Jan 11 2013

Objective vs Subjective Morality

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458 Responses to “Objective vs Subjective Morality”

  1. FXPon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:04 am

    Very interesting post.

    One question. You say the following: “are moral first principles, therefore, objective or subjective. This, I maintain, is a false dichotomy. They are complex, with some subjective aspects (the values) and some objective aspects (explorations of their universality and implications)”

    Surely if the values themselves are subjective then any implications arising from then are also subjective by nature?

  2. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:14 am

    FXP – No. You can, for example, examine a moral system for logical consistency vs self-contradiction. Consistency is an objective evaluation.

    Also – universality is something that can be measured. You can ask, why is universality important, but that is already taken as a premise of morality in that we only need morality because we have to live with each other, so the moral system has to cover everyone or it doesn’t really address that need.

  3. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:18 am

    @Steve

    You said:

    “We can take as empirical facts, however, that humans have feelings and our actions affect others – these are therefore well-founded premises for a moral system. ”

    Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.

    You said:
    “I think, in part, they are taken as self-evident and given, but that does not mean they are entirely without justification, because they are rooted, as is the need for morality itself, in the human condition.”

    Self evident? Many would say that the existence of God is self evident with just as much proof as you have provided. What exactly do you mean by the human condition? How does it justify your “self-evident” first principle?

    You said:
    “Also, these principles can be evaluated empirically, in terms of their universality, their neurological basis, and the effects of their implementation in a society.”

    How would you evaluate these empirically in terms of there universality? Their neurological basis would be irrelevent.

    You said:
    “There is also an unsolvable practical issue – no one has a direct line to God. There are those who claim to, but no one can demonstrate that they actually have objective access to the true moral rules of the lawgiver.”

    How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?

    You said:
    “This is far preferable to a system based upon conflicts traditions about what an unprovable lawgiver allegedly told members of a primitive agrarian society about how he wants people to behave.”

    Preferrable to you, yes. 90+ % of everybody else would disagree. Why do you think your preferences are “better” than someone elses.

    What is the purpose of this moral philosophy of which you speak? Is it simply to make suggestions for how to live a better life. This would not be universal morality which is what most people commmonly understand it to be.

    If it is something that is used to judge others, there can be no justification for applying it universally unless there is some objective basis?

    Atheists could solve their logical dilemma with morality by simply admitting that no authority->no morality. There is no basis for judging even the most heinous acts as wrong without an objective morality. It is interesting that you rarely hear that point made.

  4. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 9:25 am

    “I think, in part, they are taken as self-evident and given, but that does not mean they are entirely without justification, because they are rooted, as is the need for morality itself, in the human condition.”

    First off, very well done post on a big topic. The only thing I would like to emphasize (since Zach seems to have a problem with this concept) is that these moral first principle are concepts that are discussed and debated first. Its not like they are assumed and that is the end of the discussion. He (Zach) seems to frame it in this fashion, and he thinks that when one another person comes along and disagrees with this principle, the whole thing falls apart. But of course that is not true.

  5. SARAon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:28 am

    I would argue that when you are measuring a subjective thing, the observer determines it’s consistency. And two different observers may have different views of the event.

    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.

    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.

    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.

  6. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 9:34 am

    “How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?”

    Because disagreements can be worked out in theory and in practice with philosophy. If you think your morality is the only possible one because it is directly from the lawgiver, in theory there is no way to change that other than for you to throw the whole thing out. Of course in practice, they do change, but that is due to people changing their interpretation of what the lawgiver really says. This goes to show that all of this is coming from us humans no matter what you think

  7. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:40 am

    @ccbowers

    “Because disagreements can be worked out in theory and in practice with philosophy.”

    How do you work them out. In science, you work them out by examining new evidence. Philosophy can not be held to the scientific method. Philosophy may evolve, but only because of changing opinions. There will be no new evidence to be had.

  8. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:41 am

    @SARA

    You are dead on.

  9. dogmaphobeon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:53 am

    @NotAnAtheist

    Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.

    If you don’t care what happens to others then that makes you a sociopath. If everyone felt the same it would still be possible to derive a system of morality based upon our collective human condition, it would just be a particularly bad one. Luckily this is not the case.

  10. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:08 am

    I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. Consistency is not necessarily absolute, for example. I would say my neck functions properly and consistently in every range of motion expected from it. The fact that I occasionally get a “crick” in it doesn’t change that.

    It seems to me this is a sticking point for many statements made recently.

  11. Kawarthajonon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:13 am

    @ SARA: “The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.”

    To take your idea one step farther, moral standards have changed dramatically over time and continue to change, which is a strong argument against some sort of Objective, Universal Moral Code from God or some other source. If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time.

  12. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:25 am

    NAA wrote:”Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.”

    Non sequitur. The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.

    Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires? We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts. For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).

    So you are not “all good.”

    NAA wrote: “Self evident? Many would say that the existence of God is self evident with just as much proof as you have provided. What exactly do you mean by the human condition? How does it justify your “self-evident” first principle?”

    Non sequitur. You missed the part about later justification. No one is saying that we take our gut feelings and run with them. They are a starting point, then we try to justify them. I can justify the notion that harm is bad. Can you justify your belief in God?

    The human condition is the collective feelings, nature, and essence of what is it to be a person living in the world. Again – the context of morality.

    NAA wrote:”How would you evaluate these empirically in terms of there universality? Their neurological basis would be irrelevent.”

    Psychologists do surveys and experiments all the time evaluating what percentage of people hold certain beliefs or engage in certain bahaviors with what invluences, including cultural influences. That is empirical data. The neurological basis does not determine moral values, but it is not irrelevant. It is useful to know, for example, what elements of brain function are being engaged in certain behaviors and situations. This does give us insight into why people make certain decisions.

    NAA wrote: “How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?”

    This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again.

    NAA wrote:”Preferrable to you, yes. 90+ % of everybody else would disagree. Why do you think your preferences are “better” than someone elses.”

    I laid out the very specific reasons why it is preferable. I disagree with the assertion that 90% of everybody would disagree (now that is an assertion needing evidence). Not everyon with a reilgious belief thinks their reilgious should be the basis of everyone’s morality. Further, there are almost 200 religions making up that 90% and they have no way to resolve their differences, and so using a secular philosophy-based system makes sense. People can be religious and respect religious freedom.

    In any case, this is a non sequitur- and appeal to popularity. I laid out the reasons why a philosophical system works and a faith-based system does not.

    NAA wrote: “Atheists could solve their logical dilemma with morality by simply admitting that no authority->no morality. There is no basis for judging even the most heinous acts as wrong without an objective morality. It is interesting that you rarely hear that point made.:

    No – that is your premise, but it is not reasonable, and certainly has not been demonstrated. I do not need a magic authority to tell me that if I expect to have my right respected I should respect the rights of others. I can work that out for myself, thanks.

    It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.

  13. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 10:25 am

    @Kawarthajon
    “If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time.”

    This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.

  14. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:31 am

    JJ – regarding absolutes – there are no absolutes when it comes to humans, because we are flawed and have a limited perspective. There are no absolutes in science either, for that reason (there is always a frame of reference).

    Likewise, NAA says that science progresses through empirical evidence, and philosophy cannot. This is both simplistic and wrong. First, science is a system for evaluating empirical claims. Philosophy is not – so they do not hold to the same criteria. Philosophy is more a system of logic, although it is often based or informed by empirical claims. For example, if a philosophy follows to a certain conclusion that can be empirically tested, then that line of reasoning is subject to evidence.

    Further, science is dependant upon philosophy – the philosophy of science and epistemology.

    Philosophy, as a system of logic applicable to the real empirical world, is testable as a system of logic, which means it can be held to logical criteria.

    To put the comments of NAA and others into context – this is all best understood as a desperate attempt for false equivalency between their faith and anything that might challenge it. If it all comes down to faith, then they can say they prefer their faith and there is no reason to prefer any other beliefs (whether evolution or moral philosophy). The denialism and logical errors required to make this argument, however, should be obvious to most people following these comments.

  15. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:32 am

    Zach and NAA, the problem you are having is that you are treating your conceptualization of morality as if it is something it is not.

    You maintain that MORALITY is objective and comes from a law giver. Fine. But the model of morality that you instantiate in your brain is not (and cannot be) the perfect MORALITY that the hypothetical Law Giver has tried to convey to lowly and imperfect humans.

    I appreciate that you want your internal sense of morality to match the MORALITY of the Law Giver, but as Dr Novella has pointed out many times, you don’t know how to do that. You don’t have access to the “source code” of the universal MORALITY that you think the Law Giver has produced, and you would admit that even if you had that “source code”, you could not understand it to the level of detail that the Law Giver does.

    If you don’t have access to the perfect and objective MORALITY of the Law Giver because your brain can’t hold it all, what choice do you have? Default to might makes right? Default to personal selfishness and greed? Default to moral relativism?

    The reasonable person would try to figure out what would constitute a universal MORALITY if there was one, and try to approximate it as best as their feeble brain would allow while making provision for not acting in questionable circumstances and updating it over time.

    This is the process that Dr Novella is trying to accomplish. Start with fundamental premises that seem to be pretty universal and figure out what those premises imply for actions under certain circumstances.

    What do you suggest? Start with what ever ideas feel right for you? We know that self-interest is going to generate a cognitive bias that over values benefits to the self, while under valuing benefits to others. One can try to avoid the cognitive bias of self-interest by abstractly removing the self from the thought experiments used to evaluate moral value. This is how human justice systems try to work, they have a disinterested party, a judge, sit in judgment. We know that “justice” often doesn’t happen when interested parties sit in judgment over issues that affect them.

    Once you have any morality system, albeit an imperfect moral system, how do you upgrade it? By sitting around and waiting for the Law Giver to put ideas into your head? How can you know if those ideas are from the Law Giver and not from somewhere else? Or are not cognitive bias generated by self-interest? Look in an old book? How do you know that the words in the book are from the Law Giver? How do you know that the human being who wrote the words in that old book was not experiencing cognitive bias from self-interest? What basis is there for accepting that ancient unknown self-proclaimed religious people actually heard directly from the Law Giver, accurately recorded what the Law Giver said, and that each person in the information chain of custody has accurately and precisely remembered, recorded, transmitted and translated that information without error?

    We know that the only way to ensure that a process is reliable is by ensuring that every step in the process is reliable. The only way to do that is to explicitly examine every step. That is exactly how Dr Novella upgrades his conceptualization of morality, by going back to the first premises and examining every step in the path from those premises to the final evaluation of the moral value of an action. You can’t do that with Laws from a Law Giver.

  16. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 10:33 am

    “How do you work them out. In science, you work them out by examining new evidence. Philosophy can not be held to the scientific method. Philosophy may evolve, but only because of changing opinions. There will be no new evidence to be had.”

    Who says that philosophy is not informed by evidence?, because that is not correct. Both science and philosphy, and as a result our understanding of ourselves and the universe progress over time. So your characterization of mere arbitrary changing opinions is inaccurate, from a big picture perspective and in general, there is progress in the changes

  17. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:33 am

    NAA wrote: “This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.”

    And that understanding and practice of morality is moral philosophy. Congratulations.

    The point also stands – the moral philosophy of those culture claiming god as their source is indistinguishable from culturally determined moral philosophizing, thoroughly embedded in the time and place of the so-called prophets who claim god as their source.

  18. Fourieron 11 Jan 2013 at 10:37 am

    Re: The Moral Landscape. It wasn’t great. Though I haven’t been impressed with Sam Harris’s writing since his first couple of works, which I rather enjoyed – though possibly only because they gave a different perspective from those of heavy-going philosophers and scientists that I’d been reading before. However, in his defence (or, rather, to give him a fair hearing) I think his main argument stems from his conviction that morality should be defined as avoiding the maximum amount of suffering possible, and that if you insist that this is just his arbitrary definition of morality then his response is that, whatever you think you are talking about, it isn’t morality in any sense that he recognises it. So to the philosopher this is anathema because you’re arbitrarily defining one of the terms under debate, but I think most people would accept that as a fairly reasonable step.

    The problem I’ve always had with the philosophy of morality is that the question “How should we live?” is inherently only half a question – it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, without the addendum “In order to achieve X”, for some X. And the argument over morality seems to centre around defining that X. So once we can define that X, getting there is (as Harris argues) simply a matter of science. But I don’t see any way in which our choice of X is anything but completely arbitrary, or dissolves into circularity. And the fact that our innate evolved sense of pleasure/disgust/fear/anger etc. tends to push us fairly unanimously in certain directions, that still doesn’t mean that following those impulses is any less arbitrary than throwing a die. So, in that respect, what Harris does is essentially what we all do when not engaging in philosophy, which is to set X = “the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of people”.

    Also, as Steve points out – even if we were certain that there were a god, that wouldn’t help one bit, because it would still be an arbitrary choice to align that X with the god’s desires. Even given Plato’s arguments in Euthyphro (btw typo), if that god is somehow following some underlying morality of the Universe (whatever that may mean – the concept is nonsense to me), then that means that the god is irrelevant to morality unless you’re arguing that it is the only route to learning that underlying truth. Which introduces the other issues Steve points out.

    So I genuinely conclude that the actual term “morality” is meaningless, in the strong sense that people like AJ Ayer would have probably argued. YMMV :)

  19. champenoiseon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:55 am

    You say ‘we need morality’ as if first there were humans, and then they invented morality. I think basic morality is part of the human condition but difficult to put in words. Beyond that, good luck convincing the rest of the world to adopt a new moral system, especially if it doesn’t have anything supernatural. It may be worthwhile to try to describe that basic part that we have in common, in say the next 1000 years or so.

  20. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:01 am

    Fourier – what you say is reasonable to a point, but couple of quibbles:

    Harris is following the ethical philosophy of consequentialism. But, there are other philosophies, deontological and virtue ethics. So you first have to argue for consequentialism, which is not generally accepted by philosophyers as a viable stand-alone ethical philosophy.

    It is part of ethical philosophy, however, which gets us back to – science informs but does not determine ethics.

    I would also disagree with the “throwing the dice” analogy. Again I thinkyou are falling into the trap of assuming that anything less than objective morality (which I agree, does not make any sense) is completely arbitrary. Having a subjective component to morality is not the same as arbitrary, which implies equivalency.

    I would argue that morality only makes sense in the context of the moral actors, and therefore we can say as human moral actors certain moral principles are defensible and others are not.

  21. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 11:16 am

    @Steve

    You wrote:
    “Non sequitur. The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.”

    But why is that the basis of a moral system? That we have feelings does not justify a moral system. Those feelings could be irrelevant. In fact, they are irrelevant to me. Obviously you missed my point.

    “Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires? We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts. For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).”

    Why do we need to live together? If I have the ability to evade the consequences of my actions I can take what I like. I don’t need the approval of any of you lousy folks. Now if you want your morality to be specific to you and those who agree with you, that is fine. There is nothing universal that you can derive from “people have feelings”.

    “This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again.”

    I didn’t say they were the same thing but both have the same problem of starting with unproven premises. Philosophers may use logic, science etc. as tools but must start with unproven premises
    (which this post is loaded with) just as the religious believer begins with the unproven premise of God.

    “It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.”

    Obvious to whom? You and others like you of course. It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that a universal morality may be derived without a lawgiver they must resort to ad hominems.

    You keep saying philosophy is not perfect but it is the best we have. You would suffer no such imperfection in a religious argument for morality.

  22. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 11:25 am

    I swear I will not be particularly active in posting on this thread. I have pushed off enough responsibilities so far, that I need to actually focus on my actual work. Plus I start my clinical duties again on Monday (though thankfully it is work at a very underserved high school clinic so my hours will be short and known a priori).

    I just want to say that I did learn a LOT from the last two threads. Mostly from Dr. Novella, but also from all the other commenters – including Zach. It is amazingly useful to delineate where one makes assumptions and to also learn about such a complex system. It pertains, of course, to medical ethics – something which is important in general to me as a soon-to-be physician, but also because my intended field of practice deals with death and dying regularly and I think many if not most physicians are ill equipped to deal with end-of-life and palliation issues.

    I’ll also add that at some point I will need to re-read Harris’ Moral Landscape in context of my knew knowledge from these conversations. I feel that I have grown significantly in these last few days of heated and rapid fire discussion. I was absolutely on board with Harris’ assertions about the ability for science to not only inform but determine morality. I did not realize at the time his stance was one of strict consequentialism (heck, I didn’t even know that existed at the time I read the book). I don’t reject Harris’ claims outright, but I see now they are at least incomplete. I still think there remains an ability to significantly further inform moral systems using neuroscientific techniques, but I realize now how they cannot form the foundational basis and explain the totality of a moral system.

    So I would just like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation – not only including, but especially Zach (and I mean that genuinely Zach!) – for giving me such an opportunity to learn. Though not an every day occurrence conversations on these topics do come up and now I can speak vastly more intelligently on the topic, and can make the conversation more efficient by honing in more easily on points of contention thanks to reading everything Zach laid down.

    I’ll close by saying that D2u’s comment above was very insightful and accurate. I would say that the best evidence we have that there is no absolute and objective morality is the fact that we are even having this discussion – or moreso that so many people the world over are having the discussion. Asking a question like “why is harm bad” is actually exactly what moral philosophers do and the starting point for all moral systems. The intractability of moral absolutists like William Lane Craig and Zach hinges on the fact that any answer other than “[insert moral lawgiver of choice] said so” is simply not accepted. The true answer is complex, nuanced, detailed, and requires rigor of thought and hard work. By deferring the answers to these questions to an outside entity it both relieves the burden of responsibility of those decisions and the need for hard work. This actually is not inherently such a bad thing, since theologians who think on morality are doing the exact same thing as secular moral philosophers to determine the answers to these questions, even though the theologian doesn’t realize or admit it. The problems arise when an “answer” is arrived at, because it then becomes impossible to argue against “God said so” and thus becomes incredibly ripe for abuse (as we have seen).

    I’ll continue following this thread to learn more, but if I post anything more than a short blurb only on occasaion after this one, I would ask one favor of my friendly co-commenters here (you know who you are) – remind me to do my other work! And rats to you all for being so incredibly interesting, informative, educational, and awesome.

  23. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:29 am

    NAA – We can think about which feelings matter, which are relevant, etc. I am taking as a given that the purpose of a moral system is to achieve some goal. Otherwise – what is morality in the first place? Morality only exists and makes any sense in some context. You are trying to remove morality from any context, but this is just assuming the conclusion you are trying to get to – that we need an outside authority to dicatate morals to us.

    Regarding livnig alone – go ahead and live in the desert all by yourself. As long as your actions don’t affect others, you can really do whatever you want. (Of cuorse we have to consider the ethics of animals and the environment, but that’s a can of worms we don’t need to get into here). If you could hypothetically be isolated from all other people, than I would agree morals seem unnecessary.

    I justified my premises. (justification is not the same as proof – another non sequitur). Please, feel free to justify your beilef in your god. I am listening.

    Finally – I never argued that morality is 100% universal. Just like science – no human knowledge is 100%. We should strive to make is as universal as possible, because that serve the purpose of morality better, but that’s it.

    A religious argument for morality serves nothing, because it is based solely on faith.

  24. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:33 am

    champenoise – but we have made tremendous progress doing just that. Most industrialized nations have laws that are fairly similar in broad brush strokes – the big moral questions. We are also developing international moral standards.

    Psychological studies show that most people want to be good, think they are good, and hold similar basic morality. The problem is that most people also do not have a well-developed moral philosophy and ratinonalize easily. This can be improved with education.

  25. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 11:38 am

    champenoise: I think basic morality is part of the human condition but difficult to put in words.

    One might also say that it’s built into our primate cousins, insofar as they exhibit prosocial behaviors and those observed in game theory, such as rewarding cooperation and punishing defection.

    But it’s hard for me to divorce these phenomena from the familiar abstract concepts (e.g. rules and principles) and language (“good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong”, “virtue”, “vice”), which form the building blocks of human moral philosophy, and still call that “morality.”

    Steven: Again I thinkyou are falling into the trap of assuming that anything less than objective morality (which I agree, does not make any sense) is completely arbitrary. Having a subjective component to morality is not the same as arbitrary, which implies equivalency.

    Hear, hear!

    Yet, to concede that point is to basically concede the argument. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. :-)

  26. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 12:23 pm

    “Beyond that, good luck convincing the rest of the world to adopt a new moral system, especially if it doesn’t have anything supernatural. It may be worthwhile to try to describe that basic part that we have in common, in say the next 1000 years or so.”

    Are you unaware how much change there has been in recent times regarding this very topic? Its not about “convincing the rest of the world” about a “new moral system,” but it is about change and progress in coming up with anwers on these moral questions for ourselves. Its pretty obvious that this occurs, and it is noticeable in real time…or at least the changes are obvious over one’s lifetime at this point in history. Its also pretty clear that these changes are not arbitrary, or there would be no such thing as progress. Arbitrary changes over time would appear to be lateral changes, and its pretty clear that they are not.

    I have to second what nybgrus said. I have a lot of work to do, but these conversations have been good for this blog and followers

  27. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 12:35 pm

    It is also interesting, and telling, to see which moral systems are overwhelmingly adhered to voluntarily. They are magnets for the oppressed.

  28. DOYLEon 11 Jan 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Why cant morals/moral behavior be understood as fulfilling a selected for evolutionary niche..After we move from a more savage animal code to a social/communal one,woundn’t you expect a kind of behavioral change(moral conduct).Like the onset of language at the right time,there is a time when cooperation and stewardship become beneficial for humal evolution.

  29. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 12:56 pm

    BTW, having taken up a casual interest in Buddhism in recent years, I’m amused – although hardly surprised – by the Judeo-Christian framing that Zach & NAA use to present their arguments.

    In the Buddhist wisdom tradition – which is still upheld by hundreds of millions (if not over a billion, according to some estimates) of people today – the Buddha functions less as a “lawgiver” than as a guide to spiritual enlightenment or (better) awakening (which is bound up in the metaphysics of karma). Although the Buddha is supposed to have arrived at mystical insights into transcendent/ultimate reality – which I suppose is analogous to prophecy in the Abrahamic religions – Buddhist ethics are framed more as “as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice” [source].

    As an aside, the voluntary nature of that undertaking jibes well with the empiricist (although pre-scientific) nature of Buddhist epistemology. As one scholar/monk put it:

    Buddhism is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as “Ehi-Passiko”, inviting you to come and see, but not to come and believe.

    [source]

    I intend none of this as a wholesale endorsement of Buddhism – which comes with plenty of baggage – but merely as an illustration that the “lawgiver” metaphor is not universally shared by all world religious ethical traditions. (For that matter, it seems inapt as a description of ancient Greek ethics, as well.)

  30. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:17 pm

    NAA, every system requires premises. Arithmetic requires unproven and unprovable premises. They are called axioms.

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

    All religions have their own axioms. Some Christians have the axiom that everything in the Bible is the true and infallible word of God. But when you adopt that premise and try to prove stuff, you run into inconsistencies.

    Logicians then deduce that the inconsistencies derive from a bad premise. Some Christians deduce that the inconsistencies derive from logic being not the appropriate tool to evaluate religion, that “faith” is a better tool. “Faith” only works to evaluate religion because faith is completely subjective and circular. If you have faith something is true, then by faith it is true.

    Hillel the Elder (pre Jesus of Nazareth) reduced Jewish Law to one premise:

    “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

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

  31. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:19 pm

    @nybgrus

    I think you should re-read the Moral Landscape because I think you’ll find it *isn’t* simple consequentialism (that is, that each action is judged on the basis of its own consequences). I was disappointed to hear Massimo Pigliucci characterize it this way because, well, he should know better.

    Harris explicitly rejects this position repeatedly. First of all, it’s clear we AT LEAST need to judge actions based on the consequences that could reasonably have been expected in advance, rather than just what consequences happen to happen. Actually winning the lottery doesn’t retroactively make the decision to purchase a ticket a rational one. He also acknowledges the importance of intentions, again, because of the consequential work they do in the world. It makes perfect sense that we should lock up sociopaths (in fact, he laments the fact we feel the need to let them out, despite near certainty they will re-offend).

    Honestly I think consequentialism is badly straw-manned, even by many philosophers. It’s weird. They object with things like “would it be okay to harvest organs from 1 random person to save 5,” as we saw in the other thread, despite a moments consideration being sufficient to answer “no, nobody would want to live in a world where I might randomly be selected to have my organs harvested; it’s a far better principle to grant everyone rights to their own body and organs.” You adopt rules based on the sum total of the consequences of adopting those rules. In fact, deontological ethics are often propped up as being a refutation of consequentialism, but deontological ethics amount to Rule Consequentialism — or else fall into absurdity. Even Kant–the very symbol of deontological ethics, when describing how to know an action is wrong, basically said “can you imagine if everyone behaved that way?” Sorry, Kant: that’s consequentialism. Maybe Kantsequentialism.

    I also think it’s unfair to characterize Harris as saying that science can determine right and wrong without the aid of philosophy–especially when Pigliucci defines philosophy’s role as being, essentially, reasoning police. Does he really think that Harris–or anyone–thinks valid reasoning isn’t important to the process? Why say *philosophy* is important when all you mean is that valid reasoning is important? Philosophy is far too loaded a term–it has too much baggage, including a whole lot of groundless, metaphysical speculation. I say this, by the way, as a philosophy major, not as someone with a bone to pick against it.

    Anyway. End rant. Re-read Harris. He’s far more thoughtful on the subject that most of his critics give him credit for…which seems to be a trend with him.

  32. egmutzaon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I realize that mentioning the name Ayn Rand in any comment thread is just begging for a flame war, but if you’re going to write a post about objective vs. subjective morality, her ideas are well worth considering.

    In short, Rand held that man’s nature as a volitional being necessitates a code of conduct (morality) to guide his actions, and that the objective standard of value is his life. Actions that further his long-range happiness (flourishing/eudaemonia) are objectively good, and actions which inhibit his ability to flourish are objectively bad.

    Of course, Rand had quite a bit more to say about it than that, but I trust those who are interested will pursue it on their own. Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness is a good starting point, but if you find Rand’s writing style off-putting, I highly recommend reading Tara Smith’s Viable Values: http://www.amazon.com/Viable-Values-Study-Reward-Morality/dp/0847697614/

    And yes, I know, no philosopher takes Ayn Rand seriously, you read Ayn Rand when you were 18 but then you grew up, etc. etc.

  33. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Aside from the criticisms lodged against The Moral Landscape by other philosophers, which Massimo Pigliucci shares, I suspect that much of the cause of Massimo’s ire boils down to this one footnote [by Sam Harris]:

    Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy … I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.

    As a philosophy major, you don’t find that statement to be dismissive of your major, not to mention anti-intellectual?

  34. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Philosofrenzy-

    I can’t speak for what he says in the book, but the criticism of him is not strictly what he says in the book, but based upon the accumulation of what he has said elsewhere. I haven’t studied his position that much, but the title of his TED talk is “Science can answer moral questions.” If he is misunderstood, he is at least partially responsible for it

  35. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 1:33 pm

    “As a philosophy major, you don’t find that statement to be dismissive of your major, not to mention anti-intellectual?”

    It is both. And it’s a non sequitur even if true, but it isn’t

  36. ConspicuousCarlon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:39 pm

    SARA on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:28 am

    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.

    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.

    Murder is normally defined not just as killing, but killing without necessity or good reason. The very concept of murder, like other crimes, is not definable without “exceptions”.

    Is it immoral to pick up a dollar from a table and leave the building? Even by what seems to be the most basic moral standards, you can’t say without adding conditions. Whose dollar is it? Is it yours? Is it someone else’s dollar, with a sign next to it reading “free dollar”?

    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.

    I am not sure what you mean by the last few words… no aspect of morality is universal, or not all aspects are universal? The second interpretation is hard to disagree with, but the first would be a non-sequitur.

  37. Kawarthajonon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:40 pm

    @ Notanatheist:

    “This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.”

    How can you make this distinction when you acknowledge that humans are imperfect in our understanding & practice of the Universal Morality? If we can never truly understand and practice God’s version of morality (because of our imperfect natures), how can we know that God doesn’t change the rules for morality every so often.

    I would strongly suggest you learn more about the history of Christianity or any other major religion. You will find that morality, as it has been defined by the various Churches and sects has changed dramatically over the centuries and Christianity as it is practiced today is nothing like what was practiced in it’s infancy as a religion. With that in mind, it makes it very difficult to argue that religion and belief in God provides any kind of anchor on which to base your system of morality.

  38. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:44 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    You’re consistently confusing three aspects of morality:

    What is true?
    How we know what is true?
    How/should we enforce morality?

    You repeatedly object to rational morality based on the fact that it’s possible to get away with not behaving morally. So what? How does that in any way change the fact that it would be BETTER if nobody did? That’s like saying that because it’s possible to cheat at poker by hiding an Ace up your sleeve, therefore the rules don’t actually forbid it. Yes, the rules of poker are arbitrary, but that’s irrelevant in this case. The point is that the ability or inability to cheat and break the rules has no bearing on whether they are the right rules. That’s a separate question.

    But more importantly, your suggested objection has some nasty consequences for your own position. Can’t people cheat and ignore the rules on theistic, “ultimate, objective ethics” too? Is the fact they ultimately go to hell for it what makes the rules “true?” Are you incapable of envisioning a universe in which God forgives everyone their trespasses, and takes away their tendency to misbehave when they die, letting them all into heaven? Whether you think this is the universe we live in, is this universe logically incoherent? Does your system NEED people to ultimately suffer for their wrong doing for it to actually be wrong-doing? This is just a bizarre form of consequentialism: acts are immoral if YOU SUFFER for doing them.

    a) you’re back in the as-of-yet-unanswered Euthyphro dilemma and b) you’re admitting that the ability or inability to get away with immorality is absolutely irrelevant to determining what is moral.

  39. ConspicuousCarlon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:49 pm

    NotAnAtheist,

    Why should we care about what God wants?

  40. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 1:53 pm

    ccbowers: It is both. And it’s a non sequitur even if true, but it isn’t

    To be fair, I probably respond in a similar way to Harris at times. For example, the idea that consequences matter in normative discussion is what I would usually call a “duh report.”

    But the idea that trained professionals are paid for defending the notion that only consequences matter – even though we seldom know what those consequences will be, and thereby are forced by our own epistemic limits to follow various guidelines/rules of thumb/heuristics, instead – strikes me not so much as boring, as borderline scandalous.

    Thankfully, other trained professionals (i.e. moral philosophers) have already addressed this problem, such that science is not the only self-correcting enterprise in town.

  41. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:06 pm

    “We can take as empirical facts, however, that humans have feelings and our actions affect others – these are therefore well-founded premises for a moral system.”

    This is fine so far, I would wonder if there was only 1 human would suicide be morally wrong?

    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”

    How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?

    “This is partly a logical statement, for without reciprocity you don’t have a moral system that helps us live together (again – the very reason for the system in the first place).”

    This is a leap. You are assuming the existence of a moral system by assuming a moral principle.

    Could we not have a moral system that told us that reciprocity was false and then engage all moral decisions from that premise? We could come up with one, so why that principle?

    “are moral first principles, therefore, objective or subjective. This, I maintain, is a false dichotomy. They are complex, with some subjective aspects (the values) and some objective aspects (explorations of their universality and implications).”

    It’s not a false dichotomy because the first principles are actually morality itself.

    One of your first principles is, “Harm is bad.” Well what is this statement? It’s a moral principle. So you are essentially saying morality is derived from morality – a circular argument. Moral principles cannot be derived from moral principles, for that is the question itself, “how does one determine moral principles.”

    Now, I agree, once you know these moral principles you can then test it objectively and empirically, to say that the first principles themselves are objective is the position you are actually arguing against – that moral principles are objective – since first principles ARE moral principles.

    “In my personal experience, everyone that has made taken this position with me used their religious faith in God as their “objective” source of morality – a “lawgiver.”

    No, Sam Harris would agree with me that morality is derived from an objective standard – see my chart at the bottom. Within the camps of naturalism and supernaturalism you will find those in agreement on the notion that morality is derived from an objective standard.

    “There are also those who (probably unintentionally) argue that the laws of nature dictate a certain morality. This is the “it’s not natural” argument, which in my opinion is nothing but the naturalistic fallacy. This line of argument has mostly been rejected by philosophers as an is/ought confusion.”

    Agreed.

    “Is it even possible to have an objective morality? I would argue that it is not possible, and even if such existed it would be irrelevant because we could not know about it. Further, there is no compelling evidence that anyone, any group or society, has access to an objective morality.”

    If there is an objective moral standard within naturalism or supernaturalism, just because we don’t know it wouldn’t effect whether it was there, and rooted in that. We would just be blind to it. And just because I can’t see/know something, doesn’t negate its existence. I.E. modern scientific discoveries that were previously not known.

    “actually, I think they work backward from their desire to prove a lawgiver, but that is a separate point”

    Can the same charge also then be made that you work backward from your desire to prove no lawgiver?

    “How, then, does the lawgiver derive their morality? “

    This assumes they did and would have to. Maybe they didn’t and they like seeing us fail? Or maybe they did.

    “This leads to Euthyprho’s dilemma – are the morals of God right because God says so or does God say so because they are objectively right? Of course, it can be both, but that does not really solve anything.”

    I assert that this dilemma is a false dilemma (false dichotomy).

    See http://www.gotquestions.org/Euthyphro-Dilemma.html for a Christian’s explanation of why there is another option.

    “We are still left with the problem of what possible basis there can be for objective morality. If it’s not “God says so” then what is it?”

    This assumes we can even know it.
    I agree we can, but it’s still something to consider.

    “There is also an unsolvable practical issue – no one has a direct line to God. There are those who claim to, but no one can demonstrate that they actually have objective access to the true moral rules of the lawgiver. In fact, different societies have all had their prophets claiming such access, and dispensing moral codes that are suspiciously primitive and derivative of their time and culture, and also incompatible with the moral codes dispensed by other prophets.”

    This assumes that you have all knowledge on all claims of a direct line to God. You don’t, and you haven’t disproved them. I’m not saying you are wrong, but you haven’t proven anything, only asserted it to be true.

    “The only possible basis for preferring one set of “revealed” rules over another is faith. There is no way to resolve differences of such faith-based moral codes – it’s just faith vs faith. Any attempt to argue that one set of faith-based rules is superior to another again resorts to moral philosophy. Without some appeal to moral philosophy, what can people say except that their God and traditions are the True ones, and everyone else’s is false.”

    Disagreed. I believe all world views/religions are not created equally.

    Your premise is that it’s too hard weight these religions truth claims since they are 100% dependent on faith, so they are untrustworthy. I assert, at least my view, is not reliant on blind faith, but evidences that require not holding certain un-provable presuppositions.

    I assert that weighing truth claims is extremely difficult, but we have no other choice.

    “None of this, the objective moralist will argue, proves that there is no god or that there is no objective morality, but this is irrelevant (a non sequitur). The point is, even if there were, humans have no way to know about it in any verifiable way that can be universalized. This necessarily leads us to tribal warring over whose beliefs are correct?”

    I don’t believe this, but is it not as simple as might makes right? Why is that not a possible explanation?
    I assert that it is because something within you warns you that you know better. The same type of thing that tells a bird that flying is better than walking. A sort of instinct. Now I’m not saying these instincts can tell you right and wrong, but only that there is right and wrong.

    _

    But regardless, all of this doesn’t address the holes in your own view of subjective morality.

    _

    Ccbowers said,

    “The only thing I would like to emphasize (since Zach seems to have a problem with this concept) is that these moral first principle are concepts that are discussed and debated first. Its not like they are assumed and that is the end of the discussion.”

    I can provide you numerous quotes from the previous post’s comments of saying that these principles are assumed – they are self-evident – axioms if you will. If you would like to change your opinion on this and then demonstrate how you know these to be true, then by all means – but then you are arguing for an objective morality not a subjective one – unless you equate morality with mere values and then embrace moral relativism.

    Sarah said,

    “I would argue that when you are measuring a subjective thing, the observer determines it’s consistency. And two different observers may have different views of the event.
    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.
    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.
    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.”

    This appears to the view of moral relativism – which Steven won’t accept.

    JJ Borgman said,

    “I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. “

    There are no absolutes!

    Do you absolutely mean that?

    =)

    Kawarthajon said,

    “To take your idea one step farther, moral standards have changed dramatically over time and continue to change, which is a strong argument against some sort of Objective, Universal Moral Code from God or some other source. If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time”

    Why? Only if we didn’t have the choice to do or not do what we were told to do.

    Seven said,

    “The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.”

    This is non sequitur. You are assuming without evidence that certain feelings are to be promoted over other feelings. Why?

    Why not base your entire moral system around promoting the feeling of fear since all humans feel fear? Or hatred? How are you deciding which one is the best? How are you determining which outcomes are preferable?

    Steven said,

    “Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires?”

    Non sequitur. This assumes that ALL of humanity must live together without harming one another. Why? A lion might look after his tribe but not other tribes, and even harm those other tribes. There are still lions today, they didn’t die out. So why not assume that I should only try to live together with those near me who I am reliant upon to survive?

    Steven said,

    “I can justify the notion that harm is bad.”

    How? Please tell me how you arrived that this conclusion.

    Evidence only please, not naked assertions on what you happen to value.

    The human condition is the collective feelings, nature, and essence of what is it to be a person living in the world. Again – the context of morality.

    Why do I need to apply the specific feeling that you arbitrary chose out of all of the other feelings to every person living in the world? Why not just my tribe, or those I depend on to exist?

    “Psychologists do surveys and experiments all the time evaluating what percentage of people hold certain beliefs or engage in certain bahaviors with what invluences, including cultural influences. That is empirical data. The neurological basis does not determine moral values, but it is not irrelevant. It is useful to know, for example, what elements of brain function are being engaged in certain behaviors and situations. This does give us insight into why people make certain decisions.”

    Ok, so what?

    “This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. “

    I would contend this is no different (actually worse), than your complaint against religions.

    Religions also have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s also complex. Religious people can disagree, but they are rules, the applications of logic informed by science, etc. etc.

    This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again. “

    So philosophy isn’t dictated by whatever their favorite emotions/first principles are?

    “Further, there are almost 200 religions making up that 90% and they have no way to resolve their differences, and so using a secular philosophy-based system makes sense. People can be religious and respect religious freedom.” “

    How many views of philosophy are there? By your notion we can’t use any philosophy either.

    “In any case, this is a non sequitur- and appeal to popularity. I laid out the reasons why a philosophical system works and a faith-based system does not.” “

    Your view is very reliant on popularity too.

    “ I do not need a magic authority to tell me that if I expect to have my right respected I should respect the rights of others. I can work that out for myself, thanks.”“

    Ok how, because I have just demonstrated how your view is invalid.

    “It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.”

    Check out the news, hasn’t happened yet. Genocide happens all the time.

    “JJ – regarding absolutes – there are no absolutes when it comes to humans, because we are flawed and have a limited perspective. There are no absolutes in science either, for that reason (there is always a frame of reference).” .”

    Are you absolutely sure?

    “We can think about which feelings matter, which are relevant, etc. I am taking as a given that the purpose of a moral system is to achieve some goal.”

    Ok, so how do we determine the goal? Faith or objective evidence?

    “A religious argument for morality serves nothing, because it is based solely on faith.” .”

    Seems like you belief that harm is bad is rooted solely in faith too.
    So why is your faith any better than someone elses?

    “The problem is that most people also do not have a well-developed moral philosophy and ratinonalize easily. This can be improved with education.”

    Not to break Godwin’s law without reason, but the Nazi’s were pretty stinken educated.

    “nybgrus”

    “I just want to say that I did learn a LOT from the last two threads. Mostly from Dr. Novella, but also from all the other commenters – including Zach. It is amazingly useful to delineate where one makes assumptions and to also learn about such a complex system.”

    “So I would just like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation – not only including, but especially Zach (and I mean that genuinely Zach!) – for giving me such an opportunity to learn. Though not an every day occurrence conversations on these topics do come up and now I can speak vastly more intelligently on the topic, and can make the conversation more efficient by honing in more easily on points of contention thanks to reading everything Zach laid down.” .”

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    =)

    Hope all goes well with your clinical duties.

    _

    Also, here is my morality chart I put together to help demonstrate my concerns visually.

    http://i49.tinypic.com/jgldvn.jpg

    Respectfully,

    Zach

  42. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 2:08 pm

    @philosofrenzy:

    I am absolutely neophyte at this stuff. I admit my inability to be precise and accurate in my critiques of Harris and hence my admission that I should and will re-read his book. I do generally like most everything that Harris puts out – especially in regard to free will. The beauty of being a rational person and not needing an unchanging and absolute authority to tell me how to act and think is that I can pick the best parts of what each thinker and scientist has to say and go from there (with priority in a Socratic method as to what is most important and what is most interesting taking priority over all the other innumerable things I could be learning).

    I am also starting to truly appreciate the field of philosophy. I’ll admit it wasn’t terribly long ago (just a few years) that I thought the lot of it was nothing more than hifalutin mental masturbation. But I have a friend who is quite intelligent and conscientious and has completed his undergrad philosophy degree, almost done with his law degree, and will be starting his PhD in philosophy this year. He made me question my assumptions and the past few days’ conversations have given me just enough knowledge to know how much more there is to know and how valuable it is, despite my lack of ability to fully understand and apply it all.

    Such is the amazing power of learning even just a little. I’ll never be a consummate philosopher, but at least now I have a newfound respect for the field and can continue to improve my own understanding of it. Oh, and have even more erudite, exciting, and educational conversations with my friend :-D

  43. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    I would say indocrinated crazy since you seem to have an absolute need to twist everything back to your pre-determined conclusions in order to render them false in your eyes.

    But yes, you are more educated than your average bear, but you still make fundamental errors in logic and attribution in just about every single post you make. That is not an ad hom or an insult, merely an observation. One I won’t get into since others can and will. Plus, I have a small speech on medical ethics to give in a few hours….

    Hope all goes well with your clinical duties.

    Thanks!

  44. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:24 pm

    @Mufi I do agree, but to be honest, I laughed at that footnote. It was rude, but funny–and it did hint at something that is, sadly, true.

    Philosophers have shot themselves in the foot by developing needlessly esoteric jargon, (and often spinning off into groundless theoretical speculation). It’s why Daniel Dennett, for instance, is so refreshing. His insistence on clear language, grounded in evidence and experience makes it clear that he’s talking ABOUT something, and what it is he’s saying about it. Too often, even when you carefully make your way through a dense philosophical work, once you actually figure out what the person is saying, and break it down to its elements, it’s a trivial observation couched in fancy language.

    It’s not an accident philosophers are parodied as being windbags. When people hear biologists or chemists talking, but do not understand them, we assume they are saying meaningful things because, after all, they have results we can point to as proof they are doing something. When philosophers argue, and others do not understand them, they have nothing to point to as evidence they’ve done anything productive, or even said anything meaningful.

    But worse, even when you do the work to delve into the dense, jargon-filled texts, you find no more clarity of thinking on the subjects than in those that refrain from using it and are happy to state their thinking more clearly. My impatience with philosophy arises when I see a trend of trying to keep philosophy to the philosophers, rather than admitting that philosophers are–or should be–better at thinking about things that everyone should be thinking about. In my opinion the jargon tends to mask bad thinking, and is counter-productive.

    Philosophy is done best when it’s stated simply, and in the clearest possible language. If philosophers want to weigh in in public debates, but can’t make their opinions understood without saying “trust us, we know what we’re talking about. You need to read Kant,” then there’s no evidence THEY know what they are talking about at all.

  45. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Point taken, but then (as a lay person with limited amounts of free time) I limit my consumption of academic philosophers to those whom I can readily understand – like Dennett and Pigliucci. If I can do that, then what’s Harris’ excuse?

  46. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Zach – at least you are dipping your toes into a defense of your position.

    You are still missing a point that has been repeated over and over – moral systems do not exist in a vacuum. They are for something, they require values – that we value some things more than others. If we had no values, desires, etc, morality would be irrelevant.

    It is not faith – it is axiomatic that moral systems are about values, and so they require the existence of values. That values exist therefore is a necessary premise, or first principle. You keep asking, in various ways, to prove that, but it misses the point. You then ask “but what values” to which I answer – well, we can start with those that achieve the ends of the moral system, like reciprocity, and then proceed from there. We can ask question, like do sentient beings have any rights? If not, then again a moral system makes no sense, so it again seems a necessary premise that people have rights. What right? How can we figure out what the most basic right might be. How about the right not to have things done to them that they don’t want. This is not blind faith, as you dismissively characterize. It is inherent to the very concept of a moral system.

    Zach wrote: ‘Religions also have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s also complex. Religious people can disagree, but they are rules, the applications of logic informed by science, etc. etc.”

    Really – so how do religious-based moral systems evaluate moral thinking? What are the rules, and how do they apply logic and evidence?

  47. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

  48. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I wanted to post this yesterday in the other thread, but too darned busy this week to spend time on fun stuff like this. I was a vocal proponent of what Zach would call “moral relativism” – that morals are not 100% cosmically objective. But that doesn’t mean that Steve’s “first principles” don’t have solid, real, tangible origins. Here is where I believe a few of them originate.

    Human rationality
    Source: evolution

    Human sense of fairness and reciprocity
    Source: pre-human social evolution, validated by game theory (google “tit for tat”)

    Human sense of revulsion
    Source: evolution

    Human sense of self esteem
    Source: pre-human social evolution

    Human sense of pleasure or happiness
    Source: evolution (though it’s staggeringly complex)

    Human sense of self-preservation
    Source: evolution

    That’s a few – I’m sure this is a woefully inadequate list, but it’s enough to make a point. Why is one moral system better than another? Because it does a better job of appealing to or balancing these (and other) sources of human value judgments. If all humans have these core values, why have we not settled on one clear set of moral principles? Because in the end all cultures and people are different and therefore prioritize these differently. Why have moral principles changed over time (and why will they continue to change)? Because cultures have evolved differently, environments have changed, knowledge and experience have progressed and new factors have entered our collective moral calculators.

    Why is this not simply “might makes right”? Because that simplistic view doesn’t satisfy enough of these principles or values for enough of the population to be sustainable.

    Is killing a baby immoral? Yes, because it offends many of these values. Can we think of circumstances where killing a baby IS morally right? Hop on your time machine and go ask the inhabitants of Tikopia Island 200 years ago.

    Finally, this is not exactly on this point, but it is one of my favorite scenes in a musical. Google to find the rest:

    From “My Fair Lady”:

    PICKERING. Have you no morals, man?

    DOOLITTLE [unabashed] Can’t afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me.

  49. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:45 pm

    @mufi Harris was responding to the criticism that he doesn’t engage with the ACADEMIC philosophy. Reading the popular, for-public-consumption works by academic philosophers is not the same thing as reading the actual, academic philosophy. Again, I think it’s an empty and lazy criticism to say “you aren’t up to speed on modern philosophy of ethics,” since, assuming the person making the criticism *is* up to speed, the fact they aren’t able to weigh in with something more substantive suggests that getting up to speed isn’t especially beneficial. Frankly, I think these criticisms tend to come from people who are impressed by academic philosophy, but aren’t especially good at it. People who are good at it–who get it–weigh in with carefully worded, specific criticisms.

    I’m reminded of the people who are impressed by Derrida, but who can’t tell the difference between genuine passages, and those that have been altered randomly (adding ‘not’ or taking it away, for instance)… :)

  50. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Steven,

    “They are for something, they require values – that we value some things more than others. If we had no values, desires, etc, morality would be irrelevant.”

    Of course they are for something, are for telling us what behavior is the right behavior when we have choices to be made.

    You still did not address the vast majority of my critique I provided.

    “It is not faith – it is axiomatic that moral systems are about values, and so they require the existence of values. That values exist therefore is a necessary premise, or first principle.”

    It is not axiomatic that moral systems are about values, prove it. And even if we grant that you are back to square one – what values are the right ones when people value different things – I like red, you like blue.

    “You then ask “but what values” to which I answer – well, we can start with those that achieve the ends of the moral system, like reciprocity, and then proceed from there.”

    Why should reciprocity be the ends of the moral system? Why not hostility? Human’s already do both, so why one over the other? Maybe it’s morally right to put yourself ahead of all others and slight all those who have helped you…

    “We can ask question, like do sentient beings have any rights? If not, then again a moral system makes no sense, so it again seems a necessary premise that people have rights. What right? How can we figure out what the most basic right might be. How about the right not to have things done to them that they don’t want.”

    Sure, but maybe they have the right to kill each other and be killed by other humans when it suites them. You are making assumptions grounded in nothing but faith.

    “Really – so how do religious-based moral systems evaluate moral thinking? What are the rules, and how do they apply logic and evidence?”

    For starts, on the same basis we judge historical and logical reliance.

    Steven, why such the strong to desire to divert away from your view to mine?

  51. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:51 pm

    RickK,

    Your list is incredibly one sided.

    How about our violent nature against one other?

    How bout Rape? fear, or selfish desire, why do you avoid all of these and simply focus on the ones you happen to like.

    Lion’s don’t care about lions outside of their tribe, and even kill them off, why should we be any different? Aren’t we both result of evolution?

    Why the double standard?

  52. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Fair enough, although I still think that Pigliucci (and Blackburn, whom he quotes extensively in that post that I linked to above) raise some strong counter-arguments to the basic premise of The Moral Landscape, but I’ll leave that to you to assess for yourself.

  53. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Zach, Dr Novella takes as a premise for his generally accepted universally applicable morality that “harm is bad”. You say you do not accept that and instead accept the converse, that “harm is not bad” a a generally accepted universal premise. I can disprove your assertion with a counter-example. All I need is one instance of a person not accepting the idea that “harm is not bad” for it to be rejected as a quasi-universal premise.

    The notion of reciprocity is required by morality because humans are not static. Humans start out as strands of DNA in a bag of cytoplasm, grow into an infant, grow into an adult, grow old and eventually die. A universal morality has to inform behaviors of and to that human being over its entire lifespan.

    That morality can’t be only concerned with a single human actor because a single human actor does not exist in isolation. There is a time before the human actor became a conscious actor, a time when the human is a conscious actor and a time after the human is no longer a conscious actor. Presumably any generally applicable morality would also apply to those times when a human is not a conscious actor.

  54. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Zach: Lion’s don’t care about lions outside of their tribe, and even kill them off, why should we be any different? Aren’t we both result of evolution?

    Yes, and that’s how tribal human societies functioned for millenia – and still do, to some extent, although according to Steven Pinker, that trend has declined with the rise of modern civilization.

    Need I even say that the age of modern civilization is not exactly the most religiously pious one in history?

  55. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:00 pm

    @Zach

    “It is not axiomatic that moral systems are about values, prove it.”

    I don’t believe you understand the concept of axioms.

    “Why should reciprocity be the ends of the moral system? Why not hostility?”

    Because hostility would not achieve the thing morality is for. The fact you think this is a valid question suggests a lack of sincere effort to understand the opposing view. It’s an objective fact that one policy or the other will have better consequences for everyone involved. “Better?” I can hear you asking. Yes. Better. One will promote safety and happiness for everyone, the other will promote misery and suffering. “But why should we…” Etc. It’s meaningless to ask “why should we prefer safety and happiness to misery and suffering.” We do. We prefer it. And so we seek a system to achieve that end. That’s all the justification morality needs. Rules objectively do or do not achieve that end.

  56. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 3:17 pm

    piggybacking on Philosofrenzy to Zach: It’s meaningless to ask “why should we prefer safety and happiness to misery and suffering.” We do. We prefer it.

    Because God made us in His image, and He prefers our safety and happiness to our misery and suffering.

    Is that explanation acceptable to you, Zach?

    If so, then see if you can translate it into naturalistic terms – say, using biological evolutionary processes – and then perhaps you’ll grasp where many of us are coming from.

    Note: In either explanation, the “we” in question does not mean have to mean every person on the planet. Some individuals may, in fact, be deviant and actually prefer misery and suffering to safety and happiness.

  57. DOYLEon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:20 pm

    The reason god is not the executor of morality is because he has no residency in the cognition of the human animal.If god were real,his apparentness would be unequivocally felt in everyone.Much like the blood system,we may have different types,yet we all understand it’s part of our resident biological system.

  58. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:33 pm

    @mufi I read that review and I frankly found them superficial. I find it hard to believe Blackburn read The Moral Landscape, as he claims, three times, based on the criticisms he offers.

    Generally, Blackburn’s main, coherent criticism is “If we presuppose the well-being of conscious creatures as a fundamental value, much else may fall into place, but that initial presupposition does not come from science. It is not an empirical finding. ”

    But here he is, by his own admission, objecting to a premise that he agrees with, to suggest that, technically, Harris has failed to make his case. I think Harris is right: Morality being about the well-being of conscious creatures is true, almost by definition. It’s axiomatic. He in fact demonstrates this with though experiments early on (does it even make sense to envision the morality of a universe without conscious creatures?”)

    He makes his criticism clear: “Harris is highly critical of the claim, associated with Hume, that we cannot derive an “ought” solely from an “is” – without starting with people’s actual values and desires. He is, however, no more successful in deriving “ought” from “is” than anyone else has ever been. The whole intellectual system of The Moral Landscape depends on an “ought” being built into its foundations.”

    But that’s the whole point: that the “ought” is built into the system–just as the “ought” of logic is built into the system. Just as it isn’t meaningful to ask “Why should we prefer true conclusions over false ones?” as a criticism of logic, neither is it meaningful to ask “why should we prefer the well-being of conscious creatures?” as a criticism of ethics. It’s a matter of fact that we do prefer it, and that ethics are the social technology that aims at achieving it. At one point, Blackburn objects that defining morality in terms of Well-being renders the question “why should I behave morally?” all but meaningless. But in my opinion, that’s the strength of Harris’ position: it elucidates WHY that question is so nonsensical.

    Blackburn issues the same canard NotAnAtheist has been–considering the problem of ENFORCING morality somehow damaging to Harris’ case–as though it isn’t a problem for all ethics independently of how you understand them. In fact, on Harris’ understanding, it’s quite clear why we should enforce morality. Societies that enforce ethics promote well-being, while societies that have no form of enforcement benefit little from morality. It’s the difference between understanding medicine and having hospitals.

    Why is Harris’ ethic RATIONALLY BINDING he asks? It isn’t. NO system of morality is. Ethics aren’t rationally binding, they are emotionally binding, so long as you share the human value of the well-being of conscious creatures. If you don’t, you’re a sociopath; that’s no more an objection to morality than a suicidal person is a refutation of medicine.

    Anyway, I suppose that’s more than enough to explain why I don’t find these sophisticated refutations of Harris to be that impressive. They seem to miss the point in fundamental and surprisingly obvious ways.

  59. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I’d still like to see Zach prove to me that homosexuality is bad. This is a very common religious “moral” – that homosexuality is a sin, immoral, or just plainly – “bad.”

    If you believe homesexuality to be immoral (and I am not saying you do, but I think I have a pretty good prior probability for assuming you do) then just take us through the exercise you use to explain why.

    We have tried explaining our processes. It is only fair you at least give a stab at just one example of yours. This is a genuine request – not at all a gotcha. I won’t even weigh in on the response to your explanation – I’ll leave that to the rest here.

    The point would be to put out your thinking on a single moral topic in explicit terms so we can see where we may differe and disagree.

    Unless you don’t think it would stand up to scrutiny. But I can assure you those here will respond in civility and with intellectual honesty.

  60. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:55 pm

    One of the ways that subjectivity is dealt with is by switching roles.

    One of the fairest ways to divide something desirable, a piece of cake for example, between two people is to have one person divide the item into two pieces and then the other person picks first, or one person divides and who gets which piece is chosen at random.

    The first person’s subjectivity doesn’t enter into who gets how much, only in how the cake is divided. The first person should have the goal of dividing it into pieces whereby the first person doesn’t care which piece he/she gets.

    This is the essence of reciprocity in moral actions. If everyone treats everyone else a certain way, people won’t care which person they are because they all get treated “the same”, i.e. fairly.

    This is the essence of the golden rule, and of Hillel the Elders premise of “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow”. I would modify it slightly, because some people do have different ideas of what they want done or not done to them. In the case of the hypothetical person who likes misery, the Golden rule and Hillel’s premise don’t work. But if you modify it to “that which is hateful to your fellow from their perspective, do not do to them”, then it works. If everyone practiced that, then no one would experience any actions that they found hateful.

  61. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Philosofrenzy: I confess that the negative reviews of The Moral Landscape (like the ones that I mentioned) discouraged me from reading it myself (or, more accurately, inspired to make a low priority of it). Based on your defense of it, I’m reconsidering that decision.

    However, I’ll just add that, based on your defense, the book’s subtitle, “How Science Can Determine Human Values”, sounds very misleading.

  62. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 4:22 pm

    @mufi Agreed!

    He does describe how it’s possible to show, using the overarching value of human well-being that some values are counter-productive, while others are not. Valuing knowledge, for example, has good effects, while valuing virginity, maybe not so much. Still, I think the subtitle sets people up to misread his position from the get-go. As someone else pointed out, every writer has to take some responsibility for being misunderstood–though there’s no effective defense against the uncharitable reader, it’s the writer’s job to communicate as unambiguously as possible.

  63. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 4:40 pm

    @d2u:

    That reminds me of the concepts of rational choice theory and Nash equilibrium. In the former we note signficant critiques in that people make irrational decisions even when the rational course of action is known and clear. In the latter, we find systems in equilibrium when all players of the system make the best possible choices knowing what the choices of others in the system would be. In the real world, not only do we not have this knowledge, but it is too complex for individual players to keep track even if we did. Hence the messy and necessarily dynamic nature of morality and ethics.

    @mufi: The book is actually a quick read. I actually read it nearly in its entirety on a train ride from San Diego to Los Angeles.

    In light of this conversation, I would have to agree that the subtitle is indeed misleading. We can use science to inform values and help determine an optimal system of morality, but it cannot determine the values and axioms from which they stem.

    Well, time to go chat with the new Year 3′s about ethics and morality! Then celebratory beers before they start their first round of clinical duties next week.

  64. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Philosofrenzy: For that matter, you said to Zach above that “It’s an objective fact that one policy or the other will have better consequences for everyone involved.” While that’s fine in theory, I find myself in enough seemingly irresolvable policy debates with friends (usually of a more conservative bent than I) as to raise doubts about this premise. At the very least, I think we need to lay an assumption or two on the table in order to make it work, such as that we all conceive of well-being in the same way and that we all agree on the terms of its availability.

    On this note, I recommend cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s work on politics (e.g. Moral Politics or The Political Mind). I think he’d agree hat there is a fact of the matter to be discovered re: well-being (i.e. it’s not for nothing that he defends a liberal/progressive policy agenda), but with certain caveats about the metaphorical ways in which we model concepts like well-being and morality. (For more on that, I also Philosophy in the Flesh, co-authored with philosopher Mark Johnson.)

  65. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:55 pm

    PS: Just to quickly sum up Lakoff’s thesis, political conservatives and progressives disagree because they work with different (neurally bound) mental models of morality, which are analogous to different models of parenting, which he calls Strict Father (conservative) and Nurturing Parent (progressives). (Many of us are “bi-conceptual”, however, and harbor concepts from both models.) The upshot is that we evaluate both moral means and ends differently.

  66. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 5:00 pm

    PPS: The Judeo-Christian Lawgiver metaphor that’s recurred in these threads about ethics is not unlike the Strict Father metaphor that Lakoff describes re: political conservatives, except of course that one needn’t be a devout Christian or Jew in order to work with the latter.

  67. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Sounds a lot like the work of Jonathan Haidt, who has shown a lot of very interesting differences between the way conservatives and liberals approach morality, in practice.

  68. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:13 pm

    @Zach

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    Get something straight so perhaps you could lose some of that hubris and display a little humility for a change. You didn’t instruct us. You weren’t the one who taught anyone anything. And you are NOT educated, at least on certain subjects (science and logic immediately jump out).

    Rather, you’ve been instructional. That’s all. Your inane arguments and unjustified premises have only served to get people to examine them more closely and in order to more accurately determine why they are incorrect, and that ultimately forces them to examine their own knowledge on the subject.

    People have thanked you for being instructional, but rather you took it as you educating them on a subject from your knowledge. No! I, for one, cringed when I saw the heartfelt thanks because I knew that you would mistaken it and run with it. You completely misunderstood his intellectual honesty and humility. Another prime example of Dunning-Kruger.

    Zach reflects what I so often see in modern religious apologetics: a pseudo-intellectualism rife with unfalsifiable claims and baseless premises inherent in intellectual dishonesty. Nearly always it is accompanied by begging the question, arguments from ignorance, and strawmen of science, philosophy, and logic. They make their case by attacking opposing positions rather than justifying their own (and often getting the opposing position wrong). It’s frustrating to see science, philosophy, and logic mangled and corrupted so badly, and painful to observe the intellectual dishonesty. What I have seen here is every bit as pedantic and sophomoric as anything Craig and Strobel has put out.

    So, while I personally appreciate how instructional it can be to deconstruct theistic apologetics, I don’t credit the knowledge of the proponents, but rather the act of deconstructing them as what’s educational.

  69. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Sounds a lot like the work of Jonathan Haidt, who has shown a lot of very interesting differences between the way conservatives and liberals approach morality, in practice.

    Yes, particularly with regard to the way the groups prioritize their shared values differently, and the way these forces work largely beneath the surface of conscious awareness (bubbling to the surface, as it were).

    But I think it’s fair to say that Lakoff is more partisan than Haidt in that Lakoff openly expresses his distaste for the conservative Strict Father approach to both family and politics, whereas Haidt is more apt to refrain from judging the conservatives’ prioritization of loyalty, respect for authority, and purity, and even has even portrayed it (despite a personally liberal background) as more balanced (for whatever that’s worth) than the the liberals’ almost exclusive emphasis on care and fairness.

    I confess that I’m at least as partisan as Lakoff on this matter – especially after we factor in other philosophical domains, besides ethics (such as epistemology, to which journalist Chris Mooney’s “Republicans and science” work is relevant).

  70. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Zach,

    I wrote,

    “I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. “

    You wrote,

    “There are no absolutes!
    Do you absolutely mean that?” (followed by a smiley)

    Apart from using one of the words in my post, your comment is not relevant to mine. Now, you may have been exercising a little levity there, but it is remarkably similar, in structure, to many of your responses to posts: not relevant and not in context.

    Like this, for example:

    Someone wrote:

    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”

    You wrote:

    “How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?”

    You have used a couple of words common to the posters original post, but otherwise your comment does not follow. I have observed you doing that very same thing in abundance. Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner? Both examples above are exactly as you pulled them out of a longer post and replied to them.

  71. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I read Zach’s linked “Third option” proving that Euthyphro’s dilemma is false. It’s the typical, terrible Christian apologetic, that “morality comes from God’s nature, which is good,” which is utterly meaningless. It isn’t a third option: it’s BOTH of the first two, contradictory, options of the dilemma at the same time. It’s “God decides what is good properly because he is Good.” But what does “God is good” even mean without appeal to an outside standard? If the standard IS God, “God is good” means “God is God.”

    If God likes child sacrifice–that IS good because it’s God’s nature to like it. Oh, but God wouldn’t like child sacrifice, you say–it’s not in his nature, because he’s Good. Oh? How do you know?

    The writer appeals to God’s being the creator to explain that He, therefore “knows what things are made for,” and so is in a position to say how they should be used. Rape, it explains is wrong *because that’s not what sex is for.* Yikes.

    Besides being an appalling assessment of rape, this just pushes back the dilemma. How does the author *know* that God didn’t create human beings to create a population large enough to sustain human sacrifice? Or to provide rape porn? Any answer must appeal to an external standard to explain why God wouldn’t do such a thing.

    Finally, why should humans care what they were created for? If we created a race of sentient robots to clean our houses, would it be irrelevant if they didn’t wish to? Besides being insensitive and totalitarian, this makes God into an incompetent creator–creating things for a purpose they don’t want to do.

    Like so much theology and Christian apologetics, this “answer” to Euthyphro involves insisting something is true, even if that thing is literally nonsensical or meaningless. God is three persons in one being, right? Whatever that means. God is imminent AND transcendent, right? Whatever that means. Goodness flows from God’s unchanging nature, right? Whatever that means.

  72. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:43 pm

    @JJ Borgman

    Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner?

    It seems to me that Zach’s entire argument centers around proving that absolute objective morality exists by trying to prove that it doesn’t not exist. In other words, he’s trying to prove a negative. So, instead of providing evidence and justification that objective morality exists and it necessarily requires a law bringer, he instead attacks the position of the denial of these claims. A VERY common theme among apologists and creationists. Nothing I’ve seen yet has indicated he’s wavered in this tactic one bit. He simply doesn’t understand, or chooses not to acknowledge, his burden of proof.

  73. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:23 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    I have been under the impression that one cannot prove a negative and then I heard/read that it is actually possible to do so. Sorry, can’t recall the source or the argument.

    Zachs attempt to prove “if not A, then A” is interesting except for the fact that, in cases like this, that still requires the proof (to use a math term), or a model for construction, of A.

    Proofs are tricky things to argue about. There are tricks that can be used to deceive an opponent in an argument. One used in mathematics is division by zero. It can be hidden (so to speak) in an equation to appear to produce a certain result, but is a trick that yields a wrong result.

    I googled “absolutes” earlier today because I was curious about what actual absolutes are considered possible and got pages of apologetics sites for a result. Big friggin surprise.

  74. Giovonnion 11 Jan 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Rezinstnzisfutl,

    Having read the comments from both articles, I think one of the reasons people attack subjective morality is because on one hand people claim objective morality doesn’t exist, but then those same people try to justify why we should be compelled to act morally according to some vauge criteria.

    You cannot have it both ways. If objective morality does not exist, it seems the most logical conclusion is what Richard Dawkins states when he says “There is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…We are machines propagating DNA…It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”

    Even discussing morality becomes a circular exercise with no real clarification. Sam Harris says that it should be to maximize well-being. Who defines well-being? You? Me? Republicans? Democrats?

    IMO it seems perfectly reasonable for people like Zach to bring up questions when a strong claim is made.

  75. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Zach said:

    Your list is incredibly one sided…. Why the double standard

    A cowardly semantic dodge. I said my list was woefully inadequate. What part of “woefully inadequate” did you not understand? I give you a set of human values that don’t source from some cosmic objective standard, and your way of addressing them is to tell me that I left a bunch out?

    That’s the best you can do?

  76. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:44 pm

    @JJ Borgman

    If you come across a source discussing the possibility of “proving a negative”, would you mind posting that? I’m curious to see what is said about that because it’s something I always figured was, at best, highly improbable. The way I see it in this context, it’s a dishonest and underhanded way of shifting the burden of proof and a red herring.

    We use the word “proof” here pretty loosely I think, because we’re using it as shorthand for “justification with evidence and logic”. It has the baggage of connoting certitude, which may suit apologists and creationists, but not anyone with the intellectual honesty to realize that nothing is for 100% certain, that it’s more realistic to deal with probabilities. That, of course, goes to the heart of the disagreement here, absolute v. subjective.

    I’m not at all surprised that you found so many apologist websites when googling “absolutes” (isn’t it funny how “google” has become a verb?). It is, afterall, one of the cornerstones of religious apologetics.

  77. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:58 pm

    @Rez

    In the loose sense in which people normally mean “prove”–”demonstrate as very probable,” Bayesian reasoning allows us to demonstrate a negative when that negative predicts different outcomes. This is related to the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” thing, which isn’t quite right. If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false.

    For instance, when you get home today, the presence of your house demonstrates to reasonable certainty that “no nuclear devices were detonated in my house today.” It doesn’t *prove* it–it’s possible an unprecedented clean-up and reconstruction took place while you were gone as well–but in the absence of evidence for such a clean up, the presence of the house is good evidence no nuclear warhead went off.

    In some cases, though, absence or presence predict no differences in outcome–at which point we are stuck. If you get home and find a window open, it would be impossible to PROVE that no bird flew in, then back out of the room while you were gone.

    So it depends!

  78. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Nybgrus,
    <blockquote“I’d still like to see Zach prove to me that homosexuality is bad. This is a very common religious “moral” – that homosexuality is a sin, immoral, or just plainly – “bad.”
    From the perspective of the Bible and explained with that as the foundation of moral truth or from a secular premise of some other?

    I am leery of discussing an issue like this with you, because I sense it is more than just an intellectual conversation for you, it is a personal one that is emotional.

    If you mean my exact view of morality with a comment on homosexuality, well, I’ll be writing an article on in soon, so you’ll have to bear with me (morality this, not homosexuality – though I will probably write on that soon, just gotta think of a blog name).

    “I confess that the negative reviews of The Moral Landscape (like the ones that I mentioned) discouraged me from reading it myself (or, more accurately, inspired to make a low priority of it).”

    I didn’t read it because I think I already have pin pointed where Harris goes wrong from watching his Ted talk on morality – maybe his book doesn’t commit the same logical fallacies, but his Ted talk was pretty un-impressive. What bothered me the most is, from what I remember, Harris has a degree in philosophy…. How he doesn’t recognize such elementary mistakes in logic amazes me.

    “He does describe how it’s possible to show, using the overarching value of human well-being that some values are counter-productive, while others are not. Valuing knowledge, for example, has good effects, while valuing virginity, maybe not so much.”

    Again, all of that can be tested logically, objectively, and empirically once you have determined what “good” means. The crutch of all failed philosophies assert what is “good” without providing logical reasons why that “good” is the real “good”. Evidence is required.

    Apart from using one of the words in my post, your comment is not relevant to mine. Now, you may have been exercising a little levity there, but it is remarkably similar, in structure, to many of your responses to posts: not relevant and not in context.”

    My commend was very appropriate. It is illogical to claim that there are no absolutes in this conversation – you are using an absolute yourself, which makes your statement self-defeating.
    Now maybe you are are not using absolute in the same way I (or a dictionary) would. If so, please clarify what you mean.

    “Someone wrote:
    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”
    You wrote:
    “How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?”
    You have used a couple of words common to the posters original post, but otherwise your comment does not follow. I have observed you doing that very same thing in abundance. Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner? Both examples above are exactly as you pulled them out of a longer post and replied to them.”

    One must be careful to draw inferences and notice the un-proved assumptions in statements like the ones listed above.

    My points were very important questions for those statements. Otherwise, they are naked assertions.

    “If God likes child sacrifice–that IS good because it’s God’s nature to like it. Oh, but God wouldn’t like child sacrifice, you say–it’s not in his nature, because he’s Good. Oh? How do you know?”

    He would have to re-veal that to us, or put a sense of a consciousness in us.
    You might not like God’s standard, but what we like in that scenario wouldn’t matter too much.

    “The writer appeals to God’s being the creator to explain that He, therefore “knows what things are made for,” and so is in a position to say how they should be used. Rape, it explains is wrong *because that’s not what sex is for.* Yikes.”

    Do you have an objective standard that tells us that if there is a God and this is his view that its wrong?
    And you mis-understood anyways. Rape is wrong because it primarily is an attack against a Holy God since women are created in the image of God, so to attack that image is to make an attack against a Holy God – that’s what the link talks about. I’m not sure how you drew that conclusion…

    “Besides being an appalling assessment of rape, this just pushes back the dilemma. How does the author *know* that God didn’t create human beings to create a population large enough to sustain human sacrifice? Or to provide rape porn? Any answer must appeal to an external standard to explain why God wouldn’t do such a thing.”

    Why?

    Like so much theology and Christian apologetics, this “answer” to Euthyphro involves insisting something is true.

    No, it is demonstrating a 3rd option, it didn’t prove that 3rd option. But if there is the possibility of a 3rd option the dilemma is not a true dilemma – basic logic.

  79. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:10 pm

    @Zach

    “And you mis-understood anyways. Rape is wrong because it primarily is an attack against a Holy God since women are created in the image of God, so to attack that image is to make an attack against a Holy God – that’s what the link talks about. I’m not sure how you drew that conclusion…”

    I drew that conclusion because it said in the link, and I quote:

    “A dull knife is not a good knife because the purpose of a knife is to cut. Sharpness is bad for a shoe, however, for a good shoe is one that is comfortable and supportive to a foot. God, as creator, is the determiner of all purposes of His creation. What He makes is made purposefully, and anything that stands in the way of that purpose is bad. Rape is evil because that is not what sex is made to be.”

    So please, don’t accuse me of misunderstanding when the article says, almost word for word, what I claimed it said. It makes no reference to rape being an offense to God, since women are created in the image of God–though, to be honest, this is just as disgusting and offensive a way to denounce rape as the first one. Rape is wrong because women are sentient beings, and because it hurts them profoundly. Period. It’s not wrong *by proxy.*

    As for the “3rd option” I showed how it was not a nonsensical option–essentially the simultaneous affirmation of both of the first two options. You can’t rescue Christianity from the dilemma by providing an utterly unworkable “third option” that involves both and neither. So yes, it *is* basic logic–but not in your favour.

  80. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Sorry I missed your “Why?” question in that response–though honestly, Zach, you’re starting to sound like a child, who thinks that being able to ask “Why?” makes it a good question.

    Put some thought into it. Let me punt it back to you. Can you demonstrate that God’s purpose for humanity is all of the things we happen to call morality *without appeal to any external standard*? If you can’t, your question isn’t a good one.

  81. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I’ve been gone a few hours,so forgive me if this has been covered,but I would like to repost my list of questions to Zach,seeing as how his last response was non-responsive,and a rhetorical trick of just answering with his own question,so here goes nothing:

    Zach-
    1.Can you prove that there is a god?
    2.Can you prove that the bible is the word of god?
    3.Can you prove that all christians are moral?
    4.Can you prove that all christians believe the exact same things are wrong?
    5.Can you prove that all atheists are without morals?
    6.Can you prove that all things believed to be the word of god are moral?
    7.Are there any passages in the old or new testament that are, by your standards, immoral?
    8.Why do some christians do immoral things?
    9.Why would god not unambiguously reveal himself to ALL of the world,if he wants us all to believe in him and do good?
    10.Can you prove that all other religious beliefs are wrong?
    11.Can you prove that there is only one god.
    12.Can you prove that if there ever was a god,that there still is one?

    You have repeatedly asked of us to prove a number of absolutes (most of which we never asserted in the first place) ,now it is time for you to prove your absolutes. If you can’t,then I assert that yours morals are also derived from your subjective belief in the word of god.
    And that is fine with me.

    I am betting that Zach will once again dodge these questions,as they go right to the heart of his subjective belief system that he deems to be objective, but who knows,maybe a ‘miracle’ will happen. :)

  82. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Philosofrenzy and mufi,

    Your exchanges have caused me to add Harris’s book to my list. Out of curiousity philosofrenzy, how does Harris navigate the topic of competing values (assuming that we agree that they are worthy values to consider) with what the science maycontribute to a given topic?

  83. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Haha I just realized I said “I showed how it was not a nonsensical option” rather than “not an option” or “a nonsensical option.” You get the drift. :)

  84. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:29 pm

    @ccbowers

    Harris remains a bit vague on that in some ways, which can be frustrating, but he provides a kind of framework for it. He treats valuing things like any other rule of behaviour, with the possibility of establishing the consequences of valuing some things. To use the example I cited above, the over-valuing of virginity can do harm when women are scorned (read: killed) for not being virgins. Basically, values are defended by reference to the overarching value of the well-being of conscious creatures. All values have to be an extension of the One Value to Value them All. Ahem. Sorry.

    He also allows for the possibility of multiple, competing systems of value being able to reach different equilibria (wow, had to look that up), with different values, while being equally capable of promoting well-being (in his metaphor of the moral landscape, he refers to these as ‘multiple peaks’). He doesn’t pretend that there has to be one, right answer, but rather that systems are right in proportion to the well-being brought about by their implementation.

    I hope that helps some.

  85. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Zach wrote:

    “What bothered me the most is, from what I remember, Harris has a degree in philosophy…. How he doesn’t recognize such elementary mistakes in logic amazes me.”

    You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?

    For the record, I have no credentials in the areas under discussion apart from an enthusiastic desire to learn. And I can spot your logical errors easily. Are you in a correspondence course by mail or online? Maybe through Liberty University or some such thing?

    You have more in common with Houdini than Kant, I think.

  86. chrisjon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Steven, I would just like to say that I appreciate your showing respect for philosophy as a discipline and your recognition of its importance. Many writers in the skeptic/science community, e.g. Laurence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Coyne (to a lesser extent), Sam Harris (to some extent), have treated the discipline with disdain. Philosophy is not just important for coming up with ethical theories, to my mind it is or should be at the heart of the skeptical movement. Understanding the nature of argument and logic is crucial to anyone who wants to call themselves a skeptic. I encourage all of your readers to study informal logic either at school or online. Furthermore, philosophers of science tend to spend a lot more time investigating how science actually works than do many working scientists (they just get on with the job). In any discipline there are those who do it badly and there are those who do it well. I think the bad philosophers of science have gotten too much publicity compared to the good philosophers of science (Pigliucci being a good example of the latter). Anyway, three cheers for philosophy.

  87. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:00 pm

    @Philosofrenzy

    Thank you for that explanation. While I find it interesting that “proving a negative” is possible, it seems to me that what you are suggesting is that, given a certain assertion that something exists, and there is no evidence forthcoming about its existence, and evidence is all but certain to be present if that thing existed, then what we’re doing is disproving a positive (is that equal to “proving a negative”?).

    This is something I run across consistently with religious apologists and creationists, especially when they are challenging atheists on the existence of a deity, that we can’t “prove god doesn’t exist”, which of course to them means that god does exist if we can’t.

    That is what is happening here, is that Zach, et al, are proposing proof for objective morality by attempting to prove the non-existence of non-objective morality. They are asking us to give proof that subjective morality exists and objective morality does not, instead of providing evidence and support for their positive claim. This seems an awful lot like affirming the consequent, and its shifting the burden of proof.

    If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false. The only way it would work is for highly unlikely events to occur, such as the unprecedented cleanup and rebuilding of my house before I got home after giant explosion, in such a way that I wouldn’t notice.

    Reflecting on what nybgrus said, I too am an amateur when it comes to philosophy, so I appreciate having an actual philosopher on here to help explain things and correct my misunderstandings. Glad you’re here!

  88. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    @chrisj

    Furthermore, philosophers of science tend to spend a lot more time investigating how science actually works than do many working scientists (they just get on with the job).

    This is an astute observation which, unfortunately, does their profession some harm. One trend I’ve noticed in the past few years with my schooling is that many professors have started incorporating a chunk of time at the beginning of semesters to discussing the scientific method and critical thinking, what it means, why we use it, and why it’s the best way of gathering knowledge. While it’s a far cry from a full-on philosophy course, I’m amazed at how many scientists out there seem to have trouble applying what they do in their work to other parts of their lives and other subjects, likely because they’ve never really thought about what it is they use and why.

    Unfortunately, I have not seen this trend in other science-based disciplines like engineering and health professions when it comes to their training. I’m not sure why that is, honestly. This is often reflected in nursing where we see a large percentages of professional nurses (and others) who are anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, and pro-woo of various sorts, in spite of all the science courses they took in school.

  89. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    “So please, don’t accuse me of misunderstanding when the article says, almost word for word, what I claimed it said. It makes no reference to rape being an offense to God, since women are created in the image of God–though, to be honest, this is just as disgusting and offensive a way to denounce rape as the first one. Rape is wrong because women are sentient beings, and because it hurts them profoundly. Period. It’s not wrong *by proxy.”

    Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    “As for the “3rd option” I showed how it was not a nonsensical option–essentially the simultaneous affirmation of both of the first two options. You can’t rescue Christianity from the dilemma by providing an utterly unworkable “third option” that involves both and neither. So yes, it *is* basic logic–but not in your favour.”

    You don’t understand it. There is a difference.

    And the article is correct that is it wrong because it is a mis-use of what God created sex to be. That is aspects of why it’s wrong – just one.

    You don’t like it? Ok, why should we care about what “you” happen to like or dislike? I dislike stuffing and yams, so what?

    “Zach, you’re starting to sound like a child, who thinks that being able to ask “Why?” makes it a good question.”

    Sorry I won’t accept your dogma over the next guys.

    Tmac57
    Red Herring – that is your answer.

    “You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?”

    One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts

    But regardless of how much education I have done, it doesn’t matter. My claims and Stevens and Sam Harris all stand on their own, not on the educational levels of those who assert them.

    “And I can spot your logical errors easily.”

    Care to list them without appealing to an objective standard or un-provable first principles/axioms/assumptions/Presuppositions. I have no time for humanist dogma.

  90. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Whoa! Quick correction. I have a(n undergraduate) degree in philosophy, but I am not an “actual philosopher” by a long stretch! I’m glad to help where I can, but I think I’ve given the wrong impression of my (meagre!) credentials.

    Proving a Negative vs. Proving a Positive vs. Disproving a Positive.

    The old analogy is the courtroom. You can prove someone guilty, you can disprove them guilty (rule ‘not-guilty,’ or, sometimes, you can prove them innocent.

    If Joe Smith is on trial, a video of Mike Johnson killing the victim would prove “Joe Smith did not kill the victim.” It would prove a negative. So yes, it’s important to make the distinction between the three; and while proving a negative is often the most difficult–and while ‘disproving a positive’ is often all that is needed, it is *possible* to prove a negative in the right circumstances.

  91. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:27 pm

    @Zach

    Your repetition of the same, already answered objections is getting tiresome. I’m afraid if nothing anyone has said has sunk in, there’s might be no point in continuing to try. If you think it’s a sincere objection to ask “why should I care if rape hurts a woman,” then you’re just not interested in talking about morality: indeed you *aren’t* talking about morality. You’re talking about theological law, and objecting that morality isn’t theological law. You’re all but excusing yourself from the table of discussion with that sort of “objection.”

    “You don’t understand it. There is a difference.”

    I explained it in detail. Merely saying this doesn’t demonstrate either that I misunderstand it or that you understand it either. A rational person, attempting to argue, would, at this point, attempt to show how I’d misunderstood. Instead, you provide a glib dismissal.

    “Sorry I won’t accept your dogma over the next guys.”

    What “dogma?” I explained how “Why?” wasn’t an adequate response, and provided you with how I’d given you the burden of proof. Rather than meeting this, you answered with another glib dismissal. You continue to assume you are right, and that merely side-stepping others points is adequate to maintain the rationality of your position. It isn’t.

    I’ve made this reply in the hope that this will reach you, and you’ll understand what the burden of effort, at least, rational discourse requires of you. If you continue to reply in kind, assuming the truth of everything you believe, and assuming the rationality of your beliefs is demonstrated by your being able to ask “why?” ad infinitum in response to criticism, this will be the last reply you get from me, at least. Not that this should necessarily bother you any. You seem prepared to declare victory over much less.

  92. BobbyGon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Interesting stuff.

    Seems to me a fundamental (and grease-the-skids necessary) assumption here is that “objective truth” (inclusive of both the “is” and “ought” flavors) is something that can be fully, permanently “known” via our human senses (and brain).

    Color me, well — uh –, skeptical. Insofar as the current stage of human evolution stands. Which is all I have to go on at the moment.

  93. BobbyGon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Uh, oh, things are starting to degrade into the Undergrad PhilDept Epistemological Food Fight.

    There IS a therapy for that. It involves margaritas.

    Carry on.

  94. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Philosofrenzy “This is related to the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” thing, which isn’t quite right. If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false.”

    The statement isn’t always correct, but it has applicability when the evidence at a given point in time is insufficient to answer an empirical question one way or another. It is a way to point out to another person that the lack of evidence may be due to other factors beside the hypothesis being false. The statement does not work if we should expect evidence to be there, given that the hypothesis is true, which I think is what you are saying.

    I have used this phrase myself (maybe only once) when someone concluded that there is no life outside of the earth, since he has seen no good evidence that there is. The problem is that I don’t think the lack of evidence much to say about that question at this time, since we have no way to detect life even from the nearest star, let alone in another galaxy

  95. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Zach,

    What standard do you use for defining “good”?

    Is it universal and metaphysically objective – does is apply to all life and all species, those we know of now and those we’ve not yet discovered?

  96. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Your repetition of the same, already answered objections is getting tiresome. I’m afraid if nothing anyone has said has sunk in, there’s might be no point in continuing to try.

    You are expressing what many of us here have been frustrated about all along. There are over 400 comments on the previous blog entry, and many more on its antecedent, illustrating that very thing. Many others more patient and experienced than I have tried, to no avail. The most we’ve gotten is him aping things we have said to make him seem more intellectual. Not only that, he’s continued to repeat outright factual errors that people have corrected, many times.

    The problem with his “philosophy” is that there are no scenarios where his god isn’t present, or that suggests god isn’t involved in some way. It’s simply out of the question. In order to maintain that level of cognitive dissonance in the face of many of the questions posed to him, there is no way to proceed without denying fundamentals of science and logic. What’s really interesting is that he accuses everyone else of doing the same thing!

    Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much we can do with him except hope that it’s planted some seeds. I’m just worried we’ve turned him into a Craig clone, a pseudo-intellectual who claims superior logic while at the same time committing the biggest logical fallacies. What’s worse, they think they are using science and we’re misapplying it. That takes some gall to say that in front of real scientists.

  97. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:53 pm

    “Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much we can do with him except hope that it’s planted some seeds.”

    I’m concerned about the soil conditions, and if the seeds will get enough water and nutrients

  98. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:54 pm

    @ccbowers

    I have used this phrase myself (maybe only once) when someone concluded that there is no life outside of the earth, since he has seen no good evidence that there is. The problem is that I don’t think the lack of evidence much to say about that question at this time, since we have no way to detect life even from the nearest star, let alone in another galaxy

    I think this goes toward the intellectual honesty of the skeptical position – no one is saying for certain the non-existence of something claimed to exist, but that they don’t believe the likelihood of that thing existing given the evidence. This leaves the door open for the possibility that new evidence may come to light at some future point. So, the intellectually honest position of your friend who claimed that there is no life outside of earth is false considering that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” in that case, so you’re correct.

    Just like nearly all atheists are also agnostic when it comes to theistic claims, so it is in regards to the claim of objective morality – until there’s evidence for it, we remain skeptical, or outright don’t believe it exists. We don’t say we know for CERTAIN it doesn’t exist, but given we’ve seen no evidence for it as well as evidence to the contrary, we conclude that the likelihood of its existence is very small.

  99. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Sorry about the last comment, just trying to lighten things up a bit

  100. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?
    That’s exactly what this blog post IS about.
    You claim God is your objective source.
    That is the thrust of all of those 12 questions,to establish that proof.
    You are dodging a question that you cannot answer.
    Your morals are subjective,just like everyone else’s.

  101. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Zach,

    I wrote,

    “You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?”

    You wrote.

    “One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts”

    From which accredited institutions of education? It matters.

    You wrote,

    “But regardless of how much education I have done, it doesn’t matter. My claims and Stevens and Sam Harris all stand on their own, not on the educational levels of those who assert them.”

    BullSquat. It does matter. Which institutions?

    I wrote,

    “And I can spot your logical errors easily.”

    You wrote,

    “Care to list them without appealing to an objective standard or un-provable first principles/axioms/assumptions/Presuppositions. I have no time for humanist dogma.”

    Are you nervous because I’m too close to the bone? I thought you liked objective standards. You have no time? You have plainly poured hours into your responses over the past week or so. Go take a ride in the car!

    Now you sound like the one who is angry or frustrated. And, no, I won’t bother to list them. They are already completely on record, in detail, in your posts. And they pretty much all fail for the reasons YOU DON’T LIKE OR HAVE TIME FOR.

    Sorry, Zach, but you and those who argue like you are all scratching at a precipice you are on the downside of. Your arguments are nothing more than the howling of a canine who cannot gain traction on the slope of reason.

  102. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:12 pm

    @tmac57

    Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?

    While I agree with you totally in asking those questions, what he’ll throw back at you is that he never actually made the claim that the christian god of the bible is the source of his morals, or that that is what he’s trying to prove.

    Instead, what he says he’s trying to prove is that a) objective morals exist, and b) they necessarily require a law bringer (whoever that may be). He admits that what he regards as the law bringer is the christian god of the bible when asked, but he’s not trying to make that a claim (yet).

    Of course, when asked to demonstrate that objective morals exist, he goes into the “disproving a negative”, which is that subjective morality does not exist.

    I think we can all agree that his ultimate goal is to prove that his christian god of the bible is who the law bringer is, and in effect convert some folks here to his religion, or at least get some of us big bad atheists to admit the possibility (which we do, in fact, just that the possibility is so infinitesimally small as to be as close to certitude as one could get), and thereby earn heaven points and/or bragging rights.

  103. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:16 pm

    which is that subjective morality does not exist.

    Correction, this should read ,”which is that non-objective morality doesn’t not exist”

  104. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:17 pm

    *objective morality doesn’t not exist* GAH!

  105. bgoudieon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Zach, you said “I have no time for humanist dogma.”

    And yet somehow you expect that human beings have time for the utter drek that is dogmatic assertion that there is a “lawgiver” or an absolute beyond human creation set of morals.

    Zach is a troll, and particularly deceitful one at that. Feeding him is mistake.

  106. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:30 pm

    @BobbyG

    “Uh, oh, things are starting to degrade into the Undergrad PhilDept Epistemological Food Fight.
    There IS a therapy for that. It involves margaritas.
    Carry on.”

    To paraphrase Homer the Greater, “Alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of philosophy’s problems.” :)

    Seriously though. Thanks for the appropriate chiding.

  107. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:46 pm

    RisF-

    While I agree with you totally in asking those questions, what he’ll throw back at you is that he never actually made the claim that the christian god of the bible is the source of his morals, or that that is what he’s trying to prove.

    Well if he makes THAT claim,then what is the ‘source code’ where we can all examine these ‘objective’ morals,if not the christian bible? If we cannot have access to them then they are up to the individual to sort out…i.e. subjective.

    I will wait for Zach’s response.

  108. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:07 pm

    @tmac57

    We’ve appealed to him numerous times to support his absolute objective morals necessarily brought by a law giver claim, to no avail. His only intention seems to be to prove objective morality by disproving the non-existence of objective morality with the assumption that the only possibilities are the binary 100% objective or 100% non-objective.

    Most of us find this approach to be absurd to the extreme, but no amount of explaining or discussing seems to sway him from this course. I think we all know what’s going on here, so at this point I really do think we’re just feeding a troll who wants to have the bragging rights of “sticking it to those atheists”.

  109. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 11:08 pm

    RisF- I think you are dead on, I just wanted to put a fine point on it,because the TLDR responses become so involved that it tends to dilute the argument. I like to boil things down to the essence so there is less wiggle room for rhetorical evasion.

  110. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:15 pm

    tmac – I totally agree, and cutting through it was what I was trying to do yesterday in the previous thread, but that got everyone nowhere, so here we are. And it’s true that the argument is being diluted, but at this point it’s really all academic rhetoric for our own edification because I think everyone realizes that Zach, et al, has no intention of demonstrating his claim.

  111. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 12:59 am

    Well, it was a productive rest of my day at least. Gave a good talk, had some beers and a delicious dinner, and now unwinding catching up with the comments. And wooo-boy howdy!

    First off:

    @rez: (in regards to)

    Get something straight so perhaps you could lose some of that hubris and display a little humility for a change. You didn’t instruct us. You weren’t the one who taught anyone anything. And you are NOT educated, at least on certain subjects (science and logic immediately jump out).
    Rather, you’ve been instructional. That’s all. Y

    Yes, you are correct. I suppose I’ll have to be a bit more careful with those who show a lack of intellectual honesty. At least you and those who really matter could clearly understand what I had meant.

    Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.

    The funniest part is that when asked “Can you please provideyour objective standard for why I should care what God says or thinks” we hear nothing but crickets.

    Chirp. Chirp.

    And the article is correct that is it wrong because it is a mis-use of what God created sex to be. That is aspects of why it’s wrong – just one

    Philosofrenzy: I read your link and it says [xxx]

    Zach: No it doesn’t. You don’t understand. Oh but it still says exactly what you said.

    I genuinely have trouble wrapping my mind around such obstinate inability to see and understand what is beyond plainly there.

    One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts

    That explains it. Well, my masters in unicornology and sub-specialty in leprauchanology taught me you are a dishonest sack of…

    And still…

    I am leery of discussing an issue like this with you, because I sense it is more than just an intellectual conversation for you, it is a personal one that is emotional.
    If you mean my exact view of morality with a comment on homosexuality, well, I’ll be writing an article on in soon, so you’ll have to bear with me (morality this, not homosexuality – though I will probably write on that soon, just gotta think of a blog name).

    Nope. You just can’t possibly do it. Somewhere on the order of 1000 comments later and you still can’t actually defend a single one of your points. Not one.

    And don’t dodge you slimy bastard. If you want to call “harm is bad” a moral claim, you can’t say “homosexuality is bad” is not a moral claim. You couldn’t even actually say if you think that homosexuality is bad. You won’t touch it, because you know you can’t defend it, and that any one of us here would absolutely rip it to shreds if you tried.

    And yeah right. “Just got to think of a name.” Why don’t you call it “Zach’s blog” and then link us your response. Do you honestly think any of us give two hoots about the name of the blog?

    It is just downright scary that there are actuallly more people who think the way that you do. My only comfort is that y’all will be weeded out via that natural selection and evolution you don’t believe in. Delicious irony.

  112. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 1:05 am

    Zach,

    All of your posts consist of quoting something someone has said and then making a quick response. Quote -> response -> quote -> response -> quote -> response. It makes it look like you read comments others have made until you see a response to which you can give one of your standard responses. The trouble with that is that you never get the whole meaning of what people are saying, and it also means that you never change any of your standard responses. Your responses haven’t changed despite your adversaries having put flesh on the bones of their original arguments.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but it hasn’t been worth reading your posts for some considerable time now. In fact I’m not going to read any more of them unless and until you change your tactic. It’s like ground hog day with every single post. I mean aren’t you sick of repeating yourself over and over again? You have seen “Ground Hog Day” haven’t you? If you haven’t take a look. It might be instructive.

  113. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 1:21 am

    @BJ:

    I just skim his posts and let the most egregious transgressions of logic, science, and civility jump out. It’s not that difficult.

    But I do actually read everyone else’s. I actually learn from those (rather than because of them, like Zach’s).

    Still waiting for that blog post of his. Or any support of his own claims. Heaven knows his argument won’t stand up without a good title though. And titles are, like, hard man.

  114. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:02 am

    “Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?
    That’s exactly what this blog post IS about.
    You claim God is your objective source.”

    This blog post isn’t about me defending my specific view of morality – Steven claims his system is correct, I am here to demonstrate that his wrong, not that mine is right. I’ll post my view on my own blog soon enough. If a scientist asserts that all dinosaurs evolved into toaster ovens, and other scientist disagree, him getting mad and asking for proof for what exactly happened to them is irrelevant – his view is on trial.

    Steven’s view is on trial here, not mine. And trying to focus the conversation onto that is just a way to distract from the holes in Steven’s view.

    “Are you nervous because I’m too close to the bone? I thought you liked objective standards.”

    You are confused, I like objective standards, but Steven and others are appealing to objective standards without realizing it when they say that suffering is bad is universal truism.

    Suffering is bad cannot derive a moral system that is based on logic for it assumes the answer to the question in the first place – how does one determine morality – that’s illogical and nonsensical – the question is how do we determine morality, and simply answering that question with, “well by analyzing all choices through the morality I came up with,” is pretty weak.

    You don’t get to make up your foundation for morality and then build everything else on it when your foundation (the very question we are trying to figure out in the first place) is based on assuming your answer to the question.

    “Now you sound like the one who is angry or frustrated. And, no, I won’t bother to list them. They are already completely on record, in detail, in your posts. And they pretty much all fail for the reasons YOU DON’T LIKE OR HAVE TIME FOR.”

    Again, I’m not mad, you misunderstood my posts. And again, this is the typical response from anyone not named Steven here,
    The masses: “Zach we pointed out that you are wrong, you have sooooo many problems.”
    Me: “Like what?”
    The masses: “SOOOOO MANY!!!”
    “Me: k.”
    The masses: “See, HE BELIEVES IN SKY FAIRIES AND WON”T TRY TO PROVE IT! GET HIM!”
    Me: “sigh”

    Bgoudie said,

    “And yet somehow you expect that human beings have time for the utter drek that is dogmatic assertion that there is a “lawgiver” or an absolute beyond human creation set of morals.”
    You don’t accept dogma from the religious folk, but they are to accept your faith based claims? Double standard.

    “Zach is a troll, and particularly deceitful one at that. Feeding him is mistake.”

    Keep childish posts like this up and you will be in the ignore category with rezistnzisfutl. I am not a troll, I am pointing out errors I perceive in Steven’s view.
    If I were a troll do you think Steven would be so stupid as to create an entirely new moral explanation and blog posts from my critiques?

    “Well if he makes THAT claim,then what is the ‘source code’ where we can all examine these ‘objective’ morals,if not the christian bible? If we cannot have access to them then they are up to the individual to sort out…i.e. subjective. I will wait for Zach’s response.“

    I have said several times, posted a chart to provide a visual demonstration, etc. asserting the claim I am attempting to make here, that morality must be at least objective, or doesn’t exist.</b< I think we can prove that much by pointing out the flaws in Steven’s subjective position. For if subjective is proven to not work, we are left only with objective or doesn’t exist.

    I never said I could prove to you that morality is by default objective and based on the Bible – I never tried to. So asking me to is a Red Herring to this conversation. I am only trying to convince you that morality is not subjective and must be objective or not exist. Remember, Sam Harris believes morality is objective – I agree with him, but where he goes after that I disagree. So asserting that I am saying Steven is wrong cuz there’s a sky daddy who did it all is a straw man.

    “Well, it was a productive rest of my day at least. Gave a good talk, had some beers and a delicious dinner, and now unwinding catching up with the comments. And wooo-boy howdy!”

    Awesome, glad it went well!

    “Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.
    The funniest part is that when asked “Can you please provideyour objective standard for why I should care what God says or thinks” we hear nothing but crickets.”

    It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you? How do we justify our view as opposed to theirs? Power and authority, is that all we can appeal to?
    Evidence only please. Not mere assertions that harm is bad – humanistic dogma is not proof.
    I can’t figure out why you guys can’t figure out that my view doesn’t matter. Steven’s view stands and falls on its own. Is it really that broken that you can’t do anything but throw back with a “no you”?

    Read what I just wrote in response to another commentator. I agree with Sam Harris that morality must be objective (or doesn’t exist). What it absolutely cannot be is subjective since it is nonsensical. That is all I am trying to assert. Anything beyond that is not what I am trying to assert or convince you of with evidence.

    “That explains it. Well, my masters in unicornology and sub-specialty in leprauchanology taught me you are a dishonest sack of…”

    This is childish and rude. If you don’t agree with someone that’s one thing, but this is angry atheist e-thug nonsense. I will no longer be reading your posts since you chose to act this way.

    “I don’t know what the solution is, but it hasn’t been worth reading your posts for some considerable time now. In fact I’m not going to read any more of them unless and until you change your tactic.”

    That’s fine, if you can’t understand my points then this isn’t going to be a fruitful endeavor – thankfully Steven understand me, hence the new blog post on this – we just disagree and I can respectfully agree to disagree with him while still having discussion.
    I have pointed out clearly that you can’t assume any first principles since first principles are the answer to the question itself – it’s circular. No one wants to engage that point directly and responds like I’m the devil because I won’t grant that rape is bad just because they said it is so that makes it bad. You say morality tells us that harm is bad… what? How does it do that? Because morality assumes we need to get along? No it doesn’t, prove this.
    Morality is which actions are bad and which are good, so harm is bad you assert? Ok, well not everyone agrees with your subjective morality and they hold other subjective views, so why should I accept your views over theirs?
    Subjective morality is nonsensical. At least go with Sam Harris.
    Dogma, only answered by dogma doesn’t fly when a religious person does, at least be consistent in your skepticism.

  115. Philosofrenzyon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:35 am

    “The masses: “Zach we pointed out that you are wrong, you have sooooo many problems.”
    Me: “Like what?”
    The masses: “SOOOOO MANY!!!”
    “Me: k.”
    The masses: “See, HE BELIEVES IN SKY FAIRIES AND WON”T TRY TO PROVE IT! GET HIM!”
    Me: “sigh””

    This caricaturing confirms everything we’ve said.

    That this is the way he portrays our specific and detailed questions and claims, and his evasive answers–that he portrays himself as the lone, sensible, rational hero–makes it obvious there’s no further room for dialogue.

    That he pretends we haven’t made specific objections, and asked specific questions, or given you specific arguments, despite our *repeatedly pointing them out when he misses them*, confirms what BilllyJoe7 aptly described: his tendency to skim others’ posts for something he could object to, while utterly missing the point of everything anyone says.

    It’s been fun, everyone. :)

  116. bgoudieon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:23 am

    Zach, The fact that Dr. Novella took the time to respond to you has nothing to do with your own troll like behaviors. It doesn’t mark his as stupid to try and explain his position on the topics to you, oh to be sure it was perhaps overly optimistic once it became clear that you do not understand even the basic concepts of logical discourse and reason.

    You have spent a considerable amount of time declaring that you done something (proving objective morality exists and disproving a subjective but still viable system of moral codes) despite having provided nothing more than a misunderstanding of what constitutes the basic language of logical discourse and a great deal of “no it isn’t”.

    You’ve clung to a false dichotomy despite many posts showing clearly the fault in basic premise. You’ve dismissed the points of others with wrongly applied definitions and false claims of logical fallacies. You’ve used that classic piece of rhetorical reversal so loved by those of religious bent by claiming that everyone opposed to your position is just acting on faith and dogma. You’ve been smug and insulting at many points to many posters. And as the final cherry on top, you’ve shown the temerity to claim you caused Steven to change his position.

    These are all the actions of a troll rather than someone who actually wished to discuss a philosophical point with others.

    Again I find it telling the way you use the phrases “humanist dogma” “post-modern” and “moral relativism”, treating them as they magically win your side of a debate. It’s like a Fox pundit tossing out the terms socialism, Marxist, or collectivist, knowing that their sheep like followers will agree to hate whatever the lables are placed on, even when they are wildly inaccurate.

    Here’s the thing about you part of these discussions that has left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths. You claim to prize the use of logic and reason and yet you cling to the premise that the human intellect is incapable of using such to construct a moral code to live by. You postulate that there must be a supernatural entity beyond our true ken who must guide us. It’ insulting to both human dignity and the entire pursuit of knowledge and improvement.

  117. rezistnzisfutlon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:23 am

    Well, it was only a matter of time when he’d claim to be the sheep amongst the wolves and hang himself up on his cross. Double heaven points there for staying true to his faith before being castigated by us heathens.

    I always get a good chuckle out of religious apologists who claim persecution because they can’t convince others of their beliefs or when they’re mocked for their thick and willful ignorance. Because we don’t accept his baseless claims and call him on his total and utter BS, he’s the victim.

    Zach, get a grip, an education, and some humility. A little introspection never hurt anyone.

  118. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 6:53 am

    Zach: Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    nybgrus: Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.

    Zach: It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you?

    Would it help if nybgrus were to admit that it’s not “wrong” in any absolute sense of the word? that it’s only “wrong” in the sense that he deems it repugnant in most, if not all, situations?*

    Besides, it’s not clear that rape (or homicide) is deemed absolutely wrong in the Judeo-Christian (or Abrahamic) tradition, either. Take, for example, Numbers 31:15-18:

    And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    I suppose that one can say that obedience to God’s will – as expressed by scriptural characters, like Moses and Jesus – is a kind of absolute standard (or at least that that’s one’s intent), although I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s a path that one has chosen to follow in life – one that’s quite different from the kinds of paths that secular folk tend to choose.

    In any case, so long as the god of Judeo-Christian Scripture makes exceptions for rape in certain situations, it’s erroneous to say that rape is absolutely wrong according to Christian ethics.

    * In philosophy-speak, I believe this is known as a “non-cognitivist” stance in meta-ethics, which holds that “ethical sentences are neither true nor false because they do not express genuine propositions.” [source]

  119. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 6:59 am

    Amendment: I think it’s only fair to say that the path of “obedience to God’s will…” is only a choice if one voluntarily adopts it as an adult. However, if one is religiously indoctrinated as a child, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.

  120. jameswighton 12 Jan 2013 at 9:03 am

    I enjoy your blog, and have nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award. The details are at http://jameswight.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/very-inspiring-blogger-award/

  121. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 10:24 am

    “His only intention seems to be to prove objective morality by disproving the non-existence of objective morality with the assumption that the only possibilities are the binary 100% objective or 100% non-objective.”

    That is a false dichotomy, but you can make a true dichotomy of the topic: morality is 100% objective or it is not. When described this way, he is stuck demonstrating his position or eliminating all the possible alternatives, i.e. the rest of the spectrum of possibilities. He is done neither (and the latter is impossible from a practical perspective)

  122. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 10:34 am

    Zach- “asserting the claim I am attempting to make here, that morality must be at least objective, or doesn’t exist. I think we can prove that much by pointing out the flaws in Steven’s subjective position. For if subjective is proven to not work, we are left only with objective or doesn’t exist.”

    But this approach doesn’t work even in theory, because Steven’s position (although I believe is accurate), is not the only alternative to yours. Also you reject Steve’s description because it is not 100% objective, which is your view. In other words your argument is that his view of morality doesn’t work because it is not 100% objective, therefore morality is 100% objective.

    Let me describe this in one sentence:

    You are asserting your position, using that assertion to ‘refute’ an alternate position, and using that ‘refutation’ as evidence for your original assertion.

    Circular argument much?

    You need to demonstrate that you have good evidence for your absolute objective morality, which you have not done in the past week, which indicates to me that you realize your position is weak and will not stand up to scrutiny. Let’s just say that I am not surprised

  123. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 10:50 am

    Mufi said:

    Zach: It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you?
    Would it help if nybgrus were to admit that it’s not “wrong” in any absolute sense of the word? that it’s only “wrong” in the sense that he deems it repugnant in most, if not all, situations?*

    This is much more accurate than anything Zach has approximated.

    I guess it can all boil down to the fact that there is no such thing as an absolute “wrong” or “right” – those words can only be used in a specific context. Now, in certain cases almost all circumstances will have a particular action (rape, murder, child abuse) be considered “wrong.” Others will almost always be “right” (kindness, generosity, love). But in each case, one can think of a hypoethtical wherein the “wrongness” and “rightness” can be reversed.

    Dan Barker was debating someone (I can’t recall who at the moment it was a couple of years ago I watched the debate) and was cornered into this concept. He was given a contrived situation wherein an alien race came and said that they would wipe out the entire human race unless he, Dan Barker, raped a young girl (or something like that). Would that still be “wrong” to do? Would it be an immoral action?

    Barker asked if we knew for sure the aliens could do this. Yes. Could we possibly do anything else to stop them? No. Could we be absolutely certain they would live up to their end of the bargain and leave us completely alone after? Yes. It dragged on for some minutes with obvious distress on Barker’s face.

    In that incredibly contrived scenario, yes, the rape became the “right” thing to do and morally correct. The theist then crowed about the incredible horribleness of the atheist position as if he had won the debate.

    But such exercises demonstrate exactly why no absolute can exist and how reasonable people can always try and find a way out. Only when locked into certainty about important facets of the hypothetical does the calculus change.

    The funniest part is that even the theological perspective (all of them) provides the exact same subjective moral debate with exceptions to ever single moral precept. As has been outlined above, murder is bad, except when God says it isn’t. Slavery is good, unless you beat your slaves too hard. Raping a man is bad, so rape my daughter instead. It’s all right there in the exact same source they claim to provide this better morality with.

  124. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 11:05 am

    @Zach:

    We understand your points. You don’t understand your own points, nor ours.

    You claim to have come here to try and disprove Dr. Novella’s stance and nothing else which is why you won’t even put up your stance. Not only is that a lie, but I can prove it.

    Firstly, very few of your arguments have been direct attempts to disprove our stance. And when they are, you misapply the rules of logic, reason, and evidence to do so. Most of your attempts have clearly been to demonstrate why only an objective morality can exist.

    But most importantly – you have claimed countless times you have disproven our stance. Why are you still here? You’ve accomplished your mission, as you claim it. We may disagree with you, but you yourself have claimed quite clearly that you have disproven just about every facet of our position. So why are you still here?

    If it is because you want to convince us that our position is incorrect, then we have given you a way to do so – demonstrate yours to be correct! If you could do so, then we would abandon our position and come to yours. That is the way that we here operate.

    Of course, much more learned and practiced theologians can’t produce convincing arguments and you know that defending your own position is much more difficult than sniping at ours, so it seems obvious to me (to us really) why you refuse to do so. That and your completely wrong idea that proving us wrong proves you right. No, Zach. Even if you did prove us wrong and we accepted that, it still wouldn’t prove you right. You have to actually provide evidence for your claim. You don’t just get to “win” by default.

    You won’t even attempt to outline your position on a single point – homosexuality. You won’t even say what your stance on it is (“good” or “bad”). You are disingenous here – you have no desire for actual debate or learning. You just want to see how long you can snipe at us “smug atheists” to try and win points (whether with your friends, church mates, or your sky fairy).

    If any of us disagreed with Dr. Novella we would be willing to lay out all our ideas on the chopping block. In fact, we would want to. Having your ideas dissected and analyzed is the best way to actually see how correct they are, learn, and grow. When I need an important paper edited, for example, I know who my true friends are and send it to them – because they will mercilessly destroy it in every detail they can. That is how people who actually want to learn and make their ideas better operate. You absolutely clearly don’t want that – you just want to justify clinging to your idea and keep your conclusion at all costs. But hey, that’s what a Masters of Divinity will do for you. Perhaps you should get a Masters in Philosophy or one in Science, it will serve you a lot better.

  125. tmac57on 12 Jan 2013 at 11:14 am

    nybgrus- ‘Sofi’s choice’ and the ‘trolley dilemma’ are other moral quandraries that show the difficulty in forming absolute ways of resolving the problems we face in society.
    Imperfect as it is,reasoning through logic must be attempted and brought to bear to solve our problems,because it is obvious that no ‘perfect’ answers are fourth coming from some objective source…unless Zach can finally give us the ‘source code’ of course.

  126. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 11:18 am

    One last point:

    Suffering is bad cannot derive a moral system that is based on logic for it assumes the answer to the question in the first place – how does one determine morality – that’s illogical and nonsensical – the question is how do we determine morality, and simply answering that question with, “well by analyzing all choices through the morality I came up with,” is pretty weak.

    The funny thing is that this is a rough approximation of what we are actually saying. You state it is “pretty weak.” OK, it is weak. Give us something stronger. Except you refuse to.

    You also refuse to understand that this is exactly what science is and mathematics and everthing else. These are all human constructs. Science makes assumptions at it base that it cannot prove (methodological naturalism, for instance) and then uses that to continue. The validation that the assumptions are correct is based on the obviously incredibly success that science has had in describing our universe and generating new technologis for us.

    Mathematics is the same (I keep providing you evidence of this) – we assume certain foundational premises and definitions and then they are validated as correct by the repeated succeses of math to describe the universe and its processes.

    Is this the best possibly imaginable way of doing things? Probably not. Is it absolutely perfect, yielding perfect results? Definitely not. Is there a better way of doing it? Not that we have found. You have a better one? Show us. But prove it please, don’t just say so. ;-)

    Of course, the notion that everything – including morality – is a human construct is anathema to the theist. If morality wasn’t absolute and objective, that means they would not only have to work harder to be moral but that the responsibility for it would rest squarely on their shoulders. It is much easier to offload that burden and an invisible sky fairy (or unproven naturalistic absolute morality – as if that makes sense anyways) is a convenient place to offload. Of course, as we all know, what God says always happen to coincide quite nicely with whatever the person saying he speaks for God already believes. Hence the 38,000 sects of Christianity alone.

  127. tmac57on 12 Jan 2013 at 11:25 am

    Wouldn’t it be ironic that if there were a god,it turned out that she bestowed on us an ability to use logic and reason for ourselves to understand what is right and wrong,and that those who reject these gifts were the actual sinners?

    Prove THAT wrong Zach!

  128. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 11:26 am

    @tmac:

    Imperfect as it is,reasoning through logic must be attempted and brought to bear to solve our problems,because it is obvious that no ‘perfect’ answers are fourth coming from some objective source…unless Zach can finally give us the ‘source code’ of course.

    Even then I think we have demonstrated that there still cannot reasonably be an absolute morality, even if an objective “source code” is found. The only thing Zach’s position would effectively do is move the burden of logical analysis from us to “something” else. The process still must be the same he just refuses to do the process himself, even though by any conceivable perspective even if his position were true we would still have to do the same process since we would, by definition, have to discover and interpret the “absolute” and “objective” morality. No matter what, the ultimate burden still rests with us, no matter how much he wishes to push that responsibility off our shoulders.

    By acknowledging it is wholly our burden, we are forced to make better decisions. By pushing it off, we can excuse poor ones. And of course, justify whatever we want to be the case by claiming something “beyond” us is actually having the final say.

    “I don’t hate homosexuals! I really wish that God didn’t say it was sin. But he says to hate the sin, not the sinner, and he says that homosexuality is a sin. There’s just nothing I can do about that!”

    Guess I am more powerful and more moral than your god, because I certainly can do something about it.

  129. RickKon 12 Jan 2013 at 11:41 am

    well said, nybgrus

    “Good” is what humanity decides it is, but that doesn’t mean humans are completely free of underlying “first principles”. Humanity measures and refines the definition of “good” (consciously or unconsciously) using all the tools and values that biological and social evolution have instilled.

    A different intelligent species could very well have a different view of “good”. Indeed, different human societies have had fundamentally different interpretations of “good”.

    So, when Zach says: “I have pointed out clearly that you can’t assume any first principles since first principles are the answer to the question itself – it’s circular.”

    he is ignoring that evolution DOES provide a source for the basic values or “first principles” upon which our morality (for good or ill) is founded. His avoidance of this, in the moral landscape of Western secular skeptical intellectuals, is an affront to our evolution-generated facility for reason and is therefore “bad”.

  130. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 12:01 pm

    @tmac57,

    You wrote,

    “Wouldn’t it be ironic that if there were a god,it turned out that she bestowed on us an ability to use logic and reason for ourselves to understand what is right and wrong…?”

    I think you’ve got it almost exactly right if you stop right there! I might toss “the scientific method” in there.

  131. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 12:10 pm

    “If any of us disagreed with Dr. Novella we would be willing to lay out all our ideas on the chopping block. In fact, we would want to.”

    This is certainly true for me. I am much more interested in disagreements I have with people whose opinions I respect the most, or with people who I believe otherwise think clearly. In these circumstances, I think there is more likely to be something to learn (from either side), when there is a disagreement between people who don’t typically disagree. Sometimes this is a merely piece of information or way of approaching the topic that one person has that leads to a different conclusion. Of course there is the outlier like Zach, for whom I feel compelled to comment for other reasons.

    I’ve been following this blog for years and I have posted comments nearly everytime I disagreed with what was written. In truth, this happens very rarely, because I think he is spot on nearly all of his posts. It is clear that he has spent time thinking about what he writes, because it shows in his writing

  132. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 12:15 pm

    @nybgrus,

    You wrote,

    “The funny thing is that this is a rough approximation of what we are actually saying. You state it is “pretty weak.” OK, it is weak…”

    An interesting feature of “beginnings” is where to “begin”.

    Thomas Edison said (paraphrased) he never failed at how to make a successful incandescent light bulb, rather he succeeded in finding many ways how to not make a successful incandescent light bulb.

    It is fascinating to look at our history and see how this concept is borne out time after time. Many successful “how to not do somethings” followed by a successful “how to do that thing” followed by improvements on that success as we learn and understand still more. It IS the way that works.

    I can’t see any philosophy or logical argument holding its own very well against that much evidence. That success is what forms the might (and makes right) of this moral position.

    [steps down from soap box]

  133. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve been following this blog for years and I have posted comments nearly everytime I disagreed with what was written. In truth, this happens very rarely, because I think he is spot on nearly all of his posts. It is clear that he has spent time thinking about what he writes, because it shows in his writing

    There is also something to be said for him having done this for a while in many formats. You start getting good at it after a while. I’ve certainly improved my own comments and thinking over the 3 years I’ve been doing this pretty actively. The humility here is that we all – even Dr. Novella – recognizes and even embraces the fact that we have more to learn. Zach thinks he’s already got it figured out and just needs to find a way for us dumb ol’ atheists to see it.

  134. tmac57on 12 Jan 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Off to subjectively listen to SGU #391 :)

  135. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Thomas Edison said (paraphrased) he never failed at how to make a successful incandescent light bulb, rather he succeeded in finding many ways how to not make a successful incandescent light bulb.

    My sister once told me “An expert is someone who has failed the most times in a specific field of study.”

    Perhaps she was just rephrasing Edison.

    But of course Edison’s quote (and my sister’s) actually reflect the reality of evolution in all respects – failure after failure until something mildly succesful comes along followed by rapid improvement to a fitness peak.

  136. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 12:57 pm

    “You’ve clung to a false dichotomy despite many posts showing clearly the fault in basic premise. “

    I am the troll? K

    “You’ve been smug and insulting at many points to many posters..”

    Quote please. Or are you trolling? Me disagreeing is not = to smug

    “And as the final cherry on top, you’ve shown the temerity to claim you caused Steven to change his position”

    So changing your views when they are critiqued is a bad thing in your world… ok
    Bgoudie,
    You are either a troll or something much worse, I’m done reading your posts.

    “Would it help if nybgrus were to admit that it’s not “wrong” in any absolute sense of the word? that it’s only “wrong” in the sense that he deems it repugnant in most, if not all, situations?*”

    I don’t think it would. He’s still only saying he and a bunch of others find the color brown icky and repugnant. I assert that any claim below pure evil (derived from my objective standard), results in a low view of rape’s evilness.

    “Besides, it’s not clear that rape (or homicide) is deemed absolutely wrong in the Judeo-Christian (or Abrahamic) tradition, either. Take, for example, Numbers 31:15-18:”

    Murder is wrong, Killing is not. Nearly everyone in every culture understands this distinctions.
    But regardless, do you have an objective standard to show that either are wrong? Or do you just subjectively not care for them?

    “I think it’s only fair to say that the path of “obedience to God’s will…” is only a choice if one voluntarily adopts it as an adult. However, if one is religiously indoctrinated as a child, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.”

    In Western culture, it is used to be that you were born into your religion, now, you might be born into a Christian/catholic/agnostic/etc. world view, then when you are an adult you generally decide.

    “That is a false dichotomy, but you can make a true dichotomy of the topic: morality is 100% objective or it is not. When described this way, he is stuck demonstrating his position or eliminating all the possible alternatives, i.e. the rest of the spectrum of possibilities. He is done neither (and the latter is impossible from a practical perspective).”

    “Also you reject Steve’s description because it is not 100% objective, which is your view. In other words your argument is that his view of morality doesn’t work because it is not 100% objective, therefore morality is 100% objective.”

    No, but objective statement are 100% true or 100% false. You ignore this. And asking the question, “how one determines morality, and then assuming the first principle (nothing more than answering the question with a I said so), and applying all moral questions to that premise does not make your answer for, “what determines morality” a part objective and part subjective answer. It only makes your application of the answer objective- which doesn’t matter.

    “You are asserting your position, using that assertion to ‘refute’ an alternate position, and using that ‘refutation’ as evidence for your original assertion.”

    How?

    “You need to demonstrate that you have good evidence for your absolute objective morality, which you have not done in the past week, which indicates to me that you realize your position is weak and will not stand up to scrutiny. Let’s just say that I am not surprised”

    No, this article is about how morality is subjective, according to Steven. Morality is objective because if it subjective you can’t make a system that works. That’s the point, and if you were aware, this is how all philosophers discuss the issue, so saying that I am making a false dichotomy is false.

    “So, when Zach says: “I have pointed out clearly that you can’t assume any first principles since first principles are the answer to the question itself – it’s circular.”
    he is ignoring that evolution DOES provide a source for the basic values or “first principles” upon which our morality (for good or ill) is founded. His avoidance of this, in the moral landscape of Western secular skeptical intellectuals, is an affront to our evolution-generated facility for reason and is therefore “bad”.”

    Ok, so differentiate human and lion morality for us please – again, no faith based assertions please.
    So what’s the source? Why are some actions right and some wrong? Why aren’t other animals held to this morality? Why are humans an exception?

  137. RickKon 12 Jan 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Ok, so differentiate human and lion morality for us please – again, no faith based assertions please.
    So what’s the source? Why are some actions right and some wrong? Why aren’t other animals held to this morality? Why are humans an exception?

    The power of rational thought, the trait of empathy, and entirely different social evolution.

    Why is the different between lions and humans so hard for you to grasp?

  138. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:00 pm

    In this exchange:

    “Zach: Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    nybgrus: Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.

    Zach: It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you?”

    Zach gets the whole thing wrong. If there is an “objective moral standard”, then all observers and users of morality must reach the same moral conclusion given the facts of the situation.

    If rape is to have an objective moral value, then that objective moral value must be the same for each observer, including the rape victim, the perpetrator, the uninvolved bystander, the victim’s parents, the victim’s husband, the victim’s unconceived and unborn children, the victim’s “child of rape” that might be conceived during the rape.

    Honest and rational people cannot “agree to disagree”.

    http://projecteuclid.org/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=euclid.aos/1176343654

    If the facts of a situation are accurately known, then any disagreement either comes from dishonesty (including irrationality) or from unshared priors.

    The victim and perpetrator do not agree on the moral value of being raped. The reason they don’t agree is because the perpetrator’s prior is that what the victim wants and feels does not enter into the moral value calculation, but the perpetrator’s wants and feelings do.

    This is how theists disagree with non-theists about the moral value of an event. Theists have different priors, they feel that if they feel that God says to do it, then it is moral. It doesn’t matter that they can’t prove that God said it is moral, if they feel that God says it is moral, then for them it is.

    YECs go one step farther and feel that even trying to think about what is moral, independent of what they feel God says, is in itself immoral because humans only acquired that capacity by disobeying God and eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God did not want them to do. Presumably the original construction of humans by God did not include the knowledge of good and evil, so presumably the “image” of God that God used to make humans did not include that capacity, so it is wrong for humans to try and apply the capacity to know good and evil now (as Zach is demonstrating).

    From the YEC perspective, the ability to reason, to know the difference between good and evil is an immoral trait because God didn’t want humans to have it. It is like a “virus”, which has “infected” humans. The Bible can then be seen as “anti-virus software”, trying to “purge” the “virus” of the knowledge of good and evil from humans. As a number of theists have demonstrated, it can be quite effective for some.

    This also explains the inability of YECs to think logically and to argue rationally. They think it is immoral to do so. Their goal is to purge rationality from humans.

  139. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Zach,

    So, you claim morality is objective. Do I have it right?

    Your logical proof of this is that morality cannot be not-objective. Do I have it right?

    Your definition of “objective” includes the characteristic of being absolute. Do I have that right?

    Please show me your work in a way (remedial) I can understand. I’m a blue-collar guy, but I do okay with moderately complicated ideas. I am neither a student nor degree holder of philosophy.

  140. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:29 pm

    @nybgrus,

    lmgtfy.com…the coolest thing I’ve seen lately.

    Sorry to be off topic.

  141. bgoudieon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:06 pm

    “Bgoudie,
    You are either a troll or something much worse,”

    Yes Zach in your world I am something far worse than a troll. I’m a human being who can think and is honest about their positions. In other words the opposite of you.

  142. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 3:35 pm

    “There is also something to be said for him having done this for a while in many formats. You start getting good at it after a while. I’ve certainly improved my own comments and thinking over the 3 years I’ve been doing this pretty actively.”

    One of the topics that I like to reinforce is the importance of hard work in any form of excellence. I have heard Dr Novella reference this concept in the past, and I think it is a very important to reinforce. Our culture (and I suspect in many) over-values talent relative to hard work, which I believe is detrimental given that we only have control over the latter. It is also incorrect at most levels of competence- the primary exceptions I think are at the extremes. If someone is very good at something people tend to attribute that skill to an innate talent, when the truth is that person probably works his/her @ss off to generate and maintain that level of skill. While certainly Dr Novella has an aptitude for communicating ideas, the reason why he is so good at it is that he really works at being good at it.

  143. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 3:38 pm

    “You are asserting your position, using that assertion to ‘refute’ an alternate position, and using that ‘refutation’ as evidence for your original assertion.”

    How?

    Really, Zach? Thats all you have is a one word question? I have explained how and I believe it is fairly obvious. You have made little attempt at understanding, and I can’t do the work for you. I can’t open up your brain and put the ideas inside, you have to do some work yourself.

  144. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 3:38 pm

    No, but objective statement are 100% true or 100% false. You ignore this

    No, they are not. Absolutely, fundamentally, NOT. We have tried to demonstrate this many times. It as absolutely reasonable, possible, and common to be objectively partially correct. We aren’t ignoring it. We are saying you are wrong and have given numerous examples. You are the one ignoring us. On this specific point and innumerable others. Heck, you didn’t even have a correct working definition of the word “objective” when you started this conversation!

  145. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 3:38 pm

    @jj borgman:

    Yeah, fun eh?

  146. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 3:41 pm

    @ccbowers:

    A great book on the topic that got me started on it all a few years back: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

    Really, Zach? Thats all you have is a one word question? I have explained how and I believe it is fairly obvious. You have made little attempt at understanding, and I can’t do the work for you. I can’t open up your brain and put the ideas inside, you have to do some work yourself.

    And then he gets upset that we call one word responses childish. How? Oh, I dunno, maybe through the thousand or so posts leading up to this point? Just maybe.

  147. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Zach:

    Since NAA is no longer here, I will extend my very simple question to you. Why should we care about God’s [wishes / purposes / creative intentions / or whatever you might call his will]? Unless you have an answer for that, all of this other stuff is just peripheral distraction.

  148. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:22 pm

    “The power of rational thought, the trait of empathy, and entirely different social evolution.

    If you don’t understand why what you just wrote doesn’t answer my question, I’m not sure what else to tell you. You are convinced that empathy is > hatred – and yet humans have both traits and must decipher which way to choose. You favor empathy without giving a foundation for it, other than you think so/like it. I am not interesting in what you think since it is only based on what you happen to like. Why should I favor what you like over Bob the human butcher’s?

    I agree with you that we should show empathy, but why? Rational thought doesn’t tell us empathy is the right actions, it can’t. It can only tell us which actions are showing empathy and which are not.

    “Why is the different between lions and humans so hard for you to grasp?”

    Because it is a naked assertion.

    Zach gets the whole thing wrong. If there is an “objective moral standard”, then all observers and users of morality must reach the same moral conclusion given the facts of the situation.

    Why?
    That doesn’t follow. Not everyone once believed the world revolved around the sun – and I’m sure some reject that notion still, someone somewhere probably does. So was that objective fact false until everyone agrees?

    I don’t think you understand the difference in terminology between objective and subjective – I provided definitions in my comments in the last post – or just go to any standard dictionary. I think you are using the words incorrectly.

    “If the facts of a situation are accurately known, then any disagreement either comes from dishonesty (including irrationality) or from unshared priors.”

    Depends if you are talking about objective truth or subjective truth. And whether or not I am willing to agree that me and John will never agree on something, for whatever reason, so I agree to be civil and disagree with him and no longer argue my views to him.

    “The reason they don’t agree is because the perpetrator’s prior is that what the victim wants and feels does not enter into the moral value calculation, but the perpetrator’s wants and feelings do.”

    So? Does a Lion take into account the baby lions from the alpha male he just chased off when he eats them? No. So why should we care about other person’s feelings?

    “This is how theists disagree with non-theists about the moral value of an event. Theists have different priors, they feel that if they feel that God says to do it, then it is moral. It doesn’t matter that they can’t prove that God said it is moral, if they feel that God says it is moral, then for them it is.
    YECs go one step farther and feel that even trying to think about what is moral, independent of what they feel God says, is in itself immoral because humans only acquired that capacity by disobeying God and eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God did not want them to do. Presumably the original construction of humans by God did not include the knowledge of good and evil, so presumably the “image” of God that God used to make humans did not include that capacity, so it is wrong for humans to try and apply the capacity to know good and evil now (as Zach is demonstrating).
    From the YEC perspective, the ability to reason, to know the difference between good and evil is an immoral trait because God didn’t want humans to have it. It is like a “virus”, which has “infected” humans. The Bible can then be seen as “anti-virus software”, trying to “purge” the “virus” of the knowledge of good and evil from humans. As a number of theists have demonstrated, it can be quite effective for some.
    This also explains the inability of YECs to think logically and to argue rationally. They think it is immoral to do so. Their goal is to purge rationality from humans.“

    If you don’t have anything better than building straw man’s based on this kind of nonsensical uneducated dribble, leave the conversation to others.
    This is the worst post I have seen anyone make yet in these comments.

    JJ Borgman

    “Zach,
    So, you claim morality is objective. Do I have it right?
    Your logical proof of this is that morality cannot be not-objective. Do I have it right?
    Your definition of “objective” includes the characteristic of being absolute. Do I have that right?
    Please show me your work in a way (remedial) I can understand. I’m a blue-collar guy, but I do okay with moderately complicated ideas. I am neither a student nor degree holder of philosophy.“

    I will be writing something up hopefully in the next few days. I ask that you wait patiently for it.

    “Why should we care about God’s [wishes / purposes / creative intentions / or whatever you might call his will]? Unless you have an answer for that, all of this other stuff is just peripheral distraction.”

    The shortest possible response, because we owe it to Him, and because there are consequences for rebellion.

  149. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:28 pm

    In response to the incoming might makes right argument.
    From 10 seconds of googling I found…

    Is Christian morality based on might makes right?

    “This is an objection often raised by atheists. Many think that Christianity teaches that God arbitrarily assigns rules for moral behavior, and that his ability to enforce those rules is the basis of right and wrong. But this is not the Christian position. God certainly has the ability to enforce the rules he reveals to us, but what is morally right with God is due to his character, not his power. The reason it is wrong to lie is because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, right and wrong are not determined by God’s ability to be stronger than anyone else. Right and wrong are determined by God revealing his own immutable, holy essence.

    Whenever an atheist accuses Christian theology, and in particular the Christian God, of determining morality from “might makes right,” he is misrepresenting the Christian faith. But, this is often the case with atheists who fail to seriously study what they criticize.”

  150. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Zach,

    I’d expect your response to my very reasonable request here, not on your unnamed blog. Given the volume you’ve written here, I think you are up to it. I won’t accept your answer on a TB’ers blog, because I won’t respond there.

    You came here.

  151. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 4:29 pm

    The shortest possible response, because we owe it to Him, and because there are consequences for rebellion.

    Because might makes right.

    And I don’t owe him $hit. He hasn’t bothered to even make it clear he exists in the first place. He owes me that first before I even begin to contemplate owing him anything.

  152. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Romans 1

  153. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Oh nice, he even realized that he just clearly stated that it is might makes right, so he hedged it with a nonsensical apologist statement from google.

    But it is all utter bull$hit. Because at the end of the day, “cuz god sez so” is the only justification and the response to “well, what do I care if god sez so?” is “there are consequences for rebellion.”

    I cannot understand how blind you can be to the fact that this is such an incredibly obvious and egregious double standard. You literally use the exact same statements as critiques of our position, but then declare that yours is magically different because it refers to your sky fairy rather than human beings. Yet you haven’t established first that the sky fairy exists. If you establish that, then we can talk about whether these double standard semantic games are reasonable.

    Sorry Zach. You’ve lost the entire game in those two posts.

    (well, the game had been lost in the same way ages ago, but now it is patently clear since you finally said it succinctly and unambiguously)

  154. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:38 pm

    JJ Borgman

    I’ll write it when I have time to sit and work through it in a way that will be as clear as possible to avoid confusions.

    You don’t have to come to my blog, I’ll post it here too once it is written. But I don’t wanna just throw it together just to passivity you.

  155. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Zach,

    ConspicuousCarl wrote,
    “Why should we care about God’s [wishes / purposes / creative intentions / or whatever you might call his will]? Unless you have an answer for that, all of this other stuff is just peripheral distraction.”

    You responded,
    “The shortest possible response, because we owe it to Him, and because there are consequences for rebellion.”

    Really, man?

    Never mind about my request regarding your argument for objective morality. You have nothing to say that I care about. You had me interested, but despite your protests that God wasn’t in the mix, turns out God was in the mix. You held on pretty well, but just couldn’t hold your load.

    Good-bye, Zach. Like you, I am disappointed. In. You.

  156. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 4:48 pm

    JJ Borgman.

    Was your question not in regards to the Christian’s understanding of law giver?

    I am confused.

    I said from the start I am a Christian, I assumed your question was asking about that.

  157. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Of course God was always in the mix JJ! The entire rhetorical tactic he has used this whole time is the age old theist apologist one of trying to prove in bits whatever the can so they can spring god on your at the end. Because he knows the idea of a sky fairy is ridiculous and nobody would take it seriously so he has to find other ways to trick people into thinking there is a god. Like hiding division by zero in a complicated math problem and asking someone to prove it wrong.

    But hey, he did quote Einstein about needing to be able to explain it to a 6 year old… well, perhaps this 7 year old can explain to him why a sky fairy is a ridiculous thought.

  158. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 4:55 pm

    “A great book on the topic that got me started on it all a few years back: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.”

    I have heard of that book, but I haven’t read it. The truth is, relative to many commenters on this blog and elsewhere, I rarely read books. I have excuses with regards to working and kids, etc, but the truth is I don’t make the time. If I consume information these days it is online or audio – some books, but mostly podcasts. I was able to find the PDF online with a google search… apparently it is a free book now? I have a 13 hour plane trip in 2 months, maybe i’ll be able to read a book or two then.

  159. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 5:06 pm

    @ccbowers:

    Understandable. I have little time to read books as well these days. Plus, as you’ve said, often the education garnered here and at SBM is hard to beat.

    However, the book by Colvin is short and a quick read with a few good examples. Essentially it dispels the myth that anybody was ever good because of “genius” or “talent” and that all the common examples people think of (Mozart, Tiger Woods, Warren Buffet, Wayne Gretzky, etc) actually are just products of constant failure and ceaseless determination. He uses some scientific studies to further support these claims. He also delves into how to best achieve “greatness” considering that some people do the same thing for decades and plateau whilst others continue to improve and rise in “greatness” (the catch-all term he uses for being really good in your field, whatever it is and whatever that means).

  160. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,

    “Was your question not in regards to the Christian’s understanding of law giver?
    I am confused.
    I said from the start I am a Christian, I assumed your question was asking about that.”

    My request was,
    “So, you claim morality is objective. Do I have it right?
    Your logical proof of this is that morality cannot be not-objective. Do I have it right?
    Your definition of “objective” includes the characteristic of being absolute. Do I have that right?
    Please show me your work in a way (remedial) I can understand. I’m a blue-collar guy, but I do okay with moderately complicated ideas. I am neither a student nor degree holder of philosophy.”

    I am clearly inquiring about your exact argument against Dr. Novella. How do you confuse that? Zach, this is a superb example of your state of confusion. You’re not comprehending was is being plainly written to you.

    Don’t worry, I was never a candidate for un-deconversion. I just wanted to try to understand your initial argument, which was not predicated on the existence of the Abrahamic god. I have no use for that guy.

    OST, maybe I’ll look at your argument, but I won’t tolerate wordplay or logical tricks or diversion, all of which I consider you guilty.

  161. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 5:20 pm

    “I am clearly inquiring about your exact argument against Dr. Novella. How do you confuse that? Zach, this is a superb example of your state of confusion. You’re not comprehending was is being plainly written to you.
    Don’t worry, I was never a candidate for un-deconversion. I just wanted to try to understand your initial argument, which was not predicated on the existence of the Abrahamic god. I have no use for that guy.”

    I understand that, but someone else asked me a specific question about the theology of Christianity, if you confused that as what I am trying to prove, then don’t.

    I don’t think you can prove empirically that their is a God. I never said you could. I was merely responding to a question about the nature of God – from the Christian perspective of theology. They are different questions.

    Make sense?

  162. Gojira74on 12 Jan 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I feel like the discussion of Harris’ book and Dr. Novella’s position is a more interesting and productive focus than replying to Zach’s trolling.

    Maybe I got the wrong message from Harris, but I don’t see the alternative to his view. We either evaluate consequences based on objective standards to the best of our ability and use that to make value judgments, or we assign values at random. Science has a role to play in the first of these options (if this is a false dichotomy please call me on it). We can account for subjective experience in a rational way. I’m not sure what other choice we have, and how that differs from Dr. Novella’s points (again maybe I misunderstood Harris’ point). We can’t prove gravity, yet we don’t allow that to stop us from making predictions and applying the results. To say morality has a subjective component doesn’t mean we can’t make statements about better and worse ways of living together.

    Someone earlier made a comment about consequentialism. I’m genuinely curious. What other basis for decision making is open to us. To say that X has no consequences is to say that it simply doesn’t matter to any living entity. What other starting point makes sense in any sphere? Once we acknowledge that consequences do matter, we can begin to actually evaluate the results of actions between living beings. We can account for the differences in experience and biology that separates them and work out a system that maximizes their potential. Mutually exclusive goals can be evaluated on a consequential basis. Again, if an action has no consequences, who cares anyway?

  163. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Zach,

    Please re-read my original request without any assumptions and get back to me. No brain-farts, no mixing up my request with something else. Concentrate only on that post…I understand that is a challenge for you, but if you want me to understand your objective morality argument, you’ll have to force yourself to focus on that very specific request. Do not multi-task whilst re-reading my post. Turn off everything else and respond only to my post. Thank-you.

    Zach, I’m interested in your argument, if there is one. The god stuff, though, is a non-starter after that, just so you know.

  164. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Zach, guess I struck a nerve and got too close to the truth which you don’t want to perceive.

    Objective means observer and reference frame independent. It derives from the definition of what the term means.

    If you read the paper, it is about truth based on information. If everyone shares the same priors (the same information), they can’t disagree on what conclusions that information leads to, unless they are being dishonest.

    You are the one saying that morality must be objective, but then you want different observers to not draw the same moral conclusions from the same facts.

    You don’t want morality to be “objective”, you want morality to depend on the subjective whims of your “Law Giver”, which you have decided makes them “objective” because the Law Giver says so.

    Lions are not sentient moral actors. Lions don’t know the difference between right and wrong. Lions don’t have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong and to be moral actors. Lions have the same capacity for knowing right and wrong that YECs think Adam and Eve had before they ate the fruit. The goal of YEC teachings is to get humans back to that pre-fruit state.

  165. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Zach,

    Regarding “might makes right”:

    I am a dictator. I draw up a set of rules for my subjects to follow. I can pick or choose if and when to follow these rules myself because I am a dictator and I can do what I like and I won’t get punished. But if my subjects disobey these rules they will be punished. That is might makes right. Right?

    God also has a set of rules for us to follow. However it is not possible for God to disobey these rules because they emanate from the nature of God. But, similarly to the dictator scenario, if we, his subjects, disobey these rules, we will be punished.

    The only difference I can see is that, unlike the dictator, God cannot disobey God’s rules because they emanate from the nature of God.
    But how does this cancel out might makes right?

    Suppose the dictator did obey all his rules, not because he doesn’t want to be punished (because he is the dictator and he cannot be punished), but because it is in his nature to live by those rules (which is why they are the rules that all his subjects must follow in the first place). Is it still “might is right” when he punishes his subjects for disobeying his rules, or does this no longer apply?

    Certainly we would have more respect for such a dictator. But he is still demanding that we be exactly like him and do exactly what he does for fear of being punished. And he is in a position where he can meter out this punishment, no questions asked. It’s still “might makes right”. Surely?

  166. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 6:37 pm

    BJ – his non-response will be that the dictator didn’t “create” you and thus it is might make right, whereas since god did “create” you it is not might but authority. Somehow that word game makes it completely different.

    Of course, how that squares with his admission that you cannot empirically prove god is beyond comprehension. He pesters us for “evidence please, not blind faith” and clamors that “logic and reason can’t prove an objective moral principle” and then states quite clearly that only faith can “prove” god and that you can arrive at that conclusion by “logic and reason.”

    It’s patently ridiculous and why theology is simply utterly bankrupt.

    He also states he wants an “objective” morality, but then conflates that with “absolute” as well.

    As I said some many comments ago, his neural cytoarchitecture renders him incapable of even realizing how incredibly incongruous all his statements and claims are.

  167. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 6:38 pm

    JJ Borgman.

    First, keep your questions/critiques coming, they help me learn and explain my ideas better, so thanks!

    “Zach, I’m interested in your argument, if there is one. The god stuff, though, is a non-starter after that, just so you know.”

    Any specific reason you rule that out as an option from the start?

    Seems a bit narrow to me to not even allow it in the conversation. Does that demonstrate that your mind is already made up?

    My argument is that that morality must be objective – which I will fully explain and write out. Remember, once you arrive at objective there are different possible routes to take. Same way as if you arrive at the notion that morality is subjective – see my chart.

    “Lions are not sentient moral actors. Lions don’t know the difference between right and wrong. Lions don’t have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong and to be moral actors.”

    Lions are sentient…

    Secondly, how do you know we know what is right and wrong since what is “wrong” happens all the time. Maybe we all just do what we are programmed to do, and there is a range on it. Not sure why don’t you consider that option. I don’t agree with it, but you don’t seem to be picking between the two with anything other than your preference of blue over red.

    BillyJoe7
    good questions/critiques, keep them coming!

    “I am a dictator. I draw up a set of rules for my subjects to follow. I can pick or choose if and when to follow these rules myself because I am a dictator and I can do what I like and I won’t get punished. But if my subjects disobey these rules they will be punished. That is might makes right. Right?”

    Yes. I agree. Good analogy.

    “God also has a set of rules for us to follow. However it is not possible for God to disobey these rules because they emanate from the nature of God. But, similarly to the dictator scenario, if we, his subjects, disobey these rules, we will be punished.
    The only difference I can see is that, unlike the dictator, God cannot disobey God’s rules because they emanate from the nature of God.”

    This is an excellent question. I have been thinking it over and here is what I have come up with so far.

    Might makes right would be that the authority is derived from God’s power right. His ability to stop or punish us for not following the rules.

    Might makes right in a human sense would be that something is right, simply because the majority, or those with the biggest guns, have the ability to enforce whatever they feel like enforcing.

    (I’m going to explain a Christian belief here, so don’t get all upset and take this as I am trying to prove God to you right now. I’m not, I’m just explaining why Christians reject Euthyphro’s Dilemma.)

    So when it comes to Plato’s question, Euthyphro’s Dilemm, a Christian would argue that both options are not what the Bible explains God is like.

    a. Is telling lies wrong because God decided He doesn’t like it, so if you don’t obey God will use his power to enforce what he happens to like or dislike?

    b. Is telling lies wrong because God has access to some moral law outside of himself that he looks up what actions are right and wrong? So then this God wouldn’t be the supreme author of right and wrong, this standard outside of himself would be.

    The Christian rejects a and be and suggest option c.

    c. Before time itself was created and matter, the universe, etc. God is and was the supreme being who exists by himself, in himself, and for himself. He is all there was and ever was (Skeptics who rage at this stuff try to calm down now, I’m explaining the 3rd option that Christians believe, so you might not agree, but there is no dilemma).

    This God does not change and remains the same, he does not learn, he does not grow, he does not age, etc. etc. So his/she/its personality would not be like our personality – one that changes with experience.
    Now, if this being’s character cannot and does not change, certain actions outside of himself (lying, rape, etc. etc.) would be against his character, it would be a rebellion against what He is.

    Now, if morality is rooted God’s character and not His power to enforce whatever he decides to like on that given day, month, year, millennium, etc. and this God is a just God who hates rebellion (sin – wrong moral actions). Then this God would strike down such actions.

    This also is one of the reasons why Christians believe in forgiveness. We are not the judge of right and wrong. We forgive because we have been forgiven. Big conversation required, but it helps to mention this idea in perspective.

    So the tldr version. I would assert might makes right is rooted in the power to put into place whatever moral system you decide you like. The Christian God doesn’t do this, he didn’t choose that rape would be bad and love would be good, he had no other choice since it was rooted in his character, not his power to arbitrary say I like blue over red.

    Is that fair? Or am I assuming too much?

    Zach

  168. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I just realized this would be like explaining molecular genetics to someone in Darwin’s time. The fundamental concepts are so far removed from their reality they couldn’t begin to start to understand it.

  169. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Pretentiousness.

    Let’s all try to avoid it.

  170. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Zach: I find your attempt to escape the Euthyphro dilemma ["option (c)"] to be incoherent.

    Talk of a personality that does not change with experience sounds like no personality at all. You might as well be describing the “personality” of a dead person.

    What I think you’re trying to say (correct me if I’m wrong) is that we should follow God’s commandments because His character is inherently virtuous. If so, then – putting aside the problems of biblical “evidence” to the contrary (e.g. see my previous comment re: God’s permission to rape in the Bible) and theodicy in general – you’ve basically chosen the second horn of the dilemma.

  171. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,
    “First, keep your questions/critiques coming, they help me learn and explain my ideas better, so thanks!”

    I wrote,
    “Zach, I’m interested in your argument, if there is one. The god stuff, though, is a non-starter after that, just so you know.”

    You wrote,
    “Any specific reason you rule that out as an option from the start?
    Seems a bit narrow to me to not even allow it in the conversation. Does that demonstrate that your mind is already made up?”

    I all but rule it out from the start. You are making an incorrect assumption. There has been a lot of (as in years and volumes) other stuff leading me to my conclusions. You are a very late development.

    IMO, there is no evidence for the Abrahamic god. None. No frozen waterfalls. No archaeology. No Bible. No miracles, no answered prayers, no magical sunsets, no wildly incoherent explanations. No logic, nothing.

    The way you argue, I’m later middle age, I will die before you get to a cogent argument for your god.

    For now, just present, in clear terms, your argument for objective morality as I have explained I understand it. Or correct me. Let’s not get derailed by a separate issue.

    IF you toss out another diversion, I withdraw my request for your argument. ’nuff said. Focus, Zach.

  172. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Reminds me of the Monty Python skit about the Argument Clinic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQFKtI6gn9Y

    Lions don’t pass the mirror test, but an 18 month old child does.

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

    so presumably their degree of sentience is less than that of an 18 month old child. Presumably their ability at moral reasoning is less than that of an 18 month old child too.

  173. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 7:52 pm

    nybgrus,

    Yeah, I asked that question in relation to Euthyphro’s dilemma and Zach’s link to the Christian apologist’s third option to resolve this dilemma.

    Zach,

    “This God does not change and remains the same, he does not learn, he does not grow, he does not age, etc. etc. So his/she/its personality would not be like our personality – one that changes with experience.”

    I assume Christians would also say that God’s personality is perfect, moral, and right?
    I think we need that for the rest of the argument to make any sense.

    “Now, if this being’s character cannot and does not change, certain actions outside of himself (lying, rape, etc. etc.) would be against his character, it would be a rebellion against what He is.”

    Is it a rebellion against God/God’s character though? First of all we would need to have perfect knowledge of God’s character. Secondly, even if we did have perfect knowledge of God’s character and what he would do and not do, we might just choose to do things differently. We might not see it as a rebellion against God at all. We might aee it as doing things that seem right and proper from our (?limited) point of view.

    “Now, if morality is rooted God’s character and not His power to enforce whatever he decides to like on that given day, month, year, millennium, etc. and this God is a just God who hates rebellion (sin – wrong moral actions). Then this God would strike down such actions.”

    So, what would you say in relation to my second dictator scenario.
    (ie you have not responded to my last two paragraphs)

  174. ccbowerson 12 Jan 2013 at 8:05 pm

    “God also has a set of rules for us to follow. However it is not possible for God to disobey these rules because they emanate from the nature of God.”

    So if the rules have changed at any time, is this reflective of a change in the god?

    “Now, if morality is rooted God’s character and not His power to enforce whatever he decides to like on that given day, month, year, millennium, etc. and this God is a just God who hates rebellion (sin – wrong moral actions). Then this God would strike down such actions”

    I’ve always found the emotions attributed to gods (jealousy, anger) to be fairly petty for a such a being. Often those emotions seem petty even for a child, yet people find this convincing for an ominscient omnipotent supernatural being?

    “Christian God doesn’t do this, he didn’t choose that rape would be bad and love would be good, he had no other choice since it was rooted in his character, not his power to arbitrary say I like blue over red. ”

    So god had “no other choice” in the matter… his will is subordinate to his nature?

  175. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 8:15 pm

    “IF you toss out another diversion, I withdraw my request for your argument. ’nuff said. Focus, Zach.

    If you consider me responding to other questions directed at me a diversion, you might as well as withdraw it now.

    Your mind is made up.

    Mufi,
    You said,

    “I find your attempt to escape the Euthyphro dilemma ["option (c)"] to be incoherent.
    Talk of a personality that does not change with experience sounds like no personality at all. You might as well be describing the “personality” of a dead person.”

    Mufi, correct me if I am mistaken, but it appears we are disagreeing over the notion of an unchanging personality?

    I like definitions, and I think they help, so here we go.

    Personality:
    1. a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities: He is a curious personality.

    2. Psychology .
    a. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
    b. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.

    3. the quality of being a person; existence as a self-conscious human being; personal identity.

    4. the essential character of a person.

    Now, I think you are assuming that a personality that doesn’t change isn’t real. I don’t think that necessarily follows, and you can’t pull that out of what a personality actually is.

    “What I think you’re trying to say (correct me if I’m wrong) is that we should follow God’s commandments because His character is inherently virtuous. If so, then – putting aside the problems of biblical “evidence” to the contrary (e.g. see my previous comment re: God’s permission to rape in the Bible) and theodicy in general – you’ve basically chosen the second horn of the dilemma.

    I don’t agree, here is why.

    If God was pulling the morality from some object, or standard outside of Himself (Think something that he was given or goes to in order to know it), then you would be correct.

    However, God (at least the Christian God) doesn’t do that. What is right is what he does since it’s in his character. If God had chosen to not create anything, and there was only the triune God then there would be nothing else to appeal to, for what would be right with the community of a triune God would be what was right, there is no standard to go appeal to.

    Now, your “might makes right” idea doesn’t explain it fully either, since God isn’t simply choosing what He happens to favor. If morality was only based on what He happened to like (red instead of blue), then morality would be subjective to whatever He liked, thus a might makes right scenario.

    Rather, God (the Christian God) derives reality from his character, there is no other options for morality if this is true, it is as objective and complete as the existence of Himself.

    Whatcha think?

    Billyjoe7

    “I assume Christians would also say that God’s personality is perfect, moral, and right?
    I think we need that for the rest of the argument to make any sense.”

    Exactly!

    Without that, it’s game over.

    “Is it a rebellion against God/God’s character though? First of all we would need to have perfect knowledge of God’s character. Secondly, even if we did have perfect knowledge of God’s character and what he would do and not do, we might just choose to do things differently. We might not see it as a rebellion against God at all. We might see it as doing things that seem right and proper from our (limited) point of view.”

    Excellent point.

    Here is how I believe we make sense of this.

    First, if Christianity is correct, we all do have a sense of right and wrong, but not a full sense entirely – hence the different disagreements. C.S. Lewis’ explanation of this was very helpful for me. Though we do not nor ever will have a universal agreement on morality, human morality generally is not made up of different moralities. What I mean is that you will never find a culture that decided that it was moral to slight everyone who you ever cared about and loved or who helped you, rather the way humanity justifies its abuse of morality is by just that, justifying it.

    “All sorts of excuses for us. that time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money – the one you have almost forgotten – came when you wre very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old so-and so and have never done – well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behavior to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it – and who the dickens am I want anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm.”

    So, we all know we fail to do what is morally right always, we excuse it to being human, etc.

    But I don’t think it is a stretch to say that if there was a God, and this morality we all seem to not be able to shirk and find ourselves justifying, that we know we are guilty for it to Him. Sort of like the child who knows when mother finds the messy room still messy.

    I might be moving too fast there in drawing my conclusions, let me know.

    “So, what would you say in relation to my second dictator scenario.
    (ie you have not responded to my last two paragraphs)”

    I’m not sure which part I left out, mind telling me? Thanks!

    Zach

  176. RickKon 12 Jan 2013 at 8:26 pm

    If you don’t understand why what you just wrote doesn’t answer my question, I’m not sure what else to tell you. You are convinced that empathy is > hatred – and yet humans have both traits and must decipher which way to choose. You favor empathy without giving a foundation for it, other than you think so/like it. I am not interesting in what you think since it is only based on what you happen to like. Why should I favor what you like over Bob the human butcher’s?

    You asked what differentiates humans from lions. I told you.

    A society made of up Bob the human butchers doesn’t have as much reproductive success.

    Stop avoiding the word “evolution” like it doesn’t exist, Zach. Because “everybody hates everybody” is not an evolutionarily successful social model for humans. Humans are a successful species in part because they cooperate. We are here because of successful evolution. Sure, successful competition is also important, but only to a point.

    If you want some foundation why this is more successful than “everybody hates everybody”, I suggest you google “reciprocal altruism, ‘tit for tat’, or Robert Axelrod”.

  177. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Zach,

    “First, if Christianity is correct, we all do have a sense of right and wrong…What I mean is that you will never find a culture that decided that it was moral to slight everyone who you ever cared about and loved or who helped you, rather the way humanity justifies its abuse of morality is by just that, justifying it.”

    Non-theists would argue that evolution is a sufficient explanation for why there are no cultures where they slight everyone they ever cared about. Kin Selection and Reciprocal Altruism are evolutionary explanations for why we care for those who care for us, and they are rooted in the concept of “the selfish gene”. I assume you have read Richard Dawkins book.

    As for the CS Lewis quote, fair enough we can fail to live up to what we consider to be moral actions, but what about deciding what is moral in the first place? For example, in relation to abortion? If we do not have perfect knowledge about God’s character and what he would do or not do, how could we be rebelling against God whatever we decide is right regarding abortion. We are just making decisions with our limited knowledge, not rebelling against God. Why should that be punished?

    “I’m not sure which part I left out, mind telling me? Thanks!”

    The bit where I converted the dictator into a god-like person….

    “Suppose the dictator did obey all his rules, not because he doesn’t want to be punished (because he is the dictator and he cannot be punished), but because it is in his nature to live by those rules (which is why they are the rules that all his subjects must follow in the first place). Is it still “might is right” when he punishes his subjects for disobeying his rules, or does this no longer apply?
    Certainly we would have more respect for such a dictator. But he is still demanding that we be exactly like him and do exactly what he does for fear of being punished. And he is in a position where he can meter out this punishment, no questions asked. It’s still “might makes right”. Surely?”

    In the case of the god-like dictator, we at least know what the rules are, but it still sounds like “might makes right”

  178. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Zach,

    Sorry, but you don’t get to decide that. Is your argument valid? Show me.

  179. JJ Borgmanon 12 Jan 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Zach,
    It’s just you and me. And objective moralism. God isn’t a part of this argument. As you have insisted before. Show me.

  180. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Zach, why people have empathy for some and hatred for others is an interesting aspect of human physiology. I have a blog post about it.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    My hypothesis is that when people meet they do a Turing Test with the person they are trying to communicate with. To do that, you need to be able to emulate the communication protocols they use to translate sounds (i.e. language) into mental concepts. If you can’t understand someone from their perspective, that means you can’t translate the language they are trying to communicate with into the mental concepts they are having. If the error rate is too high, then the Turing Test fails and xenophobia is triggered via the uncanny valley.

    People can also be taught to hate, but that is another topic.

    To not hate someone you need to be able to understand them. If you can’t understand them, then you default to hating them. This is why theists hate atheists, but atheists don’t hate theists. For the most part theists can’t understand how someone could be an atheist. If a theist could understand how someone could be an atheist, they would most likely be one too. On the other hand, atheists do understand how theists believe in God.

    Theists don’t understand why atheists don’t believe in God because they are never able to articulate the reasons. Even after the reasons are explained to them, they still can’t articulate them. You will not be able to articulate why atheists do not believe in God. Your attempts to do so will fail, unless you copy and paste something from an actual atheist. Don’t believe me? Just try it.

  181. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Zach: Now, I think you are assuming that a personality that doesn’t change isn’t real. I don’t think that necessarily follows, and you can’t pull that out of what a personality actually is.

    I trust that the concept of personality is derived from our experience of those whom call “persons” (e.g. our fellow men & women). With that prototype in mind, I would agree that we can extend it to other entities – e.g. members of other species, machines, and mythical/fictional characters – including Yahweh (or Elohim, depending upon the verse or passage). And anyone who’s read the Bible knows that Yahweh goes through changes, just like any other person (e.g. consider the Flood stories).

    So I’ll say it again: All persons – so long as they’re alive – change. The dictionary doesn’t have to state this explicitly. It’s common sense.

    What is right is what he does since it’s in his character.

    It seems you’re trying to define rightness as whatever God commands, since He can do no wrong, in which case it’s like I said: You’ve not avoided the dilemma. You’ve simply chosen the second horn.

  182. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 9:53 pm

    “A society made of up Bob the human butchers doesn’t have as much reproductive success.”

    I didn’t say kill everyone, I said abuse mistreat everyone outside of my tribe/family.

    You aren’t demonstrating your point to be true.

    “If we do not have perfect knowledge about God’s character and what he would do or not do, how could we be rebelling against God whatever we decide is right regarding abortion. We are just making decisions with our limited knowledge, not rebelling against God. Why should that be punished?”

    Good question.

    Christianity asserts that God reveals Himself in two ways.

    First, general revelation.
    Second, special revelation.

    Second is like if God tells a prophet or something like that what He says, and then uses miracles to confirm the message to be from Him.

    First type, is what information God would have instilled within us – like instincts etc. The bible teaches also that nature shouts out the glory of God, and Romans 1 talks about why and how man suppresses this knowledge – basically man knows the general revelation and they suppress it willingly whether they would admit it or not.

    Second type, prophets, Jesus, etc. Miracles are the sign that they aren’t just people making up stuff.

    Now, all that to say, to start God judges mankind for breaking the first type. All mankind is guilty for it, etc. etc. So while you may not know, realize you are breaking laws and stuff that God revealed through special revelation, you and I both know we break the basic ones, or at least have.

    Here is a good test to take for yourself. Write out a list of the things you believe are wrong to do. Then go through and examine if you have broken any of those ever. Like be mean to someone and treat them poorly, or w/e your morals are. By even our own standards we are guilty. And since God is just, he therefore will judge rightly. Guilt is punishable even by our own courts and thinking.

    Does that help? Some may not want to hear all this, but to answer your question about what Christianity teaches, it requires some theological explanations.

    Respectfully,
    Zach

  183. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 9:57 pm

    “And anyone who’s read the Bible knows that Yahweh goes through changes, just like any other person (e.g. consider the Flood stories).
    So I’ll say it again: All persons – so long as they’re alive – change. The dictionary doesn’t have to state this explicitly. It’s common sense.

    I agree, all persons alive go through changes that change their character and personality. And your right, the dictionary doesn’t say one way or the other, but that’s my point, it doesn’t necessarily follow that an infinite God that is different than us finite beings must have a changing and progressing personality.

    Also, I don’t see God’s character changing, I see his character as being wide and vast – big conversation.

    Zach

  184. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 10:01 pm

    “It seems you’re trying to define rightness as whatever God commands, since He can do no wrong, in which case it’s like I said: You’ve not avoided the dilemma. You’ve simply chosen the second horn.”

    No I don’t think so. As I said, rightness is what God is and does, you can’t separate the two. God only does what is consistent within his nature, and what he is is righteous.

    I’m trying to think of a better way to explain it, it makes sense in my head, but that’s the best I can come up with for now. Basically I see that as being very different that God commanding whatever he feels like. And if his personality changed, then yeah I would have to agree with you since morality would then be whatever God felt like that day, week, month, year. We’d always be a few steps behind with the new system – and then God would just use his power to enforce the changes.

  185. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jan 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Zach on 12 Jan 2013 at 4:22 pm

    “Why should we care about God’s [wishes / purposes / creative intentions / or whatever you might call his will]? Unless you have an answer for that, all of this other stuff is just peripheral distraction.”

    The shortest possible response, because we owe it to Him, and because there are consequences for rebellion.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. There are really only two answers, and you gave both:

    1. Because you have decided that God should benefit from some human-derived sense of moral fairness, in your case being repaid some kind of debt. Others just cite the need for God’s happiness in general, but it’s all just arbitrary assertion that God is to be well-off, which is no more objective than saying that humans should be well-off.

    2. Because this supposedly objective obedience to a rule-giver is really just a mechanism for human well-being (avoiding “consequences”, and getting into paradise). It’s not a different philosophy of morality, it’s just a different claimed mechanism for achieving human health.

    So you don’t actually have a different approach to morality or a different goal for a moral system. You are the same as anyone, but you are adding belief in supernatural mechanisms and asserting that “god” should be given consideration as a conscious being with the same kinds of moral rules we developed for ourselves (applied in whatever proportional degree you perceive to be his due consideration). All of these scores of comments involving arguments over definitions are just masks layered over the same thing. You don’t have a different sense of morality, you just believe in improbable things.

    This is also why Sam Harris is, functionally, correct. Yes, he is arbitrarily declaring that human well-being is the purpose of morality. But every other moral position, including yours, traces back to that. It’s arbitrary, and yet nobody actually disagrees. People claim to disagree, but when you reach the base of their logic, they don’t.

  186. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 10:13 pm

    ConspicuousCarl,

    I’m really not sure what you mean with your post. Sorry, can you explain it again? Sam Harris is the naturalism side of an objective standard. Religion is the supernaturalism side.

    Are you pointing this out thinking I didn’t recognize that? I’m confused.

    Thanks!

  187. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Zach:

    it doesn’t necessarily follow that an infinite God that is different than us finite beings must have a changing and progressing personality

    As I see it, you’re playing fast and loose here with the concept of personality, thereby rendering it essentially meaningless – thus, my charge of incoherence.

    rightness is what God is and does, you can’t separate the two

    Granted, so that when God commands us to do X, that too is rightness.

    Classic second horn.

  188. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Amendment: I think you’re playing fast and loose with the word “personality”, thereby…

  189. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 10:38 pm

    “Granted, so that when God commands us to do X, that too is rightness.
    Classic second horn.”

    No. You are refusing to recognize the difference between morality coming from a ever changing God who decides morality whenever and however he chooses with a God who’s morality comes from within His unchanging character and nature.

    The first involves some might makes right.
    The second involves right makes right.

  190. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 10:40 pm

    “I think you’re playing fast and loose with the word “personality”, thereby…”

    Only because you are comparing personality to your experience with finite human beings.

    Apples to oranges imo.

  191. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Zach,

    I still maintain that I cannot rebel against God because I do not have knowledge of God’s nature and, therefore, what he would or would not do. He has not seen fit to reveal any messages to me or to confirm them with miracles. So no special revelation. As for general revelation – what you call instincts – are the result of our evolutionary history. That is what the evidence tells me at least. And instincts are not reliable. They arose at a time when humans lived in the forest and had to avoid predators while looking for prey so that they would survive and replicate. For example, the sexual instinct is not reliable. It can lead to rape, or it can lead sex with persons who want to reciprocate purely for the pleasure of sex, or it can help improve loving relationships. What would God do? I have no idea, and my sexual instinct doesn’t tell me that either.

    So, no, I can’t break God’s laws, because I have no idea what they are. No revelations. No miracles. Instincts which don’t tell me what is morally right and wrong and which evidence tells me evolved when humans led quite different lives in quite different circumstances from the one I lead, and therefore are ambiguous as to what is right and wrong in my circumstances now.

  192. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 11:08 pm

    BillyJoe7

    You rebel against your own moral standard all the time and break it. If God’s standard is even as simple as your own you are guilty by that even measurement – which would be likely be not as strict His if He is perfect.

    If there is a God and He did create humanity, even the basic elements of our morality which are correct are from Him – so breaking even one of them imparts guilt. If we conclude that any part of our moral system is right – and we break that, we are guilty by that standard which is a small fraction of the the real one. So not being aware of all of them doesn’t change much if you think we can even know any of them.

    Does that help clarify it at all?

    Zach

  193. RickKon 12 Jan 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Zach said:

    “A society made of up Bob the human butchers doesn’t have as much reproductive success.”
    I didn’t say kill everyone, I said abuse mistreat everyone outside of my tribe/family.
    You aren’t demonstrating your point to be true.

    *sigh* For someone so educated, you’re really good at playing dumb. I know it’s deliberate. I know you’re just trying to stir up a fight and not have an actual debate. I know you already know you have no argument against a naturalistic explanation for human morality because naturalistic explanations of how things work in this world have never EVER lost to supernatural explanations.

    But I’ll walk through it in nice simple terms.

    Kill all other tribes works fine, so long as the other tribes are always weaker than you are. But if they’re NOT weaker than you, then both tribes benefit more by not wasting resources battling each other. Both enjoy more children growing to reproductive age if the tribes don’t fight, and even MORE grow to reproductive age if they cooperate (assuming a non-zero-sum environment).

    (Note: In a zero-sum environment, a few key moral rules can be quite different, which just reinforces the argument that morality is relative).

    So lets say the other tribe IS weaker than you are and you can wipe them out. That has happened – good bye American Indians, goodbye Neanderthals.

    But what happens when you keep them around as slaves? Familiarity develops, communication improves, perhaps there’s a little inter-breeding (perhaps a LOT), and pretty soon they start looking like part of your tribe. There’s that whole empathy thing going to work again.

    Now add continuously improving communications, and everybody starts looking like someone familiar. And we have as supporting evidence the steady decrease in human violence to the point we’re at today, with a larger portion of the human population living without the threat of imminent bodily harm than ever in history.

    It’s not all black and white. There are bumps in the road. But the instincts that discourage us from mistreating family and friends and other humans with which we are familiar are encouraging us to treat nearly everybody well.

    And of course, philosophers like Jesus and those before and after him have put those evolutionary traits into words, have reinforced the self esteem we feel when we act on the more socially-positive feelings, and have built a political Leviathans or invented religious boogie men (like Satan) to punish us when we act on the more socially-negative feelings.

    No cosmic objectivity required. No supernatural lawgiver required. Just evolution, and a really interesting mix of biology and self-interested social evolution.

    Back over to you Zach to make your petty little sniping attacks on a couple words or phrases while avoiding the central argument entirely and avoiding presenting an alternative source of morality.

    Oh, by the way – if there was an objective morality in the universe, it would be the morality of a psychopath, completely indifferent to human (or any other) life. That’s the only morality that makes sense when you consider that 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the universe is instantly lethal to life, and when you consider that natural events that cause a loss of life in this universe never select or avoid beings of any particular moral character.

    “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
    – Richard Dawkins

    I’m sure you dislike the implications of that statement, but as you know, its implications don’t affect its truth or falsehood. And of course, I don’t expect you to offer any proof that the statement isn’t true. You’re saving that for YOUR blog.

  194. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2013 at 12:11 am

    Zach,

    Suppose I have just been to confessional and had all my sins forgiven. Then I have sex purely for fun with a consenting adult who is actually my wife. That, to me, is not immoral. But I have no idea whether or not the nature of God mandates that sex is only for procreation and that any other form of sex is immoral. If that happens to be the case, will I be punished if I die of a heart attack upon consummation of the act? If it is a mortal sin, will I burn in Hell for eternity for what I consider a harmless and fun activity? Seems pretty unfair to me just for not knowing, and not having any way of knowing, what God would do according to his nature.

  195. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 12:13 am

    “Suppose I have just been to confessional and had all my sins forgiven. Then I have sex purely for fun with a consenting adult who is actually my wife. That, to me, is not immoral. But I have no idea whether or not the nature of God mandates that sex is only for procreation and that any other form of sex is immoral. If that happens to be the case, will I be punished if I die of a heart attack upon consummation of the act? If it is a mortal sin, will I burn in Hell for eternity for what I consider a harmless and fun activity? Seems pretty unfair to me just for not knowing, and not having any way of knowing, what God would do according to his nature.

    I have never done confession nor am I a Roman catholic.

    Really really big conversation, but I don’t have much good to say about the Roman catholic church.

  196. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 12:14 am

    Messed up that blockquote, I wrote,

    I have never done confession nor am I a Roman catholic.
    Really really big conversation, but I don’t have much good to say about the Roman catholic church.

  197. ConspicuousCarlon 13 Jan 2013 at 12:43 am

    Zach,

    Feel free to ignore the Sam Harris reference and re-read the rest of what I said. Your attempt to discus naturalism vs supernaturalism has nothing to do with the inherent flaw in your supposedly different position.

  198. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 1:13 am

    Explain, because I honestly couldn’t figure out what you meant.

  199. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2013 at 1:13 am

    Zach,

    You missed the point of my last scenario. I don’t care if you not a Roman Catholic. It was just a scenario to bring out the fact that you cannot rebel against God, any God, if you don’t know what he demands of you. And I’ve shown you how revelation, miracles, and instinct don’t work to tell me this.

    And you also avoided the scenario about the god-like dictator, which was my attempt to clarify “might is right” in relation to God.

  200. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 1:16 am

    I’m not avoiding your scenario? What are you asking/saying exactly?

    My point is this. If our sense of morality comes from God, we know at least some of the actions that are wrong – call it instinct or whatever.

    Compare yourself to your own standard of morality – you break that even.

    Guilty

  201. ConspicuousCarlon 13 Jan 2013 at 2:00 am

    Zach,

    You offered god as an objective source. I asked why we should care.

    You said because 1) we owe him a debt, and 2) bad things will happen to us if we don’t obey him.

    I pointed out that the first item is an appeal to a moral value with god as a beneficiary of that rule. You can’t use god’s word as a reason why we should obey god’s word, so you then need some external reason why we should care about god’s satisfaction with our supposed debt.

    I also pointed out that the second item is just using human health as a goal for following the rules, and your basis for morality is therefore the exact same arbitrary basis used for secular/humanist/subjective/whatever morality which you are trying to present as being different from your method.

    This is an extremely simple point. If you still honestly don’t understand, don’t keep saying so here as a response. Go ask someone you know to read my post and help you to understand.

  202. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 2:15 am

    Alright ConspicuousCarl, I think I get what you are saying.

    First, yes we have a choice to obey or not, if we don’t their an aspect of consequentialism which every view of morality accepts.

    Second, Christianity at least, says we have nothing to offer God, so He doesn’t “get” anything out of us obeying. He doesn’t need us per say.

    Third,

    “You can’t use god’s word as a reason why we should obey god’s word, so you then need some external reason why we should care about god’s satisfaction with our supposed debt.”

    I don’t think this statement is true.
    a. what do you mean by God’s word (a specific Holy book or?)
    b. It assumes that man can have true happiness outside of his purpose that God created him for – the whole Blaise Pascal God shaped hole idea.

    Two thing C. S. Lewis once wrote are helpful explanations of this idea.

    “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just not good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

    “The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”

    Well the aspect of judgment from a righteous God is blatantly obvious, this is one aspect only of what hell is. The Dante’s Inferno type ideas probably miss much of the point.

    C. S. Lewis once wrote,

    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

  203. Steven Novellaon 13 Jan 2013 at 7:53 am

    Zach wrote: “I don’t think this statement is true.
    a. what do you mean by God’s word (a specific Holy book or?)
    b. It assumes that man can have true happiness outside of his purpose that God created him for – the whole Blaise Pascal God shaped hole idea.”

    This is a complete non sequitur, like just about all of your responses. You rarely address the actual point being made, just find some irrelevant other point to focus on.

    The crux of your position is that we should follow God’s word because God wants us to and we know we should follow God’s word because God says so. These are both, of course, circular reasoning.

    What the source of God’s word is is irrelevant to that point. It is a separate point, and also another fatal problem for your position, but it certainly does not resolve the circular problem of your logic.

    The second point, b, is simply false. It assumes nothing, it is simply an accurate portrayal of your logic. You are just saying here that, “in saying that I have no basis for my position you are assuming that I am not right.” This is a clever way to try to shift the burden of proof. You have to give a compelling argument for why you are right – why do we need God to find true happiness (and please define “true happiness”).

    The dance continues:
    non sequiturs
    shifting the burden of proof
    circular reasoning
    repeat

  204. Steven Novellaon 13 Jan 2013 at 7:56 am

    Also, Zach, you said that “bad things will happen” – prove that those things you speak of are objectively “bad.”

  205. RickKon 13 Jan 2013 at 10:05 am

    CS Lewis was just another courtier to the Emperor With No Clothes. This is just more tortured rationalization attempting to explain how a benevolent, perfect, all-knowing being could create a system of life built on competition and death, where “God’s creatures” can only thrive by killing and eating “God’s creatures”, where there is a vast universe that is almost totally hostile to life, and where suffering is such an enormous component of the lives of “His Chosen”.

    Arguing over the internal logical consistency of any system involving an undetectable omnipotent being is futile. There’s always the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” of God’s magic.

    Yes, “Gods” and “Heavens” and “Hells” provide lovely narratives to encourage or discourage certain social behavior. But again, these narratives change so much from person to person and from faith to faith that no rational mind can see them as anything but the reflections of the people devising them. There is no hint of consistent divine direction. The common threads across human behaviors and human societies are MUCH more reasonably explained by natural causes (especially as we discover more of those traits in non-human societies) than through various invocations of divine magic.

    Perhaps some day someone will come up with a way of distinguishing between a “God” that actually exists and a “God” that is simply an emergent meme of human society. Zach has certainly made no progress toward that end. Until someone does, we can safely assume it is us fallible, self-interested humans that must decide how we want to use our strange and wonderful chance at this apparently rare thing called conscious life.

  206. mufion 13 Jan 2013 at 10:31 am

    Zach:

    No. You are refusing to recognize the difference between morality coming from a ever changing God who decides morality whenever and however he chooses with a God who’s morality comes from within His unchanging character and nature.
    The first involves some might makes right.
The second involves right makes right.

    OK, let’s back up.
    Recall that the dilemma is: Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?
    Your answer boils down to: It is good because it “comes from within His unchanging character and nature.”
    As I see it, you’ve arbitrarily settled on a criterion of goodness that can logically apply to other entities besides God. When framed that way, it sounds more like the first horn.

    However, I expect that you’ll assert that, in fact, only God meets that criterion, in which case it sounds more like the second horn.

    Either way, you can’t escape the dilemma. Plato knew what he was talking about.

  207. ccbowerson 13 Jan 2013 at 10:37 am

    “Compare yourself to your own standard of morality – you break that even.
    Guilty”

    What does this even mean? That we will all be judged by our own actions in light of our own sense of morality? That is in complete contradiction to everything you’ve been saying thus far, and in contradition to nearly all Christian perspectives that I know of.

    Perhaps it is a dodge to what I believe is BJ7′s point: How much sense does it make for an omnipotent omniscient being to demand of his “creation,” us humans, to obey his rules without explicitly stating what those rules are. Sure some people will proclaim that they are apparent, but they are obviously not because there are almost as many sets of rules as there are people, and even if we are to assume your god is the correct one- those rules are vague at their best, and often contradictory. So each individual is left to interpret these rules for themselves, like life is some kind of game with eternity on the line. There is no reason why these rules could not be clear, unless the god is not truly omnipotent…perhaps vagueness is his only weakness.

  208. tmac57on 13 Jan 2013 at 11:14 am

    ccbowers-

    So each individual is left to interpret these rules for themselves, like life is some kind of game with eternity on the line.

    Worse,we are not all equipped with the same intellectual abilities. Those who have severe mental deficits cannot reasonably be held responsible for not understanding the ‘rules’,and thus being damned for eternity.Or,maybe god thinks that IS reasonable. Does god make exceptions for his flawed creations?

  209. JJ Borgmanon 13 Jan 2013 at 11:16 am

    RickK wrote,

    “Perhaps some day someone will come up with a way of distinguishing between a “God” that actually exists and a “God” that is simply an emergent meme of human society…Until someone does, we can safely assume it is us fallible, self-interested humans that must decide how we want to use our strange and wonderful chance at this apparently rare thing called conscious life.”

    That has a very nice Sagan-esque lilt to it.

  210. JJ Borgmanon 13 Jan 2013 at 11:35 am

    I became especially interested in the impact of “guilt” and “shame” about the time I re-evaluated my own Christian beliefs. They certainly have their places in society, but they are two of the most severely abused emotions, especially in Christianity.

    So to someone like Zach that tries to make a case that we are all “guilty” somehow, I say, guilty of what? Guilty according to whom? Guilty according to what? I find a great deal of peace in having shed my previous need to acquiesce to such charges.

  211. nybgruson 13 Jan 2013 at 11:42 am

    Well, thankfully for my further time investment this has left the realm of the philosophy of morality and ethics and devolved into theistic apologism. Which is quite inane, has been refuted countless times, and is quite boring to me at this point. Zach is no longer even instructional to me, because I have encountered all of these apologia many times before and, of course, there is nothing new.

    Of course it is hardly surprising that this happened. After all that was Zach’s point the entire time and we knew it. But at least it was interesting at first because he feigned a desire to keep it purely to the concept of objective (by which he really meant absolute, since he doesn’t know what “objective” actually means) vs subjective (by which he means absolute relativism, since he doesn’t understand how subjective does not mean “all ideas are equal”) without the whole god thing.

    Of course the amazing irony is he spent the whole time saying he doesn’t want faith based assertions as the basis of the conversation but then cannot even begin to have his conversation without the biggest leap of faith of all – that a magic sky fairy exists. “harm is bad” is too great a leap of faith for him, but “the unchanging perfect personality of god emanates morality that permeates the universe” seems perfectly reasonable.

    And of course, the best part is he – like all apologists – simply plays the “god is magic so nanny nanny boo boo” card. God does exactly the same thing he derides – “might makes right” – but it magically gets transformed into “authority” rather than “might” and since it is god, it further transmogrifies into “right” without any rational, logical, or evidence based reason as to why. All while having the immense hypocrisy to claim our stance fails because it lacks reason, logic, and evidence. Truly pitiful.

    BJ’s points are solid and Zach’s rebuttal is as weak as it comes. Sure, we fail by our own standards. So? The point is that even if I didn’t fail by my own standards I would still fail by standards I cannot possibly know. It becomes a zero-sum game that makes attempting any standards worthless. And it is also the standard Jesus-freak pamphlet cartoon to try and scare people into believing. Only a child would be fooled by it.

    Yet another example of how completely bankrupt theology is.

    Oh, and D2u makes some good points as well, especially his last one. Yes, despite the fact that I have never ever been a believer I can at least imagine what it is like and see the reasons why people believe. Zach would not be able to do the opposite. As I said long ago – his neural cytoarchitecture prevents that possibility.

    I think my learning opportunities have dried up, but I thank everyone who contributed along the way.

  212. nybgruson 13 Jan 2013 at 11:47 am

    @tmac57:

    Those who have severe mental deficits cannot reasonably be held responsible for not understanding the ‘rules’,and thus being damned for eternity.Or,maybe god thinks that IS reasonable. Does god make exceptions for his flawed creations?

    An interesting medical factoid.

    Cretinism is the result of congenital hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone is vitally necessary for early brain and body development. A lack of it leaves those afflicted severely mentally retarded and physically deformed (in relation to the level of hypothyroidism). The term “cretinism” to describe them arose from the French “chretien” which means “Christ-like” since it was their belief that these unfortunate souls were so incapable of commiting any sort of sin that they were guaranteed entry to heaven, thus being the most like Christ himself.

    There is an urban myth running around that the term comes from the notion that Christian’s are mentally handicapped themselves, thus the descriptor used in this condition. While funny, it isn’t true.

  213. Fourieron 13 Jan 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Just a couple of comments about your response to my post (a long way above :) )

    Yes, Harris assumes consequentialism, and I appreciate he does that by ignoring other ethical systems, but I think that’s my point – what he’s doing is arguing that morality should be defined in the way that most people understand the term, which is a consequentialist view (“He’s a bad person because his actions caused pain and suffering”). Though it’s fairly obvious that taking a consequentialist view to extremes fails in corner cases, and it’s also fairly obvious that our evolved moral sense is some kind of mixture of the three ethical systems so that attempting to shoehorn our moral decisions into any one system is likely to leave us a little uneasy at times.

    As for equating all subjective moral views with rolling a die – I don’t at all agree with you that they are not all equally preferable. (Sorry – too many negatives!). After all, what’s to say that a moral system based on “attempting to cause the least pain to other human beings” is *intrinsically* any better than one based on “attempting to maximise the number of healthy years that is lived by human beings” or “minimise the number of criminals” or “minimise the number of elephants” or “make as many things as possibly purple” or “kill everyone with an odd number of letters in their name”? The only reason why you might think that the latter are less plausible as bases for a system of morality than the former is because you have some undisclosed notion that morality is something to do with making people better off. Which is Harris’s point, isn’t it? Hence my argument about circularity and my claim that the concept of morality is inherently meaningless (unless we assume some teleological dimension to it, which philosophers don’t like).

  214. Fourieron 13 Jan 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Ooh.. I ought to reply to this, too: “the moral philosophy of those cultures claiming [a] god as their source is indistinguishable from culturally determined moral philosophizing” [SN]

    Perhaps I misunderstood what you’re saying, but if you’re saying “Moral arguments from religions are indistinguishable in form from secular morality” then I disagree with that. After all, the important difference with religious moral arguments is not just that they argue a different (though suspiciously similar and socially-dependent) set of moral rules and regulations [plus the obligatory injunctions on what, specifically, you are and are not allowed to do with your genitals]. But religious morality also purports to give an objective basis to that morality, which secular morality lacks (so I believe – you probably disagree). As it happens, I believe religious moral arguments are not objective, but that’s besides the point :)

    If, however, you’re saying “people who claim to get their morality from religion have indistinguishable moral actions from those who get their moral arguments from secular sources” then I largely agree (with perhaps a slight preference towards preferring the moral actions of those who have a secular basis for morality.) Christopher Hitchens used to proudly claim that nobody could give him an example of a moral action that a religious person could commit but he couldn’t, but to my mind at least he never played the flip side of that card – it’s fairly easy to think of an example of a profound moral act that I or any secular person could commit but a religious person almost certainly could not – namely a truly anonymous, altruistic act without even the slightest hope of recognition or reward from any source outside oneself.

  215. mufion 13 Jan 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Fourier: Hence my argument about circularity and my claim that the concept of morality is inherently meaningless (unless we assume some teleological dimension to it, which philosophers don’t like).

    Re: telos, Michael Sandel said in his series on Justice re: Aristotle:

    Defining rights requires us to figure out the telos … of the social practice in question.

    To reason about the telos of a practice—or to argue about it—is, at least in part, to reason or argue about what virtues it should honor and reward.

    …no scientist reads Aristotle’s works on biology or physics and takes them seriously. But students of ethics and politics continue to read and ponder Aristotle’s moral and political philosophy.

    Telos (in the weakened form of teleonomy) also still seems to play some role in evolutionary biology and in the social sciences, but in ethics, I believe that the only philosophers who consciously try to avoid it are deontologists. The rest (e.g. consequentialists and virtue ethicists) seem quite comfortable with the idea that there’s an end or purpose (e.g. well-being, utility, virtue, etc.) to behaving in some ways but not others – i.e. morally.

  216. ccbowerson 13 Jan 2013 at 1:53 pm

    “Of course it is hardly surprising that this happened. After all that was Zach’s point the entire time and we knew it. But at least it was interesting at first because he feigned a desire to keep it purely to the concept of objective”

    It may have been more interesting in that it caused a good discussion on this blog about moral philosophy, but as far as a discussion with Zach I would have preferred the boring truth upfront rather than an the phony mystery we got.

    “And of course, the best part is he – like all apologists – simply plays the “god is magic so nanny nanny boo boo” card.”

    Its the special pleading/double standard, since he creates an unreasonable standard for alternative viewpoints, but allows very little justification for his own. All of the other logical fallacies and cognitive errors occured to justify this double standard.

  217. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 2:48 pm

    “he crux of your position is that we should follow God’s word because God wants us to and we know we should follow God’s word because God says so. These are both, of course, circular reasoning.”

    That is not position, and I have not laid out the REASON for my position. Stop grasping at straws because the view you laid out is rooted in circular reasoning and nonsensicalness.

    I will lay out my position, but right now I’m just answering a few specific questions about theology within the conversation of “if it is true”.

    There is a difference.

    “The dance continues:
    non sequiturs
    shifting the burden of proof
    circular reasoning
    repeat”

    Again, I didn’t justify the source of my position, I merely pointed out the nonsensical nature of yours.

    It must hit pretty close to home if you are really throwing out this kind of jargon when I have said several times that I have not even come close to demonstrating my position in Christianity – I have only demonstrated that morality must at least be objective since subjective is complete non-sense.

    Again, there is a difference.

    “Also, Zach, you said that “bad things will happen” – prove that those things you speak of are objectively “bad.”

    Read above posts. You are grasping desperately at straws out of clear frustration in the dooming flaws of your own view.

    I never said I proved what bad and good were, I answered a theological question within the framework of the Christian world view.

    There is a difference.

    “Arguing over the internal logical consistency of any system involving an undetectable omnipotent being is futile. There’s always the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” of God’s magic.”

    No more futile than you are Steven’s desperate attempts to justify a system in itself with a first principle that is the very question you are seeking to justify – how does one determine morality . WELL BY MORALITY OF COURSE! You say.

    Circular nonsense.

    “Yes, “Gods” and “Heavens” and “Hells” provide lovely narratives to encourage or discourage certain social behavior. But again, these narratives change so much from person to person and from faith to faith that no rational mind can see them as anything but the reflections of the people devising them.”

    Doesn’t matter. If there are 13 billion views of gravity and just one of them is correct, it doesn’t matter about the other false ones. Your point is illogical.

    “Perhaps some day someone will come up with a way of distinguishing between a “God” that actually exists and a “God” that is simply an emergent meme of human society. Zach has certainly made no progress toward that end.”

    You are clearly confused. I never attempted to.
    But if this gives you comfort carry on.

    “Recall that the dilemma is: Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?
    Your answer boils down to: It is good because it “comes from within His unchanging character and nature.”
    As I see it, you’ve arbitrarily settled on a criterion of goodness that can logically apply to other entities besides God. When framed that way, it sounds more like the first horn.”

    No, you aren’t putting the first part of the dilemma correctly. It’s the notion that God goes to some moral system outside of himself in which to know that rape is always bad. God doesn’t do that, so your point fails.

    But regardless Mufi, I’m enjoying your critiques. Steven, JJ Borman, and the others in the crowd are being too easily distracted by it so I suggest we put it on hiatus until I actually write a defense of my position – one in which I am inviting them to critique.

    They are too easily confused and think I am provided one, I know you can tell the difference, but for whatever reason they can’t seem to.

    So back to Steven’s view (you know, what this article is about…) and him explaining how his view isn’t circular.

    I’ll be waiting patiently.

  218. bgoudieon 13 Jan 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Is anyone really shocked that Zach’s ultimate position was nothing better than “the bible tells me so”?

    Though I’m amused by his continued attempts to be dishonest about what he doing here.

  219. nordon 13 Jan 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Kawarthajonon

    “I would strongly suggest you learn more about the history of Christianity or any other major religion. You will find that morality, as it has been defined by the various Churches and sects has changed dramatically over the centuries and Christianity as it is practiced today is nothing like what was practiced in it’s infancy as a religion. With that in mind, it makes it very difficult to argue that religion and belief in God provides any kind of anchor on which to base your system of morality.”

    Except you could also reference Catholicism, which hasn’t changed it’s church doctrine in the centuries since it was created. And why pick on Christianity? There must be plenty of religions, even major ones, in which people practice a moral code relatively unchanged since their inception. This argument is not as universally applicable as you think.

    @Steve
    “NAA wrote: “Atheists could solve their logical dilemma with morality by simply admitting that no authority->no morality. There is no basis for judging even the most heinous acts as wrong without an objective morality. It is interesting that you rarely hear that point made.:

    No – that is your premise, but it is not reasonable, and certainly has not been demonstrated. I do not need a magic authority to tell me that if I expect to have my right respected I should respect the rights of others. I can work that out for myself, thanks. ”

    False. This is actually a great example, Dr Novella, of a flawed argument that I often have to be cautious of when debating my christian friends. Most everyone here probably grew up in a society whose morals are largely influenced by Judeo-Christian values. That you have come up with your own modified moral code in adulthood does not negate that start. None of us can really say what values we would come up with on our own in a different society. Your subjective morality has been influenced by what our forefathers assumed was an objective morality. Thus we can’t use ourselves as un-biased evidence for subjective morals.

    We would be in a bind arguing against objective morals based on the fact that there are religions with relatively unchanged morals over time and that one cannot truly prove that God does not exist. However, there is also no evidence that God DOES exist. This is the stronger, more logical argument, and from that we can assume the the “objective” morals of any religion are simply a subjective moral code of the society in which X religion was started. You may have already stated that part?- but these fine points are important to keep people from being over confident in their arguments that can be biased from their true belief in atheism, even as they point out arguments biased by religious belief.

  220. Steven Novellaon 13 Jan 2013 at 3:04 pm

    One long non sequitur, and another attempt to avoid stating a positive case for his position.

    Zach keep misrepresenting our position, ignoring answers we have already given, and just repeats his premises. There is no end in sight.

    If at some point Zach has the courage to make a positive case for his position, I will be happy to address it.

  221. Steven Novellaon 13 Jan 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Nord – Thanks for the thoughtful input. I don’t know how many comments you read, but you are coming in late in the conversation.

    I was not saying that you can get to objective morality from reason or gut feelings. I acknowledge the strong influence of culture on what we think is moral.

    My position is, that moral philosophy is not 100% objective but neither is it arbitrary and worthless (which is essentially Zach’s position – I believe he reduced moral philosophy to logical fallacies and absurdity).

    There are values which are ultimately subjective, although I think they can be rooted in very basic human emotions. They are so fundamental that the premises that lead you to the need for a moral system in the first place are also the starting point for moral philosophy. Further, once you have some fundamental values, moral philosophy can proceed from there with logic, and informed by evidence (so, not arbitrary).

    This is very much like science – there are methods, logic, and evidence but you can dig down to some starting premises. All conclusions in science are tentative and imperfect. There is always a frame of reference that we cannot get out of. But some conclusions in science are so strong that it would be perverse not to acknowledge that they are likely true.

    Similarly through moral philosophy you cannot get to any objective truth, but you can arrive at conclusions that are so compelling it would be perverse not to acknowledge that they are at least a sound basis for morality.

    This is a far more nuanced position than Zach is capable of dealing with, so he keeps arguing in circles, tilting against his straw man.

  222. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Zach,

    Steven said: “You rarely address the actual point being made, just find some irrelevant other point to focus on.”

    This really summarises your tactics pretty accurately.

    This is exactly what you did with my last post:
    In my example, you focused on the fact that it was an example of Catholicism which gave you an excuse to not answer the point actually being made. When I pointed this out to you, you continued to avoid answering it. I have to assume you have no answer. But it’s dishonest not to say so if that is the case.

    Your purpose in focussing on an irrelevant point is to avoid answering difficult questions.
    Sometimes, instead of focussing on an irrelevant point, you simply do not answer a question:
    For example, my question about the god-like dictator was simply ignored, and when you pretended not to have seen the question and I posted it again, you simply ignored it a second time. Again that’s pretty dishonest.

    How can anyone have a reasonable conversation with you in these circumstances.

  223. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 3:46 pm

    “Is anyone really shocked that Zach’s ultimate position was nothing better than “the bible tells me so”?
    Though I’m amused by his continued attempts to be dishonest about what he doing here.
    .”

    C. S. Lewis said it best,

    “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”

    “One long non sequitur, and another attempt to avoid stating a positive case for his position.
    Zach keep misrepresenting our position, ignoring answers we have already given, and just repeats his premises. There is no end in sight.
    If at some point Zach has the courage to make a positive case for his position, I will be happy to address it.”

    If it is in the fashion that you have “addressed” your current position, then count me un-impressed.
    I clearly understand your position, you do not.

    “My position is, that moral philosophy is not 100% objective but neither is it arbitrary and worthless (which is essentially Zach’s position – I believe he reduced moral philosophy to logical fallacies and absurdity).”

    Steven is grasping at straws now. He keeps claiming that a statement can be partially objective and partially subjective – complete nonsense. I even provided the definition of objective for him in which he responded that it is considered naïve to rely on dictionary definitions when discussing philosophy – in which he of course did not suggest a definition to replace it with – so he can hide behind whatever definitions he has decided to the give a word by not telling us what he says they mean and why.

    “There are values which are ultimately subjective, although I think they can be rooted in very basic human emotions. “

    Values are subjective. When Steven says that “the way one determines morality” is by values rotted in basic human emotions, he is dodging the issue. He claims that morality is a system in which to reduce harm – but doesn’t tell us why or how he concluded that – why not one that encourages fun, or sex, or violence, fear, or any other basic human emotion?

    He also doesn’t tell us why we should care about human emotions. Another faith statement.

    “They are so fundamental that the premises that lead you to the need for a moral system in the first place are also the starting point for moral philosophy. Further, once you have some fundamental values, moral philosophy can proceed from there with logic, and informed by evidence (so, not arbitrary).”

    Notice how he never reveals how he chose which values are the right ones to like (why blue is the bestest of all colors and red should be avoided).

    “This is very much like science – there are methods, logic, and evidence but you can dig down to some starting premises. All conclusions in science are tentative and imperfect. There is always a frame of reference that we cannot get out of. But some conclusions in science are so strong that it would be perverse not to acknowledge that they are likely true.”

    Be careful whenever someone tries to say something is so complicated that basic reasoning is too simple for it. It is a mask to hide the flaws. Don’t get me wrong, things can be complicated and most real things are – but explaining them should not require a master’s in philosophy to understand such a basic notion as “how does one determine morality”.

    Einstein said if you can’t explain something to a 6 year old you don’t understand it yourself. Steven doesn’t understand his own position which is why whenever I point out its nonsensical flaws (which other philosophers such as Sam Harris who is an atheist have done) he claims I am misrepresenting him.

    “Similarly through moral philosophy you cannot get to any objective truth, but you can arrive at conclusions that are so compelling it would be perverse not to acknowledge that they are at least a sound basis for morality.”

    Says who? You? K.
    Attention humanity – Steven says something is perverse so you had better get on board with what Steven’s opinion is. And while we are at it, we should find out his favorite color too and make sure we get on board with which color is the bestest of all colors….

    Nonsense.

    “This is a far more nuanced position than Zach is capable of dealing with, so he keeps arguing in circles, tilting against his straw man.”

    Notice again, he never actually points out exactly where I am wrong on his position, he and his fans just keep appealing to some vague non-specific assertion that I am relying on a straw man and how they have showed me wrong so many times it is making their heads hurt. Please.

    I on the other hand, keep stating his specific flaws and errors – even provided a diagram for a visual aid.
    But yeah, I’m wrong because Steven says so. Good rebuttal. Science ought to be proud.

    Oh and don’t forget, his position is correct because I haven’t written mine out, as if my position as a Christian being wrong makes his anymore right. But don’t worry, me arguing for an objective morality means I am arguing for a Christian based morality even though I have said about 30 times that I’m not asserting that in this discussion.
    Steven’s position is so broken he can do nothing but assert blind claims and attack my position which I have never provided a defense for, again, in a blog post all about HIS position.

    Logical leaps, with straw men, with nonsensical circular logic. All while relying on hidden meanings because the dictionary is for naïve fools who don’t understand just how complicated all of this really is.

    And finally, you must remember, it is only Christians who are pot committed and assert their conclusion first and then strive to find evidence to fit it.

  224. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 3:49 pm

    “Sometimes, instead of focussing on an irrelevant point, you simply do not answer a question:
    For example, my question about the god-like dictator was simply ignored, and when you pretended not to have seen the question and I posted it again, you simply ignored it a second time. Again that’s pretty dishonest.”

    You really need me to quote the several posts where I asked for more information on this and what you meant by it?
    You don’t make yourself clear, I still am not sure what you are asking exactly with either of the two points.

    In my response to one of them asking for more information, you told me that if i didn’t understand it I should go ask someone to explain it to me.

    No thanks. I’m willing to respond if you can make yourself clear, but if not, it’s not my job to decipher your meaning.

  225. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Zach,

    “In my response to one of them asking for more information, you told me that if i didn’t understand it I should go ask someone to explain it to me”

    Three responses:
    I didn’t say that.
    My question was straight forward.
    You didn’t ask for more information.

    Check back and see for yourself.

  226. ccbowerson 13 Jan 2013 at 4:48 pm

    “Einstein said if you can’t explain something to a 6 year old you don’t understand it yourself.”

    You’ve repeated this a few times, but there are so many variations on this quote the attribution is probably not true. Some have attributed this to Feynman as well, but the Einstein versions are more common. Other variations say “to a child,” “grandmother,” “explain something simply,” etc. Its a nice quote with a decent point, but it is also obviously not true.

  227. nybgruson 13 Jan 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for that comment ccbowers. It would be nice if it were true, but I have a feeling I would have difficulty explaining epigenetics and DNA methylation to my 9 year old nephew even though I understand it pretty darned well.

    Plus, if it were true, we’d be able to just get the best and brightest from every field who “truly understand” the field and then just have them teach 6 year olds everything so they can skip school altogether and go straight into college or graduate programs.

  228. RickKon 13 Jan 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Zach said:

    Doesn’t matter. If there are 13 billion views of gravity and just one of them is correct, it doesn’t matter about the other false ones. Your point is illogical.

    Except one can actually determine an equation or model for gravity that others can measure, test and agree on.

    “God” is and has ever been only an opinion.

  229. RickKon 13 Jan 2013 at 5:30 pm

    No more futile than you are Steven’s desperate attempts to justify a system in itself with a first principle that is the very question you are seeking to justify – how does one determine morality . WELL BY MORALITY OF COURSE! You say.

    Except that I never said that, Zach. My argument all along has been that human morality is firmly rooted in human values which source from human biological and social evolution.

    My argument is a line – a line that tends to branch and wobble – but it is decidedly NOT a circle.

    I’m surprised you can’t see that as you seem to be personally very familiar with circular arguments.

  230. mufion 13 Jan 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Me: Recall that the dilemma is: Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?
Your answer boils down to: It is good because it “comes from within His unchanging character and nature.
    As I see it, you’ve arbitrarily settled on a criterion of goodness that can logically apply to other entities besides God. When framed that way, it sounds more like the first horn.
    Zach: No, you aren’t putting the first part of the dilemma correctly. It’s the notion that God goes to some moral system outside of himself in which to know that rape is always bad. God doesn’t do that, so your point fails.

    That’s how Wikipedia put it, when translating the original framing into monotheistic terms. In the original pagan context, it’s:

    Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

    That said, I see your point about the first horn – assuming that “because it is pious” implies knowledge of something external, rather than instinctive behavior and internal knowledge, conditioned by one’s nature or character.

    And I also see what you’re trying to do here, which is to introduce a third horn (or “because” clause), thereby escaping the original dilemma.

    But I still think the attempt fails, because it begs the question of why anyone should accept that particular nature or character as a sign of moral authority. It just seems totally arbitrary and a non sequitor.

    You could, of course, avoid that problem by simply stating outright “because it’s God’s nature”, but then we’re back to the second horn.

  231. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Jan 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Well, it seems that Zack continues to duck out of his burden of proof with more water muddying. Typical religious apologist tactic by dodging and answering questions with questions off the point. He’s also managed to get those denying his claims to attempt to disprove his claims for him, instead of him being the one proving his claim.

    I have little doubt that he knows he has no good explanation for his claim and is using every trick in the book to shift the burden of proof and weasel out of direct questions. I have yet to see him answer a question directly, instead either playing semantic games or outright ignoring them.

    Speaking of morality, those tactics don’t jibe well with being moral, but rather bespeak dishonesty, deceitfulness, and contempt for any challengers. I’m really not sure what he intends to do here as we all know exactly what he’s doing and where he is going wrong. Is he really that stupid, or does he really think that he’s going to convert anyone? Or is this all fodder for his new blog, which he will doubtless quote mine and cherry pick pieces of the discussion here to make it look like he really “stuck it to those atheists” and “beat them at their own game”.

    You guys are doing a great job establishing your position and I wish I could add something more or different that may illucidate his ignorance, but I do think he’s too implacable and close-minded for that. Now it’s gotten to the point where it’s us pointing out the absurdity of his beliefs rather than him being honest for a change and demonstrating his claims. He’s managed to distract everyone, or get them to give up in futility, his claims that absolute objective morality exists and it necessarily requires a law bringer (aka, proof of his christian god of the bible).

  232. JJ Borgmanon 13 Jan 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Zach,

    I’ve been following this blog very regularly. Another I follow is called Evangelical Realism. In either case, I have a very difficult time sometimes following the theist “pro” arguments…they often don’t make sense to me. Then the non-theist “pro” comes in and explains why the theist argument is weak or invalid. Sometimes the theist “pro” comes back with a response which often sounds even more absurd than their original comment.

    I’ve had the same problem with you on this and the other thread. You write things that don’t even make any “common” sense. I follow your response back to what you are commenting on and you’ve simply got things wrong, which you always deny when presented with examples. In even more cases, you don’t even address the primary comment in a post. Then you follow with an incredibly long scatter-shot response that has typically been comprised of you telling writers they’re “obviously” confused or wrong. Mingled in with all of that are irrelevant commentary like the Einstein quote or random piffle like that written by C.S. Lewis. I don’ begrudge anyone adding a little color to their post, but that’s not what you’re doing. You think it bolsters your case.

    And how can you even think to write craziness like how much better you understand Dr. Novellas position than he does? I can understand you wanting to challenge his position, that’s fine. I think you understand much of what is being written here even worse than me.

    Again, you might be able to accuse me of committing some sort of logical fallacy. What I’m telling you, is you and theist posters like you need to go the extra mile and make your claims and arguments crystal clear. I read what you write and I don’t see much that sounds very convincing much less logical especially once it has been refuted by someone qualified to do so.

    Please be sure to let me know when you have your argument for objective morality sussed out. From what I understand, you would be the first to be able to do it.

  233. tmac57on 13 Jan 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Just a side note:
    I did a ‘find’ for the name ‘Zach’ on both blog posts on this subject, and came up with 529 instances so far. So I’m betting that’s some sort of record.
    Probably not a good precedent though :(
    Carry on.

  234. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Jan 2013 at 7:37 pm

    @tmac57

    If you ask me, we’ve given him far more attention than he deserves. Kind of like how Dawkins said he woulnd’t debate creationists anymore because it gives the impression of credence and equal consideration, which they don’t have.

  235. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Jan 2013 at 7:44 pm

    I follow your response back to what you are commenting on and you’ve simply got things wrong

    If people went back to the beginning of all this, one can clearly see how off he is. Not only did he get a lot of logic wrong, he was egregiously factually wrong on nearly everything he was citing. The worst part is, he’s never owned up to it, just proceeded as if nothing happened and he knew that stuff all along.

    Of course, one can see it now with his “might makes right” BS – he was claiming that’s what Theory of Evolution says, along with things like “strong eats weak” (his misrepresentation of Survival of the Fittest).

    We shouldn’t be giving this guy the time of day, much less the satisfaction of taking up our valuable time with inane nonsense.

  236. rezistnzisfutlon 13 Jan 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Opps, sorry about the quote faux pas.

  237. nybgruson 13 Jan 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Doesn’t matter. If there are 13 billion views of gravity and just one of them is correct, it doesn’t matter about the other false ones. Your point is illogical.
    Except one can actually determine an equation or model for gravity that others can measure, test and agree on.

    It’s deeper than that RickK.

    If all we had were 13 billion views of gravity and no empiric evidence gravity even existed, then we could say the same – it most likely doesn’t.

    He misuses the notion that empiric truth is true regardless of how many believe it or not. It is correct to say that evolution is true regarldess of how many people agree on it. But if all we had was people pontificating about invisible and admittedly – even Zach flat out said so himself – unverifiable by empiric methods sky fairies, then the fact that there are so many opinions is a solid evidence that the most likely explanation is they are wrong.

  238. Zachon 13 Jan 2013 at 9:05 pm

    “And how can you even think to write craziness like how much better you understand Dr. Novellas position than he does? I can understand you wanting to challenge his position, that’s fine. I think you understand much of what is being written here even worse than me.”

    Is that any different that the masses here claiming that “such and such” about Christianity is really not what Christians say and it’s really “such and such”?

    Regardless, my critique isn’t anything new. Steven’s position is untenable for a reason.

  239. Davdoodleson 13 Jan 2013 at 9:54 pm

    A real-world example of the problem created by (and for) those who subscribe to an “objective” morality is occurring now, regarding the rights of homosexual people to marry.

    Clearly, as regards science, fairness, the principle of non-interference without justification, and equality of rights, this one is a no-brainer.

    There is no earthly reason why two consenting people should be prevented from marrying each other.

    But objective morality, we are informed, requires me to deny certain people rights that I possess. No reason for that interference is put forward. None, apparently, is needed. It is this-or-that Ceiling Kitty’s word and that’s it. Discussion over.

    As the years and decades roll by, that aspect of the objective morality will lose its majesty and become an embarrassment.

    Then, of course, some oracle will announce that God’s word has been further revealed and that, just possibly, homosexuality isn’t so bad after all.

    But the problem, that revealed “objective morality” is inviolate even when in obvious error, remains.
    .

  240. JJ Borgmanon 13 Jan 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,

    “Is that any different that the masses here claiming that “such and such” about Christianity is really not what Christians say and it’s really “such and such”?
    Regardless, my critique isn’t anything new. Steven’s position is untenable for a reason.”

    See what I mean? I was a Christian and I could probably know what you were talking about if you didn’t use a nebulous phrase like “such and such”. What, specifically, are you referring to?

    The statement that your “critique isn’t anything new” carries no weight, either. You haven’t substantiated your claim, only asserted it. If you’re going to substantiate it with any of the things I think you might, you’re probably just as bad off. I’ve seen the critiques by many theists of many things and the record is not impressive. Neither is your claim that Dr. Novellas position is untenable. For a reason? Prove it. You may think you have, but you simply haven’t. You’re wrong by a long shot. The arguments for moral objectivism have worse problems than the ones for moral relativism, so cut your crap and get serious about clarifying your position and your arguments. Otherwise, this whole discussion is nothing more than you making an error in judgement by coming here and throwing down a gauntlet.

    So far your responses are a waste of kilobytes of memory.

  241. Davdoodleson 13 Jan 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Zack wrote:

    “[Dr Novella] also doesn’t tell us why we should care about human emotions. Another faith statement.”

    Dr Novella wrote (in response to NAA earlier):

    “The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.

    Further…, we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires? We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts. For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).”

    Essentially, whether or not we “should” care about human emotions, the fact is we DO care about human emotions (pretty much universally unless one is a sociopath, has suffered a relevant head injury or serious childhood abuse and neglect).

    That fact leads us logicaly, as Dr Novella suggests, to working out a system where my emotions and yours can most comfortable exist, and co-exist.

    That is also a reason WHY we should care about human emotions.
    .

  242. autumnmonkeyon 13 Jan 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Zach:

    The reason it is wrong to lie is because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, right and wrong are not determined by God’s ability to be stronger than anyone else.

    1 Kings 22:23 – Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.

    2 Chronicles 18:22 – Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

    Jeremiah 4:10 – Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.

    Jeremiah 20:7 – O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.

    Ezekiel 14:9 – And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.

    2 Thessalonians 2:11 – For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.

    Some have said they’ve learned from these conversations and I, unfortunately, can say that I haven’t. Zach is an internet persona. I’ve encountered these Zachs and their various manifestations too many times I’d rather not remember. I went through this nonsense in the Usenet wars of the late 90′s and everything we bring up has been brought up to the same non-effect on these peanut brains. Maybe they’ll come around, but that usually happens on their own when they’ve walked away from these debates which only cause them to entrench further.

    The Zachs of the world have arrived at their worldview from the Bible and cultural indoctrination. That’s it. There’s no other foundation. You can’t arrive at Christianity from any other means; not logic, not science, not reason.

    Zach wrote that Dr. Novella’s position is what’s on trial. As usual, Zach fails at understanding the terminology that he throws about. If Dr. Novella’s view is on trial, it’s Zach’s job to prove it’s guilty, not Dr. Novella’s job to prove it’s truth. Zach is required to fully lay out his case and all damning evidence. Dr. Novella doesn’t have to do anything. Given that Zach has failed to do so, the verdict is not guilty. Checkmate, Zach.

    Then we have Zach responding to questions with, “What’s your objective standard for saying that? Prove it! That’s a naked assertion! That’s a statement of blind faith! So’s your old man!”

    Zach accuses others of naked assertions then he prattles on about why his deity does what he imagines it does. That’s rich accusing others of making faith based decisions. He doesn’t even understand what “blind faith” means. Zach, read carefully. Blind faith is doing something that makes no sense, has no evidence, and there’s no good reason for doing it. That’s religion for you. If we say harming others is bad, that’s not blind faith. That’s a reasonable conclusion based on how I want to be treated and how others have expressed they don’t want to be treated. It’s supported by evidence. Believing in an objective morality handed to you, magically, through Bronze Age sheep shearers with no evidence whatsoever, is BLIND FAITH.

    You also keep positing a supposed difference between a moral system and morals. You apparently are arguing that there’s a system where slavery and mass rape are OK under an unchanging objective morality which then allows for slavery and mass rape to be immoral at a later date. This is an escape hatch to explain away the horrendous morality we witness in the Bible commanded by Yahweh. Sorry, Zacho, it doesn’t work. Your thought processes are a mile high and one inch deep. Your argumentation is as shallow as a coloring book. A coloring book in black and white.

    I would ask you again what’s the objective standard for your objective moral system, but we already know the answer. You don’t have one. Or at least you realize you can’t provide one without resorting to circular reasoning.

    It was telling you didn’t list what subjects your degrees were in. Not that it would matter. You could lie but we can still see through the fallacies and other puerile keyboard fapping. There’s no coherent sense to what you write. My observation of you being like the zoo primate throwing random poo against the plexiglass hoping to get attention is proven accurate. You’re not a philosopher. You’re an apologist. There’s a difference. An apologist doesn’t give two whits about discovering the truth. An apologist never dialogues, never learns.

    Zach, you made a royal ass of yourself for posterity. Congratulations.

    Oh, and btw. I hope you point your church mates to this conversation and web site. It’s more likely than not it will turn minds our way than yours as you hope.

  243. ConspicuousCarlon 13 Jan 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Zach on 13 Jan 2013 at 2:48 pm

    how does one determine morality . WELL BY MORALITY OF COURSE! You say.

    That is exactly what you did when I asked why it matters what god says about morality, and you said because we owe him a debt (which, ironically, you later downplayed as not meaning anything to God).

    And you also said this:

    a. what do you mean by God’s word (a specific Holy book or?)

    b. It assumes that man can have true happiness outside of his purpose that God created him for – the whole Blaise Pascal God shaped hole idea.

    “a.” is just insanity on your part. That’s your problem to figure out, since you appear to believe this unverifiable nonsense. Did you seriously forget that? I am only pointing out that, even if you knew for certain, if I granted you every factual claim you make, it would not make your moral system any more objective. You are still using human consequences as a reason for it.

    “b.” is false. I didn’t assume that. And even if it were true that your religious mechanism for happiness were superior, that wouldn’t refute the critical fact which you keep dancing around: you are still appealing to human benefit as the reason for obedience.

    You aren’t very good at this stuff. I will repeat the obvious conclusion, just in case it helps to hear it once more: You don’t have a different motivational basis for morality, you just believe in silly unproven things. This reminds me of the so-called “alternative” medicine crowd. Despite their propaganda, they don’t actually have a different philosophy of health. They just believe in stupid ways of producing it.

  244. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 9:17 am

    A real-world example of the problem created by (and for) those who subscribe to an “objective” morality is occurring now, regarding the rights of homosexual people to marry.
    Clearly, as regards science, fairness, the principle of non-interference without justification, and equality of rights, this one is a no-brainer.
    There is no earthly reason why two consenting people should be prevented from marrying each other.

    Do you have any earthly (or other) reason why I or anyone else should care about two consenting people or why they should be allowed to marry each other?

    What standard are you appealing to, and can I please see it? I didn’t get this memo you are referring to.

    Incoming “you are sick for asking for my foundation for morality.”

    I question your humanist dogma.

    But the problem, that revealed “objective morality” is inviolate even when in obvious error, remains.

    Obvious? Obvious to who? Those who have a motivation to denounce it and reject it? Oh wait, it’s only theists who arrive at their position from an outside motivation….
    This entire “free thinker” non-sense is the exact opposite of what it claims to be. Read Aldus Huxley about the motivations of atheist to remain atheist – he himself was an atheist, but wasn’t so naïve to think that atheist is free from all motivation.

    If skeptics were just as skeptic about their skepticism as they were skeptic about theism, there wouldn’t be any skeptics left.

    See what I mean? I was a Christian and I could probably know what you were talking about if you didn’t use a nebulous phrase like “such and such”. What, specifically, are you referring to?”

    “Such and such’ is an obvious (insert here) placeholder. Maybe you haven’t been reading the comments here so you haven’t noticed – but there have been several claims that Christianity really says something other than what Christians claim it says.
    For example, below I respond to some typical internet atheist Bible verses taken out of context that have the reading comprehension level of a 3rd grader .

    Neither is your claim that Dr. Novellas position is untenable. For a reason? Prove it. You may think you have, but you simply haven’t. You’re wrong by a long shot.

    The arguments for moral objectivism have worse problems than the ones for moral relativism, so cut your crap and get serious about clarifying your position and your arguments. Otherwise, this whole discussion is nothing more than you making an error in judgement by coming here and throwing down a gauntlet.

    I actually have clarified several times but I have no problem doing it again.
    I typically just get a “no you”, or a “you don’t understand” or “I have proven this wrong so many time” response.

    Now, do dissect the quote below from Steven.

    “The premise is that people have feelings.”

    Yes Steven, people have feelings – but so what? They have a lot of feelings that involve both vice and virtue.

    What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us.

    Correct.
    The rapist feels the need and desire to rape and dominate his victim.
    The person raped feels the need to not be raped and not be dominated by the rapist.

    How do you determine which outcome is the preferable one?

    Of course you and I feel the rapist is wrong, but why? It repulses us, but how do we justify our repulsive reaction when the rapist doesn’t have the same repulsive views of rape. In short, why are we right and he wrong?

    The purpose of a moral system is to promote those outcomes.

    What outcomes? You didn’t delineate how you determine this, or which outcomes are preferable.

    Further…, we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from.

    Hermits live by themselves in isolation – this is not the norm so I won’t use it as my primary example, but it should be referenced none the less.

    Humans do live in community, but not a global community. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is nothing in evolution that dictates that human’s need to care for all of humanity (otherwise why don’t we all?)
    Also, the rapist might realize that he shouldn’t rape his children and immediate family/tribe for consequential reasons. But beyond consequentialism how do you assert that he should care about those he doesn’t live with or rely on?

    So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires?

    Which desires?
    Human feelings which comprise both vice and virtue?
    Humans need to live in community which only can be applied to consequentialism?

    We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts.

    What conflicts?

    Why do we need rules? Do lions need rules or is what lions do simply what they do?
    And even if we do need rules, you must first figure out the goal of these rules without arbitrary choosing which feelings you want to promote, and which people we should care about to live with in a community. If you assert that we should try to live peacefully with all humans and create a global community to the best we can, then you might believe this, but it is only a belief or preference until you can demonstrate on what basis that we should. You can say it’s better for everyone, but you have not demonstrated why I should care about the benefit of everyone, except for when it happens to benefit me – consequentialism.

    For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).”

    Do you have any evidence for this belief? Or is it just something you happen to like (your preference of blue over red)?

    In response to Steven someone else wrote.

    “Essentially, whether or not we “should” care about human emotions, the fact is we DO care about human emotions (pretty much universally unless one is a sociopath, has suffered a relevant head injury or serious childhood abuse and neglect).

    This completely misses the mark in representing the vast range of social and historical morality. By your estimation entire cultures and history were sociopaths.

    This is clearly not the case. So you are back to asserting your preference as the moral truth based solely on what you happen to like (blue instead of red).

    Why should we accept your favorite value over the next culture’s favorite value?

    That fact leads us logicaly, as Dr Novella suggests, to working out a system where my emotions and yours can most comfortable exist, and co-exist.
    That is also a reason WHY we should care about human emotions.”

    1. Logical laws do not apply to preferences – if you think they do then you should have no problem demonstrating how your favorite color is the best color and how everyone who doesn’t agree is wrong.

    2. Why should we try to make everyone comfortable? Why not just focus on myself and those I happen to care about? Or just myself even?

    You aren’t demonstrating anything beyond “I like this and you should too or you are a sociopath”.

    “Zach:
    The reason it is wrong to lie is because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, right and wrong are not determined by God’s ability to be stronger than anyone else.
    1 Kings 22:23 – Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.
    2 Chronicles 18:22 – Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.
    Jeremiah 4:10 – Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.
    Jeremiah 20:7 – O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.
    Ezekiel 14:9 – And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.
    2 Thessalonians 2:11 – For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Does+God+Lie+in+1+Kings+22%3A23

    Rinse and repeat for the remaining verses. These points have been countered without a doubt numerous times. If you refuse to accept the answer because you are committed to your position than I cannot help you.

    “The Zachs of the world have arrived at their worldview from the Bible and cultural indoctrination. That’s it. There’s no other foundation. You can’t arrive at Christianity from any other means; not logic, not science, not reason.”
    “Zach, you made a royal ass of yourself for posterity. Congratulations.
    Oh, and btw. I hope you point your church mates to this conversation and web site. It’s more likely than not it will turn minds our way than yours as you hope.”

    Zach, you made a royal ass of yourself for posterity. Congratulations.

    The pretentious smugness is strong in this one…

    You need to go outside or something, you are obviously way to angry for this conversation.

    Also, I will not be reading your posts in the future nor responding for the sake of your blood pressure.

    “Zach on 13 Jan 2013 at 2:48 pm
    how does one determine morality . WELL BY MORALITY OF COURSE! You say.”

    “That is exactly what you did when I asked why it matters what god says about morality, and you said because we owe him a debt (which, ironically, you later downplayed as not meaning anything to God).”

    That doesn’t follow. You asked why we should care about God’s laws, in which I responded with several reasons. If God is real and He has created us, then he has authority over us whether we like it or not – this is rooted in the concept that one who creates an object for a specific purpose has engineered that object to fulfill that purpose. One who creates something can do what they want with that item. If the item objects, then so what? Someone provided the example of a parent creating a child, but that analogy fails since a parent is already under the rules of a creator and does not own themselves even, they are using matter on loan, using their reproductive system on loan, and thus do not own it. It is a false analogy.

    “a.” is just insanity on your part. That’s your problem to figure out, since you appear to believe this unverifiable nonsense. Did you seriously forget that? I am only pointing out that, even if you knew for certain, if I granted you every factual claim you make, it would not make your moral system any more objective. You are still using human consequences as a reason for it.

    Well since you said so I guess I have no other choice to drop my “unverifiable nonsense” and go with what you say.

    ““b.” is false. I didn’t assume that. And even if it were true that your religious mechanism for happiness were superior, that wouldn’t refute the critical fact which you keep dancing around: you are still appealing to human benefit as the reason for obedience.”

    No, I am appealing to several reasons for obedience. The main one is that God made us so He has authority over us.

    “You aren’t very good at this stuff. I will repeat the obvious conclusion, just in case it helps to hear it once more: You don’t have a different motivational basis for morality, you just believe in silly unproven things. This reminds me of the so-called “alternative” medicine crowd. Despite their propaganda, they don’t actually have a different philosophy of health. They just believe in stupid ways of producing it.”

    Pretentious Rant, 2/10

  245. tmac57on 14 Jan 2013 at 9:38 am

    Zach’s view of humanity is that we are all God’s Chattel.

  246. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 9:45 am

    “Zach’s view of humanity is that we are all God’s Chattel.”

    This is a boys view.

    When you come to see what exactly God is/was willing to do for his “chattel” it’s pretty remarkable.

  247. nybgruson 14 Jan 2013 at 10:08 am

    Of course the typical and absolutely expected garbage responses from Zach, which have left me no desire to respond. But when you start on evolution… well, I just can’t help myself.

    Humans do live in community, but not a global community. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is nothing in evolution that dictates that human’s need to care for all of humanity (otherwise why don’t we all?)

    We don’t live in a global community? How incredibly stupid are you? Where do you think the components for the computer you write such drivel came from? Or the people who invented the various components? Or the systems that got it all to you?

    And yes, I am quite happy to correct you when you are wrong. “Evolution” didn’t stop at some arbitrary point around the time of your bronze aged mythology. It continues to this very day on a technological, cultural, and yes physiological level. We haven’t stagnated evolutionarily. So yes, we are, absolutely and without question, evolving to the point where it dictates that we should – for sake of our best interest – care for all of humanity.

    Some of us are even more enlightened to extend that even further beyond the barest requirements of our evolution to date. But even those that aren’t shouldn’t be stupid enough to freeze us in an evolutionary time as horrendously harmful to human life as the beginning of the common era.

    What conflicts?

    Why do we need rules? Do lions need rules or is what lions do simply what they do?

    What conflicts? I’m seriously questioning if you are brain damaged or not.

    Do lions need rules or live the way they do? Here’s a better question – do you want to live like a lion? Why not? If so, please, for the sake of everyone here renounce the technology we as a global community have provided you and go hang out with your lion friends.

    you must first figure out the goal of these rules without arbitrary choosing which feelings you want to promote

    Hello everyone, my name is Zach and I am a brick wall. Tell me everything you can, and I’ll keep parroting nonsense that I need to think is true like the notion that you all are advocating arbitrary choosing of feelings.

    If God is real and He has created us

    You need to get past that “if” there bucko. The rest of what you say is meaningless without it.

    This is a boys view.

    When you come to see what exactly God is/was willing to do for his “chattel” it’s pretty remarkable.

    Yep. Pretty remarkable that an all loving, all powerful, all knowing being who literally created us from nothing loves to sit back and watch us wallow in misery when it would be absolutely trivially meaningless for it to snap it all away.

    The sad part is that if I could snap my fingers and cure the sick, feed the poor, and stop violence I would. Which already makes me better than your god.

  248. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 10:52 am

    Well, good job, Zach. You have convinced me that objective morality is not plausible. And confirmed my conclusion that there is no primary lawgiver, certainly not anything like the Abrahamic god.

    Morality is a product of consciousness which includes sentience, wisdom and intentionality among other characteristics. Morality is necessarily subjective it seems.

    Diminished cognition can account for the variations in subjective morality. There are many human conditions that can account for this diminution. The same holds true for animals.

    I’m also finding evidence that the laws of logic do not necessarily apply to morality similar to the way they do not apply to literary criticism, but do apply to mathematics.

    Finally, “might makes right” is probably better stated “might makes policy”. Might doesn’t necessarily equate to violence, or, if so, only as a final measure of response to non-compliance within the borders of a group. One individual or group can detest the moral code of another, yet unless their circles overlap somehow, sovereignty is generally accepted…not always true, of course, but more now than ever, I think. And policy isn’t always right which we see all around us every day. Hand in hand with that problem is the ongoing effort to change policy through discussion, analysis, awareness, negotiation and participation in a process whereby enough support (might) is accumulated to make the desired changes.

    So thanks for prompting me (via a combination of my pursuit of truth and nearly total frustration reading your posts) to do hours of reading on the various components of the arguments put forth in this discussion.

  249. nybgruson 14 Jan 2013 at 11:00 am

    Well stated JJ Borgman. And kudos to your efforts, especially as a reformed theist.

    Your comments also spurred a thought. Zach asserts that “creators” hold “authority” and thus the morality stems from the intents of the creator.

    So that would mean that all the appliances in my home are subject to the authority of humans and their morality would hence be derived from our intent as to their purpose.

    Does this mean that an objective and absolute morality exists for the appliances in my home?

    The argument seems to parallel – Zach posits that the objective and absolute morality of God (or lawgiver or whatever) exists in vacuo regardless of our thoughts, desires, or even existence.

    So does the fact that my appliances have no thoughts or desires mean there is no system of morality for my appliances, or does it exist regardless, serving no possible purpose? Or does it exist waiting for my appliances to gain sentience and then muddle through it to understand their proper role in the universe as our creations and thus disover the “true” and “objective” and “absolute” morality they have been subject to all along?

  250. tmac57on 14 Jan 2013 at 11:19 am

    Zach said:

    That doesn’t follow. You asked why we should care about God’s laws, in which I responded with several reasons. If God is real and He has created us, then he has authority over us whether we like it or not – this is rooted in the concept that one who creates an object for a specific purpose has engineered that object to fulfill that purpose. One who creates something can do what they want with that item. If the item objects, then so what?

    Like I said, Zach’s view of humanity is the we are all God’s Chattel.

  251. sonicon 14 Jan 2013 at 11:43 am

    It seems Zach is correct- either morals are objective or they aren’t.

    At the same time it seems Dr. N. is correct- just because something is not objective doesn’t mean it is completely arbitrary.

    “Do no harm” implies that medicine is immoral– don’t all the medical interventions (outside of placebo) actively harm?

  252. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 11:52 am

    nygbrus,

    Well, if your refrigerator is closer to a “Sonny” (I, Robot) than a standard side-by-side, Energy Star w/Ice maker, you might have some ethical considerations to make.

    A point I found fallacious was the notion that a creator (author, sculptor, engineer, inventor, etc) has automatic authority over the created. Not so. Ownership (authority over) of created items can be predicated on all sorts of things. In addition, in our reality there is normally no question as to what or who is the creator and the created. We have a huge problem when it comes to the proposition that we were created. We are, decidedly, not appliances.

  253. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:03 pm

    JJ Borgman wrote,

    Finally, “might makes right” is probably better stated “might makes policy”. Might doesn’t necessarily equate to violence, or, if so, only as a final measure of response to non-compliance within the borders of a group. One individual or group can detest the moral code of another, yet unless their circles overlap somehow, sovereignty is generally accepted…not always true, of course, but more now than ever, I think. And policy isn’t always right which we see all around us every day. Hand in hand with that problem is the ongoing effort to change policy through discussion, analysis, awareness, negotiation and participation in a process whereby enough support (might) is accumulated to make the desired changes.

    Everything here is consistent and logical until you say, “policy isn’t always right which we see all around us every day. Hand in hand with that problem is the ongoing effort to change policy through discussion, analysis, awareness, negotiation and participation in a process whereby enough support (might) is accumulated to make the desired changes.”

    What objective standard are you appealing to in order to determine which policies are the “wrong” ones? You essentially pull a 180 on everything you said in the start of your point.

    “Like I said, Zach’s view of humanity is the we are all God’s Chattel.”

    I think if we are going to be fair and compare world views, Christianity has a much higher view of man’s value and worth.

    “At the same time it seems Dr. N. is correct- just because something is not objective doesn’t mean it is completely arbitrary.”

    Under Steven’s view morality boils down to “I like this and so should you” (blue is better than red).

  254. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,

    “Everything here is consistent and logical until you say, ““policy isn’t always right which we see all around us every day. Hand in hand with that problem is the ongoing effort to change policy through discussion, analysis, awareness, negotiation and participation in a process whereby enough support (might) is accumulated to make the desired changes.”"

    What objective standard are you appealing to in order to determine which policies are the “wrong” ones? You essentially pull a 180 on everything you said in the start of your point.”

    At the top of the post you are responding to, I wrote,

    “Well, good job, Zach. You have convinced me that objective morality is not plausible. And confirmed my conclusion that there is no primary lawgiver, certainly not anything like the Abrahamic god.

    Morality is a product of consciousness which includes sentience, wisdom and intentionality among other characteristics. Morality is necessarily subjective it seems.

    Diminished cognition can account for the variations in subjective morality. There are many human conditions that can account for this diminution. The same holds true for animals.

    I’m also finding evidence that the laws of logic do not necessarily apply to morality similar to the way they do not apply to literary criticism, but do apply to mathematics.”

    The answer to your question is right there.

  255. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:19 pm

    You must be confused. You asserted that some “might makes policy” actions are “wrong” thus going against your foundation for determining morality.

    Where/how do you get to apply your superior veto to the “might makes policy” method? Why are your views the exception?

    Do you really not understand the problem here?

  256. mufion 14 Jan 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Zach:

    Under Steven’s view morality boils down to “I like this and so should you” (blue is better than red).

    Putting aside whether or not that’s a fair & accurate portrayal of Steven’s view, it does your cause no good to substitute “God” for “I” in the statement above, or even to reword it as “God says ‘Do X’, therefore you should do X”, given all of the problems with the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma and with theodicy in general, summed up elegantly (if unwittingly) by nybgrus above:

    The sad part is that if I could snap my fingers and cure the sick, feed the poor, and stop violence I would. Which already makes me better than your god.

  257. nybgruson 14 Jan 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I think if we are going to be fair and compare world views, Christianity has a much higher view of man’s value and worth.

    The very fact that I believe with a very high level of confidence that there is no afterlife and this is the only one we have forces me to place a vastly higher importance and worth on human life than any religion possibly could.

    As tmac57 said – religion makes us god’s chattel and minimizes the misery of this world for the possibility of the next. Value and worth are a product of rarity. Living eternally compared to a fleeting life means you value speculation whereas I actually value life.

    And yes, mufi, it was a quite intentional statement. One I see absolutely no recourse to assail. Of course, it is much more elegantly stated by Epicurus:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    But in any event, I (and most people of course) am certainly better than any god proposed to date since in the absence of god I exist, and in the presence of god I am more moral and just.

  258. bgoudieon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:47 pm

    “I think if we are going to be fair and compare world views, Christianity has a much higher view of man’s value and worth.”

    Nonsense. Christianity sees mankind as nothing but the toy of creator who is willing to hand out an eternity of torment and pain based on any failings that occur in a few brief years. Slaves and puppets in a rigged game where the only choice is adherence to an arbitrary decree.

    Human dignity and worth are found in the realization that we are responsible for creating any good that exists in our world. Yes it makes our morality an arbitrary and subjective thing, and it is something we often fail at. But the simple fact that we are creatures capable of making the attempt to improve our societies is where our value lies.

  259. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,

    “You must be confused. You asserted that some “might makes policy” actions are “wrong” thus going against your foundation for determining morality.

    Where/how do you get to apply your superior veto to the “might makes policy” method? Why are your views the exception?

    Do you really not understand the problem here?”

    Actually, it is you, once again, who is either a) confused or b) willfully ignorant.

    The problem lies in your refusal to see that I have, in fact, rejected your assertion that morality is objective. You also refuse to understand that I have been convinced that the laws of logic have a limited applicability to morality.

    My statement that a policy can be found to be wrong is not me (or my superior veto – straw man much?) saying the policy is wrong, rather it is a hypothetical suggesting the individual or group can find it to be wrong. Sometimes the effort to change a policy begins with an individual effort. Agreement with that effort along with sufficient support from others can redefine that portion of the moral code of that group.

    Morality is always a work in progress, under evolutionary pressure. Sovereign individuals or societies establish a moral code for use in their circle of influence. Shifts in public opinion can affect where that sovereign society decides if existing policy suits their wants or needs. Increases in knowledge can do the same thing. Consensus is the might. The policy is the result of the consensus. Consensus obviously is perpetually in flux and can be subjective in many cases and objective in others.

    As I’ve already stated, Thank-you, Zach, for motivating me to flesh out my view of this topic. Unless you’ve got something new to add, this has become ponderous and we have nothing more to discuss. Really, you plumb tuckered me out, though I have to admit it’s a feel-good kind of tuckered out.

  260. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:04 pm

    But in any event, I (and most people of course) am certainly better than any god proposed to date since in the absence of god I exist, and in the presence of god I am more moral and just.

    This is why I maintain that secular morality is superior than religious morality and that, even IF I were to be convinced that the christain god of the bible were real (same goes with there being a jewish god, muslim god, or any number of other gods of the major world religions), I would not worship him for moral and ethical reasons, especially if that god is anything like what’s described in their holy books.

    These guys just don’t get how utterly absurd their beliefs are to us.

  261. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:09 pm

    “I think if we are going to be fair and compare world views, Christianity has a much higher view of man’s value and worth.”

    Nonsense. Christianity sees mankind as nothing but the toy of creator who is willing to hand out an eternity of torment and pain based on any failings that occur in a few brief years.

    More than even that, christianity regards humans as worthless vile scum sinners, from birth. Little babies are vile, horrid creatures worthy of being dunked in the lake of fire for eternity. While many christians try to find ways around this and explain away this despicable notion, the fact remains that few of them would disagree that all humans are born sinners not worthy of heaven, and the only way around that is to accept Jesus as their personal savior and beg him for forgiveness, just for being born! I can easily find bible quotes from the NT attesting to this.

    For the life of me, I can’t see how that regards humans as valuable or worthwhile.

  262. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:15 pm

    You also refuse to understand that I have been convinced that the laws of logic have a limited applicability to morality.

    We have repeated this over and over, and even Dr. Novella tried to explain (with much more patience than I have with him) that logic and science merely inform morals, they don’t determine them outright nor do they equal them. As is typical with him and most other religious apologists, he either dodges, misses the point, or turns it into a farcical strawman. In fact, nearly every refutation he has have been based on strawmen. In my estimation, he’s gotten very little correct, either in logic (which he clearly doesn’t understand) or in science (which he clearly is ignorant of).

    The only thing he seems to be good at is parroting bible quotes and apologist talking points. There is very little I find compelling, admirable, or appealing about his position or his worldview.

  263. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Thank-you, Zach, for motivating me to flesh out my view of this topic.

    I would caution “throwing pearls before the swine”. He will likely take your sentiment to mean he taught you something with his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. That’s the monumental arrogance of his religion, fueled by a healthy dose of Dunning-Kruger.

    Instead, what he will fail to realize is that he was merely instructional to us as a debate tool, someone that models typical creationist/apologist concepts that we can use to deconstruct and gauge how to further refine our understandings of them, as well as the apologist mind. That’s really all he has to offer in that regard. In other words, what not to be.

    I sincerely wish more apologists were honest about their positions, but I suppose that wouldn’t leave them much to argue on…

  264. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    rezistnzisfutl,

    My disadvantage is lack of education in philosophy and logic. I feel like I had my aha! moment recently. Certain things have been stated over and over (on both sides), but I didn’t recognize them.

    It’s kind of like in junior high when I was studying grammar. Bless little old Mrs. Andersen; she worked with me after school because I had this mental block and just didn’t get it. One afternoon, it all just clicked!! I looked at her with a big smile on my face and proceeded to explain back to her what she was attempting to help me understand. Then I went on to explain several other things I had been stuck on. What a great memory.

    The aha moments are one of the best things to experience in life and I recommend everyone to pursue them.

  265. RickKon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Zach,

    Why should we accept your favorite value over the next culture’s favorite value?

    That is up to us (humanity) to decide, without the benefit of a global cosmic playbook. Period.

    Human society has developed norms that favor/protect those within our community (family, clan, tribe, neighborhood, town, country), if necessary at the expense of other communities. These have clear survival and evolutionary motives.

    As you say, there is nothing directly in evolution that directs people to see all humanity as their community. But since “community” is in part determined by those with whom we are familiar, and since communication has steadily improved over time, then we see broader and broader portions of the world as “just like us” and more familiar. And sure enough, morality overall has tended toward greater acceptance of “others” and steadily more support for treating everybody as we’d treat members of our community.

    Why have the “community” instincts won out over the “desire to dominate” instincts”? Because “everybody works together” is a model that satisfies more needs for more people than a “everybody battles everybody” model. So over time, what works, wins.

    The fact that moral standards have changed over time, the fact that philosophers are still arguing over different moral frameworks, the fact that theologians are still arguing over “interpretations” of various ancient texts to specify a moral framework are all consistent with a universe that has no objective moral standards.

    There are just the tools and values that evolution and human social development have given us. Human societies have tried different models that appeal to different mixes of our values, and those that have the most support have stuck around.

    The evidence we see in humanity and in our setting in this universe are inconsistent with the existence of a universally objective morality.

  266. mufion 14 Jan 2013 at 1:30 pm

    nybgrus: And yes, mufi, it was a quite intentional statement.

    I know. I just wasn’t sure whether or not you had connected it to the same concepts/terms that I was using (“second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma and with theodicy”).

    Nice Epicurus quote, btw.

    It might interest you to know that, in the Talmud, the Hebrew-Aramaic word that’s often used for “heretic” – and which is still in use today within Orthodox Jewish circles – is “apikorus”, derived from “Epicurus.”

    So apparently the early rabbis (among other theists, no doubt) felt threatened by the force of his arguments, as well they should.

  267. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:36 pm

    rezistnzisfutl,

    I felt the double-entendre in both of my Thank-you, Zach posts was appropriately transparent. But that’s one of the problems with using them.

  268. Steven Novellaon 14 Jan 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Zach wrote: “Under Steven’s view morality boils down to “I like this and so should you” (blue is better than red).”

    Zach cannot get away from his silly straw men, no matter how many times he is corrected.

    My position, clearly stated multiple times, is not that values are based solely on my personal preference, but the most basic preferences we can come up with that are the most universal. This relates to the false analogy – blue is better than read. This analogy is a false equivalency.

    Rather, moral philosophy (to clarify, this is not just my view, as Zach would have you believe, but the result of centuries of philosophical scholarship) would say – All things considered, I would rather not be brutally murdered. Everyone I know would also not want to be brutally murdered. Most people would not want to be brutally murdered. Perhaps we should arrange things in our society to minimize people getting brutally murdered.

    Sure, there may be someone out there who would like to be brutally murdered. We can worry about them as an exception to the general rule.

    This is distinctly unlike preferring red or blue.

  269. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:02 pm

    “Putting aside whether or not that’s a fair & accurate portrayal of Steven’s view, it does your cause no good to substitute “God” for “I” in the statement above, or even to reword it as “God says ‘Do X’, therefore you should do X”, given all of the problems with the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma and with theodicy in general, summed up elegantly (if unwittingly) by nybgrus above:”

    I have demonstrated above that modern philosophy has already demonstrated that the dilemma is false. Why are you committed to this false dilemma?

    “The sad part is that if I could snap my fingers and cure the sick, feed the poor, and stop violence I would. Which already makes me better than your god.”

    I did not see this since I skip over everything written by nybgrus, but since you quoted it I’ll respond to it.

    It assumes two things:
    First, that he knows what is “better” and “worse”. Rather, what he only has what he thinks is best (red over blue).

    ““Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?””

    Second, the problem is known as Theodicy – the problem of evil.

    If God is all powerful and there is evil then he must not be good.
    If God is good and there is evil then he must not be all powerful
    If God is (a the Christians claim) good and all powerful then why is there evil?

    The Bible never tells us why. BUT just because we don’t have a reason doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason.

    This is rooted in radical rationalism. It basically says, “Because my finite mind can’t plumb the depths of the universe for a possible reason why a good and all powerful God would allow evil and suffering mean’s there can’t be a reason for it!”

    It’s fallacious.

    Christian doesn’t provide the reason for why there is evil and suffering, but it does tell us one reason it is can’t be. It can’t be because God is indifferent to it or doesn’t care. Because in Christianity you have God putting Himself directly on the hook for evil and suffering, by breaking into human existence via Jesus Christ to die and suffer terribly, in order that He can one day put and end to evil and suffering for good.

    Christianity doesn’t teach that in the end you go to some cloud like Heaven, it teaches that through Jesus Christ God will eventually put right all that is wrong with the world.

    Regardless of whether or not you believe Christianity is true, you should at least want it to be true; yes I know that wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true.

    If this life is all we have and in the end we die and in the very end the universe ceases to have life it then any choices we make now don’t matter. If you choose to be a moral monster (whatever that means) or you chose to be a good person (whatever that means), it won’t make any difference in the ultimate end. This life is all you have you say, so then why does knowledge matter? Why does any of this conversation matter? Go live your life and enjoy it, embrace hedonism.

    Christians believe that man exists forever. And the implications of that far outweigh a man who only exists for 100 years or less.

    “Nonsense. Christianity sees mankind as nothing but the toy of creator who is willing to hand out an eternity of torment and pain based on any failings that occur in a few brief years. Slaves and puppets in a rigged game where the only choice is adherence to an arbitrary decree.”

    See my C. S. Lewis quote. Christians believe that all who are in hell choose hell.

    “Human dignity and worth are found in the realization that we are responsible for creating any good that exists in our world. Yes it makes our morality an arbitrary and subjective thing, and it is something we often fail at. But the simple fact that we are creatures capable of making the attempt to improve our societies is where our value lies.”

    Care to provide your objective standard for what is good and what is improvement? Or is it only what you happen to like that is good and an improvement? And if so, why should we care about what you like over the next persons?

    “The problem lies in your refusal to see that I have, in fact, rejected your assertion that morality is objective. You also refuse to understand that I have been convinced that the laws of logic have a limited applicability to morality.”

    So stop calling certain morality “good”. For that implies that there is an actual objective standard for good and bad morality, as opposed to your subjective view that morality is just what we happen to like.

    You are the one using terms that necessitate an objective standard and claiming to not believe in an objective standard. It’s nonsensical.

    “My statement that a policy can be found to be wrong is not me (or my superior veto – straw man much?) saying the policy is wrong, rather it is a hypothetical suggesting the individual or group can find it to be wrong. Sometimes the effort to change a policy begins with an individual effort. Agreement with that effort along with sufficient support from others can redefine that portion of the moral code of that group.”

    So rape is only “wrong” once enough people in society deem they don’t value it anymore?
    Or there is no right and wrong and what “is” is what “is” – there is no “ought”.

    “Morality is always a work in progress, under evolutionary pressure. “

    So if morality is subjective you must mean “progress” not as improvement, but as change, since improvement would suggest an actual objective standard by which to judge where and improvement is made and where one is needed.

    “Sovereign individuals or societies establish a moral code for use in their circle of influence. Shifts in public opinion can affect where that sovereign society decides if existing policy suits their wants or needs. Increases in knowledge can do the same thing. Consensus is the might. The policy is the result of the consensus. Consensus obviously is perpetually in flux and can be subjective in many cases and objective in others.”

    So might makes right? If society by large decides that circumcising their female daughers, or slavery is “right” then that is the new “right”?

    I understand now, thank you.

    “That is up to us (humanity) to decide, without the benefit of a global cosmic playbook. Period.

    Human society has developed norms that favor/protect those within our community (family, clan, tribe, neighborhood, town, country), if necessary at the expense of other communities. These have clear survival and evolutionary motives.”

    See the question I just asked above.

    “As you say, there is nothing directly in evolution that directs people to see all humanity as their community. But since “community” is in part determined by those with whom we are familiar, and since communication has steadily improved over time, then we see broader and broader portions of the world as “just like us” and more familiar. And sure enough, morality overall has tended toward greater acceptance of “others” and steadily more support for treating everybody as we’d treat members of our community.”

    Please define improved, why you define it that way, how you determine what is “improved” over not “improved” and why your view of what is “improved” is the objective one? You know, the one not continent on your values (blue over red).

    “The fact that moral standards have changed over time, the fact that philosophers are still arguing over different moral frameworks, the fact that theologians are still arguing over “interpretations” of various ancient texts to specify a moral framework are all consistent with a universe that has no objective moral standards.”

    That does not follow. At best you conclude we simply can’t know the objective standard. But that implies you have complete knowledge yourself on all the different views and how they are all wrong. Otherwise, how do you get to assert that their disagreement matters or shows that they are wrong? That doesn’t follow.

    “Zach cannot get away from his silly straw men, no matter how many times he is corrected.
    My position, clearly stated multiple times, is not that values are based solely on my personal preference, but the most basic preferences we can come up with that are the most universal. This relates to the false analogy – blue is better than read. This analogy is a false equivalency.”

    When you find a way to prove your naked assertions here let me know. Until then you are relying on waving hand gestures to deal with my critiques.

    “Rather, moral philosophy (to clarify, this is not just my view, as Zach would have you believe, but the result of centuries of philosophical scholarship) would say – All things considered, I would rather not be brutally murdered. Everyone I know would also not want to be brutally murdered. Most people would not want to be brutally murdered. Perhaps we should arrange things in our society to minimize people getting brutally murdered.”

    Or perhaps I should arrange things so that I and the ones I care about should not be brutally murdered.

    Again, on what basis do you assert that your view is better than mine? (red is better than blue).

    remember, we are dealing within the subjective framework here. The laws of logic are no help telling you how to start a moral system, they can only be applied to your moral system once the foundation has been led. So about that foundation, why love over hate? So what if everyone doesn’t want to be murdered. I doubt any animal wants to be eaten, but it happens all the same. So why red over blue?

    “Sure, there may be someone out there who would like to be brutally murdered. We can worry about them as an exception to the general rule.
    This is distinctly unlike preferring red or blue.“

    How? It’s the same thing. You are asserting your preference as the “right one” (whatever that means).

    Blue = I don’t want to be eaten; everyone I know doesn’t want to be eaten, so lets all agree not to eat other!
    Red = I don’t want to be eaten; everyone I know doesn’t want to be eaten, so I’ll get enough people on my team who agree to not each other so we can exploit and abuse the weaker team and eat them first so they can’t eat us.

    Why blue over red?

  270. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Zach,

    You wrote,

    “(nothing new here)”

    Good bye, Zach.

  271. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:24 pm

    “Zach,
    You wrote,
    “(nothing new here)”
    Good bye, Zach.”

    Never underestimate the power of banter and sarcasm when faced with evidence that counters one’s view.

  272. mufion 14 Jan 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Zach: I have demonstrated above that modern philosophy has already demonstrated that the dilemma is false. Why are you committed to this false dilemma?

    You’ve done no such thing, as my comments above help to demonstrate.

    The dilemma is a real one and you can’t just escape it via incoherent statements and non sequitors.

  273. rezistnzisfutlon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Never underestimate the power of banter and sarcasm when faced with evidence that counters one’s view.

    It takes a fundamentalist creationist apologist to display such breathtaking ignorance, and then brag about it, as to leave everyone in jaw-dropping speechlessness.

    Zach is like a guy who brings the game Operation to a conference on vascular surgery. He’s the guy who brings a Tasco telescope to a summit on astrophysics. He’s the guy who brings a wiffle ball set to a World Series. He’s the guy who seriously thinks those things are legitimate additions to where he’s bringing them.

  274. JJ Borgmanon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Zach,

    What you proved to me, for the last time, is that your position is incorrect. None of your repetitious posturing, and to write plainly – your whining, is going to help you. If all you want is the last word, it’s all yours.

  275. ConspicuousCarlon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Zach,

    You originally said we owe god a debt, which you have now changed to humans being his objects and therefore under his rule. But even if that were your argument, it still wouldn’t address the real problem which is that you would then need to justify your belief that objects belong to their creator. You are still doing the same circular BS.

    This is not only foolishly missing the point, but after arguing that humans are God’s workbench objects, you spin someone’s chattel observation as being a childish view.

    You have a big problem with consistency of thought and general comprehension.

  276. Zachon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:46 pm

    “The dilemma is a real one and you can’t just escape it via incoherent statements and non sequitors.”

    Again,

    The dilemma:
    1. God goes to an external source of morality (something outside of himself) to get his morality and find out what is right and wrong. This source would then be the real God as God Himself would answer to it.
    2. God makes up whatever morality he feels and can change it on a whim’s notice whenever he so feels. So right is not truly right, it is whatever God has decided that day, week, month, year, century, etc.

    Christianity.

    3. Morality not external to God for it is rooted in God’s character – the two are inseparable. God neither goes to an external source outside of himself to find out what morality is right or wrong, nor does he make up as he goes along, it is rooted in his character, consistent with his character, and cannot be altered without altering God’s character. Since his character cannot be altered, neither can morality.

    You really don’t understand the differences there?

  277. Steven Novellaon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Zach wrote: “Blue = I don’t want to be eaten; everyone I know doesn’t want to be eaten, so lets all agree not to eat other!
    Red = I don’t want to be eaten; everyone I know doesn’t want to be eaten, so I’ll get enough people on my team who agree to not each other so we can exploit and abuse the weaker team and eat them first so they can’t eat us.

    Why blue over red? ”

    Because that is just one tiny slice of a moral system. One point. When you start to combine that with other lines of moral reasoning, and try to make the whole construct work together, you can answer questions about why one approach may be better than the other.

    Seriously – pick up a good book on moral philosophy. You should at least have a basic understanding of the centuries of scholarship you are so casually dismissing. Your understand appears to be as superficially and biased as the average creationist’s understanding of evolution.

  278. bgoudieon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:51 pm

    “See my C. S. Lewis quote. Christians believe that all who are in hell choose hell.”

    Hate to tell you but C.S. Lewis was hardly a trusted authority on much beyond the color of Mr. Tumnus’ legs. His religious apologetics are nothing with any weight behind them.

    In Christianity humans only have value when they bow before their very less than helpful God. They are tossed aside to burn.

    Think through this basic point. If we have eternal souls, an existence that last for ever, never ending then the 3 score and 12 years in this natural world are an utterly insignificant fraction of our lives. Yet everything hinges on those years, our only purpose afterwards is dwell in worship of the creator or suffer for his wrath. All based on what we do during a time where “our finite minds can’t comprehend God’s plan.”

    It’s a mug’s game.

    As for the God became man to suffer in pain so he could one day remove evil. Really now, that’s just the jam tomorrow argument. One day oh boy one day Jesus is going to make things right. One day God will undo all the grief he dumped on creation because he was jealous of his creation discovering knowledge. (Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:). One day it will happen, so just sit there and deal with the pain he created.

    It makes no sense in the context of a loving all powerful creator. It makes perfect sense as a story sold to certain men to keep the rest quiet and subservient with their bad lot in life.

    “Care to provide your objective standard for what is good and what is improvement? Or is it only what you happen to like that is good and an improvement? And if so, why should we care about what you like over the next persons?”

    That’s the basic point. we don’t have an objective standard beyond the one we as a group choose. No such thing exists. Morality is a creation of the human mind. But we can and have come a long way from the existence we had as hunter gathers. We have agreed to our subjective ideas on what is right. That is our achievement. We need no more underpinning than that we have decided that it is good for people to avoid suffering, to have freedoms, to not be murdered or robbed, to have protections from simply being abused by others.

    We are special because we have chosen to be more than instinct. Not because some sky father made us in his image.

  279. Steven Novellaon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Option 3 does not resolve the dilemma. It is just saying – morality is what it is, and it is God. This solves nothing. This is just another way of stating that morals are absolute. Saying they are part of God’s character just says that God is moral.

    None of this even addresses, let alone solves, why the morals that are part of God’s character are the right ones.

  280. mufion 14 Jan 2013 at 2:57 pm

    The dilemma:

    1) Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? (i.e. because the gods know the critiera of piety)

    or

    2) is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (i.e. because the gods’ preferences are the critieria of piety)

    Just translate “gods” to “God” and we have a monotheistic ver