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 the