this is not some arbitrary personal opinion on a whim, it is largely agreed upon (how is discussed above and many times previously). From a big picture perspective people largely agree on many aspects of morality, and where there is disagreement there is philosophy, logic and argument to work on the differences.

    “The issue is where do you get off telling another human their morality that is different that yours is wrong.”

    This is a weak argument. Does religion solve this quesion or make it worse? For example, someone could say: ‘Where do you get off telling me that your god says I’m wrong.’
    The way it actually occurs is as we described above through science, logic, philosophy and argument. In practice we agree upon certain rules and laws with regards to specific behaviors (as far as adressing the ‘where do you get off’ comment)

  88. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:09 pm

    What Zach and NaT are saying is that they are legally insane. No, this is not ad hominem, it is taking them at their word.

    Legal insanity is the inability to tell right from wrong. Zach and NaT have said that they are unable to determine that it is not ok to beat people nearly to death unless there is a “rule” to not do so by what they consider to be a competent Authority, aka God.

    The analogy to rules of driving is not apt. There are circumstances where a 14 year old driving would be the moral choice. If a older driver had a heart attack, and needed to be transported to the hospital, and the 14 year old was a sufficiently competent driver to do so, then it could be morally acceptable for the 14 year old to do so, even if it was illegal. Saving the life of the heart attack victim is more important than obeying the driving regulations.

    In terms of Christianity (and in essentially every religion), the most important “rule” is obeying what God says to do, or what the religious leader says to do, no matter what it is. Like a 14 year old driving to save a life, killing because God says to kill is more moral than refusing to do what God commands. .

    Regarding Godwin’s law, Hitler was a Christian. The Nazi slogan was “Gott mit uns.” God with us.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gott_mit_uns

    The Nazis were taught by their leaders, including their religious leaders, that they were doing God’s work. Christians have long been taught that because God chooses the civil authorities, that civil authorities must also be obeyed.

    People who considered themselves to be “good” Christians, good Germans, good and moral people still did grotesquely immoral acts. Why? Because they didn’t “hear” God tell them not to. For example, the current Pope:

    “In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?”

    http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2006/5/28/192052.shtml

    If your “morality” comes from “listening” to God tell you to not do certain things, and you don’t “hear” God tell you to not do them, then it gives people like Zach and NaT the excuse that it is God’s fault for not being more explicit.

  89. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Now to the meat of it. We need to take a step back and Zach, you will join me in these steps back if you have any genuine interest in having a productive conversation as you have recently claimed. I’ll be honest that I am quite worried I am wasting my time here as I have been burned before, but your change in tenor gives me hope and I am always interested in actually productive conversations.

    First off Zach (and actually NaA as well) – I hold a degree in evolutionary biology. I have since studied it on my own reasonably extensively. I am by no means an expert to the level of, say, Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins, but ask anyone around these parts and I can pretty well hold my own. I apply the principles of evolutionary biology to my study of medicine and even enjoy talking about comparative physiology and anatomy with my veterinarian. I am also not the only one here well versed in evo bio. As such, it would greatly behoove you to actually listen to what we have to say in that regard.

    This is very important because you hinge at least part of your argument on a false presumption of what evo bio actually says.

    Westernized culture might have traces of this, but by in large humanity has not functioned in this manner. Not only that, but it goes against evolutionary theory to say that we should care about those outside our family/tribe

    You’ve said essentially this same thing a few times. I’ve responded a few times. This is the last time I will make an effort with you if you do not acknowledge and address the point.

    Evolutionary biology not only is consistent with caring about those outside our family and tribe, it is consistent with pure altruism as a sacrifice of oneself – reproductively or otherwise – as well. Not only that, but it predicts this to be the case AND explains it mathematically. As long as you erroneously continue to think that evolutionary theory says we all must kill and ravage each other ceaselessly and mercilessly you simply cannot have a fruitful conversation. Let me reiterate – this is not what evolutionary biology says or predicts.

    A simple example would be cleaner shrimp and fish. Or remoras and sharks. Or ground hornbills. Or even humans.

    Part of the problem is that the definition of evolution is not universally agreed upon. Now I’m not even talking about YEC boys, I’m saying, I accept the aspects of micro evolution of course, but if one supposes that this implies that all creators trace back to a common ancestor then I will depart from evolution there.

    You might say that’s the same thing as rejecting all of evolution, but I don’t think that’s accurate or fair.

    Now this is the biggie here. You make the immediate mistake of the Nirvana fallacy. We do not need everyone to agree. But the fact is that greater than 99% of scientists in relevant fields and greater than 97% of all other scientists agree on the definition of evolution. This is not a point of contention. It is fact. And yes, that does mean common descent for all living creatures on the planet. This is absolutely indisputable fact and anyone telling you different is a creationist lying to you. I will not get into why – go to TalkOrigins and Why Evolution is True and educate yourself if you need to, but I can assure you with all kindness in my heart and the education to back it up – this is simply not a point of contention. If you reject this, then yes, you reject all of evolution.

    I apologize that I must state from authority that this is the case. I wish I could do otherwise, but the last time I did it took me around 7 or 8 months and 70ish single spaced typed pages to convince a creationist he was wrong and to accept fully evolution. I count that as my one “win” and simply don’t have the time or energy for more. But challenge yourself. I have read the creationist claims and found them lacking. Read actual evolutionary theory. Force yourself to slog through a few books of it. The worst case is you will be vindicated and can then argue against the likes of me even better.

    But seriously, the conversation cannot continue if you keep ignoring these points about evolution.

    Do all scientist agree on every aspect of scientific theory? Of course not.

    Once again the Nirvana fallacy. You do this often. We do not need universal consensus. As you have correctly stated this is a ludicrous idea to hold – that all people will absolutely agree. There are even people that refuse to believe the earth is round. Go check out the Flat Earth Society.

    But the overwhelming consensus – and in the case of evolution the so-massively-overwhelming-consensus-it-is-astounding – is in favor of evolution. Including so-called macro evolution and common descent. There is literally no theory in science that is better supported from all disciplines of science. None.

    Next I’ll get into your fallacious use of fallacy…

  90. Davdoodleson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:16 pm

    “I believe that urge comes from God. Others may believe that urge comes from evolution. If so then it has no authority over me. I may kill, steal, rape and pillage as I please if it is only you as the authority. I may make a huge empire and do whatever I please”

    Well, if it’s only your belief in Ceiling Kitteh that stops you from acting on those desires then, by all means, you keep worshipping. And medication may be useful too.
    .

  91. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:42 pm

    @Zach

    I’m not sure which question you’re referring to that I’m supposedly avoiding. Have you not read all my posts? I believe I have answered all your questions and points directed to me, so are you instead referring to more general questions and points you made earlier to others?

    “I can’t figure out why you keep ignoring them and then rolling back to just complaining about how much you hate the YEC position… we aren’t even discussing that here….

    You aren’t striking me as being a very objective person by this behavior. If you aren’t interested in my position, then let it be, move on and be happy with w/e system it is you use, that you have yet to provide, for a foundation for morality. ”

    You’re right, the YEC position isn’t the primary focus here. Sorry, but it’s hard for me to let it go when you spout something about the science that is just dead wrong. Other than that, I think the only time I’ve brought it up was when it’s relevant to the topic at hand. You are the one who has stated things about evolution that is wrong, not me, and I’ve addressed this already. It seems to me that you’re not really reading my posts.

    Who is truly objective? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an objective person, and I don’t believe anyone is. I try to BE as objective as possible, that’s a goal, but I don’t pretend that I AM objective. That’s an ad hom anyway, and it’s YOU who isn’t answering my questions or points here.

    About your position on this topic, I’ve already covered that ad nauseum above. To recap: You claim that objective morality exists, as does the christian god of the bible, that the bible is the word of god and that’s where we find most of our morality, as well as morality being “given” to us by god in the form of inalienable rights. Is that about the extent of it? I’m not sure where I”m misunderstanding you if that’s not.

    My position is that you have yet to fulfill the burden of proof that a) your god exists, b) absolute morality exists and it comes from your god, and c) that morality is preferable to anything humans can create on their own.

    “I’m not sure where you think I did this, but I never even came close to demonstrating proof towards this.”

    No, you haven’t, and that’s what I’ve been driving at. I have yet to see any posts from you that come anywhere near providing evidence, or proof, of any of your claims, the primary one being that absolute morality exists and comes from your christian god.

    “The conversation is about morality requiring a moral law bringer, else there is no other possibility that does not abuse logical fallacies. ”

    While that question is part of the discussion, again you have not yet demonstrated a moral law bringer is the case. We have explained to you already, again ad nauseum, where we get our morality from, and you then either dodge or play semantic games. I’m not sure what you mean in the latter part of your statement other than you’re claiming that any other possibility beyond a moral law bringer necessarily includes logical fallacies (one does not abuse logical fallacies, they either commit them or they don’t – there is no correct or incorrect way to “use” a logical fallacy).

    “I have demonstrated that my position is sound…”

    The only way your position can be regarded as sound, is if one accepts there is absolute morality that’s given by your christian god of the bible. Sorry, but that’s not a sound position, it’s an insane position.

    “Please provide an alternate objective standard.”

    This has already been done, ad nauseum. Objective morals come from factual data gathered via scientific means (see my post above regarding same-sex marriage). It seems that perhaps you’re confusing or conflating objective morals with absolute morals?

  92. autumnmonkeyon 07 Jan 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Zach: “I have simply said that if you are going to call any person corrupt (including the God of the Old Testament), you had better be able to provide some other”

    He doesn’t have to. He can measure Yahweh against Yahweh’s own objective morality. Yahweh says one thing and does another. And don’t pull the mysterious canard; it was you or that other troll who wrote something to the effect that goodness was simply a feature of your deity’s character. What we see is that your deity says X is right, then your deity does the opposite. The opposite of right is wrong. Spin that as much as you want. It convinces no one with more than a trailer park education.

    Zach: “Also, you might not like the God of the Bible, but so what? That’s another appeal to emotion unless you can provide me with an objective alternative you are merely providing more fallacious reasoning to why it’s immoral.”

    You haven’t demonstrated that your source of morality abides by its own rules. Don’t ask others to provide another center of morality when yours is a big fat fail.

    You and the other guy keep referring to the Nazis as though this was an example of majority morality. But it wasn’t. This was a brutal dictatorship that was never voted in by the majority. Even the minority who initially supported them had no idea they would do what they did. The Nazis knew what they were doing was wrong by the standards of their own society. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have tried to cover their tracks. And it certainly wasn’t Yahweh who stopped Hitler. It was the rest of the world, which, heh, constituted the real majority. Imagine that.

    Zach: “I’m pretty sure 100% of the population dies so what’s the problem here? You are clearly appealing to some other objective moral standard, what it is?”

    Thou shalt not kill, perhaps?

    Here’s the gist of it:
    Someone who does what he wants? Yahweh.
    Someone not bound by objective morality? Yahweh.
    Someone whose morality changes on whim? Yahweh.
    Someone who orders you not to envy but then in another commandment says he’s a jealous god? Ding ding, that’s Yahweh.
    Someone with a relativistic morality? Yep, it’s Yahweh.
    Someone against abortion unless it’s a Canaanite or other undesirable tribe’s fetus? Booyah! Yahweh! Kill them all! Yahweh’s people need living space! (Now what other thuggish belief system does that sound like???)

    Perhaps theists are projecting much?

    Zach: “Late start? What is late? 1st century 1st hand eye witnesses is late? Better throw out every historian then.”

    You have no first hand written eye witness testimony. Real historians don’t operate on hearsay. This is nothing more than keyboard fapping on your part.

    nygbrus: “If you proved to me – to my own scientific satisfaction – that Yawheh of The Bible actually existed and was exactly as described in the book I still wouldn’t worship it.”

    If I were an advanced alien race looking to depopulate and take over our planet, I can imagine how easy it would be to con the world’s theists into doing my horrific bidding. I would just have to make sure I didn’t appear to them as a dark skinned man, like a 1st century Jew.

    Zach, it’s apparent you’re nothing more than a YouTube-trained apologist, probably a young adult. You’re not a philosopher as you claimed. We’re debating a chimp throwing random poo at the plexiglass window to get attention. Congrats. You got it. But you still live in a theist cage swinging on a Flintstones tire.

  93. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:45 pm

    It is ad populum – you are relying on a consensus that is rooted in opinion to justify something that your world view says cannot truly exist universal…What do you mean there are no empirical claims in philosophy and what does that have to do with ad populum not being applicable…I.E. Ad Populum (majority rule),

    The ad populum fallacy only applies when you are making an appeal to an empirically verifiable fact.

    For example, if you were to say that 99% of the population believes that the moon is made of cheese, therefore it must be made of cheese. That is an ad populum fallacy.

    But if you say that 99% of Californians agree that surfing is awesome, therefore Californians think surfing is awesome, that is not and ad populum fallacy.

    In the context of the philosophy of morality, since there is no empiric fact to test for the axiomatic principles on which to base morality, when 99% of people agree that enhancing the flourishing of humanity is a good thing, that establishes the axiomatic principle.

    So if society agrees it’s ok to feed disrespectful teens to bears then you would be ok with that? Or would you object, and if so you’re entire point breaks down.

    The problem with this is that it is not an example of an axiomatic principle. The purpose of an axiomatic principle is one that is irreducible and forms the foundation of philosophical discourse. Feeding teenagers to bears is many steps removed from the principle.

    A better example would be the comment that “all death should be avoided.” That is also not an axiomatic principle because we can reduce death into multiple subsets some of which should not reasonably be avoided, some that can’t be avoided, and some that can be avoided. It is thus removed from the first principle. The principle would be “all human life should be able to flourish.” Thus, if we talk about feeding teenagers to bears, that violates the first principle. If we talk about a person with cancer, we are justified in removing it even if the treatment causes some harm along the way. If we talk about a terminal patient we can then justify palliation since death is inevitable but in the time remaining we can do our best to let what life is left flourish as much as possible.

    I really don’t want be dismissive and pontificate here, but it really is a huge conversation to explain how the death of Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law. It’s complex, but just because it’s complex doesn’t mean it’s illogical.

    Being logical is necessary, but not sufficient. For example, you can study the tooth fairy scientifically and philosophically. You can create an entire, ahem, religion around the tooth fairy and then do tests to see how much money she leaves on average, what kinds of teeth she prefers, what time of night she arrives, and actually come up with data. All of this will be absolutely 100% logically consistent. But you haven’t established that the tooth fairy exists to begin with.

    So you can explain how the death of Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law and took away our sin. You can discuss how it was necessary, what the consequences were, and how the necessitates certain behaviors, actions, and devotions on our part. And all of it will be absolutely 100% logically consistent. But you haven’t established that Christ, sin, or the need for the law to be fulfilled exists in the first place.

    That, right there, is the fundamental problem of religion (and CAM, btw). Sure you can create these elaborate and complex explanations and stories that are internally logically consistent (obviously countless theologians have done this for countless sects of countless religions!) but the part that is missing is that the premise on which it is all based is established in the first place. You assume the existence of a god and then build a theology on that… without ever having established that the god exists in the first place!

    The Nazi’s believed they were morally right for exterminating the weaker races. They were a very modernized and scientific culture, this is unfortunately true. So on what basis do we tell them to stop doing what they believe to be right?

    This one may get Zach fired up. I’m happy to refer you to the 421 comment thread on the topic I was engaged in before if that is the case. There was one that broke 500 comments but I can’t quickly find it and I am not inclined to do so. Besides, Zach would be reasonably disinclined to read it anyways.

    Hitler was a Christian. The basis of his campaign was rooted in Christianity, not science, and not Darwinism. In fact, he explicitly eschewed Darwinian theory and called himself “a soldier of Christ.” He felt that he needed to finish Christ’s work of exterminating the Jews. He felt that only the Aryan’s were the superior race in the eyes of God. His first ever treaty was with the Vatican. The Pope made his birthday a day of celebration. He was raised Catholic. He soldiers wore belt buckles that read “Gott mit uns” – “God with us.” He wrote about his extensively in Mein Kampf. And to this day he is not excommunicated from the Catholic church.

    Don’t go barking up that tree Zach. The reality is that there has been no truly secular state in existence yet – Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il all eschewed established religions to replace it with their own cult of personality. Kim Jong Il’s government is not secular – it can’t even be considered atheistic because he is the god!

    Some appeal to an idea of what’s best for humanity as a whole? He will likely respond that why should give a damn about society as a whole except for when it happens to suit his tastes and benefits?

    This statement is quite intellectually bankrupt. Why should he care? Because the rest of society will. It is really that simple. As NaA tried to claim – sure, go and do whatever you want. Be a serial killer, or start an evil empire, or live as a renegade in the forest. As long as you don’t abut the consensus view of society you will be just fine. Living in the woods as a renegade is probably your best bet. And plenty of people do that. My fiancé’s uncle does for a good part of his life. But he doesn’t harm anyone – he just lives off the land. It is anti-social and very strange, but harms no one.

    Hitler tried to create an evil empire and be a serial killer. We know how that turned out.

    So why should you care? Because if you don’t there will be sanctions imposed on you. And if you want to maximize your own happiness and prosperity (which you should care about – those who don’t are the most dangerous of psycopaths) then you would care what the consensus of society is.

    So you are putting forth humanism as your world view in which societies should make laws? Why is your world view superior to others world view? Do you have an objective standard from which to demonstrate this?

    Science demonstrates it to be so. The dark ages were dark for a reason. Secular and predominantly atheistic Nordic countries have better quality of life by almost all metrics. Middle Eastern and African theocracies have very low quality of life by almost all metrics. The US is a very strange grab bag reflective of both the progressive nature and the highly theistic population. These at least establish correlation. Deeper exploration will reveal strong evidence of causation.

    So is there one single objective standard? No. But when you look at multiple metrics they all tend to converge on these facts. So why is humanism better? Because it has evidence that it yields better results.

    For a simple question, name one theocracy that you would rather live in than the US, Sweden, or Norway.

    Well, I am not trying to be stubborn headed, I am convinced on what I am convinced on and so are you

    Except that I am open to new evidence. Not parroting of the same long discrediting apologist claims, but of actual evidence. You completely gloss over it, most notably in the arena of science on which myself and others here are at least somewhat expert.

    Late start? What is late? 1st century 1st hand eye witnesses is late?

    And it doesn’t end with merely claims of scientific theory. As was demonstrated to you, there was no author – ever – of any passage or book of the Bible who could have possibly been an eyewitness to the supposed life of one Jesus H. Christ. Also conveniently ignored.

    Though perhaps you could give me reference to just one author of the bible – or anyone really – that has been clearly established to have actually lived at the same time as my homeboy Jeezy Creezy.

  94. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:48 pm

    “Why yes. According to 1997 Federal Bureau of Prisons Statistics, approximately 0.2% of respondents identified as atheist. The rest of the respondents replied that they have some sort of religious affiliation that includes theism.”

    That’s a super narrow view of the question, and I doubt your atheist/agnostic friends would agree with you on this. It’s pretty bad cherry picking of data.

    Asked and answered already but I’ll lend my support. No cherry picking there.

    Though, to be a true skeptic, I will add that a confounder is the hyper religiosity of the US. This could plausibly lead many criminals to claim to be religious without actually being so in the hopes of it looking like “good behavior.” However, there is data to demonstrate many prisoners are religious before entering and either way considering that the general population of the US is 80+% religious, any confounder could not make up for a 49.8% discrepancy to negate rezisnftl’s statement.

  95. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Oh yeah, sorry. Forgot to address Keller. Like I said, I read the first couple chapters of his book. He sucks like the rest of them. His premises are riddled with logical fallacy and false premises. His references are terrible – most of them reference other theologians or himself. He cherry picks quotes and data. The only appeal to him is he pays lip service to looking at the other side, but a brief look shows he doesn’t. I’m sorry but I’ve read enough apologists to absolutely not be willing to waste my time further on Keller.

  96. nybgruson 07 Jan 2013 at 11:56 pm

    @resiztnsftl:

    Sorry for the personal anecdote, but to be fair, most atheists in America started out in some sort of theism, and what I’ve seen is that they too have had similar experiences.

    This may be why I am so intrigued by these sorts of folks. I have never, ever, harbored religious thought. It has seemed ridiculous to me for as long as I can remember. The manner of thinking is so far removed from my own it simply fascinates me.

    For example, I cannot possibly fathom believing in something just because I want to believe in it. Faith is a concept utterly alien to me. I have held incorrect ideas because I thought I had evidence to do so, or because I hadn’t examined the question thoroughly, but never because I “just believed.” Without hesitation the first question that pops into my head is “Why should I believe that?” Sometimes I just don’t care enough and it doesn’t matter so I employ the Socratic method and decide to believe what I think makes sense. But I don’t delude myself into thinking it is actually true and if I get any evidence to the contrary I change my understanding immediately. But faith is as foreign a concept to me as how a bat “sees” with echolocation.

  97. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:09 am

    Hey nybgrus,

    blockquote = First off, has anyone noticed a very palpable change in the tenor of Zach? I mean a very obvious (to me at least) shift… almost a personality change. I’m not saying it is a bad thing – in fact, I think it is quite good. It is just throwing me for a loop. /blockquote

    I am trying to slow down and explain things in a much clearer way. I don’t want to take for granted that people will understand me with little effort.
    But I think you are right, it’s better for dialog.

    blockquote = You keep holding every moral system to an absolute objective morality standard, and if it fails that you see it as a flaw, but you fail to see that this is not a flaw, because an absolute objective morality does not exist. /blockquote

    So is morality subjective, and how so?

    blockquote = So you think this is a solution to such actions? If we use gods as a foundation for arguing against a genocide (to use your example), the counter-argument could just as easily use their gods use of genocide for justification of the action. It fact I would argue it is much easier to justify terrible acts if they are mandated by gods. Its harder to make the case on a large scale if no ideology is driving justification for terrible acts. /blockquote

    I actually completely agree with you here. You are correct.

    blockquote = “They are based upon agreed upon conclusions using science to determine facts, and then using logic and philosophy to analyze these facts in light of our collective values. Sure there will be some disagreements, but that is the nature of the problem. (Its not as if religion removes the disagreements, it just creates new ones)” /blockquote

    I don’t think this is true. Because there is no consensus and it would be an ad populum anyways – I can’t see a way around that since it’s rooted in personal opinion not absolute facts that must be discussed.

    Guys, religion is clearly a power for great evil as well as good, but I contend even freedom and science have been used for great evil.

    blockquote = I would argue that most moral decision making is not done by analyzing religious teachings for even those who are religious. We make moral decisions all of the time, and it is largely done on the basis of our own moral judgements, which are constructed over the course of our lives influenced by our own thoughts and feelings at the time the decisions are made. /blockquote

    Any evidence for this statement and how it avoids the logical fallacies it is known for?

    Hopefully the block quotes works.

  98. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:12 am

    @ccbowers

    “but perhaps religion was a topic you did not challenge critically until later in life. Is this an accurate approximation?…”

    In a sense, this is a true statement. When I was a theist, I would say that my understanding of my religious belief became more sophisticated. I think what really started it off for me was when I became a pentacostal with a friend for a while (who was a really nice guy and not pushy about it at all) and being confronted by some truly hardcore right wing fundamentalists. A lot of what they were claiming I knew right off wasn’t true at all, and a lot of what they were saying just rubbed me the wrong way but I didn’t know why. They just seemed so…hateful, it turned me off. I started to really question things at that time, but it was a decade and a half after that that I outright declared that I’m an atheist. This was after a LOT of soul-searching, voracious reading, and an almost frenetic clinging to beliefs that I was afraid of abandoning.

    I then went on to “experiment” with other religions, never really finding a place that I could call home. I never felt comfortable with the holy rollers or the speaking in tongues types. I then adopted a more studious and scholarly approach of the more “liberal” denominations. This suited me for a while, but I realized that they, too, were never able to answer some tough questions that simply did not jibe with reality. All that time I was learning more about science and history. I did not seriously question my base theism until I was eventually challenged on them by others, mostly on the internet. In attempts to defend my positions, I became aware of my cognitive dissonance. That’s probably when I completely dropped pursuing religion altogether. I didn’t outright call myself an atheist, because that term kind of scared me. It wasn’t until I had some conversations with atheists about what it really is that I realized that I am one. It had been hammered into my head how evil atheism was, that it was all these bad things, to me I regarded it like a gateway drug that would take me down a dark path.

    So, once I became “educated” on certain things, I became an atheist. Of course, there is a LOT more to it, but I don’t think several pages of text will be entirely welcome here. However, if I ever write my autobiography, I’ll let everyone know! lol

  99. Christopher Newellon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:12 am

    I happened the other day, to be mulling over a quote by Christopher Hitchens that I really like, “morality does not come from religion it precedes it.” But, I thought to myself: how can we know this for a fact? Maybe religion is the basis for morality and not visa-versa. I think that they’re tightly interwoven threads and hard to separate empirically. Certainly morality has deep biological roots that precede religion but it’s hard to tell exactly how they play off of each other. Likewise philosophy and science are woven into the tapestry but are far more recent and therefore more superficial in their relationship to morality than nature, culture or religion. So I think that the answer to the question of the proper basis for morality is: all of the above. That is, nature first, then culture, then religion, then philosophy, and finally science, in there chronological order of influence on our morality. Morality is a real and objective phenomenon, not a matter of debate, and its proper basis is not a matter of preference. It’s like a geological formation with a particular natural history.

  100. Davdoodleson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:20 am

    “Hitler was a Christian. The basis of his campaign was rooted in Christianity, not science, and not Darwinism.”

    Cue adding the “no true Scotsman” fallacy to the Gish gallop in three… two… one…
    .

  101. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:23 am

    Sorry Zach, my instructions must not have been clear. Do exactly what you have been doing, except put no spaces in the blockquotes and do not put in the equals sign.

  102. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:29 am

    So is morality subjective, and how so?

    That has been demonstrated over and over and over again. It you is you that has the burden of demonstrated that it is immutable.

    The simple examples are the changes in attitudes towards slavery, racism, sexism, and we are currently embroiled in the shift regarding homosexuality.

    I don’t think this is true. Because there is no consensus and it would be an ad populum anyways – I can’t see a way around that since it’s rooted in personal opinion not absolute facts that must be discussed

    Please read my section on why that is not an appropriate use of ad populum.. though I suppose I can see why you think it might be.

    We are saying that there is no absolute facts regarding this issue, hence a consensus cannot be ad populum. You cannot argue against us by citing ad pop if our argument is that the very principle at hand is that there is no absolute fact. You must address the actual argument – that there is no absolute objective morality. Just saying there is is not sufficient. And as I said, we have demonstrated repeatedly how there isn’t.

    Name a single moral edict from the bible that is complete, objective, and has been held immutably by any society.

    Guys, religion is clearly a power for great evil as well as good, but I contend even freedom and science have been used for great evil.

    That’s called a tu cocque fallacy. Yes, freedom and science have been used for evil. That does not address the argument at had, nor does it absolve religion of the evils its commits.

  103. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:31 am

    @davdoodles:

    I would expect no different. Which is why I linked my previous comment thread, mentioned there is an even longer one here somewhere on NeuroLogica, said my peace, and will not address it further.

    But nevertheless it will either fizzle or be a spectacular display of NTS and cognitive dissonance.

  104. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:33 am

    @Christopher Newell:

    I mostly agree with you. Certainly religion can inform morality. Though I would merely refine that by saying it can inform it as a facet of culture. There is no role for the divinity of it to inform religion. I would also argue that science should play a much more prominent role, as should philosophy. The fact that it is a late comer to the discussion doesn’t mean its power to inform isn’t great. That would be like saying that because Newtonian mechanics came first it should take precedence over quantum mechanics in explaining the universe, despite QM’s vastly greater predictive and explanatory power.

  105. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:35 am

    @autumnmonkey:

    Though you are still, IMO, rather civil I endeavor to be even more so. But you are, once again IMO, absolutely spot on.

    While we may not show Zach the error of his ways here, we have hopefully planted a seed that will germinate into a mind of rationality someday.

  106. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:36 am

    @rezistnftl:

    Very interesting story. I am always fascinated by such tales, which is why I found Dan Barker’s book such a great read.

    Congratulations for taking the blue pill. ;-)

  107. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:49 am

    @nybgrus

    I for one am mixed about how I feel starting out as a theist and becoming an atheist. On the one hand, it’s given me a lot of insight into religion, I’ve learned a LOT about myself, and it’s allowed me to grow as an individual. Considering that I’ve had to defend my atheism so often, I’m also glad that I have some knowledge of religion to arm myself as needed.

    On the other hand, a LOT of time was wasted grovelling, praying at Sunday service, and expecting intercessory prayer to work. Religion truly is a waste of time. It reminds of that quote ,”Two hands working accomplishes far more than a thousand hands praying”. That time could have been spent in scientific inquiry, reading, or just exploring the world.

    If you’re ever interested in hearing more “conversion” stories, there are many of them on Youtube.

  108. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:04 am

    @nybgrus

    Thanks! That’s exactly what I did!

    Another fascinating organization, that I think has been mentioned here recently, is The Clergy Project, where members of the clergy who no longer believe are able to find safe haven and egress from their religion (you can imagine the animosity expressed toward religious leaders with a conscience who cannot abide by their faith any longer). Dan Barker is definitely one of those, and he’s been associated with the project from time to time if I recall.

    On a related note, one of the things I encourage everyone to do is to read the bible. For believers, it’s so often the first step toward atheism (I don’t know HOW many atheists who have said doing that was one of the defining moments in their “conversion”). For non-believers, unfortunately it is a relevant historical and cultural piece of literature that is influential even today. IF nothing else, I do find religion an interesting institution to study for it’s sociological and anthropological value, as well as insight into human psychology.

  109. Thadiuson 08 Jan 2013 at 2:08 am

    Davdoodls-

    I would like to point out that Stalin outlawed the study of evolution in favor of lemarkinasm, a competing theory to evolution through natural selection. Just another thing most creationists and apologists get very wrong.

    Nybgrus-
    As for conversions, they fascinate me. I was not brought up in a religious environment, but it wasn’t secular exactly either. My parents were somewhat spiritualist but did not practice any form of warship. They seemed to hold a reverence for spirituality but in no consistent way, dabbling in Native American and new age spiritualism. Luckily for me I was skeptical of all of it since about the time i realized Santa wasn’t real. However i never really took religion too seriously, i assumed that most if not all Christians saw the bible as fable and metaphor, so in my eyes they were not much of a threat. That all changed when i went to college and was introduced to fundamentalism.

    For me it is amazing that anyone can be so deluded that those types of world views could even be considered. It is even more amazing that anyone so intellectually chained down can ever escape.

  110. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:53 am

    An interesting tidbit about Stalin. When he came into power, the original Russian Orthodox Church was indeed persecuted for not supporting his rule. Years later, he had thousands of parishes reopened with church leaders more sympathetic to his rule. Furthermore, he had been known to supply many communist muslims in China with supplies and weapons in order to fight against the anti-communist China at the time.

    What this indicates is that it wasn’t atheism that drove him to commit atrocities, it was his desire for power as well as the need to remove anyone who opposed him, a motive common with every dictatorship in history, religious and non-religious alike. If atheism was a true motive, he would have wiped out ALL forms of religions entirely and continued to prohibit them as long as he was in power.

  111. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 9:07 am

    “The ad populum fallacy only applies when you are making an appeal to an empirically verifiable fact.”

    So the laws of logic only apply to empirical facts?…. If that’s the case, how does one discovery morality, as Steven suggested with logic and reason?

    “But if you say that 99% of Californians agree that surfing is awesome, therefore Californians think surfing is awesome, that is not and ad populum fallacy.”

    Your hidden premise here is that morality is nothing more than a preference on what is awesome or not. As I have shown, that simply cannot stand. For why should your opinion on what is “better” be superior to another’s opinion? What makes you an authority on how people “ought” to live? Do you realize you are largely a product of your environment and culture? I’ll get back to this in a moment.

    “In the context of the philosophy of morality, since there is no empiric fact to test for the axiomatic principles on which to base morality, when 99% of people agree that enhancing the flourishing of humanity is a good thing, that establishes the axiomatic principle.”

    No, but we can apply basic logic to premises for the foundation of morality to see if it can withstand – I contend, and have shown, that if morality is nothing more than a preference then we have no ground to stand on in which to declare someone evil – for evil wouldn’t be a real thing, it would be like the Californians saying those who hate to surf are morally depraved evil monsters, why? Because they happen to favor the act of surfing. So what if they favor surfing, why should I care? They might suggest that if a society all enjoys surfing together it will be a “better” society… in which the response will inevitably be, who’s definition of “better” are you using? And around and around the maze of circular logic goes.

    “The principle would be “all human life should be able to flourish.” Thus, if we talk about feeding teenagers to bears, that violates the first principle.”

    In which I will respond asking you to define “flourish”. Flourish is nothing but another word for “better” – which implies better or worse, which implies some objective standard for what is “better” and what is “worse”. Not everyone agrees on this “better” or “worse”, so you must provide your objective standard from which to have ground on which to show that something is actually “better” and not just what you favor.

    “Being logical is necessary, but not sufficient. For example, you can study the tooth fairy scientifically and philosophically. You can create an entire, ahem, religion around the tooth fairy and then do tests to see how much money she leaves on average, what kinds of teeth she prefers, what time of night she arrives, and actually come up with data. All of this will be absolutely 100% logically consistent. But you haven’t established that the tooth fairy exists to begin with.
    So you can explain how the death of Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law and took away our sin. You can discuss how it was necessary, what the consequences were, and how the necessitates certain behaviors, actions, and devotions on our part. And all of it will be absolutely 100% logically consistent. But you haven’t established that Christ, sin, or the need for the law to be fulfilled exists in the first place.
    That, right there, is the fundamental problem of religion (and CAM, btw). Sure you can create these elaborate and complex explanations and stories that are internally logically consistent (obviously countless theologians have done this for countless sects of countless religions!) but the part that is missing is that the premise on which it is all based is established in the first place. You assume the existence of a god and then build a theology on that… without ever having established that the god exists in the first place!”

    This is a common error I find skeptics making. First, they will complain that the Bible is inconsistent with itself, when I attempt to show them that the book is in fact completely consistent with itself, they jump back to arguing with me that I have never proven it’s supernatural claims, etc. They are two completely different conversations, and when discussing the consistent message of the Bible, one must take the Bible for what it says about itself and it’s message. In that conversation one doesn’t get to say, “oh well it’s all made up anyways”. That might be true, but it’s irrelevant to the conversation since the conversation is (at that moment) not at all about the accuracy of the Bible’s claims, just the consistency or inconsistency of the message. I am more than willing to have the conversation about whether or not its claims are true, but that’s a different conversation entirely. I hope that makes sense.

    “Hitler was a Christian. The basis of his campaign was rooted in Christianity, not science, and not Darwinism. In fact, he explicitly eschewed Darwinian theory and called himself “a soldier of Christ.” He felt that he needed to finish Christ’s work of exterminating the Jews.”

    This is more complicated than you are making it. How many politicians today are “really” Christians, and how many are just using the claim “Christian” to get favor with the public?

    Hitler’s world view was a mixed bag for sure, but there is no doubt that eugenics was his driving motivation. Eugenics is Darwinianism taking to it’s logical but scary end. This doesn’t make all Darwinian’s Nazi’s, but to claim Hitler’s eugenics came from Christianity is to completely ignore the history of Hitler’s day. Eugenics was popular not only in Germany but in America.

    “Don’t go barking up that tree Zach. The reality is that there has been no truly secular state in existence yet – Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il all eschewed established religions to replace it with their own cult of personality. Kim Jong Il’s government is not secular – it can’t even be considered atheistic because he is the god!”

    This is the no true Scotsman fallacy. You sound very similar to my Marxist comrades who claim that there has been no true Marxist state yet.

    “This statement is quite intellectually bankrupt. Why should he care? Because the rest of society will. It is really that simple. “

    Do you not realize this is circular reasoning. The question is why should he care about society, and your answer is “because society cares about society”….

    No it’s not that simple, you assume it to be that simple because you assume all mankind will actually care about society.

    “As NaA tried to claim – sure, go and do whatever you want. Be a serial killer, or start an evil empire, or live as a renegade in the forest. As long as you don’t abut the consensus view of society you will be just fine.”

    This is a consequentialist view, and Steven already explained why this doesn’t work.

    “Hitler tried to create an evil empire and be a serial killer. We know how that turned out.”

    He almost succeeded – so if he had succeeded would that have been morally correct? Why not?
    There are many other people in history who have appeared to have gotten away with their “evil”. Society was even on board with it. Were they wrong? Why?

    “So why should you care? Because if you don’t there will be sanctions imposed on you. And if you want to maximize your own happiness and prosperity (which you should care about – those who don’t are the most dangerous of psycopaths) then you would care what the consensus of society is.”

    Consequentialism – again, doesn’t work. Sure, I agree I won’t do things that will definitely end my existence, but there is an entire host of things I could do and more than likely get away with. Things that don’t benefit society but benefit me. What’s wrong with that?

    “Science demonstrates it to be so. The dark ages were dark for a reason. Secular and predominantly atheistic Nordic countries have better quality of life by almost all metrics. Middle Eastern and African theocracies have very low quality of life by almost all metrics. The US is a very strange grab bag reflective of both the progressive nature and the highly theistic population. These at least establish correlation. Deeper exploration will reveal strong evidence of causation.
    So is there one single objective standard? No. But when you look at multiple metrics they all tend to converge on these facts. So why is humanism better? Because it has evidence that it yields better results.”

    You forget that science is rooted in Christianity. It came from the premise that the world was created and therefore functioned off rules and laws that could be discovered.

    You also are ignoring the impact of Christianity on America’s culture and morality.

    The entire basis for individual human rights stems from the idea that each person is endowed with inalienable rights given from their creator.

    “Except that I am open to new evidence. Not parroting of the same long discrediting apologist claims, but of actual evidence. You completely gloss over it, most notably in the arena of science on which myself and others here are at least somewhat expert.”

    Opinion not provable by science =)

    Again, you are making assumptions you can’t possible know the answer to and being pretentious. It’s a waste of time.

    “And it doesn’t end with merely claims of scientific theory. As was demonstrated to you, there was no author – ever – of any passage or book of the Bible who could have possibly been an eyewitness to the supposed life of one Jesus H. Christ. Also conveniently ignored.”

    Are you skipping my posts? When do you think Paul lived….? When do you think Matthew lived? How about John?

    For what reason are you claiming these authors were not around when Jesus was? I don’t understand where this is coming from. Even Bart Erdmann acknowledges this.

    “Oh yeah, sorry. Forgot to address Keller. Like I said, I read the first couple chapters of his book. He sucks like the rest of them. His premises are riddled with logical fallacy and false premises. His references are terrible – most of them reference other theologians or himself. He cherry picks quotes and data. The only appeal to him is he pays lip service to looking at the other side, but a brief look shows he doesn’t. I’m sorry but I’ve read enough apologists to absolutely not be willing to waste my time further on Keller.”

    This is slander and a complete lie. If you think Keller cherry picks his quotes and data to deceive you are wrong. Keller majored in philosophy and relies heavily on Alvin Plantinga… I think Alvin Plantinga knows a thing or two about logic… he’s the most influential philosopher of our century – go read him. He is well known for critiquing humanism’s moral claims and showing that it is bankrupt.

    I am the one who is unwilling to look at the counter-evidence?

    “That has been demonstrated over and over and over again. It you is you that has the burden of demonstrated that it is immutable.”

    I have asked you a series of questions in which the answers prove morality cannot be subjective. You still haven’t answered them.

  112. NotAnAtheiston 08 Jan 2013 at 9:23 am

    @ nybgrus

    You said:
    “Then a post directly dealing with religion and all of a sudden out of the woodwork they come pouring.”

    I saw this blog two days ago linked at RealClearPolitics if that answers your question. I knew nothing of this blog before that time. I thought I would help provide an actual opponent to the views instead of you folks having to make one up. I am not a philosophy major so I can’t throw around all of the technical logical terms that are used here but I am in a profession that is mathematics based and intensely dependent on logic.

    On the creation topic, I don’t have the scientific knowledge to get into the weeds of specific scientific evidence other than to say that I have not seen anything that contradicts the creationist world view.

    This topic only requires deductive logic on an elementary level. I think the question mainly comes down to a definition of terms. I think most people define morality in a way that they mean it to be universal and objective. Such a morality can exist only with an authority that is above humankind. You may try to redefine these terms morality, universal and objective in such a way that they have a justification of a morality that is not authority-based but you must understand that you are not talking about the same concept at all.

    I will probably continue to read this blog as I am always interested in what skeptics think. I might even add a comment or two if something is interesting to me but for this topic I will be done.

  113. NotAnAtheiston 08 Jan 2013 at 9:27 am

    P.S. Zach is seriously bringing it. I can’t really add much of substance that he hasn’t covered. Kudos

  114. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 9:44 am

    NotAnAtheist: I think most people define morality in a way that they mean it to be universal and objective. Such a morality can exist only with an authority that is above humankind.

    Except that God (were such a mythical being real) would not be objective. Rather, God would be subjective – albeit, much better informed than the average person (after all, He’s omniscient, right?), and a lot more effective at forcing His views on to others (after all, He’s omnipotent, right?) – but subjective, nonetheless.

    That doesn’t mean that the theist and the atheist are in the exact same boat, but neither of their boats are as water-tight as they might like to believe.

  115. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 9:51 am

    Incidentally, the late philosopher Richard Taylor was critical of other secular moral philosophers, as this book description alludes:

    To ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, ethics was chiefly the study of how individuals attain personal excellence, or ‘virtue’, defined as intellectual sophistication, wisdom, strength of character, and creativity. With the ascendancy of the Judeo-Christian ethic, says Taylor, this emphasis on pride of personal worth was lost. Instead, philosophy became preoccupied with defining right and wrong in terms of a divine lawgiver, and the concept of virtue was debased to mean mere obedience to divine law. Even today, in the absence of religious belief, modern thinkers unwittingly continue this legacy by creating hair-splitting definitions of good and evil.

    That said, I wonder if the preoccupation with “authority” exhibited in this thread is a symptom of this condition.

  116. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 10:26 am

    So the laws of logic only apply to empirical facts?

    No. That law of logic applies only to empirical facts. The reason is simple: empirical facts are independent of the observer. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether 99% of the population doesn’t believe in evolution because it is a fact and it has happened.

    But if something exists only as a construct of our mind, then obviously the consensus of opinion is what defines it. If 99% of Californian’s believe surfing is awesome, then they do. It becomes fact. When a large population of white sharks comes to the coast and they no longer think it awesome, then that fact changes.

    Your hidden premise here is that morality is nothing more than a preference on what is awesome or not

    Hey, now you are starting to get it! Though we need a little bit more than just that otherwise we fall into an extreme form of moral relativism. That little bit more is scientific inquiry.

    As I have shown, that simply cannot stand

    You have shown no such thing.

    For why should your opinion on what is “better” be superior to another’s opinion? What makes you an authority on how people “ought” to live?

    Nothing makes me an authority. But if I have a good idea as to what is “better” and it appeals to the largest number of people, then my idea is given authority by the consensus. I know this is a difficult concept to understand because everything in your experience is handed down to you from your imaginary higher authority. That is why the Jesus crusaders like to tell me that I deserve no credit for saving a patient’s life because it is merely God acting through me, and it was God that gave me my brain, and my aptitude, and my work ethic.

    So you see the whole premise of our entire discussion is that morality is a dynamic, relative, and agreed upon construct. Certain aspects are more dynamic than others. Some tap into our evolutionary wiring. Some come from the cultural milieu. This is why good and effective laws are often quite difficult to write and why philosophers and ethicists do not have an easy job! The best moral and legal codes will be the least restrictive, the most protective, and appeal on first principle to the most people. That is hard to suss out period, but especially since it actually changes.

    Do you realize you are largely a product of your environment and culture? I’ll get back to this in a moment.

    Oh yes, I realize it quite well. And just like good science tries to reduce out all the extraneous bits to get to the meat of what is actually there and necessary, so does good philosophy, morality, and law. We have the added benefit of varying levels of sanction for transgression against societal laws and mores – from the death penalty (which I now oppose, but that is a different story) all the way to people simply thinking you are a weirdo and everything in between. The Socratic method applies here as well.

    No, but we can apply basic logic to premises for the foundation of morality to see if it can withstand – I contend, and have shown, that if morality is nothing more than a preference then we have no ground to stand on in which to declare someone evil – for evil wouldn’t be a real thing

    Bing bing bing!! Evil is not a real thing. This is absolutely correct. Evil is a purely religious construct with no basis in reality and no sense in application. It necessarily implies some source of supernatural badness being imbued into an action. But the universe doesn’t care about us one way or another, good or evil.

    Lanza was a bad person because his actions were directly and significantly contradictory to a functioning society. But we wasn’t evil – he was the product of his neurophysiology, culture, and the situation in which he had access to the guns he did.

    The only context in which evil makes sense is a theistic one, and since our premise here is that you (and nobody) has met the burden of proof to demonstrate any theism or deity of any kind actually exists, then the assumption of evil is also an unfounded one.

    They might suggest that if a society all enjoys surfing together it will be a “better” society… in which the response will inevitably be, who’s definition of “better” are you using? And around and around the maze of circular logic goes.

    They might. And they could potentially demonstrate it. It may become something encouraged by the government. But considering that not everyone can do it, for various legitimate reasons, it would become stupid to force people to surf on threat of punishment.

    And then a scientist like me may come along and discover that it isn’t the surfing itself that is so great and wonderful, it is the exercise and commeraderie. And then we would reasonably advocate people do sports in general. And hey! We do that!

    In which I will respond asking you to define “flourish”. Flourish is nothing but another word for “better”– which implies better or worse, which implies some objective standard for what is “better” and what is “worse”.

    Really Zach? You can’t just look up the definitions? Just google it man!

    flour·ish (flûrsh, flr-)
    v. flour·ished, flour·ish·ing, flour·ish·es
    v.intr.
    1. To grow well or luxuriantly; thrive: The crops flourished in the rich soil.
    2. To do or fare well; prosper: “No village on the railroad failed to flourish” (John Kenneth Galbraith).
    3. To be in a period of highest productivity, excellence, or influence: a poet who flourished in the tenth century.
    4. To make bold, sweeping movements: The banner flourished in the wind.

    bet·ter 1 (btr)
    adj. Comparative of good.
    1. Greater in excellence or higher in quality.
    2. More useful, suitable, or desirable: found a better way to go; a suit with a better fit than that one.
    3. More highly skilled or adept: I am better at math than English.
    4. Greater or larger: argued for the better part of an hour.
    5. More advantageous or favorable; improved: a better chance of success.
    6. Healthier or more fit than before: The patient is better today.

    First off, they are clearly not the same word. Not even close. This is what I mean – a 5 second google search gives you the definition so you don’t say completely wrong things. As a side note, I usually do that very quickly to make sure what I am saying is correct as I write. I don’t just spew things off the top of my head – unless I am damned sure I double check… which means I double check constantly.

    Secondly, were in the definition of better is there a need for an objective standard? When I come in and round on my patient and say, “He is doing better” I am not comparing it to some objective standard of what a patient should be doing. I am commenting that he has improved since the last time. Now, if I want to comment on his progress I can say “He is doing better, but not as much as he should be for someone on post-op day 3 for this kind of surgery.” I can say that as an objective measure only because I have data on how patients on POD#3 should be doing on average but to make it clear that is what I mean I have to state that this is what I am referring to!.

    Just saying “better” in no way, shape, or form implies the invocation of an objective standard. You really need to stop listening to some much William Craig.

    This is a common error I find skeptics making. First, they will complain that the Bible is inconsistent with itself, when I attempt to show them that the book is in fact completely consistent with itself, they jump back to arguing with me that I have never proven it’s supernatural claims, etc

    Hey this skeptic will help you out!

    It is both internally inconsistent and has never proven its supernatural claims! I won’t back down from either premise since they are both correct!

    There are myriad sites that explain all the internal inconsistencies, but there is this cool graphic which does it all in one image. Each red line is a direct contradiction of 2 passages. That’s a lot of red, mate!

    But hey, I’ll ask you a couple questions about one part of the bible – since you are a Christian after all and know the bible well and know that it is absolutely consistent.

    Why is the Field of Blood called the Field of Blood? What did Judas do with the money he received for betraying Jesus? How did Judas die? Who bought the field of blood?

    Since the bible is consistent and these are stories integral to the story of Jesus, it should be really easy and straightforward to answer these questions unequivocally right? Use any version of the bible you want to.

    I am more than willing to have the conversation about whether or not its claims are true, but that’s a different conversation entirely. I hope that makes sense.

    It does entirely. I was not at all conflating the two. In fact, if you look back I never once brought up the consistency of the bible in my discussion. It was you that tried to create a strawman here by claiming we were talking about the consistency and then I switched to the supernatural aspects. I did not – I was only discussing the supernatural parts as germane to the discussion.

    But anyways, as I said, I stand by both statements. The fact is that even if it were consistent, that still wouldn’t matter. That is the point I was making. But it isn’t even consistent.

    This is more complicated than you are making it. How many politicians today are “really” Christians, and how many are just using the claim “Christian” to get favor with the public?

    BING BING BING!!! I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away from the No True Scotsman fallacy! And davdoodles called it last night! (Well, at least you didn’t Gish Gallop it).

    Suffice it to say, no, it is that simple. We have exceedingly good evidence that he was a practicing Christian and everything he did, felt, grew up in, etc was Christian. Unless you want to tell me that you can read his mind posthumously to prove that the entirety of it was a facade there is nothing more to say.

    Eugenics is Darwinianism taking to it’s logical but scary end

    No, it isn’t. And, as I said, Hitler expressly denied evolution and Darwinism. So how could he have possibly used Darwinism – which he publicly rejected – as the foundation for eugenics? Especially when he explicitly stated he was completing Christ’s work?

    This is the no true Scotsman fallacy. You sound very similar to my Marxist comrades who claim that there has been no true Marxist state yet.

    Amazing how you can incorrectly apply it to me.. while commiting the fallacy yourself just a few sentences up.

    I am not claiming they weren’t true atheists or secularists, because no secularist would do that. I am stating that the evidence is quite clear that the motivation behind the regimes was not secular. Just as rezistnftl stated about Stalin.

    But anyways, the discussion is extraneous to the conversation at hand.

    Sure, I agree I won’t do things that will definitely end my existence, but there is an entire host of things I could do and more than likely get away with. Things that don’t benefit society but benefit me. What’s wrong with that?

    Nothing. That’s what a “free society” is. You don’t have to help society. You just can’t harm society. Some harms are small and not worth pursuing or are simply impractical to pursue. But larger harms are worth it and are pursued. It is your choice to contribute to society or merely be a passive participant in it. Welcome to freedom buddy!

    You forget that science is rooted in Christianity.

    [citation needed]

    That is one of the more ridiculous statements I ever heard. And the Muslims who invented mathematics and were the earliest pioneers of scientific discovery and inquiry might disagree.

    Trust me – I need no religion, let alone Christianity, to do science.

    You also are ignoring the impact of Christianity on America’s culture and morality.

    No I am not. I’m just contending that it has been more a negative impact than a positive one. I absolutely agree there have been positive impacts (and still are!) but that things like the fight against the end of slavery, the fight against women’s suffrage, the fight against civil rights and now the fight against gay equality is all rooted in… yup, Christianity.

    The entire basis for individual human rights stems from the idea that each person is endowed with inalienable rights given from their creator

    Fair enough. That is the word used in the constitution. But there is no indication of to who that creator is, let alone that it is Yawheh. Sorry, but you are trying for the “America is a Judeo-Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and the founding fathers were explicityly Judeo-Christian.” You need to stop watching Fox News and reading Dave Barton.

    Opinion not provable by science =)

    Again, you are making assumptions you can’t possible know the answer to and being pretentious. It’s a waste of time.

    I’m sorry Zach but if you think my expertise on evolution is an “opinion” and that I can’t know the answer to scientific questions… as a scientist… then what more do we have to say?

    Are you skipping my posts? When do you think Paul lived….? When do you think Matthew lived? How about John?

    For what reason are you claiming these authors were not around when Jesus was? I don’t understand where this is coming from. Even Bart Erdmann acknowledges this.

    The only two that were supposedly alive at the time were Paul and John. Even then the earliest gospel was written some 37 years after Jesus supposed death (which is nearly an entire lifespan back then). There is significant question as to whether the gospels were actually written by Paul and John, with very little if any extra-biblical confirmation of their writing.

    But fine, I’ll conceded that I made to sweeping a statement and one that is more contentious than I made it out to be. It is not necessary for my argument anyways.

    This is slander and a complete lie. If you think Keller cherry picks his quotes and data to deceive you are wrong

    Actually it would technically be libel since I wrote it, not said it.

    I also did not say he does so with the intent to deceive. I am sure he thinks he is being legit. But he isn’t. I’ve looked at his sources. After two chapters of nothing but garbage I put the book down.

    I think Alvin Plantinga knows a thing or two about logic

    Of course you do. He agrees with you. Or rather you blindly agree with him.

    I’ve read some Platinga as well. He is influential only in circles already pre-decided to his conclusions. He is not influential in any of my circles. Besides, saying Keller studied under Platinga and therefore he must be good is called the genetic fallacy. That would be like me saying that Kurt Wise studied under Steven Gould and therefore Wise must be a good paleontologist. But I know he isn’t.

    I am the one who is unwilling to look at the counter-evidence?

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I have read numerous apologists and watched innumerable debates. I’ve looked at the counter “evidence” and it is simply lacking. There’s a reason why Hitch, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Myers, etc absolutely destroy Craig, D’Souza, Demsbki, McGrath, Meyer, Swinburne, etc. Of course to those already convinced they are right they always seem to “win” don’t they?

  117. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 10:34 am

    Morality and ethics are simply a code of behavior that seeks to maximize some perceived good.

    There is no such thing as “absolute” morality, which implies that moral rules are somehow properties of the universe that are not invented but can be discovered (or revealed).

    Subjective vs objective requires more careful thought and definition, as these are not absolute states with respect to morality. The same is true of “universal.” There are degrees of objectivity and applicability.

    What the philosophy of ethics attempts to do is identify and derive principals that are as universal as possible for humans. Some human behaviors and feelings are “cross cultural” – which is not exactly universal but as close as we come (there are always exceptions).

    The closest we can come to “objective” ethical decisions are ones based upon a system of logic that attempts to be internally consistent and derived from the most fundamental and near-universal human conditions as possible – as opposed to parochial cultural beliefs, traditions, authority, or whim.

    A workable and logical system of ethics is partly situational – minors are treated differently than adults, the traditions of a culture do affect what is appropriate behavior in that culture, being convicted of a serious crime mitigates one’s right, for example. The more fundamental and important an ethical principle, the more extreme the conditions would need to be to modify their application. (Torture is a good example – it is reasonable to consider torture as always unethical, but what about the “ticking bomb – Jack Bauer scenario? Is there any number of people who could be saved from death that would justify torture?)

    When we talk about objective and universalizable ethics – the above is what we mean. Not absolutely objective or absolutely universal, because these things do not exist.

    My objection to the claim that such exists remains. People believe that their religious faith equates to absolute objective morality from God, but no one “knows” that any god exists, or what the will (morality) of any hypothetical gods is, and certainly cannot demonstrate such knowledge to others in a way that would justify imposing such beliefs onto others. We are left with battling faiths. Further, the moral system offered by those claiming faith-based morality appears to be primitive, childish, and brutal (even evil), and the assurance that “god works in mysterious ways” is not compelling to say the least.

    Zach’s response has essentially been that none of this proves there is no god with ultimate morality, but I am not claiming that it does. If such a god exists, and they have a moral code they wish for humanity – no one can demonstrate that they know what that is. The situation is indistinguishable from one in which there is no god or gods, and therefore no ultimate morality.

  118. JJ Borgmanon 08 Jan 2013 at 10:35 am

    “Victory” by filibuster. I predict this thread will soon take on the complexion of the US Senate floor during a filibuster.

    Now, I may be committing the fallacists fallacy, but neither Zach nor NaA have established the authority supposedly necessary to support the claim to a logically sound foundation for their morality assertion. If I recall correctly, at one point I believe Zach even admitted he thought his argument was sound, if not valid. I mean, if that’s considered establishing his authority, I sure don’t see it. The repetition has become ponderous.

    Having read through all these exchanges, though has got me thinking. It seems to me that establishing the “rightness” of morality claims among human beings lies rooted in egocentrism, the use of forces along the spectrum between dominance and cooperation and the community in which you reside. Increases in barbarism or civility in various places keeps the local definition in flux. The example of island infanticide given above was startling.

    Which, I think, someone has probably already stated, sort of.

  119. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 10:44 am

    @ rezistnzisfutl:

    I understand. And probably you are right – it is better to have never been a theist in the first place for exactly those reasons. But the only upside is that, unlike me, you didn’t have to go into it completely uneducated on the topic and then have to learn BS in order to better combat the BS. You get more “cred” and have more knowledge than I do simply because you’ve studied it longer.

    The one distinct advantage I had is I went into the whole discussion genuinely not knowing. I had a few religious roommates in undergrad – a couple Muslims, a Bahai, and a Christian. So I actually was thinking “Well, maybe there is something to this god thing. The religion seems weird and stupid, and I don’t currently believe, but maybe they are right?” And I also heard about how “evil” and “strident” and “militant” the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins were. So I went into that thinking they must be a$$holes at the very least. In other words, I thought this was a genuinely open debate without resolution yet. Heck, I didn’t even read any Dawkins or Hitchens until after I started medical school!

    But after reading the Bible (yup I went through it) and reading apologists and then watching debates and then reading Dawkins, Hitchens, Barker, etc the answer became quite clear. But I had the benefit of not being bogged down in ideology going into it. I wasn’t looking to have one side vindicate my beliefs – I had no beliefs to be vindicated! I didn’t know what methodological naturalism meant until after I finished undergrad and even then it was more just a “doing science without really understanding science” sort of thing. I had never heard of philosophical naturalism until even later than that.

    I cross referenced texts between apologists and The Four Horsemen. I applied the same standard of rigor to every claim. And guess where I ended up? LOL.

    And yeah, I really like the Clergy Project and fully support it. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a priest who finally realizes his whole life was based on nonsense. That would be like me discovering evolution really is a lie and alternative medicine really is better! Thankfully my worldview doesn’t depend on a few supernatural events being true.

    Anyways, I did watch a lot of conversion stories on YouTube at the same time as well. My first year of med I was living alone, my girlfriend at the time (now fiance) was in a different country, and all I did was read medicine, learn about religion and CAM, and work out. I left that year with over 65,000 pages of non-fiction read and hundreds if not thousands of hours watched. And a 6-pack. I used to be able to run half marathons at a sub-8 minute mile pace and cycle full centuries at 20mph average. Man I miss those days. LOL.

    So that is why when I picked up Kellers book late last year and started reading through it (I was stuck at a Barnes and Noble for an excessively long time and it was within arms reach and had the promise of “sophisticated” and “clear” apologism) I was less than impressed. By then I had already heard all the same arguments rehashed about a billion times (maybe a slight exaggeration).

    But I can guarantee you one thing – if in my reading/watching the theistic contingent actually had a better argument and better evidence, I would absolutely be in that camp. Of course, as I said before, if it turned out Yawheh actually was real I still wouldn’t worship the sick 4!#$.

    Oh well. I am encouraged by the upsurge in the “nones” and the growing number of atheists here in the US and around the world. I’m convinced it is only a matter of time before the vast majority of religious thought dies out. I think it was Penn Jillette actually who said that what we are seeing in the revivalism movement is the death throes of religion. I don’t know that I can agree with certainty, but it does seem reasonable and has some evidence pointing to that (besides the growing population of nones, the majority of the theistic contingent remaining in in my parent’s generation so once they are gone we should see a radical shift). In the meantime though, I am happy to chip in my little part of it all and certainly find the discussion rousing.

  120. tmac57on 08 Jan 2013 at 11:11 am

    rezistnzisfutl- I like hearing the perspective of a former believer,since like Nybgrus,I have never,ever had any religious leaning. This has made me feel like,at times, that I didn’t ‘earn’ my agnostic/atheist position,and along the lines with your suggestion to read the bible,I have recently started listening to Robert Price’s “The Human Bible”.
    Anyway, Thanks for the input,and I re-christen (sorry) thee Rezistnzisuseful !

  121. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:33 am

    Alright, I think I got this blockquote thing figured out, here goes nothing.

    [blockquote] “No. That law of logic applies only to empirical facts. The reason is simple: empirical facts are independent of the observer. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether 99% of the population doesn’t believe in evolution because it is a fact and it has happened.” [/blockquote]

    Your hidden premise is that morality is subjective, I have demonstrated that is impossible to make sense with the reality as we know it – hence why whenever I ask you a specific question on how a certain moral dilemma could possible play out under moral relativism you don’t answer the question.

    [blockquote] Hey, now you are starting to get it! Though we need a little bit more than just that otherwise we fall into an extreme form of moral relativism. That little bit more is scientific inquiry. [/blockquote]

    If morality is equated to non-empirical facts how on earth do you look to scientific inquiry to discuss non-empirical facts. You cannot have your cake and eat it too good sir.

    [blockquote] You have shown no such thing. [/blockquote]

    I take your avoidance and silence of the moral dilemmas I ask as pretty clear evidence. But by all means, answer some of them and let’s see how this plays out.

    [blockquote] Nothing makes me an authority. But if I have a good idea as to what is “better” and it appeals to the largest number of people, then my idea is given authority by the consensus. I know this is a difficult concept to understand because everything in your experience is handed down to you from your imaginary higher authority. [/blockquote]

    So you aren’t an authority, but then in the next breath you authorize the claim that the largest number of people who like a given idea =’s the moral right.

    This is by default the definition of the “Might makes Right” argument. Your comparison to surfing is apples to oranges.

    Look, if I believe that killing kids who mouth off is the moral high ground and I get enough people to agree to that consensus then am I morally right? Of course not, but by your logic I must be. This is the definition of moral relativism. Now throwing in something about how science can demonstrate with logic that this is a bad thing is a counter-argument, it’s irrelevant. You can’t demonstrate that life is better than death, you can’t provide an objective standard for what humans should strive for, or what is better or worse. You only have your personal opinion on that it’s based in moral relativism. Look, if you want to be a moral relativist by all means go for it, but don’t whine about it when atrocities happen that you don’t like, you have no foundation from which to condemn that anything more than “I like this, or I don’t like that”.

    [blockquote] “I know this is a difficult concept to understand because everything in your experience is handed down to you from your imaginary higher authority. “[/blockquote]

    Pretentious cheap shot based off an straw man. Everything I believe is based off handed down authority.

    Ok, I believe that computer mice are functional devices for operating a computer.

    Not based on handed down authority. Proven wrong.

    [blockquote] “So you see the whole premise of our entire discussion is that morality is a dynamic, relative, and agreed upon construct. Certain aspects are more dynamic than others. Some tap into our evolutionary wiring. Some come from the cultural milieu. This is why good and effective laws are often quite difficult to write and why philosophers and ethicists do not have an easy job!” [/blockquote]

    Any evidence to support this assertion? I can provide a lot of counter-evidence again if you’d like.

    Please answer one question for me, the same line of questioning I have been asking without an answer for nearly this entire conversation.

    So morality is nothing more than “we like this so lets do it” – I don’t believe this is a straw man of your position once it’s boiled down, then is it evil when societies have decided that slavery was ok, and sacrificing infants to unreal god’s was ok, or ???

    If you say yes your entire position falls apart. For you are going against your own premise that morality is what society decides through consensus what is right.

    I assert would call those things immoral regardless of what a given society has determined, and if you do, you are back to square one looking for some sort of justification for why you get to say it’s wrong.

    [blockquote] “ The best moral and legal codes will be the least restrictive, the most protective, and appeal on first principle to the most people. That is hard to suss out period, but especially since it actually changes.” [/blockquote]

    This is extremely ironic that you wrote this following your previous statement.

    There is no consensus nor has there been that the best morality and legal codes will be the least restrictive, the most protective, and appeal on first principles to the most people. You are cutting off the branch you are sitting on.

    So please defend this naked assertion with some sort of logical reasoning or evidence.

    [blockquote] “Bing bing bing!! Evil is not a real thing. This is absolutely correct. Evil is a purely religious construct with no basis in reality and no sense in application. It necessarily implies some source of supernatural badness being imbued into an action. But the universe doesn’t care about us one way or another, good or evil.” [/blockquote]

    I’m glad you admit this – most agnostics will not. However, there is still one contradiction. How is rape any different than consensual love? There is no evil just actions we happen to favor – which implies that I should care about what actions society favors, which I contend since I have a brain and can think, if I can get away with it why not do it? Why care about another person’s emotions or feelings? Isn’t it arbitrary? I mean, if we want to be scientific rape happens all the time in the animal kingdom and it’s really nothing more than atoms and molecules moving together, so what makes that movement of atoms and molecules less favorable? You will likely invoke some line of reasoning of human flourishing, but this is an assumption you hold that I should care about human flourishing – many humans do not, hence why rape, murder, etc. occur all the time. Not only that, but you can’t defend your view of how you determined what flourishing is? And to make matters worse, altruism doesn’t even function in this way as you stated above. So why should one not rape other than consequentialism? And there are clearly many who can do so without having the consequences effect them negatively – other countries rape happens regularly and the men get away it all the time. So how do you deal with that without deceiving yourself.

    You know it’s wrong, but your world view tells you there is no right and wrong – only actions you happen to favor, and if someone favors the opposite actions you can’t do anything but embrace a might makes right argument – which is a fallacy.

    Hence I assert your world view is inconsistent with reality as we know it.

    [blockquote] “Lanza was a bad person because his actions were directly and significantly contradictory to a functioning society.” [/blockquote]

    Again, why should he care about a functioning society – altruism is of no help here and asserts the opposite does it not?

    [blockquote] First off, they are clearly not the same word. Not even close. [/blockquote]

    Really, this what you are going with? Arguing the semantics of the word better and flourish…..
    You get my point don’t you? Flourish implies that there is a better and worse – flourish is on the better side. That’s all my point was.

    [blockquote] Secondly, were in the definition of better is there a need for an objective standard? When I come in and round on my patient and say, “He is doing better” I am not comparing it to some objective standard of what a patient should be doing. I am commenting that he has improved since the last time. [/blockquote]

    Wrong on both accounts.

    1. you need an objective standard for better because when you look at something and declare it is in a better condition than before you comparing the state to a standard in order to say it has improved.
    2. If you say a patient is doing better your standard would be the normal functioning human who doesn’t need a doctor’s treatment.

    [blockquote] “You really need to stop listening to some much William Craig.” [/blockquote]

    Who said I did?

    [blockquote] “BING BING BING!!! I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away from the No True Scotsman fallacy! And davdoodles called it last night! (Well, at least you didn’t Gish Gallop it). Suffice it to say, no, it is that simple. We have exceedingly good evidence that he was a practicing Christian and everything he did, felt, grew up in, etc was Christian. Unless you want to tell me that you can read his mind posthumously to prove that the entirety of it was a facade there is nothing more to say. [/blockquote]

    Yet you pull the same card for every atheist/agnostic example brought up.

    [blockquote]“Trust me – I need no religion, let alone Christianity, to do science.” [/blockquote]

    Straw man, I never said that.

    I did assert that the scientific movement spawned from Christianity and it’s world view – in which it did, look at the early scientist – what religion were they?

    Antiseptic Surgery Joseph Lister
    Bacteriology Louis Pasteur
    Calculus Isaac Newton
    Celestial Mechanics Johannes Kepler
    Chemistry Robert Boyle
    Comparative Anatomy Georges Cuvier
    Dimensional Analysis Lord Rayleigh
    Dynamics Isaac Newton
    Electronics John Ambrose Fleming
    Electrodynamics James Clerk Maxwell
    Electromagnetics Michael Faraday
    Energetics Lord Kelvin
    Entomology of Living Insects Henri Fabre
    Field Theory James Clerk Maxwell
    Fluid Mechanics George Stokes
    Galactic Astronomy Sir William Hershel
    Gas Dynamics Robert Boyle
    Genetics Gregor Mendel
    Glacial Geology Louis Agassiz
    Gynaecology James Simpson
    Hydrography Matthew Maury
    Hydrostatics Blaise Pascal
    Ichthyology Louis Agassiz
    Isotopic Chemistry William Ramsey
    Model Analysis Lord Rayleigh
    Natural History John Ray
    Non-Euclidean Geometry Bernard Riemann
    Oceanography Matthew Maury
    Optical Mineralogy David Brewster

    [blockquote] “but that things like the fight against the end of slavery, the fight against women’s suffrage, the fight against civil rights and now the fight against gay equality is all rooted in… yup, Christianity.” [/blockquote]

    You just said that you research things before you say them… how about reading up on who actually led the movements against slavery – Christians. Go look at Britians anti-slavery movement even. Christians…

    Go read Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail. He doesn’t make his arguments from humanism or secularism, he says Christians stop being hypocritical to Christianity and be MORE Christian – not less.

    [blockquote] “But there is no indication of to who that creator is, let alone that it is Yawheh. Sorry, but you are trying for the “America is a Judeo-Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and the founding fathers were explicityly Judeo-Christian.” You need to stop watching Fox News and reading Dave Barton.” [/blockquote]

    You need to stop making assumption on where I pull my ideas from.

    Not only that, it doesn’t matter if they were all Christians or not, it matters from where they got their ideas from, and without a doubt it was Judeo Christian beliefs.

    [blockquote] “There is significant question as to whether the gospels were actually written by Paul and John, with very little if any extra-biblical confirmation of their writing.” [/blockquote]

    I am sorry but you clearly are unaware on this conversation. No one says Paul wrote any of the gospels.

    Who do you think wrote Matthew?

    [blockquote] “Even then the earliest gospel was written some 37 years after Jesus supposed death (which is nearly an entire lifespan back then).” [/blockquote]

    If this is your standard for historical reliance then you better be prepared to drop most historical documents as being at all reliable.

    [blockquote] “which is nearly an entire lifespan back then” [/blockquote]

    You can’t be serious.

    [blockquote] Actually it would technically be libel since I wrote it, not said it. Of course you do. He agrees with you. Or rather you blindly agree with him. [/blockquote]

    I’m not offended, but curious – do you enjoy acting pretentious or is it just a defensive mechanism you embrace when someone challenges you?

    [blockquote] “Besides, saying Keller studied under Platinga and therefore he must be good is called the genetic fallacy.” [/blockquote]

    Straw man, but I know you like throwing out fallacy names whenever you think it might fit so I’ll excuse this one.
    You really need to work on that.

    [blockquote] “I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I have read numerous apologists and watched innumerable debates. I’ve looked at the counter “evidence” and it is simply lacking. There’s a reason why Hitch, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Myers, etc absolutely destroy Craig, D’Souza, Demsbki, McGrath, Meyer, Swinburne, etc. Of course to those already convinced they are right they always seem to “win” don’t they?” [/blockquote]

    Dawkins refuses to debate anyone but clergy and layman, grats to him. If you honestly think those guys win every debate you are indeed biased. I contend that Hitchens wins debates, he was an amazing debater. That doesn’t mean I agree with his arguments.

    I could say the exact same thing but from the other perspective. It doesn’t mean or prove anything. I could sit and keep postulating that you are stubborn and refuse to think rationally, blah blah blah, but it’s simply a defensive mechanism to hide my own insecurities that I refuse to acknowledge.

  122. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:34 am

    Blockquote failed. I lose.

  123. daedalus2uon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:37 am

    Zach, eugenics long preceded evolution. Humans have been practicing selective breeding of plants and animals for millennia. The definition of being Jewish, is based on the maternal line of descent. Royalty is based on eugenics. The line of succession is based on eugenics. The “divine right of kings” is based on eugenics. Chattel slavery in the US was based on eugenics.

    The concept of human rights doesn’t require a creator, all it requires is recognition of self-autonomy. If people have self-autonomy, then violating that self-autonomy requires authorization. If the only person who can authorize violations of that self-autonomy is the person who’s self-autonomy is being violated, then we have human rights that requires no creator.

    You want power and authority to come from the top-down, and can’t imagine anything else. Human rights don’t need to come from the top-down, they can come from the bottom-up, and that top-down authority is needed to violate the fundamental human rights that come from self-autonomy.

    You say that top-down authority comes from God, and so if you are doing what God says, you are doing what is moral. As far as Hitler was concerned, God told him to kill the Jews. As far as Abraham was concerned, God told him to sacrifice his son. As far as Andrea Yates was concerned, God told her to kill her children. As far as religious leaders and politicians in Uganda are concerned, God is telling them to kill the gays. When Abraham took his son up the mountain to sacrifice him, Abraham did not disclose his purposes to the people he was traveling with because they would have stopped him.

    A humanist perspective of Abraham’s actions is that they were immoral because Abraham doesn’t own his son as an object of property to be treated any way Abraham wants to, including killing as a sacrifice to Abraham’s God to induce that God to enhance Abraham’s power.

    For me, if I heard voices in my head telling me that it was God speaking and that God was ordering me to kill my son, I would voluntarily check myself into a psychiatric facility.

    If you heard voices in your head telling you that it was God speaking and God was ordering you to kill your son, what would you do, and how do you defend that choice?

  124. ccbowerson 08 Jan 2013 at 11:39 am

    “So the laws of logic only apply to empirical facts?…. If that’s the case, how does one discovery morality, as Steven suggested with logic and reason?”

    You don’t understand logic as much as you think you do since this is logic 101.
    The argumentum ad populum fallacy is an “informal logical fallacy,” meaning that it is not a fallacy in the structure of the argument alone (unllike formal logical fallacies which are incorrect regardless of the details), but is only a fallacy when used in a deductive argument to determine that something is true or not.

    This is not what we are doing when we attempt to arrive at a consensus about morality. You keep framing it as if there is a morality “out there” as your use of “discover” indicates, but you have to let this idea go in order to understand the opposing view. We, as humans, have to determine for ourselves which behaviors are acceptable (what is the alternative?). Religion does not help us in this case, because it just introduces vague rules from another time, still subject to individual interpretations. We still have to work it out for ourselves in our current time

  125. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:42 am

    Zach: Use chevrons before and after “blockquote”, along with a forward slash in closing tag, like this:

    >blockquote<blahblahblah>/blockquote<

    (Let’s see if that example works the way I intend…)

  126. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:43 am

    Almost. I’ll try again: <blockquote>blahblahblah<blockquote/>

  127. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:44 am

    Last try: <blockquote>blahblahblah</blockquote>

  128. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:45 am

    Almost, again. Move the forward slash to the beginning of the end tag, but after the chevron, and you should be golden.

  129. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:46 am

    Woops! Crossed posts. The example in the post that begins with ‘Last try:’ is the proper syntax.

  130. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 11:49 am

    Sorry guys I am done at this point. I just don’t have the time or energy to continue devoting to this. Besides, there are plenty of others here just as qualified (if not more) than I to do so.

    Suffice it to say Zach, the very foundational premises you take for granted are not only requiring evidence, but are simply wrong. I’m sure it all sounds great in your head but really you don’t actually make any coherent sense. You are only able to ramble on with pontifications, appeals to authority, and refuse to actually challenge your assumptions. I know you don’t think you are doing this. If you did, you would probably realize how far off base you were. Such is the nature of cognitive dissonance and a lack of understanding.

    Interestingly enough, you continue to refuse to acknowledge that your understanding of evolutionary theory and scientific inquiry is false. You don’t even touch the topic when challenged by an actual authority (yes, relative to to you I am an authority on evolution). You also don’t even touch the topic of consistency in the bible when I gave you very specific questions about it. This is part and parcel with the apologist attitude – cherry pick evidence, torture whatever you can to fit, and completely ignore anything else all whilst pontificating endlessly (funny how such a negative word stems from the religious pontiff…).

    In any event, unless it is something directly to do with your assertions regarding evolution or answering the specific questions about the Field of Blood and Judas I simply won’t be responding to you anymore. Take that as a sign of victory if you want. It doesn’t matter to me. It means very little for me to take candy from a baby, and it means similarly little for me to “win” an argument with a random person on the internet who can’t hold a cogent logical conversation.

    Lastly, if you just change out the bracket [ with the alligator < you will have the blockquotes correct.

  131. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:50 am

    Zach wrote: “So morality is nothing more than “we like this so lets do it” – I don’t believe this is a straw man of your position once it’s boiled down, then is it evil when societies have decided that slavery was ok, and sacrificing infants to unreal god’s was ok, or ???

    If you say yes your entire position falls apart. For you are going against your own premise that morality is what society decides through consensus what is right. ”

    This is a straw man, and why you cannot see our position.

    Philosophy-based ethics is NOT just consensus or what we like. It is a system based upon logic, carefully argued, with every conceivable consequence and implication explored, and informed by evidence where possible.

    There is also a difference between what academic philosophers come up with as a consistent and workable ethical system and what specific societies implement. Societies can be immoral or unethical (there is a branch of ethics that deals with this, in fact).

    The kind of consensus we are talking about is like a scientific consensus – not based on popularity, but the result of hammering out the best interpretation of what the evidence says (in the context of science), or what logic dictates (in the context of philosophy and ethics).

  132. mufion 08 Jan 2013 at 11:51 am

    ccbowers: Religion does not help us in this case, because it just introduces vague rules from another time, still subject to individual interpretations. We still have to work it out for ourselves in our current time

    Yup. That was more or less my experience of being an observant Orthodox Jew for six years. Merely knowing the biblical commandments solved practically nothing. It only shifted the realm of debate to one of interpretation and situational application.

  133. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 11:51 am

    Thanks Dr. Novella… you said (part of) what I have been trying to say much more articulately and succinctly than I have been able to.

  134. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:52 am

    This is not what we are doing when we attempt to arrive at a consensus about morality. You keep framing it as if there is a morality “out there” as your use of “discover” indicates, but you have to let this idea go in order to understand the opposing view. We, as humans, have to determine for ourselves which behaviors are acceptable (what is the alternative?). Religion does not help us in this case, because it just introduces vague rules from another time, still subject to individual interpretations. We still have to work it out for ourselves in our current time.

    Answer my question about if it’s wrong if a society decides that the strong can eat the weak.

    I wish one of you would.

    I am willing to drop my notion, but you have to answer my questions so I can get there.

  135. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 11:56 am

    WOOT blockquotes worked, thanks guys!

  136. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Zach – We have answered this. Yes, we can say that it is wrong for a society to decide the strong can eat the weak, because such a position cannot be justified by any internally consistent ethical system based upon any reasonable premises or principals.

  137. autumnmonkeyon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Zach: “You forget that science is rooted in Christianity.”

    One can’t forget something that’s not true.

    nybgrus: “I absolutely agree there have been positive impacts (and still are!) but that things like the fight against the end of slavery, the fight against women’s suffrage, the fight against civil rights and now the fight against gay equality is all rooted in… yup, Christianity.”

    Give it another 15 years or so and they’ll try to take credit for the last item. One of the inane features of Christianity is that it fights tooth and nail against any kind of progress in human society (science, capitalism, democracy, free labor, human rights, etc), then tries to jump out in front of and lead the parade when the show’s over. Then again, I remember coming across more than a few of them during my Usenet days who argued that folks were better off living in feudal villages than they are today.

    Steven Novella: “Zach’s response has essentially been that none of this proves there is no god with ultimate morality, but I am not claiming that it does. If such a god exists, and they have a moral code they wish for humanity – no one can demonstrate that they know what that is.”

    We’re arguing for them to demonstrate there’s a creator of objective morality before we can even evaluate whether there’s an objective morality. My reading of their argumentation is that they insist objective morality is the only option therefore that “fact” proves the existence of their deity. We’re going at it from opposite angles. Hence the reason they’re ignoring our requests to prove their deity first. They’re spending their time trying to argue the non-possibility of a morality outside of an objective, unchanging standard. So, their chain of reasoning is: Relativistic morality is false, therefore an objective morality exists, therefore Yahweh exists. For them, it’s a matter of desperately proving the logical necessity of objective morality, even to the point of committing logical fallacies. We’re starting from empirical evidence and reasoning from there. For them, evidence is contingent on opinion and they make the mistake in thinking we operate by the same method.

  138. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Answer my question about if it’s wrong if a society decides that the strong can eat the weak.
    I wish one of you would.
    I am willing to drop my notion, but you have to answer my questions so I can get there.

    Try this exercise Zach.

    Pretend you are in a room with a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Zoroastrian, and Christian Scientist, a Hindu, and a Sikh.

    Which religion, which god, and what writings do we base objective morals on? How can you prove to the others at the table that your religion, god, and writings is the correct objective one? Is it possible for you to reach a common understanding despite the differences in religion?

    You still haven’t addressed evolution or the Field of Blood and Judas.

  139. autumnmonkeyon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Zach: “… you can’t provide an objective standard for what humans should strive for, or what is better or worse.”

    This is an apt description of your religion’s laws, which your self-proclaimed deity contradicted repeatedly. That’s the whole point that you miss. You tell others their system isn’t objective and unchanging, all the while you fail to see that yours isn’t.

    Zach: “You only have your personal opinion on that it’s based in moral relativism.”

    Which is what your religion does but you don’t see it.

    Zach: “I did assert that the scientific movement spawned from Christianity and it’s world view – in which it did, look at the early scientist – what religion were they?”

    It’s an irrelevant factoid. Your list includes all men but it would be equally fallacious to assert being good at science is a function of being male.

    Zach: “Go read Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail. He doesn’t make his arguments from humanism or secularism, he says Christians stop being hypocritical to Christianity and be MORE Christian – not less.”

    And go read the words of proponents of slavery. They were quoting from the Bible.

  140. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Steven,

    This is a straw man, and why you cannot see our position.

    Philosophy-based ethics is NOT just consensus or what we like. It is a system based upon logic, carefully argued, with every conceivable consequence and implication explored, and informed by evidence where possible.

    The problem with calling every inference I make about your position a straw man is that just because you don’t realize the implications of your position doesn’t mean my inferences are incorrect.

    For example, if I said, “All toasters are items made of gold.
    All items made of gold are time-travel devices.

    Now, if you responded declaring, “Zach, you believe all Toasters are time-revel devices.”

    Now, I could shout, STRAW MAN I NEVER SAID THAT!

    It doesn’t matter matter, the logical inference remains true regardless of if I directly said it or not.

    Steven, you are completely mistaken if you believe science can demonstrate that we should value human life over rocks or trees or birds or bees.

    This is what frustrates me about your position. Here is a rundown of what I have gleaned so far.

    1. You claim that morality comes from consensus. But then when I demonstrate that consensus could lead to the strong eating the weak, or rape being the norm, etc. etc., you say, well it’s not JUST concensus…

    2. You then move to declaring that morality is a system based upon logic, carefully argued, with every conceivable consequence and implication explored, and informed by evidence where possible. When I point out that one cannot use the laws of logic to declare that life is preferable to death, or that society ought to flourish. I then ask by what standard you are defining flourish or improvements since this assumes that there is a standard of worse to greater, i ask what this standard is, and you revert back to the consensus argument, which is already been shown to be able to support morality on it’s own.

    3. You then grab the 3rd straw of your moral argument, science. You declare that the option 1 above is not based on sole consensus, but a more precise consensus – scientific consensus.

    Now, when I apply some of the brute facts of our universe to your scientific consensus you won’t acknowledge the questions or answer them.

    A. Humans are bigger brained animals
    B. Animals eat other, rape, kill, steal, etc. (humans do too) – this is the “Is” part of science.
    C. So when I observe that the universe appears to a beautify but cold and cruel place, you agree that it doesn’t care about our happiness or concerns. The strong eat the weak in the animal kingdom – Lions eat Zebras, Lions even kill other lions for selfish gain. Don’t take that point too far, you get the idea.

    If A B and C are true, then what does science tell us about our universe to conclude we should care about individual human life? You are inserting that premise into the evidence that doesn’t support it. Look, I agree, evolution would/should make us want to pass our genetic code on, etc. etc. but altruism (as someone pointed out above) doesn’t apply to all of mankind and society as a whole. It makes sense why I might care about my self (which is where I agree consequentialism will get us part of the way there, but it doesn’t explain why I should care about people outside my immediate family or tribe.

    the 4th point is consequentialism. This doesn’t tell us so much the “ought” of what we “ought” to do, it tells us the “is”. The “is” is if I go round killing everyone and everything then those being killed might not like it and kill me. So out of self-preservation I will not do that. I agree, but as Steven said consequentialism can’t be an all encompassing moral system because it only covers an extremely narrow aspect of our moral decision making. What about if I can do something that society has deemed immoral, and be guaranteed to not have that action come back to harm myself? Is it wrong? Of course we Westerners would say so, but why?

    5. When I ask this question, you all respond with some emotional appeal about how I wouldn’t want to be harmed and how I should care about society, but this is an naked assertion, that option 3 actually shows, to be contra-reality. The universe is cruel so why should I be any different?

    This is nothing but a maze of circular reasoning. When I attack one part of your argument you immediately move to another part and accuse me of a straw man. When I move to attacking that part you go on to the next well ignoring my questions and critique since I am after all only committing a straw man and morality is super duper complicated, so much that it requires all these aspects that can’t stand alone (which is fine), but they can’t even stand together without blatant and apparent contradiction.

    “not based on popularity, but the result of hammering out the best interpretation of what the evidence says”

    “Yes, we can say that it is wrong for a society to decide the strong can eat the weak, because such a position cannot be justified by any internally consistent ethical system based upon any reasonable premises or principals.”

    Steven it might helped if you took one example of something that you deem horrendous that a given society used to do, that we should no longer do, and then walk through how the morality of that given example is fleshed out and shown to be right or wrong.

    Maybe infant sacrifice or even take a hypothetical like burning babies with napalm for fun, make it extreme and nasty so it’s something that Westerners are repulsed by – it will facilitate the conversation better.

    To all those challenging my judeo-Christian moral system, you are fine to do so, but that is not the point I am defending. I am defending that my system is rooted on an objective standard that logically makes sense – yours is not. If you want to attack my objective standard as bad, then you need to provide an objective standard from which to stand on and declare that my standard is incorrect and has missed the mark.

    “One can’t forget something that’s not true.”

    So my list of the popular early scientists is made up?

    “Pretend you are in a room with a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Zoroastrian, and Christian Scientist, a Hindu, and a Sikh.
    Which religion, which god, and what writings do we base objective morals on?”

    This is where you make a leap.
    I am not contending that we can even know what this God’s moral system is yet… that conversation comes much, much later, you take steps to get there, or maybe not there at all, that’s irrelevant to this point I am making. ALL that I am contending that if there is no moral law giver then morality is nothing but might makes right. A notion we all refuse to embrace, but logically follows.

    “You still haven’t addressed evolution or the Field of Blood and Judas.”

    You keep trying to fight about evolution, this thread is about morality, the other thread was bout light travel time being a problem for YEC. I am sticking to the discussion at hand. Plus, I’m not sure what you are trying to get at?

    What about the field of blood and Judas? Does this have something to do with the moral conversation we are having?

    “This is an apt description of your religion’s laws, which your self-proclaimed deity contradicted repeatedly. That’s the whole point that you miss. You tell others their system isn’t objective and unchanging, all the while you fail to see that yours isn’t.”

    As I stated above, this is a different conversation. You might disagree with my moral standard but I am not trying prove to you right now that mine is the correct standard, only that if one is going to assume morality there must be a standard from which to say one is right and one is wrong. Or better yet, all morality is nothing more than might makes right, but sadly no one here will admit that is the only other real possibility.

    “Which is what your religion does but you don’t see it.”

    Only if you conclude that my religious text is in fact the product of fallible human thinkers who only expressed their opinion. Oh trust me, I do see your point, you again are missing mine. I am using the Bible as to what it claims to be, not what you claim it is. You might be right, but we aren’t talking about that yet, we are only talking about the simple assertion that without a moral law giver morality cannot be anything more than Might makes Right. That’s my point. I have a moral law giver – though it might be wrong, it is not without a standard from which to justify morality.

    “It’s an irrelevant factoid. Your list includes all men but it would be equally fallacious to assert being good at science is a function of being male.”

    This is ignoring the context. I never said you need to be a Christian to be good at science, I said that Christianity is not contra-science since it was out of Christianity (Christians) who believed from their world view that science was possible.

    There is a huge difference.

    “And go read the words of proponents of slavery. They were quoting from the Bible.”

    So?

  141. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 12:47 pm

    It’s an irrelevant factoid. Your list includes all men but it would be equally fallacious to assert being good at science is a function of being male.

    Bazinga!

  142. JJ Borgmanon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:48 pm

    @autumnmonkey

    Thanks for that last bit. It is helpful to my understanding of Zachs argument. Since Moral Objectivism seems to have worse problems than Moral Relativism, I’ll have to draw the conclusion that this “authority” may, but does not necessarily, exist and almost certainly isn’t YHWH.

  143. RickKon 08 Jan 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Zach:

    Answer my question about if it’s wrong if a society decides that the strong can eat the weak.

    “Wrong” in what context?

    It is NOT wrong in the context of that society. It is PROBABLY wrong in the context of the carefully considered, philosophically-derived set of principles that Steve is talking about. And it is DEFINITELY wrong in the context of the human social structures that have had the most success over time. Building a successful civilization has typically not been a zero-sum game, so social mores that support cooperation have proven to be more beneficial over the long run than pure every-man-for-himself competition.

    There is no “objective” morality outside of the instincts that evolution instills and what human thought and culture devise.

  144. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 1:03 pm

    The evolution aspect is important because you keep citing it and science that you get wrong to support your claims. You claim science cannot inform the discussion of morality but demonstrate over and over again you don’t even know what science is, how it works, or what it says.

    The Field of Blood question is important because you claim internal consistency within the bible as part of the rationale for it being the arbiter of objective morality.

    My hypothetical is important because each person in the room would claim objective and absolute morality, just the same as yours. If you cannot assert evidence more compelling than they can, then the principles of logic mean the most likely reason is all of you are wrong. If you can come to a common agreement that means you have used human logic and moral subjectivism to do so, thus invalidating your argument.

    Your explicit and implicit assumptions are false. You create a ridiculous standard by which to adjudicate the conversation. We say that there is no such thing as moral objectivity. You say that the only way to prove that is to demonstrate that a different objective morality is better than your objective morality. In other words, you dismiss the very premise of the conversation – whether objective morality exists in the first place. You cannot argue against us by saying it does, simply by fiat, and then only accepting arguments from objective morality. Do you not understand how ridiculous that is?

    Nearly every single foundational premise on which you then build your logically consistent diatribes is false. Hence my tooth fairy analogy. You refuse to engage in an actual discussion of these foundational premises and instead just state them as correct with no evidence whatsoever. The Bible is not evidence. Certainly not even remotely close to sufficient evidence, anyways.

    ALL that I am contending that if there is no moral law giver then morality is nothing but might makes right.

    And there is the fundamental assertion that we do not agree with and you have not proven.

    Here, let me google that for you.

  145. JJ Borgmanon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:03 pm

    It also seems to me that “Might Makes Right” probably is a suitable alternative to what Zach is claiming. But then, it seems, YHWH and his creation are fully on board with that approach. On a small scale, sentient life utilizes reason and cooperation often times, but domination does seem to be the order of the day when push comes to shove and I mean that universally.

  146. RickKon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Zach:

    What about if I can do something that society has deemed immoral, and be guaranteed to not have that action come back to harm myself? Is it wrong? Of course we Westerners would say so, but why?

    It is wrong in the context of what our society has taught us. You use “God” a the teaching tool. My parents used “being a good person” as a teaching tool.

    There is no “right” or “wrong” in the cosmic sense. “Right” and “wrong” are the intersection of our evolution-produced instincts and what society instills. Religions are just one of the inputs to “society” in that formula.

  147. RickKon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:11 pm

    People have struggled for millennia to define right versus wrong, and to provide some basis or authority for their definitions.

    The various gods who are attributed with moral oversight demonstrate all the characteristics of human creations, devised or designed to provide authority to moral decisions made through purely human and social mechanisms. Those characteristics include:

    - The definition of God(s) varies, often very significantly, from culture to culture, sect to sect. The Christian God alone varies across a wide spectrum from the Church of England to the FLDS enclave in Colorado City, AZ, to the Vatican, to the abstract being documented by Karen Armstrong to the God of the Westboro Baptist Church to the version promoted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

    - The definition of God(s) is handed down, from adults to children within a given society. The biggest determining factor in what version of God(s)-given morality you follow is what your parents believe.

    - People have attributed many things to God(s) or supernatural agents – Sun, Moon, stars, weather, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, disease, psychoses, creation of Earth, origin of species, etc. – which have since been explained with non-supernatural, non-magical explanations. The reverse has never happened, where a supernatural explanation definitively replaced a natural explanation. “Morality” appears to be another example of this.

    - Over time, existing religions redefine what is morally acceptable. And these changes are prompted by changes in society, not changes in the religion. A comparison between Leviticus and today’s laws provide a striking example, as does the current transformation in the acceptance of homosexuality in Christianity or the acceptance of Black people in the Mormon church.

    - New religions grow out of purely human social phenomena. The transformation of magical charlatanism into Mormonism and the transformation of a self-help regimen into Scientology are well-documented examples.

    - New religions introduce different moral codes for their communities based purely on human decisions and human desires: plural marriage in Mormonism is the classic example.

    - What is morally wrong in one society is completely morally acceptable in another: infanticide in Western Europe today is treated very differently than infanticide in 18th century Tikopia. Cutting the fingers off of young girls is horrific in my community, but was the natural order of things in the New Guinea highlands 100 years ago.

    - God(s) do not reward “moral” behavior or punish “immoral” behavior in any visible way. Such reward and punishment is only claimed in invisible, untestable places as in Heaven, Hell or Karma & reincarnation.

    - “God’s word” as stated in holy texts like the Bible can be interpreted to any purpose. I just had a guy in a gun control argument tell me that Jesus told his disciples to carry swords, therefore if Jesus were alive today, he’d be packing a Glock. This fellow was apparently unfamiliar with Matthew 5:38.

    All of these are consistent with the premise that God(s), the “words of God(s)” and the moral principles they confer are simply the invention of human minds and human societies.

    Zach, there is the premise and the evidence. Prove God(s) is not a purely human creation.

  148. Christopher Newellon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    @nybgrus: This is Hume’s classic is–ought problem. Yes, science ought to play a much more prominent role, as should philosophy. I was merely describing what is, not what ought to be. The fact of the matter is that people learn morality from their parents, society, institutions, and research indicates that a good deal of it is hard wired. There’re a lot of feedback loops in the culture which include science and philosophy, although I wouldn’t count them as the biggest influences. What a world it would be if your average Joe had a greater appreciation of these things. I think that science does have a great power to inform moral decisions although it’s not a power that’s often used.
    This raises the question of how much is hardwired and how much is cultural. Do we have the power to change it even if we could tease apart the threads? I think that morality will just go on evolving in the natural, historic and cultural contexts that it emerged from, indifferent in our attempts to modify it. So, I answered the question “What is the proper basis for morality?” The other question “What ought to be the proper basis for morality? “ I think is a moot point if we can’t control it.

  149. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Again, you are not hearing me. I don’t need to prove or even assert that we can know God’s will on morality, I am simply pointing out the logical obvious, without a moral law giver there can be no morality other than might makes right – which is a logical fallacy.

    Again, my post walked through your points, and demonstrated the fallacies in each. Yet here we are with everyone shouting “YOUR RELIGION IS EVIL”….

    Ok, maybe it is, what standard do you have to demonstrate that it is evil. Maybe it was just what the society at that time period concluded to be right. So for them it was right. Today we don’t care for that behavior (at least some of us westerners don’t), so we don’t embrace it. That doesn’t make it wrong or evil, just unfavorable to our preferences. But yet again, who cares what we prefer – the universe is a pretty brutal place when look at it scientifically.

    Again then again, might makes right right?

    Potter’s field… that’s not even one of the good ones.
    http://www.gotquestions.org/Judas-die.html

  150. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Zach – the problem is that you are making the wrong inferences from what I (and others) are saying and you do not appear to be reading carefully or thoroughly enough to see those errors. Or perhaps I am just not explaining things carefully enough.

    I never said that science can determine our moral values, like the value of life. I wrote an entire blog post explaining why science cannot determine such values (sheesh). Science can only inform our values, not determine them.

    When I spoke of consensus I only made an analogy to scientific consensus. I did not say or imply (and you should not infer) that I meant morality was based on scientific consensus. A defensible ethical system is based on philosophical consensus. The point I was making is that philosophical consensus is not just a popular belief or “what we like” – it is built on something – logic and careful arguments hammered out over literally centuries, all the way back to Aristotle. This is no more an argument from popularity than a scientific consensus is about an empirical claim (that was the analogy – which you misunderstood). Is that clear now?

    It may seem as if we are going around in circles, but only because we are chasing your circular arguments – which I think the comments clearly document. So let’s try to stay on these few points and drill down to see if we can reach an understanding.

    Your point #1 above – you missed the point, as above. You are misunderstanding what I meant about consensus – I then clarified what I meant by consensus (which I have now repeated above), I did not change my argument or add anything to it. I corrected your misunderstanding of what we mean by consensus. It should be crystal clear now, but please let me know if it isn’t.

    Piont #2 – again you misunderstand. The philosophy of ethics is a logical system. Logical systems are not based on logic, they are based on premises and then proceed from there using logic. You still need premises. In ethics the premises are fundamental first principles, which have to be justified by argument and informed by facts. The goal is to start with the most universal (never absolute, as I pointed out above), most non-controversial, self-evidence, and simple ideas possible. This includes, for example, the principal of non-maleficence – the idea that most people do not want to be harmed. Is it reasonable to take as granted that people, then, have a right to not be harmed?

    This is not based upon any stone tablet, anything written into the laws of the universe. It is just a really good idea that most reasonable people can agree on. If you think it is an unreasonable premise, please tell me why.

    Assuming the principal of non-maleficence, what ethical rules can we derive from that? What other principals can we justify, and how do they interact? That is the beginning of the philosophy of ethics (you should check it out sometime).

    Your point #3 is a misunderstanding of what I said, as I explained above.

    Point 4 – not sure how this fits in. I agree that consequentialism (an underlying ethical philosophy) is valid but not complete, and breaks down if you explore all of its implications. It does not just deal with harm to self, however. Ethical principals include the notion of fairness – if I think that I should have certain rights, then it only makes sense that other people should have the same rights. I cannot prove scientifically that it is better to be fair than unfair – I am willing to take this as a reasonable premise.

    But again – consequentialism informs ethics. It is reasonable to favor a system of ethics that results in outcomes generally considered to be desirable.

    5. The universe is cruel? No. It’s indifferent, but I get your point. It’s just not relevant. The universe is indifferent – so what. Ethical systems are not there to please, accommodate, or fit into the character of the universe. They are there so that humans can live together. You are the one making an is/ought confusion. What the universe is does not determine what we ought to do (it may inform, but does not determine – a subtle difference you may be missing).

    Can you focus on these five points that you articulated? I think I have conclusively demonstrated that you are wrong or mistaken on each point. If you disagree, please explain why. I am happy to admit I am wrong on any point if you can give me a good argument to justify that conclusion.

  151. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:31 pm

    This raises the question of how much is hardwired and how much is cultural. Do we have the power to change it even if we could tease apart the threads? I think that morality will just go on evolving in the natural, historic and cultural contexts that it emerged from, indifferent in our attempts to modify it. So, I answered the question “What is the proper basis for morality?” The other question “What ought to be the proper basis for morality? “ I think is a moot point if we can’t control it.

    Completely curious, how many of you reject the notion that we have actual free will, instead of just fulfilling our programming handed to us from evolution?

    And if so, how do you explain how evolution set our wills free? Wouldn’t are decision making actually be a product of evolution that guides us to survive? Like religion (as you believe), isn’t it just an illusion our brain gives us to survive better? The whole Dawkins tiger in the bushes thing…

  152. nybgruson 08 Jan 2013 at 1:45 pm

    @C Newell:

    I guess we only disagree on the notion that we cannot control it. I think we certainly have trouble now, and that it certainly won’t ever be easy to control, but that in principle we can.

    Now this is a point where reasonable people can disagree. My only argument would be that at least trying to control it is better than not doing so, since if we try we can make active efforts towards betterment.

  153. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Steven please provide “a defensible ethical system is based on philosophical consensus”.

    The point I was making is that philosophical consensus is not just a popular belief or “what we like” – it is built on something – logic and careful arguments hammered out over literally centuries, all the way back to Aristotle. This is no more an argument from popularity than a scientific consensus is about an empirical claim (that was the analogy – which you misunderstood). Is that clear now?

    Sorry Steven, that’s not clear to me.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but you are applying some sort of evolving mindset to morality – seems like you are saying that what do is what is right since over time we get better and better, so there is no right and wrong just progress.

    Am I mistaken?

    Maybe your view of free will would help me understand you better.

    “but only because we are chasing your circular arguments – which I think the comments clearly document.”

    I fail to see how my view of morality is circular. It is simple, if there is a moral law mandates a moral law giver. I am not attempting at this point to convince you that Yahweh is the law giver. I am simply defending that one point – how is it circular?

    In regards to your comments on my points – numbered by responses to each numbered point.

    1. We still are not commuicatingon this but I clarified my questions above, I will wait for that response.

    2. What about those who reject your premises and first principles? How do you make sense of that? Might makes right?
    It seems to me as if you are saying that the ethics are based on presuppositions.

    This is not based upon any stone tablet, anything written into the laws of the universe. It is just a really good idea that most reasonable people can agree on. If you think it is an unreasonable premise, please tell me why.

    This is a loaded statement.
    a. Why is it a good idea? Who gets to determine the good ideas from the bad? Who gets to enforce certain good ideas from the bad? What happens if bad ideas get enforced? Are they still bad or do they become good since that’s what was decided on by society?
    b. You exaggerate the agreement you find on moral issues. We have anything but agreement on them. Sure we might agree on some fundamental basics like we should not kill all of humanity at once, but even then there are those who don’t agree with that and think of Humanity as a virus that needs to be exterminated to allow the earth to thrive. How do you argue with these people – I don’t agree with them, but I understand their position and why they think as they do.
    c. You don’t get to assume any principles like non-maleficence. For to assume that would require some evidences to lead you to do so. Does the universe promote this idea? Not even close, it’s a pretty cruel place. Does evolution? Absolutely not, it guided the process of creatures like us who kill, rape, murder, and make up fake god’s who kill kids with bears…

    “if I think that I should have certain rights, then it only makes sense that other people should have the same rights. I cannot prove scientifically that it is better to be fair than unfair – I am willing to take this as a reasonable premise.”

    Saying that I have rights so then so do others is a leap. How do you define others? Squirrels are individuals, yet you don’t give them the same rights. How about even with people, fetus’s, etc. etc. It’s a naked assertion and for a scientist who doesn’t allow other’s naked assertions you shouldn’t excuse your own.

    I am willing to take this as a reasonable premise.

    That doesn’t mean much in this context, you might, but someone else might conclude it is reasonable to conclude the opposite since the universe is a cruel place, we only live once, etc. etc. so hedonism it up till you are gone. You are entering the arena of morality and turning it into a mere shouting match instead of as I assert, a principle of truth about reality as it is, whether I agree with that reality or not.

    “It is reasonable to favor a system of ethics that results in outcomes generally considered to be desirable.”

    Please provide an objective standard for which we can decide what is desireable and undesireable human behavior.

    “The universe is cruel? No. It’s indifferent, but I get your point. It’s just not relevant. The universe is indifferent – so what. Ethical systems are not there to please, accommodate, or fit into the character of the universe. They are there so that humans can live together.”

    This implies that you have some inside information for how humans “ought” to live together. Please share this objective standard so we can throw out these non-sensical views of killing kids for being sassy.

    “Can you focus on these five points that you articulated? I think I have conclusively demonstrated that you are wrong or mistaken on each point. If you disagree, please explain why. I am happy to admit I am wrong on any point if you can give me a good argument to justify that conclusion.”

    Let me know, but I think I stuck to your points and pointed out concerns I have with your hidden premises that you are leaping to.

    I re-read your points numerous times before responded to try to make sure I am doing my best to understand your position. I (as you appear to be), am not interested in playing games of “gotcha” with the villiage atheist.

    So if you can shed some light on my questions it might help us get nearer to understanding one another.

    Respectfully,
    Zach

  154. tmac57on 08 Jan 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Biblical scholars,clergy,heads of churches and adherents to Christianity have been arguing and debating for centuries exactly what the word of god says,and intends for us to do.Philosophers do the same as regards ethics.Religions argue (and war) among themselves for the same reason.Christian (mostly) lawmakers in this country do the same when making law.
    How on earth can one conclude from this that there is some objective ‘truth’ out there when we can empirically see that this continues?

  155. bgoudieon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Is anyone else starting to feel that Zach is engaged in some kind of cargo cult like attempt to ape the arguments used against religious positions? He knows that skeptics often (correctly) point out the logical fallacies used by creationists. So he’s decided that if he uses the same terms (sadly incorrectly) it will put him on the same level of reason and logic.

  156. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Zach – your latest post is a good example of how you keep going around in circles. You keep bringing up objections that I have dealt with in other points.

    Your position seems to come down to an assumption that there is no morality without some objective reference. But you are not arguing against my position (or that of anyone else here, or any serious philosopher, as far as I know).

    I am simply describing the philosophy of morality and ethics, which is the system that I advocate. As I have now written multiple, multiple times – yes, this is based upon premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven. This is not a scientific system, although it is informed by science. Yes, people and societies disagree on ethical systems (which should be obvious from observing the world). These are straw man points because no one is arguing them. We can agree on these things as common ground.

    How do different societies resolve differences of opinion with regard to morals and ethics? Various ways – but the preferable way is with arguments and evidence – the exchange of ideas. No one has the monopoly on absolute truth. There is no absolute truth. Hopefully we learn from each other to grow and mature. Of course, we often duke it out and the victor gets to determine what moral construct wins out. This does not make it right.

    And again – you frequently confuse the philosophy of ethics as discussed by expert professional philosophers, and what the average person believes and even how governments act. These are, unfortunately, two different things.

    to the points:
    1 – yes, there is an evolving mindset of the philosophy of ethics. How could there not be. We are, individually and as a culture and a species, trying to figure this all out. I think we make progress over time. Sometimes morals just changes, sometimes they progress, and not uniformly.

    This is (in this limited analogy – please don’t misunderstand again) like science. Science is out understanding of reality. It evolves, sometimes it just changes, generally it progresses – because the methods of science are valid.

    I would argue that the methods of philosophical reasoning are valid also, but their results are imperfect and tentative, always evolving as we pick over and argue over the details endlessly.

    2 – I mostly answered this – but how can you say I can’t assume first principals? According to what? This is NOT science, remember. I am not making empirical claims. I am just saying that these are reasonable starting points. If people or societies disagree, we can discuss it, exploring the implications of alternatives. But there may be some points on which different societies disagree – because they have different values. So what? This is only a problem if you are after some absolute morality – which I am not. (You keep misapplying this criteria to my position, but it is an assumption of yours, not mine).

    In short – there is no absolute objective standard. There are reasonable and logically valid standards – but ultimately reliant upon some value judgements. So every time you ask me to give you an objective standard of something you are only demonstrating you unwillingness or inability to read and understand my position.

  157. DevoutCatalyston 08 Jan 2013 at 2:34 pm

    @bgoudie

    Have felt that about William Lane Craig

  158. daedalus2uon 08 Jan 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Zach, an example of a behavior that was once considered moral and acceptable and is not considered so today is slavery.

  159. NotAnAtheiston 08 Jan 2013 at 3:01 pm

    @Steve

    I think this statement is the crux of the confusion.

    “And again – you frequently confuse the philosophy of ethics as discussed by expert professional philosophers, and what the average person believes and even how governments act. These are, unfortunately, two different things.”

    Morality according to the vast majority of people means a set of “rights” and “wrongs” by which we may make judgements about others. Morality that you are describing is more like ethics, by which anyone may choose how to live and maybe make suggestions to others about a better way for people to live.

    I think to some extent most atheists(ok, ok agnostics) want to have it both ways. They want to be able to judge societies or other groups, e.g. Christians with a morality that is of the 1st type, while claiming to only be defending a morality of the second type.

  160. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 3:08 pm

    your latest post is a good example of how you keep going around in circles. You keep bringing up objections that I have dealt with in other points.

    I am only going in circles because you keep assuming my questions have been sufficiently answered by appealing to some unproved assumptions about morality that goes against basic logic. When you start actually answering them specifically instead of appealing this romanticized view of ethics then I will be satisfied.

    Your position seems to come down to an assumption that there is no morality without some objective reference. But you are not arguing against my position (or that of anyone else here, or any serious philosopher, as far as I know).

    It’s the logical inference that cannot be avoided, ignorance the evidence by appealing to some philsophy of morality and ethics that is based off unproven premises does not get out of the problem you have.

    I am asking you specific questions how what will determine the moral answer in a specific situations – you keep dodging them.

    I am simply describing the philosophy of morality and ethics, which is the system that I advocate. As I have now written multiple, multiple times – yes, this is based upon premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven.

    So if I respond that there is black tea pot revolving around mars and it is soo small it cannot be seen (or the supernatural in general) and that this is based off premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven how would you respond? I might say it is not a scientific system, although it is informed by science.

    I highly doubt you would accept this self-evident claim as true. I might say that most people in culture agree that their is the supernatural, and you would say that’s an ad populum argument that is not based on facts. I could then respond that ad populum only applies to scientific facts and the supernatural (like your view of morality and ethics) is outside that realm and is based off premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven.

    I’m going to go ahead and guess this wouldn’t work for you. You are doing the same thing essentially.

    “Yes, people and societies disagree on ethical systems (which should be obvious from observing the world). These are straw man points because no one is arguing them. We can agree on these things as common ground.”

    Evidence?

    Yes, people are arguing these points. What common ground are you talking about?

    Is female circumcision wrong? is it wrong to kill your daughter if she converts away from Islam? Is it ok to leave your female daughter on a hill to die because girls are worthless?
    Start using real world examples instead of some romanticized view of reality that isn’t real.

    How do different societies resolve differences of opinion with regard to morals and ethics? Various ways – but the preferable way is with arguments and evidence – the exchange of ideas.

    Why is the most preferable way with arguments and evidence? is this another assumption that I need to take at face value? It’s entirely circular! You tell me that moral statements are laregely based off premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven. Then you tell me that the best way to decide moral systems is from arguments and evidence. Why do you get to have the premises that are not agreed upon or proven be the standard of which to decide which culture is correct? This is probably difficult to understand but think it over a bit. You in essence are saying morality and ethics is based on self-evident truths, but when those truths are clearly not self evident to certain cultures and it comes time to figuring out the different culture’s morality and which one is superior you appeal to logic and evidence… it’s completely circular.

    No one has the monopoly on absolute truth. There is no absolute truth.

    Ok, so you are a moral relativist, that explains why my points hold no weight with you.

    First off, this is a self-defeating statement. You are essentially saying that no one has the monopoly on truth except for me and this statement, I happen to know that everyone’s view of truth is wrong in some regards, so therefore I am correct in being able to weigh it all and declare not one of them gets it right.

    That IS self-defeating. The only way to know if that is true is if you had all knowledge yourself, and as your statement goes, no one does. So neither do you and your statement defeats itself.

    The is no absolute truth huh? Do you absolutely mean that?….

    The irony….

    Of course, we often duke it out and the victor gets to determine what moral construct wins out. This does not make it right.

    Why not?

    but how can you say I can’t assume first principals? According to what? This is NOT science, remember. I am not making empirical claims. I am just saying that these are reasonable starting points. If people or societies disagree, we can discuss it, exploring the implications of alternatives. But there may be some points on which different societies disagree – because they have different values. So what? This is only a problem if you are after some absolute morality – which I am not.

    1. The burden of proof is on you. If I got all presuppositional apologetics on you you’d get ticked and tell me the burden of proof was on me to prove that something is a first principle. You made this claim, I did not. Evidence?

    2. So what? So what about genocide, so what about killing kids for getting sassy. You seem to be pretty bothered by the things Yahweh does in the Old Testament for someone who believes it’s just a matter of disagreement on what different culture’s favor. Look, if you are ready to say that morality is nothing more than “I like this”, then I will concede and even agree with you that your moral system makes sense and even works. You will be consistent. But the problem I believe you will run into is that you will not be able to stomach the notion that genocide is just as favorable in the right context to love and peace – an unavoidable conclusion if you apply your moral relativism to it’s logical implications.

    “There are reasonable and logically valid standards – but ultimately reliant upon some value judgments. So every time you ask me to give you an objective standard of something you are only demonstrating you unwillingness or inability to read and understand my position.”

    I believe I understand you. I didn’t realize that you were a postmodern moral relativist. Just be read to embrace that when someone slights you.

  161. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Zach is performing a trick that is nearly ubiquitous in religious apologetics by shifting the burden of proof that absolute objective morality exists, and that that by itself is proof that there is a moral lawgiver and it would be his christian god of the bible. He is incorrectly asking us to disprove his positive claim that absolute objective morality exists rather than correctly providing evidence himself that it exists. This is nearly identical to how religious apologists engage atheists by demanding that they disprove the existence of their god.

    Disregarding the fact that it’s a false dichotomy – even IF he were to adequately demonstrate that absolute objective morality exists, that does not automatically approve that it MUST come from a divine law giver, much less that it’s his christian god of the bible and that the objective morality is what’s outlined in the bible. It’s the same fallacious reasoning that, if the atheist cannot “prove” his god doesn’t exist, then that means god MUST exist.

    It seems to me that he is hoping that if he can get us to somehow admit that there is such a thing as objective morality, which would then somehow “prove” his god exists and it’s the bible we should all be taking our morality from. It’s the very same tactic used against evolution, that by poking holes in it, it will eventually come crumbling down, thus proving god exists.

    Sorry Zach, but it doesn’t work that way. As far as I’m concerned, all this so far has been a lot of rhetorical hand-waving to distract from your necessary burden of proof for your positive claims that absolute objective morality exists, that your christian god of the bible exists, and what we can read in the bible is what the absolute morality is.

  162. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Zach, you are again misunderstanding subjective morality. You seem to think that it means that “anything goes”, that one guy’s morals are just as valid as the next guy’s, that all morals are equally valid, and it would basically degenerate into us eating each other.

    Sorry, but no. Not all morals are equal to each other. How do we know this? By the collective harm one action does compared to another. I won’t go into detail about what constitutes harm and by what measure since that’s already been done before, ad nauseum. What I will say is that, someone setting off a bomb that kills dozens will carry a LOT more weight to it than somebody lying to their parents about how well they did on their test.

    Again, you fallaciously set up false dichotomies that are based off of your misunderstandings of what is being said. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or you truly don’t understand. You then create strawmen about “strong killing the weak” and “might makes right” when no one is suggesting anything of the sort.

    How many times do we have to repeat the concept of collective discussion based on logic, scientific evidence, philosophy, cultural tradition, and rationality as the basis for societal morality?

  163. daedalus2uon 08 Jan 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Zach, at one time, slavery was considered acceptable, and was sanctioned as acceptable by God in rules laid out in the OT. In the US it was only outlawed 150 years ago.

    There were a number of premises that people used to justify slavery, premises that we now know to be false. The primary premise was that certain people were subhuman, and so they didn’t have the normal “human” traits that justified treating those people the way “real” human beings (aka white male landowners) were treated, so making them (and their descendants) slaves was perfectly acceptable. Many people still hold to this premise, even though it has been demonstrated scientifically that humans of different ethnicities are essentially indistinguishable. This is the problem of xenophobia, racism, bigotry and misogyny. If someone is perceived to be less than human, then they don’t have full “human rights”, and so the niceties of laws and morality don’t apply to them. They are a non-human “other”, and so they don’t deserve human rights. I have blogged about this in some detail.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    I see most human political and religious systems as mechanisms for “othering” certain people so they have reduced social status and can be harmed by those with higher status with impunity. This is what the Patriarchal religions do, they put God at the top, then His prophets, priests, followers. At the bottom are non-believers who are not considered worthy of fair treatment, hence they can be enslaved or killed.

    Humans are social animals, and live together in societies. For a society to be stable, new generations must be conceived, born, nurtured, educated and raised to adulthood and parenthood. From the society’s perspective, maintaining the group as a stable society is its primary survival goal. Maintaining a society in a stable state requires that each link in the chain from infancy to parenthood be maintained in perpetuity.

    If we accept that maintaining a stable society is a fundamental goal, we can examine proposed actions and see if they are consistent with this goal or not.

    How about the strong killing and eating the weak? Infants are always weak compared to adults, adults are always strong compared to infants, if adults killed and ate infants the chain of development from infancy to parenthood would be broken and the society would terminate. Any society that accepts as a fundamental premise that the strong can kill and eat the weak will fail. I don’t want to be a part of a society that will fail, so I support preventing the strong from killing and eating the weak. I support this even though I am a strong adult.

    I think the conceptual problem you are having is due to hyperactive agency detection, and a subconscious conceptual requirement that every action must have an agent that causes it. In effect every action must have a top-down cause which you attribute to God. Rules must have a rule-maker, morals must have a morality-maker, language must have a language-maker. Language does not require a language-making agent. Language synthesis is an emergent behavior that a cohort of children growing up together exhibit. If synthesizing language does not require an agent, then the idea that large and complex things require creation by an agent is shown to be false by counterexample.

  164. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Zach – I have been very patient with you to see if I can get you to argue reasonably, but you have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that, at least for now, you are incapable or unwilling to actually consider and try to understand my position, respond to my points, or examine your own position. You keep going around in circles because you appear to be anchored to an apologetic position that you will keep coming back to no matter what point the other person is actually trying to make. For this reason we are making no progress.

    Here is just one example. You wrote:
    “So if I respond that there is black tea pot revolving around mars and it is soo small it cannot be seen (or the supernatural in general) and that this is based off premises that are taken as self-evident and cannot be proven how would you respond? I might say it is not a scientific system, although it is informed by science.”

    So yet again you come back to the fallacy of confusing an empirical claim with a value judgement. Whether or not a tea pot is in Mars orbit is an empirical claims. Just saying it is not is irrelevant. Moral judgements are not empirical claims. If you cannot wrap your head around this basic difference, no further discussion is of any utility.

  165. JJ Borgmanon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:08 pm

    To lighten the mood and, perhaps, actually understand much of what is being communicated here, I recommend a bowl of popcorn along with a full viewing of the original Ice Age movie. Seriously.

  166. Zachon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Rezistnzisfutl

    Yes, I am a magician playing tricks on you with witch craft based logic.

    =)

    “Zach is performing a trick that is nearly ubiquitous in religious apologetics by shifting the burden of proof that absolute objective morality exists, and that that by itself is proof that there is a moral lawgiver and it would be his christian god of the bible.”

    No. I have not even attempted to come anywhere near suggesting it’s the God of the Bible – nor that the moral law giver can be actually known. But for whatever reason you keep assuming this.

    “He is incorrectly asking us to disprove his positive claim that absolute objective morality exists rather than correctly providing evidence himself that it exists.”

    Wrong on both.

    I am demonstrating that evidence we in logic and within us and looking at our own nature shows that without a moral law giver morality is unable to be logically explains to be satisfactory.

    In short, concluding that there is a moral law and therefore a moral law giver better explains the evidence compared to moral relativism.

    There is a pretty substantial difference between this and what you claim I am claiming.

    “This is nearly identical to how religious apologists engage atheists by demanding that they disprove the existence of their god.”

    Who does this? I surely don’t.

    “even IF he were to adequately demonstrate that absolute objective morality exists, that does not automatically approve that it MUST come from a divine law giver, much less that it’s his Christian god of the bible and that the objective morality is what’s outlined in the bible. “

    I have literally said this several times already. Are you reading all of my posts or just skimming them, or possible only reading Steven’s posts?

    “It seems to me that he is hoping that if he can get us to somehow admit that there is such a thing as objective morality,”

    Honestly, I don’t care too much if you admit this or not. I just desperately want to find a atheist/agnostic who uses proper logic and can defend a principle of morality that is consistent with the world as we know it.

    It bothers me how they don’t seem to see the glaring logical problems that I wouldn’t have enough faith to accept – just accepting certain premises without evidences doesn’t cut it for me.

    “Sorry, but no. Not all morals are equal to each other. How do we know this? By the collective harm one action does compared to another.”

    Why is harm bad? Saying harm is unfavorable is simply another form of moral opinion. You assume too much. Start backing up your claims with logic.

    “What I will say is that, someone setting off a bomb that kills dozens will carry a LOT more weight to it than somebody lying to their parents about how well they did on their test.”

    So what? You are merely telling me that you BELIEVE setting off a bomb is worse. What objective standard are you appealing to in which to conclude that action is actually worse? So far it’s just an emotional feeling you have.

    “Again, you fallaciously set up false dichotomies that are based off of your misunderstandings of what is being said. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or you truly don’t understand. You then create strawmen about “strong killing the weak” and “might makes right” when no one is suggesting anything of the sort.”

    This isn’t a straw man. I am suggesting these things since they are a reality. You are avoiding this reality in your discussion and viewing the world through rose colored glasses.

    “How many times do we have to repeat the concept of collective discussion based on logic, scientific evidence, philosophy, cultural tradition, and rationality as the basis for societal morality?”

    Repeat it? You don’t need to, but for whatever reason feel the need to. When you can demonstrate that it’s not based on circular reasoning and logical fallacies I will drop it.

    Steven. I understand the difference between empirical claims. I suspected you would not go for that analogy so I also added the supernaturalism argument. Perhaps I should have stuck with that since it will demonstrate my point better. My point was the burden of evidence, so I understand your complaint.

    Steven I believe I understand your position, but you are ignoring my points about the actual ramifications of your world view applied to real life situations.

    I have asked you numerous times to talk through specific examples of dealing with moral monsters. You reverted to postmodern moral relativism.

    I’m not sure what else I can say to demonstrate the logical problems that exist with your subjective morality and how it does not mesh with reality as we know it to be.

  167. bgoudieon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Zach we do understand and use proper logic, you have shown little evidence that you even understand the term.

  168. Steven Novellaon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Zach – I have already done this, and the results will be predictable. But here goes:

    Slavery was once accepted as moral. This was based upon the belief in some cultures that some humans were inherently superior to others. At other times slavery was felt to be the proper spoils of war.

    These positions were not justified by any cogent ethical argument or consistent philosophical system. They were asserted in the absence of such thinking.

    What changed was partly the challenge by philosophers to ethically justify such behavior. It became clear that such behavior could not be justified – that if we accept certain basic principals, such as non maleficence, justice, and self-determination, slavery of one people by another is unjustifiable.

    You will respond to this by saying that I cannot prove that the above moral principals are valid. This is true. I never claimed I could. I just hold that they are reasonable, fairly universal, and lead to an ethical system that is workable and desirable. That is the only goal I have for a moral system.

    (But – it is not fair to call this position postmodernist moral relativism. You don’t know what that term means. First – postmodernism is not the same thing as moral relativism. Second, at best I am taking a descriptive relativist stance – that different people have different ideas about morality. I am NOT saying that there is NO standard – just that there is no absolute standard. I do hold that some moral positions are superior to others, and I oppose the view that any moral position can be justified by saying it is the norm in some culture. This is yet another straw man on your part, but I suspect you are just missing all the nuance in the philosophy of ethics and this hampers your ability to really follow the discussion here.

    I also hold it is the only choice we have, because there is no absolute morality, and even if there were no human has access to it – so in any case we are left to our own devices.

    You have claimed multiple times that absolute morality is consistent with the evidence. I must have missed this argument – how is that? I see no evidence that there is an absolute morality in the universe. This is an extraordinary claim and the burden of proof is on you to reasonably demonstrate this as a premise. You haven’t.

  169. autumnmonkeyon 08 Jan 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Zach: “So my list of the popular early scientists is made up?”

    No, you drew a conclusion from irrelevant premises.

    Zach: “Maybe infant sacrifice or even take a hypothetical like burning babies with napalm for fun, make it extreme and nasty so it’s something that Westerners are repulsed by – it will facilitate the conversation better.”

    I realize you keep framing this that Westerners are influenced by an objective moral system in order to bolster support for your religion. But many non-Westerners are repulsed by burning babies, while many Westerners are not.

    We can study what works in our current society, what worked well and didn’t work well in the past, and draw conclusions in how to proceed from there. We have more information available to undertake this endeavor (not to mention do it in a disciplined, scientific manner) than the ancient Hebrews who didn’t know squat about psychology, biology, physics, astronomy, economics, and so on. You’re making it sound like the rules we operate under today are somehow impossible, yet… they are there. They work better than those from 6000 years ago. We’ve made great progress in figuring this out. You’re inventing a problem that really only exists in the mind of a theist. If atheist morality was such a rotten arrangement, you would see millions of atheists rampaging through the streets and filling up our prisons. You would expect these skeptic societies and message boards to be full of axe murderers and thugs. But you don’t see that.

    Zach: “To all those challenging my judeo-Christian moral system, you are fine to do so, but that is not the point I am defending. I am defending that my system is rooted on an objective standard that logically makes sense – yours is not.”

    The only thing you’ve done is assert that you don’t make your own rules. If I wrote a rule book, then you accepted it, then that’s what you apparently call an objective system from your standpoint, no? But this book isn’t objective. It was written by a person. And your evaluation of the book, and whether to accept all of it or parts of it, is a subjective act. That’s how we see the Bible. We see no point in arguing about a hypothetical objective system that can’t possibly exist. The very nature of an objective rule set would require that the rule set writes itself. An emotional intelligence, supernatural or otherwise, can not create a purely objective moral system!

    Zach: “ALL that I am contending that if there is no moral law giver then morality is nothing but might makes right.”

    We understand your contention. This was answered in various ways many times. You seem stuck on this idea that people only act morally under the threat of coercion. The person who harms others without concern for their well-being isn’t someone acting under a rational system. In many cases it’s someone with a medical pathology. Or they’ve been heavily brainwashed by religion or political ideology. The might makes right argument is exactly what theism operates under. I have no compelling reason to follow an irrational theistic arrangement other than to give in to the intimidation and threats of violence levelled against me.

    Zach: “You might disagree with my moral standard but I am not trying prove to you right now that mine is the correct standard, only that if one is going to assume morality there must be a standard from which to say one is right and one is wrong. Or better yet, all morality is nothing more than might makes right, but sadly no one here will admit that is the only other real possibility.”

    What I’ve said is that your standard isn’t objective, as you claim. We’ve disagreed with your assertion that might makes right is the only alternative to an objective morality. This conclusion doesn’t follow what we know. It doesn’t follow on a logical level, it doesn’t follow the evidence. Counter examples abound.

    Zach: “I never said you need to be a Christian to be good at science, I said that Christianity is not contra-science since it was out of Christianity (Christians) who believed from their world view that science was possible.”

    You wrote, “You forget that science is rooted in Christianity.” To support this you list a bunch of scientists that you also claim to all be Christian. There’s no logical connection between the two facts. (I can’t even evaluate whether they were really Christian, or just professed such. I suspect it wasn’t exactly a popular career move during their times to be publicly against the prevailing religion, so it’s better to play along.) I can give a list of Muslim scientists that predate those you listed and it would be just as fallacious to claim science is rooted in Islam.

    Zach: “So?”

    So stop arguing that person X was a Christian, person X did Y, therefore Y is rooted in Christianity. You really don’t want to go down this path. If your religion is going to take credit for all the good that occurs in society, you’ll have to own all the bad as well.

    Zach: “Again, you are not hearing me. I don’t need to prove or even assert that we can know God’s will on morality, I am simply pointing out the logical obvious, without a moral law giver there can be no morality other than might makes right – which is a logical fallacy.”

    If we can’t know your deity’s will on morality, then any discussion about religious morality is a waste of time.

    The argument that there has to be an objective moral system created outside the bounds of human society is illogical in itself. Morality doesn’t exist until one human interacts with another. Why an invisible third party has to introduce pre-existing, eternal rules that have no application outside human relations is beyond me. There’s a redundancy there.

  170. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:01 pm

    @Zach

    “No. I have not even attempted to come anywhere near suggesting it’s the God of the Bible – nor that the moral law giver can be actually known. But for whatever reason you keep assuming this. ”

    Ok. So, are you admitting that two of your assumptions are NOT that this moral law giver is the christian god of the bible, and that it’s the bible that humans are able to know what the absolute morals are? If that’s the case, I’ll drop those points as items you need to demonstrate to be true.

  171. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:11 pm

    @Zach

    “No. I have not even attempted to come anywhere near suggesting it’s the God of the Bible – nor that the moral law giver can be actually known.”

    I would disagree that you haven’t come anywhere near close to suggesting it’s the god of the bible that is the law giver. In fact, that’s an outright fabrication. You yourself said that you as a christian get your morals from your god, and that you believe that your bible is the word of god.

    This exchange demonstrates that you think it’s the christian god of the bible that is the absolute morality law giver:

    Dr. Novella: “There is no one who objectively and verifiably knows the will of God, and God has not seen fit to unambigously make their will known to all of humanity.”

    Zach response: “Christians don’t agree with you…”

    Another statement confirming your belief as a christian:

    Zach: “As a Christian I argue that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore have inalienable human rights.”

    You’ve even gone as far as quoting biblical scripture to make points about morality and where they are derived (from the bible):

    “Even worse, you have the problem that pre-Christ you completely lose the notion of “love your neighbor as yourself/the Golden rule”. Now, I know your objection to this, and it’s misplaced. I agree many religions say to do unto others as you would have them do unto you – Christianity is not alone here, but that’s not my point. Christianity revolutionized this belief. Christianity came along and redefined who your neighbor was, your neighbor wasn’t only those who were nice back to you, or those who caused you no harm, your neighbor was also your enemy! Make no mistake, this is unique to Christianity.
    Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the good Samaritan
    Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

    You said,
    “None of this, however, can tell us if we should punish those who commit crimes.”

    Christianity can, and does. ”

    Not only are you most DEFINITELY proposing that it’s the christian god of the bible as the law giver that informs morality and that it’s absolute and preferable, but that the bible itself is the word of god that must be heeded and that’s where we can know what that morality is. So, either you’re simply being disingenous, or you’re being outright dishonest.

    Even if that were the case, the onus still is on you to demonstrate that absolute objective morality exists, and that it is determined by a law giver. Mostly, what I’ve seen is still you shifting the burden of proof claiming that we cannot demonstrate that it is necessarily an untrue proposition, which we have graciously done anyway even though it’s not up to us to DISPROVE your claim for you. Sorry, but quoting biblical scripture and interpreting “history” without corroborating evidence to back it up is NOT a valid claim that absolute morality exists or that a law giver exists, and that law giver is the christian god of the bible. You’re going to have to do much better than that.

  172. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:19 pm

    @Zach

    “I am demonstrating that evidence we in logic and within us and looking at our own nature shows that without a moral law giver morality is unable to be logically explains to be satisfactory.

    No, what you’re doing is attempting to have us explain to you why absolute morality does not exist and that there is no law giver. Again, that’s shifting the burden of proof for your positive claims that it DOES exist and that there is a law giver.

    And again, it’s a false dichotomy to think that, if you were to somehow disprove that subjective morality is the only morality there is, then that necessarily proves that absolute morality is derived from a law giver.

    “In short, concluding that there is a moral law and therefore a moral law giver better explains the evidence compared to moral relativism. ”

    That there is a “moral law” and therefore a “moral law giver” has most definitely NOT been demonstrated, so therefore it’s incorrect to conclude it.

    Let me try to make this clear: You demonstrate to us how there is such thing absolute morality, and if you’re able to do that, then demonstrate to us that it means there is necessarily a law giver. Very simple. Keep in mind that you have not come anywhere close to demonstrating this.

  173. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:22 pm

    @Zach

    ” ‘This is nearly identical to how religious apologists engage atheists by demanding that they disprove the existence of their god.’

    Who does this? I surely don’t. ”

    This is done all the time. A simple google search on “atheists can’t disprove god” yields many hits on the subject where theists claim that very thing.

  174. autumnmonkeyon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Zach: “This implies that you have some inside information for how humans ‘ought’ to live together. Please share this objective standard so we can throw out these non-sensical views of killing kids for being sassy.”

    Why does he have to provide an objective standard when none has ever existed in the history of humanity? Where’s the need for it? Where’s the imperative? You’re inventing non-existent problems requiring impossible solutions.

    Zach: “Is female circumcision wrong? is it wrong to kill your daughter if she converts away from Islam? Is it ok to leave your female daughter on a hill to die because girls are worthless?”

    If you were putting forth these questions to a fundamentalist Muslim, they’d say those things are OK according to their objective standard. They would be arguing in the same manner you’re arguing.

    Zach: “No. I have not even attempted to come anywhere near suggesting it’s the God of the Bible – nor that the moral law giver can be actually known. But for whatever reason you keep assuming this.”

    What you’re doing, pathetically I might add, is demand an objective moral system from us but provide none in return. You’re trying to get us to do your work for you so then you can say, “Aha! See! There can be no law without a lawgiver! You admit there’s a god!”

    rezistnzisfutl: “It seems to me that he is hoping that if he can get us to somehow admit that there is such a thing as objective morality, which would then somehow ‘prove’ his god exists and it’s the bible we should all be taking our morality from.”

    Exactly.

  175. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:27 pm

    @Zach

    ” ‘It seems to me that he is hoping that if he can get us to somehow admit that there is such a thing as objective morality,’

    Honestly, I don’t care too much if you admit this or not. I just desperately want to find a atheist/agnostic who uses proper logic and can defend a principle of morality that is consistent with the world as we know it.

    It bothers me how they don’t seem to see the glaring logical problems that I wouldn’t have enough faith to accept – just accepting certain premises without evidences doesn’t cut it for me. ”

    You clearly have no clue what logic means. Logic is merely the means of determining internal consistency of reasoning to determine validity of that reasoning. Your consistent misuse of the terms “strawman”, “ad hominem”, “ad populum”, etc, clearly indicates you don’t know what logic means or how to apply it. I remember an quote from you about the abuse of logical fallacies, which, of course, is an absurdity.

  176. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:38 pm

    @Zach

    ” ‘Sorry, but no. Not all morals are equal to each other. How do we know this? By the collective harm one action does compared to another.’

    Why is harm bad? Saying harm is unfavorable is simply another form of moral opinion. You assume too much. Start backing up your claims with logic.

    ‘What I will say is that, someone setting off a bomb that kills dozens will carry a LOT more weight to it than somebody lying to their parents about how well they did on their test.’

    So what? You are merely telling me that you BELIEVE setting off a bomb is worse. What objective standard are you appealing to in which to conclude that action is actually worse? So far it’s just an emotional feeling you have. ”

    Why is harm bad, seriously? Did you read ANY of what anyone has been saying about it so far? This has been covered OVER and OVER again. It has to do with our desire to live and flourish. It’s a survival mechanism inherent in (nearly) all life. Again, you’re playing semantic games.

    If you can’t see why setting off a bomb is worse than a kid lying about a test score, then I don’t know what else to tell you. One action causes a lot of destruction and societal chaos, while the other does not. The point is, you seem to think that subjective morality means that “anything goes”, that one action is equally comparable and valid as any other. No, there are verying degrees. We have explained this time and again, but you apparently didn’t bother to read it.

    “What objective standard are you appealing to…”

    Are you serious? You are trying to trick me into saying that there is an objective standard? Really, that’s just stupid. The “objective standard” is that I don’t want myself or anyone else for that matter blown to bits by a bomb. I don’t want to live in a society that that is desirable. There is a near unanimous consensus of this. THAT is our “objective standard”.

    The objectivity comes from the measure of damage and destruction to society that decreases the flourishing of human life.

  177. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 5:41 pm

    @Zach

    ” ‘Again, you fallaciously set up false dichotomies that are based off of your misunderstandings of what is being said. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or you truly don’t understand. You then create strawmen about “strong killing the weak” and “might makes right” when no one is suggesting anything of the sort.’ ”

    This isn’t a straw man. I am suggesting these things since they are a reality. You are avoiding this reality in your discussion and viewing the world through rose colored glasses. ”

    No, these things are NOT a reality. Nature has shown time and again that fitness is not necessarily determined by “strong killing the weak” and “might makes right”. They are strawmen because there are more examples of cooperation and symbiosis than there are of destruction and chaos.

    Like all creationist fundamentalists, you rely on logical fallacies because the reality does not jibe with your fantasy and does not support your cognitive dissonance.

  178. BillyJoe7on 08 Jan 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Zach,

    Let me take a stab:

    You do not believe that morals evolve.
    On the contrary, you believe that morals are absolute and unchanging.

    But it is clear to us that morals do evolve. The world described in the New Testament is far more moral than the world described in the Old Testament. Our world today is far more moral than the world of the New Testament.

    But you have to maintain your belief that morals are absolute and unchanging and, therefore, your explanation for the above observation is that, in the past, humans have been ignorant of these absolute morals but that, over time, they have been in the process of gradual discovery of what these absolute morals are, and, as a result, the world has a better moral sense and hence has become better place to live.

    In other words, it just semantics:
    We say our morals have evolved.
    You would say that our moral sense (our understanding of absolute morals) has evolved.

    I guess the end play for you is that humans will eventually become fully cogniscent of these absolute morals and will come to realise and fully accept the implication of this – that God exists. And you will have some sort of explanation for why that God is the Abrahamic God.

    Of course, the implication that God exists is already here, isn’t it? Here is your reasoning:
    Relative morals are a logical fallacy
    Therefore morals are absolute.
    Therefore God exists.

    But morals simply evolved, just as life evolved, just as the universe evolved. Evolving from the simple to the more complex (not teleologically towards something complex as determined by an entity even more complex). We are simply trying to discover how morals evolved naturally and to try to build on that and give it a bit of a nudge along (just as we took what nature provided in the way of food (ie wild wheat) and improved on it).

  179. tmac57on 08 Jan 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Zach

    Why is harm bad? Saying harm is unfavorable is simply another form of moral opinion. You assume too much. Start backing up your claims with logic.

    Even a toddler can recognize that “harm” is “bad”,and that is long before the prosthelytizers can encode ‘god’s moral code’ in to them. If a bully comes up to them and punches them in the face,and steals their food or toy,you can bet that toddler will instinctively see that as both ‘bad’ and ‘harm’.
    That in a nutshell is,in my opinion,the genesis (can I use that word) of the development of the principle of reciprocity,and the reason that civilized society seeks to promote fairness and safety,and minimize harm for those who choose to be part of that stable system.

  180. RickKon 08 Jan 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Zach:

    I don’t need to prove or even assert that we can know God’s will on morality, I am simply pointing out the logical obvious, without a moral law giver there can be no morality other than might makes right – which is a logical fallacy.

    That is NOT logically obvious. By that logic, there can be no global economic system (a set of rules followed by individuals and organizations resulting in social benefit greater than the sum of the parts) without an economic lawgiver.

    Because, by your logic, without a lawgiver, EVERYBODY will cheat everybody (the economic equivalent of your strawmoral “might makes right”).

    So tell me Zach – which individual makes the rules that govern the system that fills your refrigerator with food from all over the world? Who is the global economic lawgiver?

  181. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 6:28 pm

    @Zach

    Let me pose it to you this way:

    How do YOU know that absolute morality exists, and if you know that absolute morality exists, how do you know it necessarily requires a law giver? (I won’t even go into which “law giver” it is)

    You claimed to be trying to demonstrate that, but what it seems to me is that the way you’re going about it is by having us explain to you why absolute morality doesn’t exist. We have yet to see YOU actually demonstrate to US that it exists.

    Give it a go, and let’s see where we get with it. Let me help you out a little, first, however: relying on the bible as evidence for it isn’t going to work here. You’ll have to do something else, since there is no way we can corroborate the contents of the bible.

  182. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Jan 2013 at 6:36 pm

    It’s interesting how Zach contends that if there’s no absolute morality, then it would be might makes right. I stopped counting how many times he’s repeated this. I’d like to know where he’s getting it from that without absolute morality it would necessarily mean might makes right.

    If he’s claiming that the only reason it’s not might makes right now is because absolute morality exists now, then how can he know that without absolute morality might makes right would necessarily be what happens?

    If he’s claiming that we have actually observed might makes right because of an absence of absolute morality that is what necessarily occurs, then why don’t we see more examples of that in human history? Certainly there are more than enough non-