Thinking Christian

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Nothing Can Change My Mind!

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Sam Harris at SALT 2005 (source):

Religious faith is the only area of discourse where immunity through conversation is considered noble. It’s the only area of our lives where someone can win points for saying, “there’s nothing that you can do to change my mind and I’m taking no state of the world ultimately into account in believing what I believe…. there’s nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs.

Amanda, commenting on this website:

When someone is a well educated atheist NOTHING will change there [sic] mind no matter how much you think your “god” is on your side.

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139 Responses to “ Nothing Can Change My Mind! ”

  1. SteveK says:

    Ironic.

  2. AxisofJared says:

    Who is this Amanda, and how does she represent the nature of atheist belief?

  3. Hausdorff says:

    I’m not sure what amanda was trying to say there. I would hope she misspoke and meant something different.

    regardless, what was said certainly doesn’t represent all of us. It is hard to imagine what would change my mind, but it could happen.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Amanda’s comment is what it is. I didn’t say I was drawing any general conclusions.

  5. AxisofJared says:

    That seems a bit disingenuous. It was worth putting the two quotes in apposition, apparently. If your readership wasn’t meant to draw any conclusions regarding intransigence of atheists in general, then why the need for the Harris quote, as opposed to just pointing out the stupidity in hers?

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    How about this, then:

    Sam Harris, SALT 2005, on what he thinks faith earns points for saying:

    I’m taking no state of the world ultimately into account in believing what I believe…. there’s nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs.“

    Sam Harris, The End of Faith:

    “In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable.”

    I suppose one might suggest that Harris merely means that some Christian propositions are unsupportable by any conceivable evidence. Perhaps he means, for example, that one can hardly imagine any evidence showing up to support the specific belief that God called Abraham out of Ur. To me, though, the overall tone of the book mitigates against such a charitable interpretation. It seems to me he finds it incredible that any evidence whatsoever could speak in favor of any religious belief.

  7. AxisofJared says:

    I didn’t read The End of Faith, so I can’t really comment definitively on that quote, nor the context in which it appears. But I do believe your first interpretation is correct, and that he means some propositions taught by religions (notice he’s not just picking on Christianity) are unsupportable by any conceivable evidence, not every proposition ever made by every religion.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for that opinion admittedly unsupported by evidence.

  9. AxisofJared says:

    As for the unevidenced opinion, just returning the favor offered by your initial post.

    And I notice you ignored the “definitively” qualifier. No worries.

    Edit: sneaky sneaky

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Not sneaky. I edited it before you posted this, because I saw the qualifier and realized I made a mistake.

  11. AxisofJared says:

    “Like science, every religion makes claims about the way the world is. Faith consists in accepting these claims on insufficient evidence. If Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory, Christianity will stand revealed as a science, and every scientist in his right mind will bow down before the savior of the world in awe.”
    – Sam Harris (http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=harris_26_1)

    Hat tip to a Christian blogger named Tom Gilson for providing me with that example.
    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/C278308471/E20051205111529/

  12. BillT says:

    I find the Harris’ quote a quite obvious straw man. It’s what he wants people to believe is true of those with religious convictions so he can scoff at them. The truth is that my Christian beliefs leave far fewer things to faith than athiesm does. Harris is playing on the secular perception not the reality of those with religious beliefs. If anyone should be scoffed at it’s him.

  13. AxisofJared says:

    It was you that charged Harris with being closed-minded to “any evidence whatsoever”, or “no conceivable ground of evidence for any faith”.

    Obviously, he doesn’t believe Jesus will return but he nevertheless provides that example as conceivable evidence that would sway his beliefs.

    Edit: whoops, thought I was responding to Tom, not BillT. I musn’t forget that Tom has readers ;)

  14. BillT says:

    Harris’ belief that “If Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory, Christianity will stand revealed as a science, and every scientist in his right mind will bow down before the savior of the world in awe.” is wishful thinking on his part. Jesus will return in glory and Harris will be at the front of the line denying Him. But it’s nice he thinks he’s so open minded.

    P.S. Axisoflared, don’t worry, we can follow along.

  15. AxisofJared says:

    So even though he offers this example as evidence that would change his beliefs, you yourself still do not accept this offer from him and assert without evidence that he would be at the front of the line denying him.

    Kinda sounds like you’re demonstrating exactly what he’s criticizing.

  16. BillT says:

    Given Harris’ basic approach of casting aspersions (and I’m being ultra nice with that description) about Christians with facts he’s essentially made up, I don’t really feel the need to accept his high minded claims at face value. The truth is most Christians have considered the idea of there being some evidence that would invalidate their faith. It’s not that big a deal and the idea that Christians believe that ”..there’s nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs.“ is a straw man as I mentioned before.

    And BTW, there is more to my skepticism of Harris’ claim than not believeing him or even believeing that he believes that but that’s not the topic of this thread.

  17. Sault says:

    Amanda cannot speak for all atheists; Sam Harris cannot speak for all theists. In the same vein, Tom cannot speak for all theists, or even all Christians for that matter.

    How certain you are in your faith or in your disbelief is a matter of personal conviction. I might as well point to every Christian who has posted regularly on this board and declare them close-minded because they aren’t willing to consider that they are wrong.

    Probably the biggest difference in terms of certainty between a believer and a non-believer is that believers often experience episodes of religious ecstasy. Religious ecstasy can manifest in many forms : feelings of euphoria (sometimes referred to as “blissing out to Jesus”), the “burning in the bosom”, frenzied activity, paralyzation or catatonia (think being “slain in the spirit”), speaking in tongues, not being able to feel pain, etc. These subjective experiences, these episodes, are often used to reinforce and confirm the believer’s faith.

    I have found that theists who undergo these experiences have more conviction than those that don’t, and are far less likely to question their faith.

    The truth is that my Christian beliefs leave far fewer things to faith than athiesm [sic] does.

    Equivocation and factually incorrect besides. A theist must have supernatural faith (belief in the existence of the supernatural), the existence of a god/gods/God, in the attributes of said deity/deities, and non-supernatural faith that their interpretations of their particular scripture are factual.

    Look at any Christian creed – these are items of faith (both supernatural and non) that atheists do not have. Look at the belief in the scapegoat or blood sacrifice (where a being can take the blame, sins, and negative actions/consequences of others, ie mankind), a prerequisite to believing in the redemptive power of Jesus’ crucifixion! That’s a particularly interesting one to me, because most Christians wouldn’t think to apply it in other areas of their life, but it is an unspoken supernatural belief…

    An atheist, by definition, cannot have supernatural belief, and would therefore have no justification for belief in any of the items that I’ve just listed.

    So, saying that atheism requires “more belief” (in either and both of the meanings of “belief”) than a Christian is somewhere between equivocation and ignorance.

  18. BillT says:

    “An atheist, by definition, cannot have supernatural belief,…”

    Yes, and beacuse of that they can’t explain why there is something instead of nothing, or how life began, or the existance of good or evil, or beauty, or love, or valor, or honor, or morality, or friendship. They have to take all these things (and many many more) on blind faith alone. In fact, it’s really worse than that. They’ve denied the existance of the only thing that could explain these things so not only don’t they have any way to explain them but they don’t have any hope they ever will.

  19. Doug says:

    they don’t have any hope they ever will

    I believe that this is quite correct. However, it is likely to be misconstrued: atheists would claim “hope” that they will eventually have explanations for these things based on their faith in scientific progress. Good luck to them.

  20. Melissa says:

    If Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory, Christianity will stand revealed as a science, and every scientist in his right mind will bow down before the savior of the world in awe.”

    Which just shows that Harris doesn’t know what science is. Anyway if the bible is true we know that even direct miraculous encounters with God do not necessarily result in faith in Him.

  21. hiero5ant says:

    So SH 1) makes a statement that all religions contain at least some propositions not amenable to evidence, in the context of 2) numerous statements such as that supplied by AxisofJared in reply #12 listing some religious propositions which are amenable to evidence, and yet your “impression” is that the “overall tone” means he had completely forgotten about having said 2 when he said 1? That it’s more plausible that he is making the ludicrous claim that no religion at any time ever has ever made a proposition amenable to evidence?

    Readers may like to know that you’ve been milking this quote mine for over three years now, and that you have made a habit of taking certain “creative liberties” with others of Sam Harris’s words. To your credit, you are now at least mentioning the obvious meaning of the passage as a “possible” interpretation before dismissing it and hoping no one will check the context and call you on it. So that’s progress of a sort.

    But I would like for you to prayerfully consider the effects these kind of shenanigans have on troubled believers who are being referred to apologetics ministries when their faith starts to become shaken. Sure, here on your blog you can always count on a core of supporters like SteveK or BillT who will accept your claims uncritically, swapping high fives rather than looking up the quotes and seeing they don’t say what you say they say. But what happens when the Christian who is having some doubts actually goes to the trouble to check the actual references on something like this (or Darwin on the eye, or Sherwin-White on legendary development, or Sternberg on being not-fired from a non-job, or, or…) and finds out that the apologist’s representation is at best woefully sloppy, with the “at worst” interpretation just waiting in the wings pending further examination of the apologist’s standard of scholarship?

    I’m telling you as a courtesy, nothing is more certain to reinforce the troubled believer’s fears that the best minds of their community cannot succeed in defending the faith without resorting to misrepresenting the views of their opponents than this sort of schtick. “If Josh McDowell was wildly wrong when I tried to follow up on this reference here, what will happen when I check him on that reference there?” Trust me, that little trickle of bubbling crude is a harbinger of the absolute gusher of dishonesty the sincere doubter is going to hit when he makes a project of checking the references in his copy of Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith one by one.

    If you can’t be moved by the thought of driving more of the youth into the angry arms of Harris and Dawkins, then I would at least implore you to ask what these kind of tactics do to your own soul. Is pulling an anonymous internet commenter’s words to the front page and sneering at them like this really something consonant with Proverbs 15:1 and 1 Peter 3:15-17? Is that tiny, momentary frisson you get when you elicit a few guffaws from your acolytes really worth the price of the spiritual toxin building up inside you from months and years of treating others with contempt? Do you imagine the man who delivered the sermon on the mount looking down on a post like this and saying “lol, you really put that dummy in her place; so much greater now will be your reward in heaven”?

  22. AxisofJared says:

    They’ve denied the existance of the only thing that could explain these things…

    If you consider your particular deity to be “the only thing” that can explain the aforementioned phenomena, you are once again demonstrating exactly what he’s criticizing.

  23. Doug says:

    @Axis,

    If you consider your particular deity to be “the only thing” that can explain the aforementioned phenomena, you are once again demonstrating exactly what he’s criticizing.

    Didn’t I say it could be misconstrued? :)
    The byline of this blog is a potential antidote to the misunderstanding. Do any of us claim to “own” one-of-many deities. (Shame on us if we do!) Not at all. Rather, there is a Deity, independent of His creatures, without which no explanation of those phenomena is forthcoming. The best way to dispute such a claim is to simply supply counter-example explanations.

  24. SteveK says:

    Sure, here on your blog you can always count on a core of supporters like SteveK or BillT who will accept your claims uncritically, swapping high fives rather than looking up the quotes and seeing they don’t say what you say they say.

    Where have I done this? Please give us some solid evidence.

  25. Sault says:

    Yes, and beacuse [sic] of that they can’t explain why there is something instead of nothing, or how life began, or the existance [sic] of good or evil, or beauty, or love, or valor, or honor, or morality, or friendship. They have to take all these things (and many many more) on blind faith alone.

    Its not my fault if you don’t or aren’t willing to understand non-theistic reasoning, or if said reasoning doesn’t emotionally comfort you.

    I don’t know what existed before the Big Bang… but I’m also not going to be content with a non-answer like “God did it”. If you don’t understand what abiogenesis is, I can probably point you in the right direction. Every other item you’ve listed can be reasoned as a psycho-social construct or an attribute that has given us an evolutionary advantage.

    atheists would claim “hope” that they will eventually have explanations for these things based on their faith in scientific progress.

    You don’t have to have “faith” (in any definition of the word) to be optimistic about the possibility that science can show explanations for much of our natural word and the human condition.

    In fact, all you have to do is come to the reasonable conclusion that science can explain such things better than supernatural belief. I mean, it has so far – much of what was once taken on “faith” has been explained naturalistically… see “God of the Gaps” for a detailed history of what I mean! (here is a great video with Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about it, well worth the view).

  26. BillT says:

    Axisoflared,

    All the huffing and puffing about “your particular deity” isn’t really on point. I simply stated that atheists don’t have an explanation for the things I mentioned in my post #18. If I’m wrong, please enlighten us just how an atheist can account for those things.

  27. Mike Gene says:

    Both PZ Myers (the internet’s most famous atheist) and Richard Dawkins (the real world’s most famous atheist) have said that they would not change their mind even if a 15 foot Jesus appeared before them and boomed, “I exist.”

    What would it take to change an atheist’s mind?

  28. BillT says:

    “Its not my fault if you don’t or aren’t willing to understand non-theistic reasoning, or if said reasoning doesn’t emotionally comfort you.”

    Wow, what a surprise! Nothing like starting out with an ad hominem attack and then trying to back it up with a bunch of generalities. (Hint: Just mentioning the word abiogenesis doesn’t explain anything nor do vague references to “psycho-social construct(s)”.) Not, of course, that the above isn’t par for the course from the secular crowd here.

  29. Doug says:

    abiogenesis

    let me help with that one: “abiogenesis” is a term representing wishful thinking about a process for which there is not the least bit of evidence. If anyone has a scientifically coherent theory of abiogenesis, they can claim their $1M here.

    Every other item you’ve listed can be reasoned as a psycho-social construct or an attribute that has given us an evolutionary advantage.

    “reasoned” is far too optimistic a word in this context. “reasoned away” is more like it.

    I mean, it has so far

    Only on the boring topics. The ones BillT listed are quite beyond the reach of empirical science.

  30. Sault says:

    Nothing like starting out with an ad hominem attack and then trying to back it up with a bunch of generalities.

    Misuse of the word “ad hominem” (don’t worry, a lot of people do it). An ad hominem would be to say that you’re wrong because you’re unintelligent. On the other hand, it is a statement of fact to say that if you don’t understand or aren’t willing to, it’s not my fault, and it doesn’t disprove any of it. However, as I said, I’m willing to point you in the right direction if you’re interested.

    Are you really interested in learning about these things, ie abiogenesis? It’s not a simple subject, and I do not have the capability of summarizing it succinctly in a paragraph or two. I would need a little time to get some references together. Your call.

    I mean, it has so far

    Only on the boring topics. The ones BillT listed are quite beyond the reach of empirical science.

    Sure, as long as we ignore the research of social and evolutionary psychology.

    Perhaps you meant “naturalistic” instead of empirical?

    And oh yes, reducing infant mortality (vaccines and antibiotics, say, instead of faith healing) is definitely boring. Totally boring. Doesn’t prove a thing. Far less interesting than why “friendship” exists.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    hiero5ant,

    I don’t know what “milking” means. Sam Harris said it, and some times it’s worth mentioning. I am quite sure, based on the whole context of the book, that he was referring to the core doctrines of religions. His point was, Christians (and others) hold to core beliefs for which no evidence is even conceivable, which is functionally equivalent to, “There is no conceivable way that there could be evidence for the truth of Christianity.”

    I’ve read and heard enough of Harris to be quite sure this interpretation is consistent with his overall message. If you think I’m wrong, find the counter-example. The above-mentioned end-of-the-world example is hardly relevant to the situation.

    Therefore with reference to the link you mentioned, no, I have no reason to be gun-shy.

    Also on that link, you say I misrepresented Harris. Let me remind you that if I say he has spoken wrongly about Christians, it’s hard to be incorrect when he says this (which you offered in defense of Harris!):

    What if I had said, “Gravity comes from God”? That would be merely to stifle her intelligence—and to teach her to stifle it. What if I told her, “Gravity is God’s way of dragging people to hell, where they burn in fire. And you will burn there forever if you doubt that God exists”? No Christian or Muslim can offer a compelling reason why I shouldn’t say such a thing—or something morally equivalent

    That’s just outrageously false. Who’s supposed to be gun-shy?! Who’s being “woefully sloppy?” Who’s “misrepresenting the views of their opponents than this sort of schtick”?

    You had plenty of opportunity to respond the first time I corrected you on this, but you didn’t. You just came back here and repeated the charge as if there were some value to it. But no, there’s nothing more to it now than there was then.

    You say I have “made a habit of taking certain ‘creative liberties’ with others of Sam Harris’s words.” As evidence of this “habit” you point to one comment I made on another website three years ago, and one on this blog 2 and a half years ago—neither of which, in my strong opinion, is a misrepresentation, for reasons I have just finished stating.

    I don’t know how you show up this way so suddenly when I mention this quote from Harris. Do you have a google alert set for it?

    You ask,

    Is pulling an anonymous internet commenter’s words to the front page and sneering at them like this really something consonant with Proverbs 15:1 and 1 Peter 3:15-17?

    What was un-gentle about quoting her with no comment? Where did I sneer? Someone asked me if she was representative of others, and I said, “Her comment is what it is.” What’s so outrageous about that????

    And though I’m not usually one for the tu quoque, who did more sneering, me in the original post and subsequent comments, or you, with

    - you’ve been milking this quote mine for over three years now
    -you have made a habit of taking certain “creative liberties” with others of Sam Harris’s words. To your credit, you are now at least –
    – these kind of shenanigans
    – woefully sloppy-resorting to misrepresenting the views of their opponents
    -this sort of schtick.
    – a few guffaws from your acolytes

    And etc.?

    Hiero5ant, there are people whose criticisms I take very seriously. I am very quick to admit it when I make unsupported statements. I’ll point you to the last time, just a couple weeks ago, if you need to see it. That criticism came from someone who didn’t share much of my general position. On this particular point he was right, and I owned up to it. Criticisms don’t have to come from people I agree with. But they have to be from more credible sources than you.

  32. Sault says:

    If anyone has a scientifically coherent theory of abiogenesis, they can claim their $1M here.

    Link broken.

  33. Grace says:

    Sault,

    “…all you have to do is come to the reasonable conclusion that science can explain such things better than supernatural belief. I mean, it has so far – much of what was once taken on “faith” has been explained naturalistically… see “God of the Gaps”

    No, it can’t. Science can’t explain such things as the origin of the universe and origin of life. Cosmologist Paul Davies and molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist Francis Crick labels them “miracles”, respectively (you seem to believe that miracles just can’t happen). Science can’t explain why nature has to follow laws or where the laws came from. Science can’t explain where love or beauty or consciousness came from either. Many atheists I have met believe in “just so” assumptions. Everything is here because it is “just so” or “just that way”, and it all came about randomly by chance. This would be a blind belief in “Chance of the Gaps” as the explanation for everything that came into existence. As for abiogenesis, is there any evidence that it occurred? I’m puzzled as to why Richard Dawkins changed his stance in the recent Ben Stein video from abiogenesis to panspermia-both of which have absolutely no evidence. So although they may sound like plausible theories, there is absolutely no evidence for them. Notice the difference between it is plausible for it to have occurred, and it actually did occur. It’s plausible that I could one day be a millionaire, but I’m not. So, you have blind faith if you believe that abiogenesis is how life originated.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, I’m sorry, but you were wrong here:

    Misuse of the word “ad hominem” (don’t worry, a lot of people do it). An ad hominem would be to say that you’re wrong because you’re unintelligent. On the other hand, it is a statement of fact to say that if you don’t understand or aren’t willing to, it’s not my fault, and it doesn’t disprove any of it. However, as I said, I’m willing to point you in the right direction if you’re interested.

    The exact boundaries of ad hominem are somewhat fuzzy, but in general, any disparaging remark against a person’s character, when such disparagement is used to undermine that person’s argument, is an instance of the ad hominem fallacy. Your reference to “doesn’t emotionally comfort you” clearly functioned in that manner. Or are you going to try to tell us with a straight face that you were arguing in strictly legitimate rational terms there?

  35. Doug says:

    social and evolutionary pyschology

    Pre-enlightenment, invocation of God’s name was (in some circles) sufficient to obtain a hearing for even the most far-fetched ideas. Today, we’re no better. We simply need to invoke “social and evolutionary psychology” to achieve the analogous outcome.
    Both “naturalistic” and “empirical” are accurate. The things BillT mentioned have sufficient first-person dependency that they simply aren’t amenable to measurement. And if the relative boringness of various items offends you, at least you will be willing to admit that infant mortality is in a different category than the items on BillT’s list?

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    The link in #29 is fixed.

  37. BillT says:

    “Are you really interested in learning about these things, ie[sic] abiogenesis?”

    I’m quite familiar with the subject actually. And as Doug so aptly put it “…“abiogenesis” is a term representing wishful thinking about a process for which there is not the least bit of evidence.”

    And what will all your science tell us about good, or evil, or beauty, or love, or valor, or honor, or morality, or friendship or any of the rest of the metaphysical. Or maybe your atheism will infom us all about this. Hmmmmm. No answers in science. No answers in atheism. What exactly have you got?

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    Just out of curiosity, what are your scientific qualifications?

  39. SteveK says:

    Do you have a google alert set for it?

    That was my exact thought.

  40. SteveK says:

    Empirical science has made the following observations in 100% of all tests conducted to date: The process of creating life requires that existing life play a substantial role.

  41. d says:

    BillT,

    And what will all your science tell us about good, or evil, or beauty, or love, or valor, or honor, or morality, or friendship or any of the rest of the metaphysical. Or maybe your atheism will infom us all about this. Hmmmmm. No answers in science. No answers in atheism. What exactly have you got?

    BillT, if you want a brief sketch of how some naturalists might address these issues – see Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God”. Suffice to say, your confidence that naturalism has no answers to offer here, you must admit (if you are a reasonable person) is a highly controversial opinion. What’s wrong with admitting that?

  42. Sault says:

    Please bear with me if I’ve addressed these answers to the wrong people… a lot of responses popped up, and I’m trying to respond to all of them.

    @ Tom, BillT

    What an interesting reaction!

    They’ve denied the existance of the only thing that could explain these things so not only don’t they have any way to explain them but they don’t have any hope they ever will.

    BillT claims that atheists can’t have hope to explain “these things” (good, evil, love, honor, origin of the universe/life, etc). The opposite of hope is despair. If BillT believes that all that atheism can offer is despair and rejects it on those grounds… how could that possibly say anything about his character??? If I thought that something couldn’t bring me hope in any form, I’d probably reject it too. It would hopefully not be the only reason for rejecting an argument, but I couldn’t fault him if that was his reasoning.

    So maybe he rejects atheism on purely emotional grounds, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe its more complicated than that – I know that it is with me, so why not him, too?

    In fact, my statements were more gracious than some that have been directed at me – on this very blog I’ve been assured that I can’t possibly understand Christianity because I’m not a believer!

    I make no such disparaging remarks, and have tried to give BillT the benefit of the doubt and left it open to why he rejects atheism… unlike some who claim that I reject Christianity simply because I’m “rebellious”.

    @ Grace, BillT –

    Science can’t explain such things as the origin of the universe

    I think I mentioned something along those lines already – that we don’t know what existed before the Big Bang, and we may never know. Either way, “God did it” is not a satisfactory answer, because it tells us absolutely nothing. If you want science, tell me how God did it, because then we have something to work with!

    Science can’t explain … [snip]

    Science can’t explain or science hasn’t explained yet or science hasn’t explained yet to your personal satisfaction?

    Ok, let’s go over the list.

    good and evil, beauty, beauty, morality (also see altruism), love, love, courage, honor and shame, etc.

    Science is tackling or has tackled the issues that BillT lists back in post #18. Obviously not a comprehensive list or definitive resources, but enough to show that science is capable of addressing these issues.

    I’m puzzled as to why Richard Dawkins changed his stance in the recent Ben Stein video from abiogenesis to panspermia-both of which have absolutely no evidence.

    I hope you don’t mean ‘Expelled’. That was a horrible movie, full of half-truths and errors of omissions and falsehoods. The interviews were conducted under false pretenses. I have no respect for Ben Stein because of that movie. Apparently few people do, because they were having a hard time selling the rights to it, even…

    Everything is here because it is “just so” or “just that way”, and it all came about randomly by chance.

    I hear that a lot from the scientifically illiterate. I’ve actually heard that phrase used twice in the last 24 hours in debate with Christians. Its a mischaracterization, of course, on par with saying that God is a “sky daddy” – kinda true but not really.

    Instead of saying “sky daddy” let’s say “Heavenly Father”, and instead of saying “randomly by chance” let’s say “an initially improbable series of events that led to a deterministic chain of increasing complexity and diversity over time”. That’s a little more accurate for both of us, I think.

    So although they may sound like plausible theories, there is absolutely no evidence for them.

    The short answer is that it depends what you consider “evidence”, for you can easily set different standards for abiogenesis than you could for, say, a boat capable of carrying two (or seven) of every animal in the world (that would be moving the goalposts, of course).

    We can test the hypotheses of abiogenesis and develop it into a theory, and we’ve had some success with abiogenesis research these last few years.

    TalkOrigins can provide some references.

    @ Doug –

    We simply need to invoke “social and evolutionary psychology” to achieve the analogous outcome.

    You’re right – “God did it” is waaay better than “social and evolutionary psychology did it”. One, it rolls off the tongue easier, and two, you can use “God did it” for the creation of the universe as well. Can’t do that with social and evolutionary psychology!

    Seriously though, are you discounting psychology as a valid science?

    …. and how does that make you feel?

    And if the relative boringness of various items offends you, at least you will be willing to admit that infant mortality is in a different category than the items on BillT’s list?

    Let’s follow the conversation. BillT says that you need “blind faith” to be an atheist. I say that all you need is to reasonably conclude that science is more likely to explain things better than faith, based on science’s track record. BillT responds that it’s only in the “boring cases” where that happens, implying that only cases where he perceives science unable to function that it really matters.

    Science has done a very good job at explaining many things, and doing a better job of it than supernatural faith, religion, theology, dogma, scripture, etc. But to BillT, apparently none of that matters – it’s “boring” to him.

    It’s funny (funny tragic, not funny ha-ha) how Christians take science for granted, but dismiss it whenever it comes to a conclusion that might contradict their supernatural beliefs.

    Prayer didn’t lower infant mortality – better medicine, vaccines, and antibiotics did. “God did it” doesn’t explain why two people love each other – but showing the roles of oxytocin and endorphins start to give us a good idea.

    @ Tom –

    Just out of curiosity, what are your scientific qualifications?

    Just out of curiosity, why did you edit that statement?

  43. Sault says:

    Oh yeah,

    @ Doug –

    If anyone has a scientifically coherent theory of abiogenesis, they can claim their $1M here.

    Won’t happen. Too many weasel words. It’s kinda like that one guy who offers a prize for any evolutionist who will debate him and win… but he picks the judges and sets some very biased rules.

    Besides, the website looks distinctly unprofessional. Why would anyone take it seriously?

  44. Doug says:

    Too many weasel words.

    You’re kidding, right? What they are asking for is simply someone to come along and elucidate a possible abiogenetic pathway. That’s it. That’s all. But hey, if you don’t like the website, provide your answer here. I have plenty of experience with adding scientific rigor to others’ ideas. I’ll split the prize with you 50/50.

    And for what it’s worth, the researcher at the link you provided for abiogenetic research said that it “could be relevant” to the origin of life. Nice. It took a journalist to breathlessly turn that into “life as we know it nearly created in the lab” :-)

  45. Doug says:

    Actually, Sault, as I’ve suggested before, the “science” [sic] of “those things” consists mostly of pretending “those things” are not what we all know them to be. The “science of good and evil,” for example, is an (entertaining, if absurd) attempt to quantify “well-being” and maximize it according to some local optimization method. Dream on.
    Similarly, “beauty” or “love”, when quantified and put under the microscope, becomes “sexual attraction”, and the fact that the researchers pretend that they are researching “beauty” or “love” with a straight face doesn’t make it any less laughable.
    The reductive enterprise does not explain these things; it explains them away.

    (btw, it wasn’t Bill: it was I who said that science only has a handle on “boring” subjects)

  46. BillT says:

    “Science is tackling or has tackled the issues that BillT lists back in post #18. Obviously not a comprehensive list or definitive resources, but enough to show that science is capable of addressing these issues.”

    This simply makes no sense to me. Science has something to say about love, honor, good, evil? It’s just outside reason. It is, I believe, outside of the purview of science altogether. I don’t have the philosophic wherewithal to explain it but others here do. Perhaps they could help.

    Just for the record I’m a big believer in science. I believe evolution explains biology. I think science is just great overall. However, this world, this universe is much much more than what science can explain. The metaphysical aspects of it and us are just not within science’s scope. I find it hard to believe that isn’t apparent to everyone.

    I’d love to continue but the high peaks and deep snow of Colorado beckon and I must take my leave. Thanks for the interesting dialog.

  47. Melissa says:

    Sault,

    Either way, “God did it” is not a satisfactory answer, because it tells us absolutely nothing. If you want science, tell me how God did it, because then we have something to work with!

    We are not offering God did it as an alternative scientific explanation. Science investigates how change occurs, there are other types of explanations though, for instance an explanation in terms of the intent of an agent.

  48. Grace says:

    Sault,

    “good and evil, beauty, beauty, morality (also see altruism), love, love, courage, honor and shame, etc.

    Science is tackling or has tackled the issues that BillT lists back in post #18. Obviously not a comprehensive list or definitive resources, but enough to show that science is capable of addressing these issues.”

    No one is questioning epistemology. (Actually, I am, because I don’t believe everything is illusory, but I’ll leave the epistemology question out for now). We’re all concerned about ontology, which science CANNOT explain. I’m going to quote someone else because he states things more eloquently.

    “The main difficulty of the evolutionary explanation is the existence of ‘true altruism’, which is defined as behaviors which benefit others with no benefit to oneself or one’s relatives and often at large personal cost. For instance, cultures across the world recognize that giving up one’s own life to rescue a child is a very good and noble act. Yet this behavior obviously conveys no selective advantage to the individual or to his relatives who share his genes. If Dawkins is right that the gene is the fundamental actor in natural selection, then we cannot appeal to ‘group selection’ (as opposed to group-dependent fitness, which is different) to explain this phenomenon. I will quote noted atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne here: ‘we know nothing about the evolution of true human altruism except that it probably didn’t evolve.’ Both Dawkins and Coyne view true altruism as an accident which is _not explained_ by natural selection.”-Neil Shenvi, scientist.

    As Neil stated, we cannot appeal to group selection, so the goal of the well being of a whole society of sentient beings goes out the window. Science morality fails because the natural and material world itself is valueless, and to define our actions based upon instrumental value ends up with mixed results.

    As to Richard Dawkins positing panspermia as the origin of life in our universe- nobody tricked him into saying that. He could have easily claimed abiogenesis, but he didn’t. He changed his stance, just like he did when he now says he’s agnostic (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html).

    As for your preference, sure, I could say you believe in “an initially improbable series of events that led to a deterministic chain of increasing complexity and diversity over time”. It’s still a “just so” assumption based on blind faith.

    “The short answer is that it depends what you consider ‘evidence’.”

    Really? This article by scientist Dr. J. Wile shows that Synthetic Life Shows the Impossibility of Abiogenesis. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s an excerpt: “The scientific report of Venter and his team’s accomplishment can be found on the website of the journal Science1. I finally got around to reading it, and it is truly fascinating. When you look at the details of how they created their ‘synthetic’ life form, you find that Venter and his team relied on already-living systems not once, not twice, but a total of three times. Without relying on these already-living systems, they would not have been able to produce their ‘synthetic’ cell.” (http://blog.drwile.com/?p=1293)

    “It’s funny (funny tragic, not funny ha-ha) how Christians take science for granted, but dismiss it whenever it comes to a conclusion that might contradict their supernatural beliefs.
    Prayer didn’t lower infant mortality – better medicine, vaccines, and antibiotics did.”

    Where is this strawman coming from? No one here claimed that prayer lowers infant mortality. I think you have the wrong idea of how prayer works. No one here even takes science for granted. Is the reason why you believe that we take science for granted because we believe that miracles can happen and you do not? I am asking because I already quoted 2 non-Christian scientists a few posts down who said the origin of the universe and the origin of life are miracles.

  49. Crude says:

    It’s the only area of our lives where someone can win points for saying, “there’s nothing that you can do to change my mind and I’m taking no state of the world ultimately into account in believing what I believe…. there’s nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs.“

    Not following the comments on this one, but Harris is a moron if he thinks this.

    No, religious faith is absolutely, obviously not the “only area” where one can “win points” with that kind of talk. Some examples – and perhaps someone else threw them out.

    “Nothing can change my belief that women should have access to abortion!”

    “Nothing can change my belief that communism is the best system of government!”

    “Nothing can change my belief that (country X) is the greatest country on earth!”

    “Nothing can change my belief that there’s nothing wrong with homosexual acts or urges!”

    He’s dead wrong that religion is “the only area of discourse where immunity to conversion is considered noble”. You only have to ask yourself, “are there non-religious areas of discourse where cultures, groups or individuals would value and praise blind and unshakable adherence to a claim?”

    Answer “yes” and Harris’ claim dies on the spot.

  50. mattghg says:

    What is SALT?

  51. Doug says:

    If you want science, tell me how God did it, because then we have something to work with

    The entire history of science is simply “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”. Science is nothing but discovering how “God did it”.

    The tragic irony, however, is that the more that we discover the wisdom and power of God as revealed to us in Creation, the more some people, unable to think beyond proximate cause, pretend that scientific discoveries are precisely what they are not!

    For those in the grip of the cult of naturalism, the idol of Nature becomes a “replacement God”. As if the Universe caused itself. As if the Laws of Physics caused themselves. As if “those things” that BillT listed just are without the need of sufficient explanation. — an exercise in “giving glory to the creation rather than the Creator.”

    And in spite of all the protestations to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence that the Naturalist’s idol is sufficient to its role in their mythology. Their cult is entirely a leap of extrapolation (e.g. “since science can reduce infant mortality, it will one day explain everything”) — which is simply another way to say “faith”.

  52. Mike Gene says:

    Here’s a nice quote to set against Harris’s claim:

    So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us. – PZ Myers

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/its_like_he_was_reading_my_min.php

  53. Victoria says:

    @Mike
    It’s not even just a subjective interpretation, according to Paul in Romans 1:18-3:1 – it is a deliberate suppression of the truth about God, due to the rebellion against God that all humans beings share in, and being blinded by the god of this age. Until the Spirit of God does His work in a person’s heart and mind and soul, it is simply not possible to understand the truth about God nor accept it, to say nothing of bowing down before Jesus as Saviour and Lord – Christians know this, because we’ve all been there – we were all once like this (Ephesians 2:1-10)

  54. JAD says:

    When someone is a well educated atheist NOTHING will change there [sic] mind no matter how much you think your “god” is on your side.

    Amanda’s statement illustrates the absurdity of what happens when you try to turn disbelief into belief. You end up with dogmatism.

  55. Doug says:

    d recommends:

    Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God.

    which has been reviewed at length with the following conclusion:

    [This] book, nevertheless, makes some whopping errors, too often in a dogmatic and bombastic tone that is unworthy of serious scholarship. His discussion of some important issues is not merely “short,” it is “glib,” and in some cases grossly misleading.

    Name-calling, hissy fits, stomping on the ground and calling critics a “liar,”(Carrier told me in a personal e-mail that his debate partners generally turn out to be “rude or dishonest!”) does nothing to remedy the deficiencies of Sense & Goodness, or the poor scholarship (and personal conduct) many skeptics seem willing to accept from this fellow.

  56. d says:

    Doug,

    Whoop-dee-doo, you found a bad review.

    As for the criticisms of the depth of the material, I have to scratch my head – its not supposed to be in-depth. Its not supposed to respond to every possible counter-argument. Its a highly concise, popular level sketch (I used that word intentionally) of Carrier’s worldview. I recommended precisely for that reason, actually – its good and short and easy to read. Its wide, not deep, by design.

  57. Doug says:

    @d,
    Funny, and here I had the mistaken impression that you recommended it because it provides

    a brief sketch of how some naturalists might address [good, or evil, or beauty, or love, or valor, or honor, or morality, or friendship]

    No idea where I got that idea from…
    But from what did you get the idea that the criticism was of the depth of the material?

  58. d says:

    Doug,

    Oh lord, did a google, and that’s a David Marshall comment. Marshall seems to spend an inordinate amount of time writing amazon reviews on atheists books, and will often engage in (sometimes very puerile, tangential and nitpicky) debates about them that become so epic in length, they could possibly become books themselves. About all I’ll say there is, take his claims with a grain of salt.

    Carrier got uncharitable with him in a back-and-forth on reviews on amazon, and is what the “hissy fit, foot stamping” accusation is about – not the content or tone of Sense and Goodness Without God – but one can’t really say Marshall was being overly charitable either, in his review. Quite uncharitable, actually. Carrier should have been the better man, but in that instance, wasnt. But Carrier also had some good reasons for some of his accusations.

    So, in short, the second paragraph of the part of the “review” you cited, isn’t actually talking about the book.

  59. Charlie says:

    Speaking of salty grains:
    http://www.answeringinfidels.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=86

    This review by Christian philosopher David Wood.

  60. Melissa says:

    d,

    Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness is just more of the same bad reasoning and smuggling in what he is trying to prove.

    For example he writes that “happiness is found secured and improved amidst love, good friendships, security, purposefulness, creation,joy, sanity and peace” and he uses this “fact”to build his view of morality. How does he know this is a fact? Natural selection produces natural variations in the population, for some people happiness may not be found in these things. It is pointless to argue as he does that those people just don’t know what real happiness is. What is his evidence of this?

    As always the “answers” are non-answers. You personally have not yet articulated a consistent view of morality that works and yet you still claim naturalism has answers.

  61. Doug says:

    @d,
    Let’s put it this way: reading Richard Carrier on history or philosophy is about on a par with reading a AiG/CMI/ICR rep on evolution. It is an exercise in both “preaching to the converted” and “carefully culling out data in support of a prior ideological commitment”.

  62. Charlie says:

    Richard Carrier:
    Jesus maybe didn’t even exist
    St. Luke was a poor historian
    Hitler was a Christian and Table Talk unreliable
    Antony Flew was a puppet of evangelists
    The universe is exactly what we would expect if God does not exist and churned out life accidentally.

    Take conclusions with salt.

  63. SteveK says:

    From Charlie’s link:

    Like most atheists, he [Carrier} is utterly incredulous when it comes to the supernatural, but completely gullible when it comes to the natural. That is, when someone claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead, Richard scoffs and laughs and dismisses the claims as “socially acceptable insanity.” Yet when a person argues that the universe formed on its own for no reason or that randomly colliding molecules produced life, Richard believes whatever he is told.

    Selective skepticism is very common.

  64. d says:

    Ahh well, this has been fun. Great work, poisoning the well up front, lest any of the flock be tempted by the slippery words of the naturalist sooth-sayers like Carrier. Sheesh.

    Critiques aside, I don’t stand by the book as unassailable, perfect, or even the best case for naturalism out there. It’s got flaws, and I even imagine Carrier’s own views have since evolved somewhat since the publishing of that book and some of the criticisms that followed. I stand by it as a wide (but shallow) intro to a naturalistic worldview, and an interesting look at how a naturalist might deal with things like beauty, love, and morality (and a host of other things relevant to BillT’s hangups about naturalism). If you’re not interested in it, great – don’t read it – it was just a suggestion.

    And if any cares, Carrier responded to David Wood’s criticisms (if you find immersing yourself into such drama more productive than, I don’t know… reading the actual book):
    http://www.richardcarrier.info/contrawood.html

    And here’s some interesting commentary from Lukeprog about Wood’s review (I knew I had seen this review before somewhere), who, while not free from bias, has a reputation for being fair minded and charitable:
    http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8734

    Lukeprog also blogged through the book, generally gives it praise, but also has charitable criticisms (again, if anybody actually cares – just offering counter opinion to the well poisoning that commenced here): http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=806

  65. d says:

    Natural selection produces natural variations in the population, for some people happiness may not be found in these things. It is pointless to argue as he does that those people just don’t know what real happiness is. What is his evidence of this?

    I’ve given you various responses to this same query in the past – at this point, if you want different answers, why not ask him?

    As always the “answers” are non-answers. You personally have not yet articulated a consistent view of morality that works and yet you still claim naturalism has answers.

    On the contrary, as I recall, I offered an analytically consistent moral theory (though I’m sure not error free), which I think is a possible contender for the title of the true moral ontology (but was quite clear it could be empirically falsified, and was in no way proven), and was unable to help you realize that your objections were really empirical, not logical and that therefore your judgments that morality is logically impossible on naturalism were false (or at least unjustified, to date). Oh well.

  66. Melissa says:

    d,

    Without a “way we are supposed to be” or an “ideal” or “a perfection we are directed toward” or however else you want to word it that originates outside of our subjective preferences you cannot ground morality. My objection is that naturalism rejects final causes apart from those which arise in human minds therefore there is nothing in naturalism to ground morality. That is a logical objection not empirical.

  67. d says:

    Melissa,

    In the past, if I recall, you mainly challenged the plausibility of the idea, as you do in this thread, that naturalism and natural selection can guarantee the existence of some universal desires in sentient beings, but not the logical possibility of it all together. There’s a case to be made there, but in the past here I have been more concerned with the claims that morality is logically impossible, rather than implausible given naturalism.

    As for final causes, well the moral ontology I offered does not depend on final causes, so its hard to see how naturalisms rejection of final causes is relevant. Debating the moral theory at that level would have to revolve more around semantics and definitions – that is, do I have the right to call the things I’m describing by the word “morality”. And I think I do, because the things I’m describing give us the things we expect from morality, like genuinely correct answers to moral dilemmas, objectively true moral claims, that apply to everybody, among other things – that more or less jive with common usages of moral terms

  68. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Critiques aside, I don’t stand by the book as unassailable, perfect, or even the best case for naturalism out there. It’s got flaws, and I even imagine Carrier’s own views have since evolved somewhat since the publishing of that book and some of the criticisms that followed. I stand by it as a wide (but shallow) intro to a naturalistic worldview

    So if it is not the best case — you even admit that it is shallow — why don’t you just cut the middleman and give a reference to the best case instead of lightweights that are easily shredded to pieces?

    On the contrary, as I recall, I offered an analytically consistent moral theory (though I’m sure not error free), which I think is a possible contender for the title of the true moral ontology (but was quite clear it could be empirically falsified, and was in no way proven), and was unable to help you realize that your objections were really empirical, not logical and that therefore your judgments that morality is logically impossible on naturalism were false (or at least unjustified, to date).

    Where and when have you done this? Can you provide a reference?

    As for final causes, well the moral ontology I offered does not depend on final causes, so its hard to see how naturalisms rejection of final causes is relevant. Debating the moral theory at that level would have to revolve more around semantics and definitions – that is, do I have the right to call the things I’m describing by the word “morality”.

    Translation: you do not have the faintest idea of what Melissa’s objection is.

  69. Grace says:

    D,

    What is the moral theory you are advocating? I noticed you mentioned “universal desires”. This wouldn’t happen to be Desire Utilitarianism, would it?

  70. Doug says:

    @d

    poisoning the well up front

    You can spin it that way if you like, but there is a legitimate difference between poisoning a well and putting a “danger” sign beside a poisoned one.

  71. d says:

    Doug,

    From here, it looks like you (and a couple others) probably just googled the book, jumped on the few negative reviews you found from Christian apologists, and began posting them with little or no context, no links or references to rebuttals or positive reviews (necessary for a fair assessment), in an attempt to discredit it all from the outset before even getting to the material in the book. Maybe that’s not what you guys really meant to do, but the situation certainly has that appearance.

  72. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    From here, it looks like you (and a couple others) probably just googled the book, jumped on the few negative reviews you found from Christian apologists, and began posting them with little or no context, no links or references to rebuttals or positive reviews (necessary for a fair assessment), in an attempt to discredit it all from the outset before even getting to the material in the book.

    I repeat my two questions of post #69:

    1. When and where have you offered in this blog an “analytically consistent moral”? References please. From here, my guess is that you are simply bluffing, but maybe my memory is betraying me.

    2. R. Carrier’s book is a sorry piece of work — you yourself admit it is shallow, along with other not so nice adjectives. Any other references for a defense of metaphysical naturalism? From here, my guess is that you are all bluster and hot air, but by all means prove me wrong. Being corrected is always a humbling experience.

  73. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    So if it is not the best case — you even admit that it is shallow — why don’t you just cut the middleman and give a reference to the best case instead of lightweights that are easily shredded to pieces?

    Why?

    Its price is under $15. Most other heavyweight academic books on naturalism are going to be way more than that. Often, we’re talking about textbook prices.

    And usually those books have a narrow scope, combined with in-depth coverage. On its SGWG’s scope – it covers politics, aesthetics, epistemology, morality, and metaphysics – what Carrier believes to be the 5 fundamental components of a complete worldview. “Shallowness” is not meant to be a pejorative – it means it touches lightly on a wide breadth of topics – just don’t expect each to be defended completely, because that could easily lead to a 4000 page book, rather than a 400 page book.

    Also, while it’s not the best case for naturalism out there, its a good case, and most of it is quite defensible. I can’t really see it as any different than say, a Christian who recommends that I read something like Mere Christianity. It certainly doesn’t offer complete, totally rigorous, in-depth case for Christianity that is immune from legitimate criticism – but its certainly a good, cheap, approachable, introductory book. Sense and Goodness Without God is like that (though Carrier’s writing is more dry and academic, than the prose of Lewis, and he’s advocating naturalism, of course).

    And for goodness sake guys – just trying to recommend a source to BillT, now I’m being put into a position of defend my recommendation (to a rather comical degree), based on these contentious responses.

    Where and when have you done this? Can you provide a reference?

    Previous threads where discussions of morality ensued. Searching through the comments on all the threads would be a heck of a chore though…. especially when most of these probably happened months ago.

    Translation: you do not have the faintest idea of what Melissa’s objection is.

    This is not true. The definitions for moral terms that you or Melissa may employ might have some analytic dependencies on human-mind-external final-causes, but mine don’t. Its a little like criticizing naturalism, for not accommodating supernatural beings. It makes no sense.

  74. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Also, while it’s not the best case for naturalism out there, its a good case, and most of it is quite defensible.

    No, it is not a good case and most of it is definitely not defensible. Besides, R. Carrier is a lousy writer. I repeat my question. Besides R. Carrier, what is in your judgment a good written defense of metaphysical naturalism? Do not worry about my purse as there are other means — legal means — of accessing books.

    Where and when have you done this? Can you provide a reference?

    Previous threads where discussions of morality ensued.

    As I thought, you have no reference. As it so happens, I *do* keep archives of all my posts, so I do have references, and at least from the threads I have watched your proposals have been thouroughly debunked.

    This is not true.

    Well, we could keep naysaying each other until one of us or both gets tired, so let us just agree to disagree and leave this particular fight for a future, eventual debate on the specific question.

  75. Charlie says:

    Hi d,
    You’re right, I did just Google the book and leave a philosopher’s opinion of it.
    You provided no argument but referenced the book. I provided no argument but pointed out that references to it ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

    As to my other point, the nearly ubiquitous name of Richard Carrier has been cited, and his work provided, authoritatively in long discussions I’ve had on those subjects: the reliability of Luke; Hitler’s so-called Christianity and; Antony Flew’s book There Is A God.
    I also watched his embarrassing prelude and postlude to his poor debate with William Lane Craig.
    In each case, all that emerges is Carrier’s anti-Christian agenda, not his expertise and authority on all various and sundry matters.
    Suffice to say, I had no reason to become one of his legion of “fans”.

  76. hiero5ant says:

    Sam Harris said it, and some times it’s worth mentioning.

    One thing he did not say is that God is that for which no evidence is even conceivable, which is what you falsely claimed he did on the DI blog.

    I am quite sure, based on the whole context of the book, that he was referring to the core doctrines of religions. His point was, Christians (and others) hold to core beliefs for which no evidence is even conceivable, which is functionally equivalent to, “There is no conceivable way that there could be evidence for the truth of Christianity.”

    In the light of his multiple clear statements about what would count as evidence (like the one already cited in this thread and which you ignore) this rings hollow. The “core doctrines” verbiage is pure invention on your part.

    I’ve read and heard enough of Harris to be quite sure this interpretation is consistent with his overall message. If you think I’m wrong, find the counter-example. The above-mentioned end-of-the-world example is hardly relevant to the situation.

    Hardly relevant! It would convince him of the truth of Christianity, and yet it is “hardly relevant” to whether it would convince him of the truth of Christianity! Go on, pull the other one.

    Also on that link, you say I misrepresented Harris. Let me remind you that if I say he has spoken wrongly about Christians, it’s hard to be incorrect when he says this (which you offered in defense of Harris!):
    What if I had said, “Gravity comes from God”? That would be merely to stifle her intelligence—and to teach her to stifle it. What if I told her, “Gravity is God’s way of dragging people to hell, where they burn in fire. And you will burn there forever if you doubt that God exists”? No Christian or Muslim can offer a compelling reason why I shouldn’t say such a thing—or something morally equivalent
    That’s just outrageously false. Who’s supposed to be gun-shy?! Who’s being “woefully sloppy?” Who’s “misrepresenting the views of their opponents than this sort of schtick”?

    Easy. The person posting a link on his blog claiming that someone said all religious instruction is the moral equivalent of threats of violence, when a simple examination of the texts demonstrates otherwise.

    Let me guess. His “overall tone” leads you to think you can insert your paranoid views about his intolerance into what he actually said. This makes sense from the epistemology of proof-texting — you already know the conclusion, and so if a piece of text seems to support the conclusion but doesn’t explicitly say so, well, the author must have meant what your doctrine says he meant.

    I don’t know how you show up this way so suddenly when I mention this quote from Harris. Do you have a google alert set for it?

    I do not “suddenly show up”. It may please you to learn that I check up on your blog several times during any given week, and have done for many years now. As such am one small component of whatever ad revenues you generate by page-view.

    As with most blogs and fora that comprise my regular reading, I maintain around a 10:1 lurk to post ratio, only chiming in when I see an obvious issue which is not being addressed, or a unique perspective I feel I can bring to the topic.

    When I saw your OP about SH and the subject of dogmatism, my first thought was honestly, “Oh god, he’s not going to trot out the ‘conceivable’ quote again, is he?” If you hadn’t done so in post #6, I would have gone silently on my merry way. But my spider sense rang true again.

    What was un-gentle about quoting her with no comment? Where did I sneer? Someone asked me if she was representative of others, and I said, “Her comment is what it is.” What’s so outrageous about that????

    I think you know full well what effect your post was going to have on your acolytes, and so you must have intended it to have that effect. And that is the obvious tu quoque and circumstantial ad hominem. “Remember boys and girls, no matter how reasonable they try to act, atheists are dogmatists who can’t be convinced by evidence and argument!”

    (“not one for tu quoque” indeed, just look at your OP and pretty much every theist response in this thread.)

    If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that phrases like “dogma”, “new priestly caste”, “hidebound defenders of the orthodoxy” were invented by Christians, as positive appelations, but have been forced to concede to Enlightenment modernity that these are actually terms of opprobrium. So the irony of these kinds of I know you are but what am I maneuvers is not completely without its appreciators.

  77. Tom Gilson says:

    In the light of his multiple clear statements about what would count as evidence (like the one already cited in this thread and which you ignore) this rings hollow.

    I didn’t ignore it. I judged it irrelevant:

    I’ve read and heard enough of Harris to be quite sure this interpretation is consistent with his overall message. If you think I’m wrong, find the counter-example. The above-mentioned end-of-the-world example is hardly relevant to the situation.

    If you think I’m wrong about that, you might a better way to make your case than to pretend I said nothing at all. But no! you discover (though you do not correct yourself) that I said something after all. Then you answer:

    Hardly relevant! It would convince him of the truth of Christianity, and yet it is “hardly relevant” to whether it would convince him of the truth of Christianity! Go on, pull the other one.

    So Sam Harris is willing to admit that Jesus ushering in the end of the world would convince him of the the truth of Christianity. Ho hum. The point of his passage is that believers are currently believing on the basis of non-existent evidence; in other words, he’s talking about current, not future, evidence. Evidence that could not possibly be available until the end of the age is obviously not relevant to that question.

    And Hiero5ant, if you understood what Sam Harris was saying in that passage, you would know that. So I conclude that either you don’t know the passage, or you’re intentionally trying to drag this argument along with the most inane nit-picking, or you’re so prejudiced you can’t see that I’ve made a rather pedestrian point. The end of the world cannot supply evidence relevant to current decision-making about belief. That’s not hard, is it? So which of those three is it, and would you like to stop playing games with me, and actually go with a real discussion instead?

    The “core doctrines” verbiage is pure invention on your part.

    I supplied the verbiage, yes; but I know that Sam Harris thinks there is no conceivable evidence for the creation of humans in God’s image, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, much less for humans’ need for Jesus Christ and for his rescuing power in our lives. That’s what I’m talking about, and that’s the kind of thing Harris also talks about frequently as being unsupported by evidence. If he meant something else in that one passage you hate me mentioning, he might have said so.

    Who’s being sloppy, once again? You answer,

    Easy. The person posting a link on his blog claiming that someone said all religious instruction is the moral equivalent of threats of violence, when a simple examination of the texts demonstrates otherwise.

    Look, you prejudiced nincompoop, that’s not that was there. The text is about Christians and Muslims saying that gravity is that which drags people to hell. That’s absolutely wrong and sloppy, and you can’t even read, much less make a reasoned judgment!

    As such am one small component of whatever ad revenues you generate by page-view.

    Thank you for your support. Where is the ad? I mean, before one hour ago, when I posted a link to a book I edited, and for which I do not get paid per page view?

    If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that phrases like “dogma”, “new priestly caste”, “hidebound defenders of the orthodoxy” were invented by Christians, as positive appelations, but have been forced to concede to Enlightenment modernity that these are actually terms of opprobrium.

    They became terms of opprobrium when their connotations were changed to that. “Dogma” used to mean “securely known facts to be taught,” or something like that. There are securely known facts being taught in every school in the Western world today. It’s not the church’s fault that some Enlightenment propagandist turned it into something else.

    I have documentation to back that up. Care to know more?

  78. Melissa says:

    d,

    You may not refer openly to final causes but in previous discussions you postulated a universal ultimate desire. If you want that phrase to do the heavy lifting required to make your explanation work it cannot be a matter of personal preference. You are arguing that there is a universal goal for all human beings, what is that if not an instance of final causation?

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    See also:

    When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

    Sam Harris, Atheist Manifesto

    He’s not talking in this essay about religions believing that, say, Abraham was born in Ur. He’s talking about the truth or falsehood of Christianity’s most fundamental assertions.

    If he was going to change the subject to something like “being certain about peripheral propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable,” he picked a strange time to do it, and he did an unusually poor job of letting us know that was what he was doing.

  80. d says:

    Melissa,

    You may not refer openly to final causes but in previous discussions you postulated a universal ultimate desire. If you want that phrase to do the heavy lifting required to make your explanation work it cannot be a matter of personal preference. You are arguing that there is a universal goal for all human beings, what is that if not an instance of final causation?

    But if you grant that such a thing [“a universal desire”] can be called a final cause (fine with me), then that makes the claim that naturalism necessarily rejects the existence of final causes false.

  81. Melissa says:

    d,

    But if you grant that such a thing [“a universal desire”] can be called a final cause (fine with me), then that makes the claim that naturalism necessarily rejects the existence of final causes false.

    Not just a universal desire but a universal ultimate desire, that’s what you were arguing for. (That which we most want even if we don’t feel like we most want it). Naturalists will generally argue that our only purpose is what we invent for ourselves but if you disagree then you need another reason to reject Aquinas Fifth Way.

  82. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Melissa is right. Bringing final and formal causes back to naturalism, not only will change it beyond recognition to such a point that calling it metaphysical naturalism can only be an exercise in deliberate obfuscation — that you seem to think otherwise just goes to show that you simply do not know what you are talking about. And you also fall prey to the Fifth Way.

  83. d says:

    Melissa and G. Rodrigues,

    Purpose is something distinct from desire. If a creator built us all for a specific purpose, then one might say we have an “ultimate” purpose(*). But if we have no ultimate purpose imbued by a creator, we could still have some ultimate, universal desire.

    And let’s make sure we’re not getting confused over the term ultimate as it is used in “ultimate desire” – it does not mean transcendental, in any sort of theological sense, or anything along those lines. A “universal ultimate desire” simply means that what all persons desire most, is the same. And its really no surprise if some of this veers a little close to final causes or other Aristotelian concepts because this theory IS Aristotelian – it revolves around eudaimonia, after all.

    At any rate, whatever naturalists may tend to argue with respect to ultimate purpose does not necessarily reflect on what naturalists argue about desire. And I’ve got to wonder what naturalists you are reading if you think it strange that any would talk about shared desires/values, because most naturalist moral realisms end up referring to them, in some form or another, at some point.

    Is it your contention that, according to the fifth way, if I accept the existence of a universal ultimate desire, than I must reject naturalism? That I surely am not convinced of. But even so, I’ve actually said before, I think my theory works under theism too. The theory doesn’t consider the source of the ultimate, universal desire as relevant, anymore than one would consider the source of a river relevant, when considering whether the water in it is wet or not.

    (*) I disagree with that somewhat. One, I don’t think that being created with a purpose in mind, is the same as possessing a purpose. So to say a creator designed us with purpose, does not mean we actually possess an ultimate purpose. Its the creator that possesses the ultimate purpose. His creation, if its sentient, may not care for that purpose at all. For example, I could create a son for the purpose of taking over the family business when I want to retire. But its not right to say that my son possesses that purpose.

  84. Melissa says:

    d,

    Purpose is something distinct from desire.

    And I covered this ground previously. If you want your universal ultimate desire to do the heavy lifting required it cannot be just a personal preference. To claim that there is a thing that all humans desire most is just to say that all humans are orientated towards a singular goal.

    The rest of your post is a combination of ignorance of Aristotle and Aquinas and equivocating over the word desire.

  85. d says:

    Melissa,

    I’ve never been talking about mere personal preference, unique to an individual, but a universally shared preference, that is essentially the mother of all other preferences, all persons hold. I think that DOES do the heavy lifting required to give us objective moral oughts.

    Edit: And the theory we are talking about is actually coined goal theory. Its consequentialist in nature, so this bit about a singular goal is a feature, not a bug.

  86. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    And let’s make sure we’re not getting confused over the term ultimate as it is used in “ultimate desire” – it does not mean transcendental, in any sort of theological sense, or anything along those lines.

    If there is someone confused here, it is you, as I never invoked “ultimate desire”, but final and formal causes. Your use of “transcendental” or “theological sense” just shows that you do not know what I am talking about.

    And its really no surprise if some of this veers a little close to final causes or other Aristotelian concepts because this theory IS Aristotelian – it revolves around eudaimonia, after all.

    No it does not, but I am not going to teach you about formal and final causes. I will repeat what I said before: you want to bring back formal and final causes? Congratulations, you are on the right track to a sound moral theory. Just do not mistake it for metaphysical naturalism.

    And I’ve got to wonder what naturalists you are reading if you think it strange that any would talk about shared desires/values, because most naturalist moral realisms end up referring to them, in some form or another, at some point.

    That they must is inevitable, as they got nothing else to hold onto. That it does the work needed? No, it does not. And as far as the naturalists I am reading, I invited you to give me something better than the grossly inept R. Carrier, but you have not deigned to do it.

    Is it your contention that, according to the fifth way, if I accept the existence of a universal ultimate desire, than I must reject naturalism?

    No, that is not my contention, because I never spoke in terms of “universal ultimate desire” but of formal and final causes. That you persist in this mistake of converting everything to the narrow, sloppy language that you know, just betrays your confusion.

    But even so, I’ve actually said before, I think my theory works under theism too.

    “Your” theory does not work, period. Yes, you keep asserting that it does, but we’ve been down this road before (see for example the long discussion in Love or cruelty? — as I told you already, I do keep archives of my contributions) and you have not given *any* sort of cogent argument to backup “your” theory (or a reference). Nada, zilch, zero.

  87. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    The whole “transcendent” bit, was to avoid confusion between the “ultimate” in “ultimate purpose” and the “ultimate” in “universal, ultimate desire” (Melissa mentioned naturalists avoiding or rejecting ultimate purpose). In the former case, “ultimate” means something like “imposed by a supreme being”, and in the other case, it means something like “the strongest of all”. Just didnt want that to make a mess of things.

    Re-read the exchange in this thread between me and Melissa. It was she who likened “universal ultimate desire” to a final cause, when she said (in #79)

    “You are arguing that there is a universal goal for all human beings, what is that if not an instance of final causation?”

    I merely conceded that she could call my universal, ultimate desire a final cause (#81) if she likes, and pointed out that if that is really all a final cause is, naturalism can accommodate them just fine. So if its not actually correct to do that, then the confusion and sloppiness with respect to final causes is based on that idea, which did not originate with me. Perhaps Melissa decided to expand the definition of “final cause” to keep her final cause objection to the theory relevant (#67, #68).

    So at this point, we have two possibilities, but one conclusion.

    A) It was inaccurate to call “universal, ultimate desires” final causes, which sends us right back to the point where “final causes” are irrelevant to the moral theory in question.

    B) She was correct to call “universal, ultimate desires” final causes, and therefore, naturalism can accommodate final causes with no logical problem.

    Her objection in #67 was:

    My objection is that naturalism rejects final causes apart from those which arise in human minds therefore there is nothing in naturalism to ground morality.

    And in either case (A) or (B), the theory is safe from that line of attack.

    And re-reading some of the “Love and Cruelty” thread, I am mostly happy with my performance, and am chuckling at the apparent motivated disagreement, which seems vehement and antagonistic from the outset, before most of the objectors have even bothered to comprehend the particulars of the theory.

  88. d says:

    Oh, and as for books, its actually pretty hard to find serious comprehensive books on naturalism, unforunately. Most will deal with one narrow issue, like morality, or epistemology.

    But another good one is “Understanding Naturalism” by Jack Ritchie (and its actually cheaper than I remember).

    Another naturalist worth checking out is Michael Martin and his “Atheism, Morality, and Meaning”, and “Atheism: A Philosophical Justification”, along with his many essays online @infidels.org (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/)

  89. JAD says:

    d,

    And let’s make sure we’re not getting confused over the term ultimate as it is used in “ultimate desire” – it does not mean transcendental, in any sort of theological sense, or anything along those lines. A “universal ultimate desire” simply means that what all persons desire most, is the same. And its really no surprise if some of this veers a little close to final causes or other Aristotelian concepts because this theory IS Aristotelian – it revolves around eudaimonia, after all.

    As I suspected d is building “his” ethical/moral system on borrowed capital. But why after 3500 years of moral evolution (beginning with Moses) does morality need to be reinvented? And, why should the Christian’s on this site give any credence to an anonymous internet personality who only identifies himself (or herself?) as d?

    I would argue that the Judeo-Christian ethic is what underlies our modern conception of human rights. Replace that with something else and you will undermine human rights.

  90. Melissa says:

    d,

    A) It was inaccurate to call “universal, ultimate desires” final causes, which sends us right back to the point where “final causes” are irrelevant to the moral theory in question.

    B) She was correct to call “universal, ultimate desires” final causes, and therefore, naturalism can accommodate final causes with no logical problem.

    Or C: your theory only works if by universal human desire you really mean final causes, a view that I have advocated from the beginning and especially in my most recent comment that you quoted part of.

    I’ve never been talking about mere personal preference, unique to an individual, but a universally shared preference, that is essentially the mother of all other preferences, all persons hold. I think that DOES do the heavy lifting required to give us objective moral oughts.

    I think what you are arguing is that all people share certain desires (where desire refers to a personal preference). It is this desire that gives rise to other desires we all share. If we have other desires (unique to us) that prevent us from satisfying those desires that we share with others we ought not act on those desires. The reason we ought not act on those desires is because they are not what we want most of all.

    I must be missing something. You’ll have to explain.

  91. d says:

    JAD,

    What really underlies our modern conceptions of human rights, is a long and brutal, tyrannical history of tragic experience that culminated with a few good men recognizing and taking to heart the lessons, made evident by that brutal history (and having the wisdom to note the beliefs of the few good men throughout history who also learned from that experience – neither Jesus Christ or Moses being necessary or sufficient), while being in a unique position to do something about it.

    And what cements that foundation into place, is the rationally undeniable observation that human rights so wonderfully benefit human kind, both the collective and the individual. The truth and wisdom of the Bible is easy to deny – the benefits of human rights… not so much.

    And it almost seems as if you think morality popped into existence with Moses, and we’ve been living in a world where that old Hebrew moral system operated and existed uncontroversially while being endorsed by a universal consensus since its beginning, as if the moral debate hasn’t been one of the most contentious and unresolved issues of human history.

    And its as if you think the term “borrowed capital” is some sort of slight. On the contrary, its unreasonable to think our predecessors or opponents got *everything* wrong – its good to use their good capital, and its good to discard their poisoned capital.

  92. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    There is really nothing new in your post #88, but for the sake of completion here goes.

    The whole “transcendent” bit, was to avoid confusion between the “ultimate” in “ultimate purpose” and the “ultimate” in “universal, ultimate desire” (Melissa mentioned naturalists avoiding or rejecting ultimate purpose). In the former case, “ultimate” means something like “imposed by a supreme being”, and in the other case, it means something like “the strongest of all”. Just didnt want that to make a mess of things.

    I know that that is how you are using the word “ultimate”. On the AT understanding saying that purposes are “imposed by a supreme being” is at best, prone to equivocation and a gross misunderstanding at worst.

    I merely conceded that she could call my universal, ultimate desire a final cause (#81) if she likes, and pointed out that if that is really all a final cause is, naturalism can accommodate them just fine.

    I know that that is your intention and I have already told you that it does not work. The naturalistic conception of the universe is at odds with AT; for one, a naturalist is betrothen to a mechanistic conception of objects as inert lumps of atoms fully describable by their metric properties, while AT views objects as substances, irreducible compounds of form and matter (all these terms, including “matter”, are technical terms of art). AT is a wholesale, coherent picture. The concepts are there to perform needed work; you cannot pick them apart and chose the bits that fit your views, because those bits only do the explanatory work needed *as parts* of the AT whole. And even if you managed to pull that stunt, you would end up with something other than metaphysical naturalism — this is the third time I am telling you this, but somehow you have a hard time understanding it (my guess is your ignorance of AT that prevents you from seeing it).

    I am mostly happy with my performance, and am chuckling at the apparent motivated disagreement, which seems vehement and antagonistic from the outset, before most of the objectors have even bothered to comprehend the particulars of the theory.

    You can read it any way you want, including any purported animosity; the plain matter of fact is that you have not given a cogent rational justification for your moral theory, period.

    Also, thanks for the references. I know a little bit of Michael Martin but not Jack Ritchie. My impression of the former is that he is considerably better than the inept, lightweight Carrier or dimwit science fetichists like Dawkins or Coyne, although he also consistently misunderstands the Kalam, or trots the usual straw man “Everything has a cause” as the first premise of the CA, apparently oblivious to the fact that no serious proponent of the CA (Plato, Aristotle, al-Ghazali, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, Leibniz, Clarke, Garrigou-Lagrange, Adler, Craig, Swinburne, etc.) has ever defended such a premise, and makes a question like “How do we know the first cause is God?” which just betrays his own ignorance as Aquinas, Leibniz, Clarke, Garrigou-Lagrange, etc, devoted literally hundreds of pages to showing exactly that. Will see if I get the time to check them up more thoroughly.

  93. Sault says:

    Well, a few days later, but nonetheless…

    @ Grace –

    I am asking because I already quoted 2 non-Christian scientists a few posts down who said the origin of the universe and the origin of life are miracles.

    Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

    Davies argued that the faith scientists have in the immutability of physical laws has origins in Christian theology, and that the claim that science is “free of faith” is “manifestly bogus.” (Wikipedia re: Paul Davies)

    “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” – Francis Crick

    So one actually is Christian, and the other thinks that it looks almost like a miracle. Inaccuracy + quote-mine = winning!

    (you seem to believe that miracles just can’t happen)

    Miraculous things can happen. However, extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence. I’m not opposed to having my entire worldview turned on its head, but I need sufficient evidence. Lacking the throes of religious ecstasy, and placing a higher suspension of disbelief than relying on a historical account, I maintain my skepticism.

    You want to blow my mind? Heal an amputee.

    Science can’t explain why nature has to follow laws or where the laws came from. Science can’t explain where love or beauty or consciousness came from either.

    You sure about that? I’m not. I think it’s not unreasonable that science *can*. Then again, it sounds like we’re talking about different things – I’m talking about the biological phenomenon, and you’re talking about the philosophical aspects.

    Altruism exists in animals. There is a biological basis for it. *Should* we act on these urges – should we be altruistic? That’s a great philosophical question. Does it exist within us? That’s a biological question, and one that we have already confirmed.

    And, why should the Christian’s on this site give any credence to an anonymous internet personality who only identifies himself (or herself?) as d?

    Says the guy who identifies himself (herself?) as JAD? *chuckle*

  94. JAD says:

    Sault quoting me:

    And, why should the Christian’s on this site give any credence to an anonymous internet personality who only identifies himself (or herself?) as d?

    Sault then responded:

    block Says the guy who identifies himself (herself?) as JAD? *chuckle*

    I’m glad I could brighten your day with a little humor. Ironic isn’t it?

    However, I am not trying to introduce a new moral system to the world. My point to d was that I think Moses and Jesus were much more qualified moral thinkers than he is. They also lived exemplary moral lives. I know absolutely nothing about d, so why should I give any credence to any system of morals he has made up on his own?

    He would have a better chance of convincing me if he were selling snake oil.

    Again, this is just another of example of atheists helping to prove that the Bible is true. (Psalm 14:1)

    P.S. My name is John and I am a he.

  95. Grace says:

    Sault,

    Here is another Francis Crick quote with regards to DNA replication and protein synthesis for the rise in the origin of life and the difficulty of forming the first cell from non-life:

    “To produce this miracle of molecular construction all the cell need do is to string together the amino acids (which make up the polypeptide chain) in the correct order. This is a complicated biochemical process, a molecular assembly line, using instructions in the form of a nucleic acid tape (the so-called messenger RNA). Here we need only ask, how many possible proteins are there? If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare of an event would that be?” (Francis Crick, Life Itself, Its Origin and Nature,1981, pp 51-52).

    If you do not want to use that quote, we still have the one by Paul Davies. As for Paul Davies being a Christian, I have not found one article proclaiming him to be a Christian. Paul Davies has been convinced of intelligent design, and a brief search of past articles reveals that he was indeed at one time atheist as late as 2009. You can go through articles and see that as an atheist, he has been searching for signs of alien life forms. Perhaps since he has not discovered alien life forms, he is now open to the possibility of God, for which he is now labeled an agnostic or a wishy-washy atheist. So I am right when I say that both men are non-Christian.

    ”You want to blow my mind? Heal an amputee.”

    Sorry, you are getting me confused with Jesus. However, is your standard for all beliefs the same? Because you seem to put a higher standard for religious beliefs. I am sure you take eye witness accounts from history books as true, and you do not go around verifying the information in them. You know, I always shake my head when people want their own personal experience as evidence for the existence of God. Do people really want something like a near death experience in order to believe in God?

    Grace: Science can’t explain why nature has to follow laws or where the laws came from. Science can’t explain where love or beauty or consciousness came from either.

    Sault: You sure about that? I’m not. I think it’s not unreasonable that science *can*. Then again, it sounds like we’re talking about different things – I’m talking about the biological phenomenon, and you’re talking about the philosophical aspects.

    Indeed we are.

    “Altruism exists in animals. There is a biological basis for it. *Should* we act on these urges – should we be altruistic? That’s a great philosophical question. Does it exist within us? That’s a biological question, and one that we have already confirmed.”

    I am talking about ontology. Your point that altruism exists in animals is something I agree with-that altruism exists in animals. The last quote you listed was not made by me.

  96. d says:

    JAD,

    First, I’m borrowing these ideas, they aren’t originally my own. There are any number of philosophers who exist now, or have existed in the past, whose views encircle the same general school of thought.

    Second, a cursory survey of moral philosophy will show you many people who are far more advanced moral thinkers than either Jesus or Moses. To say otherwise is like saying science peaked with Aristotle.

    Third, lest we forget, I’m embroiled in discussions about this moral theory in response to the common (and outrageous) claim that objective ethics are logically impossible on naturalism. So my goal is far more modest than you suppose – its to simply demonstrate that the theory is a logical possibility, not necessarily to persuade you that it is true.

    And yea we know… pretty much anything an atheist does will always confirm that old little Psalm (which has essentially been empirically refuted – there’s little moral difference between the behavior of theists and atheists). Hooray for confirmation bias!

  97. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    You’re begging the question here and also using a false analogy:

    Second, a cursory survey of moral philosophy will show you many people who are far more advanced moral thinkers than either Jesus or Moses. To say otherwise is like saying science peaked with Aristotle.

    To say there were other better moral thinkers than Jesus is to raise the question, were they working out the implications of Jesus’ thinking? Then they were not necessarily better, they were just working it through. Were they contradicting Jesus? Then I say they were less advanced, for they were wrong, if Jesus was indeed God incarnate. If he was God incarnate then his moral philosophy was God’s moral philosophy.

    So your conclusion that Jesus’ moral philosophy is weak begs the question of Jesus’ deity and moral authority.

    Your analogy with Aristotle fails because there is no reason to suppose that moral knowledge is the kind of thing that builds upon itself the way scientific knowledge does.

    Christians do recognize progress of revelation; Jesus was more advanced than Moses. We do recognize progress in understanding timeless principles. That does not mean that the timeless principles were weak to begin with, only that their implications needed developing

  98. d says:

    Melissa,

    You’ll have to explain (C), because I don’t see where or how you’ve justified that position, that universal, ultimate desires must actually be final causes for the theory to logically make sense.

    Also, a slight correction. I don’t know that I would say the ultimate desire gives rise to all other desires. Its just what one desires most. It will be the desire, that if you apply your moral reasoning ably, that calibrates the rest of your desires – either by resisting conflicting lessor desires, or by modifying conflicting lesser desires (assuming they are malleable desires).

  99. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    You’ll have to explain (C), because I don’t see where or how you’ve justified that position, that universal, ultimate desires must actually be final causes for the theory to logically make sense.

    You have to appeal to something objective in the nature of things to rationally justify morality; final causes (or more properly speaking, the fact that humans like all substances have an essence or nature, that objectively determines what counts as a real good for said human beings) do that work.

    Also, a slight correction. I don’t know that I would say the ultimate desire gives rise to all other desires. Its just what one desires most. It will be the desire, that if you apply your moral reasoning ably, that calibrates the rest of your desires – either by resisting conflicting lessor desires, or by modifying conflicting lesser desires (assuming they are malleable desires).

    Off the top of my head:

    1. What one desires most does not have to be shared by all human beings. If you want to pick the subset of universal desires, in the sense of being universally shared, that human beings desire most to ground your morality, this talk can only make sense *if* these desires are indicative of some objective reality, in other words, if *something* like the AT account is true, but this is precisely what is denied by metaphysical naturalism.

    2. What counts today as universal desire was probably not a universal desire thousands years ago and will not be a universal desire thousand years hence. In order to pick a subset of these as the ground for morality, you will have to appeal to considerations other than those dictated by the contingent vagaries of history, social and biological. But this just means that universal desires cannot ground morality.

    3. Second, why exactly do universal desires, universal in your sense, calibrate the rest of one’s desires or why are such other desires, “lesser desires”? A consideration of several examples would show immediately that this position is at best, highly dubious.

    4. Universality of desires in your sense, is, under naturalism, biologically (and culturally and socially) determined. But why should I obey the dictates of biology, society or culture?

    5. There is a gap between a desire being universal in your sense and the desire being normative, in the sense of being what counts as an objective, normative good for human beings. How do you propose to bridge the gap?

    6. Not only that, you do not have an objective way to separate the good from the bad desires. This is also an epistemic limitation, but I am only interested in the metaphysical limitation. Under naturalism things, including human beings, do not have an essence but are simply the random product of blind forces. If they do not have fixed natures, there is nothing objective in what counts as a human being, to ground your morality.

  100. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    You have to appeal to something objective in the nature of things to rationally justify morality; final causes (or more properly speaking, the fact that humans like all substances have an essence or nature, that objectively determines what counts as a real good for said human beings) do that work.

    An appeal to a universal, ultimate desire is an appeal to an objective fact (or would be, assuming its true).

  101. Doug says:

    @d,
    aren’t desires thoroughly subjective?

  102. Melissa says:

    d,

    Also, a slight correction. I don’t know that I would say the ultimate desire gives rise to all other desires. Its just what one desires most. It will be the desire, that if you apply your moral reasoning ably, that calibrates the rest of your desires – either by resisting conflicting lessor desires, or by modifying conflicting lesser desires (assuming they are malleable desires).

    But this is just begging the question in favor of you position. You are assuming that all moral disagreements are really about how to satisfy a desire, not whether what we desire is good. What do you say to the psychopath who says what he desires most is the experience of mutilating women? He’s wrong about what he desires most? You can’t, you have no objective grounds for doing so.

  103. d says:

    1. What one desires most does not have to be shared by all human beings. If you want to pick the subset of universal desires, in the sense of being universally shared, that human beings desire most to ground your morality, this talk can only make sense *if* these desires are indicative of some objective reality, in other words, if *something* like the AT account is true, but this is precisely what is denied by metaphysical naturalism.

    No, it could be a necessary fact that persons share at least one greatest desire (eudaimonia). If there were such a thing as sentient beings which did not share that desire, its doubtful whether they would be persons, or full members of the moral realm.

    2. What counts today as universal desire was probably not a universal desire thousands years ago and will not be a universal desire thousand years hence. In order to pick a subset of these as the ground for morality, you will have to appeal to considerations other than those dictated by the contingent vagaries of history, social and biological. But this just means that universal desires cannot ground morality.

    If there is a universal, ultimate desire it exists whether people are always introspectively savvy enough to realize it or recognize it, or to know what actually fulfills it.

    3. Second, why exactly do universal desires, universal in your sense, calibrate the rest of one’s desires or why are such other desires, “lesser desires”? A consideration of several examples would show immediately that this position is at best, highly dubious.

    Because an ultimate desire is the fundamental (and the moral) reason for why anybody does anything. Its possible to have other desires which simply conflict with your ultimate desire – fulfilling those desires will bring you a measure of satisfaction, but a net loss. Hence, fulfilling them will ultimately leave you less fulfilled overall. Therefore, you have a rational reason to resist them.

    4. Universality of desires in your sense, is, under naturalism, biologically (and culturally and socially) determined. But why should I obey the dictates of biology, society or culture?

    Probably for the same reason you might say we should not frustrate our purposes – we’re either going to cause ourselves grief, or deprive ourselves of a more fulfilling life.

    A desire is a state of dissatisfaction and a rational reason to pursue some other state of affairs. Fulfilling one’s ultimate desire, is necessarily the activity which will bring you the utmost fulfillment. If you frustrate that, you will cause yourself grief, or deprive yourself of a more fulfilling life.

    5. There is a gap between a desire being universal in your sense and the desire being normative, in the sense of being what counts as an objective, normative good for human beings. How do you propose to bridge the gap?

    Normative desires would be the most fundamental desires. The old “keep asking why” trick helps to illustrate this:

    Q: Why did I nail those boards together?
    A: Because I want to build a house.

    Q: Why do I want to build a house?
    A: Because your working for Habitat for Humanity

    Q: But why do I work for Habitat for Humanity?
    A: Because it helps people.

    Q: But why do I want to help people?
    A: Because helping brings them joy and also allows me to take part in the joy of others.

    Q: But why would I want to take part in the joy of others
    A: Because it necessarily increases the fulfillment and satisfaction you have with your own life as well as theirs.

    Q: But why do I want to be fulfilled.
    A: You just do. Its only the thing you really seek, for its own sake. Everything else you do is to bring this about, in some form or another, whether you realize it or not.

    The last answer is when you finally hit the bedrock – the normativity.

    6. Not only that, you do not have an objective way to separate the good from the bad desires. This is also an epistemic limitation, but I am only interested in the metaphysical limitation. Under naturalism things, including human beings, do not have an essence but are simply the random product of blind forces. If they do not have fixed natures, there is nothing objective in what counts as a human being, to ground your morality.

    Asking whether what one desires above all else is evil or good is an unintelligible question. Its like asking, “What is the moral reason for morality?”

    I’m less concerned with whether something has the designation “Human Being”, and more concerned with what properties it has. If it has a brain, sentience, and a desire – that’s what counts. If nature produces a human-like thing which is missing say… some kind of sentience… (and therefore no desires) – it’s probably not within the moral realm.

  104. d says:

    Melissa,

    Carrier talks a lot about psychopaths. I haven’t checked the research, but he claims that what we are learning about psychopaths is that they really are deprived of and want the experiences empathetic people enjoy. Furthermore, their sadistic actions don’t really increase their happiness. In other words, there are even reasons for them to try to become the type of person who can experience empathy, and emotional bonds with others.

    Here’s an interesting article on psychpaths: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kNyx6o1P_I4J:www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychotic-affective-disorders/content/article/10168/51661+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

  105. Melissa says:

    d,

    I haven’t checked the research, but he claims that what we are learning about psychopaths is that they really are deprived of and want the experiences empathetic people enjoy. Furthermore, their sadistic actions don’t really increase their happiness. In other words, there are even reasons for them to try to become the type of person who can experience empathy, and emotional bonds with other

    Whether they have a desire for those things is irrelevant. They would need to want those other things more than anything else. Also given that you think our desires cause our actions, and we know we have many different desires, what do you think distinguished the desire that causes our actions from the desires that don’t.

  106. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Keeping my original numbering to make tracking easier.

    1.

    No, it could be a necessary fact that persons share at least one greatest desire (eudaimonia).

    “could be” is not an “is”; it is incumbent upon you to show that it is, and given the metaphysical naturalistic presuppositions, I would argue that you cannot, but hey, feel free to try.

    If there were such a thing as sentient beings which did not share that desire, its doubtful whether they would be persons, or full members of the moral realm.

    You are question-begging, because now you admit that the ultimate desire is not shared, but then dodge the obvious incongruity by saying that those who do not share are not persons. The other way in which this can be read, is that you are indeed asserting that there is an objective essence to being a person and that in your estimate, sharing such an ultimate desire necessarily flows from the essence of a person; but of course, this is just AT talk which a metaphysical naturalist will deny.

    2.

    If there is a universal, ultimate desire it exists whether people are always introspectively savvy enough to realize it or recognize it, or to know what actually fulfills it.

    Again an if. And whether people can recognize it or not is an epistemological question irrelevant to the issue. You have not responded to my argument: desires are contingent upon the vagaries of the biological and social history. What today is a universal, ultimate desire, may have not been in the past and may well not be one in the future, so it cannot be an objective ground for anything.

    3.

    Because an ultimate desire is the fundamental (and the moral) reason for why anybody does anything.

    That desires motivate actions no one disputes. That not only desires but also *reasons* motivate actions is something you elide — unless you want to hopelessly muddle things and call reasons desires. And as Melissa asked, since we have many, often conflicting desires, how can you know that an action is motivated by some ultimate, fundamental desire or a lesser one and thereby assign moral praise or blame? Not only that, you have actually just emptied out your desire moral theory, since what you are saying is that *any* action is motivated by some fundamental desire, so it follows that fundamental desires cannot separate the praiseworthy and the blameworthy actions, and thus once again, they cannot ground an objective morality.

    Its possible to have other desires which simply conflict with your ultimate desire – fulfilling those desires will bring you a measure of satisfaction, but a net loss. Hence, fulfilling them will ultimately leave you less fulfilled overall. Therefore, you have a rational reason to resist them.

    So now we finally get at the nub: you are identifying the fundamental, ultimate desire, with being “fulfilled overall”, since by your own admission, the importance of a desire is directly proportional to contributing to the overall fulfillment, which is itself a desire — possibly a higher order one, but this irrelevant. Since the measure of individual fulfillment is a purely subjective judgment, you have nothing solid to ground the moral choices. If you want to bring in other considerations like societal consequences or consequentialist considerations, you run into the problem that they will inevitably collide with an individual’s fulfillment, and thus collide against your *own* version of the fundamental, ultimate desire.

    And of course, you have not explained what “overall fulfillment” is. Equating it with a “measure of satisfaction” is once again a purely subjective judgment and faces pretty much the same problems as the ultimate desire talk.

  107. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d (continued):

    4.

    Probably for the same reason you might say we should not frustrate our purposes – we’re either going to cause ourselves grief, or deprive ourselves of a more fulfilling life.

    Actually no, I would not say quite exactly that, because it is a common human experience that the “right” thing to do will sometimes cause no end of grief, including the loss of one’s life.

    A desire is a state of dissatisfaction and a rational reason to pursue some other state of affairs. Fulfilling one’s ultimate desire, is necessarily the activity which will bring you the utmost fulfillment.

    This is either flat out wrong (think of perverted desires) or simply vacuous. You are going in circles. What is one’s ultimate desire? That which brings the utmost fulfillment. What is the desire that when fulfilled brings utmost fulfillment? Ultimate desires. In other words, you have provided no non-circular, non-question begging reason of why we should act on fundamental desires.

    5.

    The last answer is when you finally hit the bedrock – the normativity.

    Your imagined dialogue is entertaining but it is either vacuous or simply flat out wrong for the reasons already stated.

    6.

    Asking whether what one desires above all else is evil or good is an unintelligible question.

    Wrong again. First, it is a perfectly legitimate question. That you equate, in an ad hoc way, universal, ultimate desires as that which we should pursue, does not render the question of whether such an ultimate desire should indeed be pursued (that is, that it is actually good for ourselves). And I repeat what I said earlier.

    To identify ultimate universal desires as that which ought to be pursued only makes sense if you fall back to *something* like AT essentialist talk, because it is to implicitly recognize that there is something fixed in the nature of human beings that makes said ultimate desire worth pursuing.

    And if you say that what one desires above all else is neither good nor evil, and that it ought to be pursued, then no moral judgments are possible because above you have admitted above that *every* action is motivated by some fundamental desire. Not to mention the plain fact that what one desires most is some (many??) times a perverted desire, so how are you going to curb those?

    I’m less concerned with whether something has the designation “Human Being”, and more concerned with what properties it has.

    There are various stripes of essentialism. But metaphysical naturalism is at odds with all of them for under it “human being” is simply a conventional expression designating a class of beings. A being is not a human being in virtue of its nature or essence, but in virtue of an ad hoc, laundry list of properties. But that simply does not work, for it does not give us any objective way to differentiate the desires that ought to be pursued from the ones that should not.

  108. Sault says:

    You want to blow my mind? Heal an amputee.

    Sorry, you are getting me confused with Jesus.

    My apologies for the confusion. I was speaking more to the Christian community and your God in general rather than you specifically. I wouldn’t rule it out if you did it, though – I try to keep an open mind like that.

    However, is your standard for all beliefs the same? Because you seem to put a higher standard for religious beliefs. I am sure you take eye witness accounts from history books as true, and you do not go around verifying the information in them.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Let me ask you – is it reasonable to believe in Christianity solely based on historical evidence?

    You know, I always shake my head when people want their own personal experience as evidence for the existence of God.

    Let’s continue in that same vein : without any subjective/personal experience, without ever having a prayer answered, without ever feeling His presence (whether in the form of religious ecstasy or otherwise)… would it still be reasonable to believe in Him?

    @ Tom –

    Were they contradicting Jesus? Then I say they were less advanced, for they were wrong, if Jesus was indeed God incarnate.

    So your conclusion that Jesus’ moral philosophy is weak begs the question of Jesus’ deity and moral authority.

    Questions –

    Should God’s moral philosophy be excluded from examination and criticism? Are we allowed to disagree, or must it be accepted by fiat? Does a believer have the right to come to a different moral conclusion than God? Is it automatically good if God says it is?

    Your analogy with Aristotle fails because there is no reason to suppose that moral knowledge is the kind of thing that builds upon itself the way scientific knowledge does.

    Hmmm. I would figure that all aspects of knowledge are increased as time goes by. Isn’t that a major aspect of philosophy – improving and refining our moral knowledge?

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    Should God’s moral philosophy be excluded from examination and criticism? Let’s be reasonable here. First, it’s entirely appropriate to examine and criticize humans’ understanding of moral philosophy, even humans’ understanding of God’s moral philosophy. It’s entirely possible, as I have already said, for our understanding of that philosophy to develop over time.

    But is God’s moral philosophy automatically good? Of course it is. God is good; it is his unchanging and unchangeable nature to be good. If a believer (or non-believer) comes to a different moral conclusion than God, then that person is wrong, because God is goodness; there is no goodness in contradiction to his goodness.

    You think that all aspects of knowledge are increased as time goes by. I don’t know why you think that is necessarily the case with moral knowledge, especially why you think that the passage of time alone renders Jesus’ moral knowledge wrong. Could you explain that, please? No begging the question about time=progress, please; that’s exactly what’s in question.

  110. Tom Gilson says:

    You want to blow my mind? Heal an amputee….

    My apologies for the confusion. I was speaking more to the Christian community and your God in general rather than you specifically. I wouldn’t rule it out if you did it, though – I try to keep an open mind like that.

    I don’t think God wants or needs to blow your mind. Matt. 12:38-42, 16:1-12.

  111. d says:

    Long post incoming….

    1.“could be” is not an “is”; it is incumbent upon you to show that it is, and given the metaphysical naturalistic presuppositions, I would argue that you cannot, but hey, feel free to try.

    A “could be” is a potential defeater for a statement like “there can be no objective morality given naturalism”. For the purposes of this discussion, that’s the victory I’m after.

    You are question-begging, because now you admit that the ultimate desire is not shared, but then dodge the obvious incongruity by saying that those who do not share are not persons. The other way in which this can be read, is that you are indeed asserting that there is an objective essence to being a person and that in your estimate, sharing such an ultimate desire necessarily flows from the essence of a person; but of course, this is just AT talk which a metaphysical naturalist will deny.

    I don’t see this as question begging – the ultimate desire can only be shared by those that have desires. Obviously, things without desires can’t be said to share a desire.

    Naturalists may not be essentialists in the AT sense, but there’s no reason a naturalist must concede that reality is infinitely malleable, or that any property can coexist with any other in a given entity. There’s no reason why its inconsistent for a naturalist to believe that some property will always coexist with another property in a given entity. Naturalists can engage it categorization and conceptual analysis – that’s all that’s needed here, not full-blown essentialism.

    Again an if. And whether people can recognize it or not is an epistemological question irrelevant to the issue. You have not responded to my argument: desires are contingent upon the vagaries of the biological and social history. What today is a universal, ultimate desire, may have not been in the past and may well not be one in the future, so it cannot be an objective ground for anything.

    I don’t think all desires – certainly not ones utmost desires – are culturally influenced or determined. There’s no culture that can drive out a man’s need for love, for example.

    That desires motivate actions no one disputes. That not only desires but also *reasons* motivate actions is something you elide — unless you want to hopelessly muddle things and call reasons desires.

    I don’t think reasons are desires. Reasons are how we identify what fulfills a desire and what frustrates it. Reasons by themselves aren’t motivating, If a reason isn’t appealing to a desire you already hold, it can’t motivate at all.

    And as Melissa asked, since we have many, often conflicting desires, how can you know that an action is motivated by some ultimate, fundamental desire or a lesser one and thereby assign moral praise or blame? Not only that, you have actually just emptied out your desire moral theory, since what you are saying is that *any* action is motivated by some fundamental desire, so it follows that fundamental desires cannot separate the praiseworthy and the blameworthy actions, and thus once again, they cannot ground an objective morality.

    In part, we use moral systems to work out what we really desire, and how best to bring about what we really desire.

    The reason we need a moral theory to help us, is that:

    a) we are often mistaken about our own desires
    b) even when we are right about what we most desire, we are often mistaken about what actually fulfills them

    So now we finally get at the nub: you are identifying the fundamental, ultimate desire, with being “fulfilled overall”, since by your own admission, the importance of a desire is directly proportional to contributing to the overall fulfillment, which is itself a desire — possibly a higher order one, but this irrelevant. Since the measure of individual fulfillment is a purely subjective judgment, you have nothing solid to ground the moral choices.

    I disagree. The measure of individual fulfillment is not strictly subjective. Empirical studies into human happiness suggest that people who foster certain qualities, achieve a measure amount of more satisfaction and fulfillment with their lives, than others. Empathy, love, charity, and other qualities like them consistently produce happier people, and happier lives. And it makes sense when you think about the nature of these things.

    If you want to bring in other considerations like societal consequences or consequentialist considerations, you run into the problem that they will inevitably collide with an individual’s fulfillment, and thus collide against your *own* version of the fundamental, ultimate desire.

    Not necessarily true. Carrier relies on game theory and evolution to do the work here. On game theory principles and evolution, any species that evolves to a cognitive state as advanced as human beings (or more) will have, by physical necessity, evolved cooperative, altruistic moral behavior – because game theory entails that certain levels of cooperation will always win over ruthless competition.

    Even if it were to occur, that some advanced species developed with no altruistic qualities, and came into conflict with every other civilization it encountered, that species would have rational reasons to learn how to be peaceful, again because of game theory. They would find themselves locked in never-ending battles with others who attempt to subvert their goals and desires.

    More on this a little bit later…

    And of course, you have not explained what “overall fulfillment” is. Equating it with a “measure of satisfaction” is once again a purely subjective judgment and faces pretty much the same problems as the ultimate desire talk.

    Well, its the concept of eudimonia – human flourishing. Its hard to pin down precisely, sure, no argument there. But that’s not really a show stopper. We just have more to learn about what flourishing really means.

    Actually no, I would not say quite exactly that, because it is a common human experience that the “right” thing to do will sometimes cause no end of grief, including the loss of one’s life.

    Yet, by doing the “right” thing, even when it causes grief, you are still buying some sort of fulfillment for your grief. You are buying the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing you are the type of person who does good things, for one.

    This is either flat out wrong (think of perverted desires) or simply vacuous. You are going in circles. What is one’s ultimate desire? That which brings the utmost fulfillment. What is the desire that when fulfilled brings utmost fulfillment? Ultimate desires. In other words, you have provided no non-circular, non-question begging reason of why we should act on fundamental desires.

    I know it gets a little weird at the bottom… but I would actually put it more like this:

    We seek flourishing for its own sake. Flourishing includes things like happiness, fulfillment, a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, among other things. It may even include some suffering.

    But all those things only come about from fulfilling desires. So this theory seems to say something like, the ultimate desire is to fulfill one’s desires, according to your understanding (or so that’s how I’m reading you).

    But that’s not the full story. The desire to fulfill desires also entails that one work to change his desires to those that can actually lead to the most fulfillment.

    Let’s say you are a sadist. You love torturing people. On this theory, can I say that there is an objective reason for you to resist and change your sadist desires? Absolutely. Your very nature is such that it will pit you against every other agent in the system, who will have every reason to thwart your desires. If you are a loving and cooperative person, the other agents in the system will have reason to help you achieve your goals and desires.

    If you can adjust your desires accordingly, you will live a more fulfilling life. If you can’t adjust your desires, you have to live with the fact that others are justified to thwart you.

    Wrong again. First, it is a perfectly legitimate question. That you equate, in an ad hoc way, universal, ultimate desires as that which we should pursue, does not render the question of whether such an ultimate desire should indeed be pursued (that is, that it is actually good for ourselves).

    And I repeat what I said earlier. To identify ultimate universal desires as that which ought to be pursued only makes sense if you fall back to *something* like AT essentialist talk, because it is to implicitly recognize that there is something fixed in the nature of human beings that makes said ultimate desire worth pursuing.

    Remember how “ought” is defined according to this moral theory.

    What you ought to do, is what you *would* do to achieve your goals, if you were reasoning logically and aware of all the relevant facts.

    And all moral imperatives are just a kind of hypothetical imperative.

    So you see, there can be no “ought”, or “should” before there is an “I value…”. Its just non-sensical, analytically speaking, according the definitions employed by this theory.

    And if you say that what one desires above all else is neither good nor evil, and that it ought to be pursued, then no moral judgments are possible because above you have admitted above that *every* action is motivated by some fundamental desire. Not to mention the plain fact that what one desires most is some (many??) times a perverted desire, so how are you going to curb those?

    All moral systems have to rely on some is. Something just is, and it produces or entails moral facts. That being the case, it will always be impossible to ask about this is what its moral reason for existence is. There is no moral reason.

    If God exists, and is the foundation of morality, there is no moral reason why that is the case. It just is. If an ultimate, shared value exists and is the foundation of morality, there is no moral reason why its the case. It just is.

  112. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Honestly d, you have not advanced a single iota. You repeat the same unargued assertions and fail to address the objections posed. This post will be for the most part a repetition of the points made by me and other people; this, as you can guess, gets tiresome after a while, so I hope that in future replies you bring something more. Ok, here we go, point by point. I will keep the same numbering. For the sake of reference, my original posts are #100 and #107.

    1.

    A “could be” is a potential defeater for a statement like “there can be no objective morality given naturalism”. For the purposes of this discussion, that’s the victory I’m after.

    A potential defeater is not a defeater, there is a gap to bridge here. Recall the context for this interchange: point 1. of post #100. And you still have not addressed the objections in 1., the fact that there is absolutely no reason to believe that what one desires most is universally shared (it is not) or that, even if we grant that which one most desires is universally shared, that this alone constitutes an argument for why we ought to pursue it. You keep bringing flourishing, sort of a short-hand for happiness, individually and collectively considered, but this is a purely subjective feeling and cannot be the ground of any objective morality because under metaphysical naturalism there is no *fixed* human nature that can serve as a measuring stick; there is no measuring stick, period.

    I don’t see this as question begging – the ultimate desire can only be shared by those that have desires. Obviously, things without desires can’t be said to share a desire.

    I never mentioned “things without desires”. I mentioned your ad hoc redefinition of personhood: if a person did not share said ultimate desire they are not persons. What you have to show is that human beings, which, to adopt a nominalist stance for the sake of practicality, is a class extensionally definable with no mention to desires, do indeed share such an ultimate desire. Your move was to say that if we did find such an example, then it would not count as a human being, which *is* question-begging.

    There’s no reason why its inconsistent for a naturalist to believe that some property will always coexist with another property in a given entity.

    You keep saying this, but never actually give the reasons. And to repeat myself, such talk will only make sense if *something* like the essentialist AT talk is true — and FYI, there are non-AT essentialists out there, e.g. Brian Ellis and his scientific essentialism.

    2.

    I don’t think all desires – certainly not ones utmost desires – are culturally influenced or determined. There’s no culture that can drive out a man’s need for love, for example.

    First, I said “biological and social history”. Do you deny the existence of sociopaths? Do you deny that our desires, ultimate or not, shared or not, are the product of a highly contingent social and biological history? Second, you *again* implicitly appeal to something essential in human nature: something that not even culture can evict or shape. But that *is* just a disguised way of appealing to a normative concept of human being, or essence of human being. But there is no such thing under naturalism. Human beings are the product of the actions of blind, impersonal forces, the fortuitous end result of a contingent and singular historical process, and even as we speak human nature is being shaped by these same forces, and even by man itself (viz. the whole same sex marriage debate). So you have nothing to appeal to, zilch, zero, nada.

  113. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d (continued):

    3.

    I don’t think reasons are desires. Reasons are how we identify what fulfills a desire and what frustrates it. Reasons by themselves aren’t motivating, If a reason isn’t appealing to a desire you already hold, it can’t motivate at all.

    Ok, we are using different terminology. In order to clarify things (hopefully) here is a rough, summarized sketch of how the Scholastic tradition views these things: desire is an appetitive power, an inclination towards certain objects. There are two main categories of appetites: the unconscious or naturalis, which is the inclination of a thing to those objects that are in accord with its own nature, without any knowledge of the reason why such a thing is appetible or desirable, and by contrast the appetitus elicitus which follows knowledge. In the later category, we can further distinguish between the appetitus animalis, which follows sense-cognition and is essentially a faculty tending primarily to those concrete objects that are useful or pleasurable. In contrast, the appetitus rationalis is a faculty of the soul, following intellectual knowledge, tending to the good as such and not primarily to concrete objects.

    With this clarification, while you are free to use desire as a catch-all word for everything that motivates human action, it is highly prone to equivocation if not outright incorrect. The intellect, which is prior to the will, judges the various appetible objects and presents them to the will in *some* aspect of the good as final cause or end goal of human action, or in other words, the will only wills what the intellect judges as good in *some* measure. This entails that there in hierarchy of goods. There are also, in principle at least, various possible ways to attain said goods, and both the latter and the former are judgments for the intellect to make (the relation between the will and the intellect is not one-sided, but this description suffices for now). When I speak of reasons, it is in this latter sense, as the final goals judged as worthy by the intellect independently of the objects of the appetitive powers.

    In part, we use moral systems to work out what we really desire, and how best to bring about what we really desire.

    I do not quote the rest of this particular part of your post, because this sentence suffices to make my point. To repeat myself by the umpteenth time, talk about “what we really desire” only makes sense if human beings, qua human beings, do have some desires that are “real” that is, that are an objective correlate of human nature, and not simply an arbitrary, conventional choice. But this only makes sense if there is indeed, as an objective matter of fact, a fixed human nature which is something that a metaphysical naturalist will deny. Otherwise, desire talk founders on subjectivism as it is impossible — as a matter of metaphysical limitations, and a fortiori, of epistemological ones — to say what desires should be pursued and those that should be rejected. You try to do that below by bringing in utilitarian calculus and I will deal with it, again, below.

    I disagree. The measure of individual fulfillment is not strictly subjective. Empirical studies into human happiness suggest that people who foster certain qualities, achieve a measure amount of more satisfaction and fulfillment with their lives, than others. Empathy, love, charity, and other qualities like them consistently produce happier people, and happier lives.

    Right: empirical studies show that being “overall fulfilled” is achieved more fully by fostering qualities like love and empathy, because these “produce people” (your terminology is very telling) that are more “overall fulfilled”. A marvel of circularity to behold. Empirical studies at best only show what *is*, not what ought to be, so I am at a loss why you bring them up.

    Not necessarily true. Carrier relies on game theory and evolution to do the work here. On game theory principles and evolution, any species that evolves to a cognitive state as advanced as human beings (or more) will have, by physical necessity, evolved cooperative, altruistic moral behavior – because game theory entails that certain levels of cooperation will always win over ruthless competition.

    Have you noticed your reliance on might’s, if’s, not necessarily so’s, etc.? Anyway, that game theory working on evolutionary principles has shown this or that is itself highly contentious, but even granting you that, so what? Absolutely nothing follows from it. Why does the fact that evolution has implanted on us certain types of behaviors makes those types of behaviors morally right? Surely not because they were produced by evolution because then there would be no moral quandaries, because trivially all our behaviors, including the atavic aggression behaviors, were implanted by evolution. Evolution’s purpose (sorry for the anthropomorphisms) is survivability, nothing less, nothing more. You keep smuggling in morality by the back door and our job consists mainly in discovering how well you have hidden the fallacy.

  114. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d (continued):

    4.

    Yet, by doing the “right” thing, even when it causes grief, you are still buying some sort of fulfillment for your grief. You are buying the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing you are the type of person who does good things, for one.

    And I am also buying the loss of my life. Anyway, the terminology mismatch has been dealt with above.

    We seek flourishing for its own sake. Flourishing includes things like happiness, fulfillment, a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, among other things. It may even include some suffering.

    But all those things only come about from fulfilling desires. So this theory seems to say something like, the ultimate desire is to fulfill one’s desires, according to your understanding (or so that’s how I’m reading you).

    But that’s not the full story. The desire to fulfill desires also entails that one work to change his desires to those that can actually lead to the most fulfillment.

    We seek flourishing. Flourishing is accomplished by fulfilling desires. What desires? Those that promote flourishing, or the fulfillment of desires. You are going in circles; this probably explains your dizziness.

    Let’s say you are a sadist. You love torturing people. On this theory, can I say that there is an objective reason for you to resist and change your sadist desires? Absolutely. Your very nature is such that it will pit you against every other agent in the system, who will have every reason to thwart your desires. If you are a loving and cooperative person, the other agents in the system will have reason to help you achieve your goals and desires.

    You know, it would be simpler if you would just say that this whole schtick is an exercise in utilitarian calculus.

    As far as your reasoning goes, why should a sadist buy *your* version of flourishing — and I stress that it is just that — when as a matter of *objective fact*, what gives him the most pleasure is torturing people? You want to convince him that a heaven of happiness and earthly delights awaits him should he mend his wicked ways? Oh wait, I must be confusing you with a Christian. As far as the last sentence, he will respond, “so what? I can get away with it and even if I cannot, life is finite and if I cannot get what I want, what I desire most, life is not worth living and I might as well be dead”. And boom, *you* are dead, sodomized in some back alley by said torturer.

    What you ought to do, is what you *would* do to achieve your goals, if you were reasoning logically and aware of all the relevant facts.
    And all moral imperatives are just a kind of hypothetical imperative.

    First, you are wrong, as hypothetical imperatives do not bridge the is-ought gap and thus, cannot be moral imperatives. You need something extra with categorical force, something in the objective reality of things. Second, there is no semblance, none, of an ought in your description. What goals? Reasoning about what? What are the standards? What are the relevant facts? This is just stupid.

    So you see, there can be no “ought”, or “should” before there is an “I value…”.

    The problem is that you have completely and utterly failed in demonstrating that your “I value” can be the ground of any kind of objective morality. You have just hidden the lump of garbage under another corner of the carpet.

    6.

    If God exists, and is the foundation of morality, there is no moral reason why that is the case. It just is. If an ultimate, shared value exists and is the foundation of morality, there is no moral reason why its the case. It just is.

    I am not sure what you imagine you are replying to, but it certainly is not to my objection.

  115. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    The third part (boy, I gotta start writing shorter posts) of my reply did not appear — do I have to resubmit it?

  116. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s there now.

  117. SteveK says:

    What you ought to do, is what you *would* do to achieve your goals, if you were reasoning logically and aware of all the relevant facts

    In the case of the sadistic torturer, he ought to continue torturing because he would then achieve his goal of happiness.

  118. d says:

    More to come later, but on the is-ought and other related points….

    Any moral theory which, through definitions, provides descriptions of oughtness and other moral terms that are consistent with one another, can pass the is-ought divide.

    I grant that my theory may be empirically false, but its logically valid. Continuing on about is-ought, or asking why we ought to follow our utmost desire, just shows me that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the moral debate. You can’t smuggle in your own moral ontology to pick out inconsistencies in other moral ontologies. My theory is not consistent with your account of “oughtness” – its not supposed to be.

    You can’t ask why one ought to follow his utmost desire on my theory, because, by definition, what one ought to do is what one would do to fulfill his utmost desire.

    With substitution the question can be restated like:

    – Why ought you do that which you ought to do?
    – Why would you do X to fullfill your goals, when X is what you would do to fulfill your goals?

    Its nonsense.

  119. SteveK says:

    You’re describing subjective relativism, d.

  120. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    You can’t ask why one ought to follow his utmost desire on my theory, because, by definition, what one ought to do is what one would do to fulfill his utmost desire.

    So let’s see if I understand you: you define “ought” in an arbitrary, ad hoc way, or “on my theory” as you put it, and then want to pass it off as a categorical imperative? As SteveK noted, the possessive “my” gives away the whole game.

    Coming up with logically consistent moral theories is easy, as the example of the sociopath, a wonderfully rational and logically consistent man, illustrates, so I really do not see that even if we grant you that much, why is that a cause for rejoice.

    Feel free to respond to the other points I made, but if you keep repeating the same nonsense, I will keep flogging the same dead horse — at least until you wear me out and I give up out of sheer boredom with the whole exercise.

  121. Melissa says:

    d,

    We all know we ought to do what is good, or what really fulfills us, or what enables us to flourish, that is no what we are disputing. Our point is that the only definitions naturalism can provide for these things are hopelessly subjective.

    Take for example fulffilment and you get our ultimate desire is to satisfy our desires. What about happiness? Our ultimate desire is to feel good. Feelings and desires are subjective. It does no good to claim that the psychopath is wrong to hurt others because all you are doing is imposing your own subjective definitions onto him.

  122. d says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    So let’s see if I understand you: you define “ought” in an arbitrary,
    ad hoc way, or “on my theory” as you put it, and then want to pass it
    off as a categorical imperative? As SteveK noted, the possessive “my”
    gives away the whole game.

    No, its not ad hoc or arbitrary. The definition of “ought” is crafted in an earnest attempt to remove the word’s ambiguity, its legacy philosophical cruft, and to make it refer to something intelligible (as is so rarely the case), and in such a way that comports, more or less, with the way we typically use it (and other moral terms) in our moral statements. That’s not nefarious or questionable – its what all moral ontologies *must* to do.

    The definitions of moral terms under natural law are not *THE* definitions for moral terms.

    Coming up with logically consistent moral theories is easy, as the example of the sociopath, a wonderfully rational and logically consistent man, illustrates, so I really do not see that even if we grant you that much, why is that a cause for rejoice.

    Logical consistency is fairly easy, I agree – even given naturalism. And its precisely what makes the claim “Objective moral values are logically impossible on naturalism”, so ridiculous. Meeting other criteria is more difficult (like plausibility, compatibility with moral statements and intuitions, providing motivational force, etc.), but I think goal theory does well on all counts.

    I think I’ve really identified the major gap in the reasoning offered by yourself, and Melissa. Both of you are relying on the observation that our world never seems to be in the same state twice. Nothing is fixed, including properties that humans have, therefore anything that grounds morality in properties of human beings necessarily changes too – there is no fixed, objective moral law.

    Even granting that the above is true, there’s still nothing in naturalism, at least based on current knowledge, that logically entails any of that be the case, or that its false that some properties must always exist in conjunction with other properties, etc. So that objection cannot be a defeater for the logical possibility of goal theory (or any other naturalist moral realism).

    While you both can certainly object to the theory on empirical grounds, you cannot object on logical grounds, unless either of you are sitting on some deductive argument that has yet to be presented, that proves naturalism is logically contradictory with the sort of fixed properties required to make the theory work.

  123. Melissa says:

    d,

    No, its not ad hoc or arbitrary. The definition of “ought” is crafted in an earnest attempt to remove the word’s ambiguity, its legacy philosophical cruft, and to make it refer to something intelligible (as is so rarely the case), and in such a way that comports, more or less, with the way we typically use it (and other moral terms) in our moral statements. That’s not nefarious or questionable – its what all moral ontologies *must* to do.

    But that’s just obviously false because typically we do say to the psychopath that they are wrong to desire to hurt people and you have yet to answer the charge that all you are doing is foisting your subjective preferences or definition of fulfillment, flourishing, or what have you, onto him.

  124. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    No, its not ad hoc or arbitrary.

    Yes, it is. I and Melissa have already said why, and you have no responded to the objections, so I do not feel myself in the obligation to add anything else.

    I think I’ve really identified the major gap in the reasoning offered by yourself, and Melissa. Both of you are relying on the observation that our world never seems to be in the same state twice. Nothing is fixed, including properties that humans have, therefore anything that grounds morality in properties of human beings necessarily changes too – there is no fixed, objective moral law.

    So first, you grant the point that there are no essences or fixed natures to appeal to in naturalism, then you say while there are no essences or fixed natures there might still be “some properties must always exist in conjunction with other properties”. Yes, if human beings are rational animals, then this entails a whole sleuth of other properties. Pray tell, what does this buy you? Absolutely nothing. You keep throwing around mights, ifs, and maybe-not-so’s, in the hopes that they will stick, without addressing the *arguments* people have provided for why that is not so.

    And for the record, that is part of the problem, yes, but not the whole problem. Since I have already written at length about this and you have not addressed a single point, there is no need to add anything to respond to a non-existent case.

    While you both can certainly object to the theory on empirical grounds, you cannot object on logical grounds, unless either of you are sitting on some deductive argument that has yet to be presented, that proves naturalism is logically contradictory with the sort of fixed properties required to make the theory work.

    I am going to repeat what I have said before. In most cases, you can rig the definitions and add ad hoc assumptions to any theory, moral or not, to make it logically consistent. The only think logical consistency means is that you cannot derive P and not-P from the theory. I am sure you are impressed by this awesome achievement but for your information it is possible, very easy actually, to construct consistent theories that prove falsehoods — if you want the proof I can provide it to you. The charge is not one of logical inconsistency but of circularity, question-begging, subjective arbitrariness and strict incapability of providing rational grounds for the choices you make.

    You think that concocting a logically consistent moral theory gets you off the hook. Fine; a rational psychopath’s moral theory is logically consistent. So by your criteria, his theory is good. Check mate.

    And for what is worth, we also object to the theory on metaphysical grounds.

  125. d says:

    Melissa,

    But that’s just obviously false because typically we do say to the psychopath that they are wrong to desire to hurt people and you have yet to answer the charge that all you are doing is foisting your subjective preferences or definition of fulfillment, flourishing, or what have you, onto him.

    And I already answered this, at least briefly. Psychopaths have rational reasons to have different desires:

    a) Because ultimately, a psychopath who follows through with sadistic desires does not actually achieve any rationally preferable sense of well-being or fulfillment, by doing so (contrary to all the misconceptions born from folk “wisdom” regarding psychopathy, that somehow they actually achieve joy and happiness through sadistic actions).

    b) Others would be morally justified to deprive the psychopath of the things he or she desired. All other things being equal, by being loving and empathetic you create a reality whereby others have stake in your happiness. By being sadistic and cruel, you create a reality where people are motivated to make you miserable.

    c) From the position of an ideal reasoner, a life the life of a person who genuinely feels love and compassion is rationally preferable to a life of a sadistic psychopath

    Again, as I said – Richard talks about psychopathy a lot – so you aren’t raising any new or novel objections here that he hasn’t dealt with. If you are interested…

    He writes a little about psychopaths here:
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2011/10/goal-theory-update.html

    He speaks of them in a debate here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctfh3O7ofl0&feature=player_embedded

    And iirc he talks about them in almost every talk about his moral theory on youtube.

  126. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    You are going in circles. I will repeat *exactly* the same answers.

    Because ultimately, a psychopath who follows through with sadistic desires does not actually achieve any rationally preferable sense of well-being or fulfillment, by doing so.

    Exactly. What you forgot to add is that there is *no* “rationally preferable sense of well-being or fulfillment” under metaphysical naturalism, so your sense of well-being is a personal preference, non-rationally justifiable in exactly the same way the psychopath’s sense of well-being is a personal preference.

    Let me guess; now you will chase your tail once again and mention empirical studies about well-being and what-not. Please don’t until you *really* understand the nub of the problem.

    Others would be morally justified to deprive the psychopath of the things he or she desired.

    They are certainly justified, but not on any *objective* moral reasons. Possibly, you mean the type of subjective utilitarian considerations you always fall back to.

    From the position of an ideal reasoner, a life the life of a person who genuinely feels love and compassion is rationally preferable to a life of a sadistic psychopath

    An ideal reasoner is something that does not exist, so your claim is unproven and nothing more than wishful thinking. And if you are thinking of invoking Aumann’s theorem, it does not help you one bit in reaching this particular conclusion. Besides, what is “rationally preferable” depends on some standard to judge what is preferable, in other words, the assumption of common priors will not hold, and Hanson’s “solution” just kicks the problem to another level.

    All in all, the metaphysical naturalist moral standards’ (if he has any) are nothing but an arbitrary choice, in the sense that they cannot be rationally grounded within his metaphysical system, clothed in circular, fallacious reasoning to hide the arbitrariness.

    Again, as I said – Richard talks about psychopathy a lot – so you aren’t raising any new or novel objections here that he hasn’t dealt with. If you are interested…

    I have read some of Dr. Carrier’s works, including treatments of morality, and they are uniformly bad. Recently, I read Dr. Carrier’s post on how from nothing something will inevitably spawn. Philosophically speaking, the post is atrocious, but this point is bound to be controversial given our philosophical differences. But even his mathematics is atrocious and his claims are bogus if not right-down non-sensical. So excuse me, if I harbor some skepticism on Dr. Carrier’s pronouncements. Anyway, although I have too much on my plate right now, will see if I can scrounge time to check the links.

  127. d says:

    I am going to repeat what I have said before. In most cases, you can rig the definitions and add ad hoc assumptions to any theory, moral or not, to make it logically consistent. The only think logical consistency means is that you cannot derive P and not-P from the theory. I am sure you are impressed by this awesome achievement but for your information it is possible, very easy actually, to construct consistent theories that prove falsehoods — if you want the proof I can provide it to you. The charge is not one of logical inconsistency but of circularity, question-begging, subjective arbitrariness and strict incapability of providing rational grounds for the choices you make.

    What do you think your natural law theory does, if not a similar sort of definition “rigging”? What do you think divine command ethics does? Or what about other non-theist theories? Contractarianism? Preference Utilitarianism? You are pointing out a general (and necessary) feature of every moral ontology – that they define their terms in a way that is compatible with a particular worldviews, epistemology, metaphysics, etc, that gives intelligible meaning to moral statements – and mistaking it for some gaping hole or slight of hand in goal theory.

    Take the statement: You ought to do X.

    On Natural Law, it means something like:
    – Your natural ends are fulfilled by X, and fulfilling your natural ends constitutes what you ought to do.

    On Divine Command Ethics, it means something like:
    – God commands that you X, and its God’s command’s that constitute binding obligations. To have a binding obligation is to have something you ought to do.

    On Goal Theory, it means something like:
    – You ought to X, because you desire Y, and X is what you would do to rationally pursue Y, from the perspective of an ideal reasoner.

    In each case, there is a unique view of “ought” – and to use another moral theories views of “ought” to point out logical inconsistencies in another is to beg the question.

    Now you can argue that some version of ought fails to capture something important about how we use the term in moral statements, or generally expect it to function. But you simply can’t take issue with the fact that its got its own definition on goal theory, or expect charges of ad hoc-ness or arbitrariness to stick, without also clobbering your own – every ontology has its own unique meanings behind moral terms. They no more ad hoc than the definitions on natural law, or DC ethics, or anything else.

    The charge of logical inconsistency has most definitely a been levied by many people here (some repeatedly) at one time or another – Melissa, Tom, Yourself (IIRC), SteveK, et al.

  128. Melissa says:

    d,

    They no more ad hoc than the definitions on natural law, or DC ethics, or anything else

    You still don’t get it. The naturalists definitions are as hoc and arbitrary because they attempt to ground morality in human desires. If you want objective moral facts you need a definition of good that is grounded on an objective reality.

    On Natural Law, it means something like:
    – Your natural ends are fulfilled by X, and fulfilling your natural ends constitutes what you ought to do.

    A non-question begging argument is offered in support of natural law theory. What your arguments do is take a very similar form to the natural law arguments and substitute our desires in the place of our natural ends which immediately produces a circular argument.

  129. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d (post #128):

    For the most part, I will be repeating the same points, with a little extra on nominalism vs. realism.

    You are pointing out a general (and necessary) feature of every moral ontology – that they define their terms in a way that is compatible with a particular worldviews, epistemology, metaphysics, etc, that gives intelligible meaning to moral statements – and mistaking it for some gaping hole or slight of hand in goal theory.

    I sometimes wonder if you think through what you are saying. You are embracing what amounts to a form of skepticism to defend yourself (which on hindsight, is somewhat inevitable given your metaphysical assumptions). Squeezing out the meaning of your sentences, what you are saying is that each moral theory has its own definition of ought. But this is either vacuous, or just an implicit recognition of what we have been saying all along — you choose your definitions consistently but the choice itself is arbitrary and ad hoc.

    As a self-avowed nominalist, you are unaware of the difference between nominal and real definitions. A nominal definition is a purely conventional definition of a word by way of other words, while a real definition attempts to grasp the essence of what a thing is. But for the latter to make sense, essences must be an objective feature of nature, which is precisely the AT view and what a metaphysical naturalism denies. So your criticism does not apply to metaphysical realists, because AT is not picking ad hoc definitions out of thin air but based on objective reality. In other words, for your criticism to apply you would have to prove that nominalism is true in the first place. On the other hand, I have at several points mentioned that your talk can be made sense *if* we accept *something like* the AT essentialist view.

    So yes, as a nominalist you must pick your definitions somehow and preferably in a consistent fashion. But logical consistency is easy to achieve, so if that is all you are saying, you are saying nothing of import. On the other hand we did explain, several times already, why your moral theory is circular and hopelessly subjective and you have not responded to our arguments in any cogent way.

    In each case, there is a unique view of “ought” – and to use another moral theories views of “ought” to point out logical inconsistencies in another is to beg the question.

    Now this is incorrect in two senses. First, for the most part we have using reductios to criticize your own moral theory and explained several times why they are not rationally tenable — and for the umpteenth time, rationally untenable is *NOT* the same thing as logically inconsistent. As far as I know, no one purported to have derived P and not-P from your moral theory, so what you say is simply not true. If you have been charged with logical inconsistency (and you probably have been, I simply cannot recall), it was not in the technical sense you are using.

    Second, insofar as a moral theory relies on prior metaphysical presuppositions, there is absolutely nothing wrong in criticizing theory T from the point of view of metaphysical theory M, if we show that T entails a metaphysical claim shown as absurd and resolved under M. Taken literally, and since it is impossible to completely shed off one’s presuppositions, it would be impossible to criticize any theory and *all* rational, public discourse, would grind to halt simply because the metaphysical starting points are different. The structure and content of the good under natural law theory is justified by the AT version of metaphysical realism; if you want to criticize it, you criticize it from the stand point of metaphysics, from the stand point of your own alternate metaphysical view.

    Now you can argue that some version of ought fails to capture something important about how we use the term in moral statements, or generally expect it to function.

    As we indeed have.

    But you simply can’t take issue with the fact that its got its own definition on goal theory, or expect charges of ad hoc-ness or arbitrariness to stick, without also clobbering your own – every ontology has its own unique meanings behind moral terms.

    Thanks for proving my point. By your own criteria, you cannot criticize the psychopath’s version of ought and thus you are powerless to rationally undermine his moral theory.

  130. d says:

    I sometimes wonder if you think through what you are saying. You are embracing what amounts to a form of skepticism to defend yourself (which on hindsight, is somewhat inevitable given your metaphysical assumptions). Squeezing out the meaning of your sentences, what you are saying is that each moral theory has its own definition of ought. But this is either vacuous, or just an implicit recognition of what we have been saying all along — you choose your definitions consistently but the choice itself is arbitrary and ad hoc.

    As a self-avowed nominalist, you are unaware of the difference between nominal and real definitions. A nominal definition is a purely conventional definition of a word by way of other words, while a real definition attempts to grasp the essence of what a thing is. But for the latter to make sense, essences must be an objective feature of nature, which is precisely the AT view and what a metaphysical naturalism denies. So your criticism does not apply to metaphysical realists, because AT is not picking ad hoc definitions out of thin air but based on objective reality.

    This just begs the question again, that your theories regarding what is objectively true about reality, are true.

    Naturalist moral realists and goal theorists are not picking definitions out of thin air!! We’re pointing to objective features of reality that, according to our worldview, actually exist. That’s the whole point. We’re coming up with cogent meanings for moral terms which, we believe, actually refer to things. Ergo, the definitions are not ad hoc or arbitrary.

    Its like criticizing the naturalist for having an arbitrary definition of the term “nature” because it does not mesh with the AT account of nature to which you hold. We have opposing, mutually exclusive accounts of reality – only one can be true, but neither are arbitrary.

    Second, insofar as a moral theory relies on prior metaphysical presuppositions, there is absolutely pnothing wrong in criticizing theory T from the point of view of metaphysical theory M, if we show that T entails a metaphysical claim shown as absurd and resolved under M. Taken literally, and since it is impossible to completely shed off one’s presuppositions, it would be impossible to criticize any theory and *all* rational, public discourse, would grind to halt simply because the metaphysical starting points are different. The structure and content of the good under natural law theory is justified by the AT version of metaphysical realism; if you want to criticize it, you criticize it from the stand point of metaphysics, from the stand point of your own alternate metaphysical view.

    But there is something wrong with equivocation – by using terms strangely and in a way that does not respect the ontology of theory T. The question “But why ought you fulfill your utmost desire” is such an example. Motivation and normative clout only come from an already existent value, intrinsic to the agent, according to goal theory (and many other naturalist theories). That’s exactly the work an “utmost, universal desire” does, on goal theory – it provides motivation and normative clout.

    In other words, you can’t tell anybody what they ought to do, and be right about it, if you aren’t appealing to some value they already hold. If they hold no values, there’s no reason they ought to do anything. So to ask why they ought to fulfill their utmost desire is nonsense. There’s no such thing as “ought” without that value, on goal theory.

    Again, if I were to use some other metaphysical account of the term “nature” to prove that AT metaphysics is inconsistent with itself, I’m sure you’d object (and you’d be right too).

    Thanks for proving my point. By your own criteria, you cannot criticize the psychopath’s version of ought and thus you are powerless to rationally undermine his moral theory.

    I can criticize the psychopath just fine, if its true that what he desires above all else, is the same as the rest of us, and his actions don’t comport with those desires. If its not true, then my theory fails (to be completely universal, at any rate, even though it might still tell most of us, what we ought to do).

    But there’s evidence that psychopaths do share some of the same desires as the rest of us and by acting in psychopathic ways, almost always hurt themselves in the process. Analogous is the way that persons with that rare defect where they lack nerves that sense pain, hurt themselves unintentionally by scratching the lenses off their eyes, or their skin till they bleed even though it never causes physical pain. The inner life of a psychopath isn’t one of joy and glee and fulfillment, even though they are unable to feel the pain of guilt for their sadistic actions.

    And of course, its worth pointing out that its unclear that your moral theory has any advantage with psychopaths by giving them reasons to obey moral rules.

    Perhaps if you *really* convince the psychopath he’s going to burn in hell if he hurts and deceives you, he might be given a reason to act moral for mere pain avoidance. But then your just shilling for some form of goal theory, albeit under theism. What other reasons he ought to do X, could you possibly give the psychopath? That it goes against his natural ends? Why does he care about his natural ends, which seem to oppose everything he wants at the moment, at your expense?

    If you can’t get past that, the best you can do is wag your figure moralistically at the psychopath as he hurts and deceives you, with stern warnings that your wagging finger has cosmic authority behind it, which he cares nothing about. Whoop-dee-doo.

  131. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    As predicted: lather, rinse, repeat.

    This just begs the question again, that your theories regarding what is objectively true about reality, are true.

    In the sentence just *next* to the text you quote, I say: “In other words, for your criticism to apply you would have to prove that nominalism is true in the first place.” So instead of charging me with question-begging, meet the challenge and prove metaphysical realism is false, because otherwise, it is exactly as I said, your criticism does not apply.

    Naturalist moral realists and goal theorists are not picking definitions out of thin air!! We’re pointing to objective features of reality that, according to our worldview, actually exist.

    You are contradicting yourself: first you say “objective features of reality” then you add “according to our worldview, actually exist”. It is a very telling admission: reality must be force-fit into your worldview to support your subjective choices.

    Its like criticizing the naturalist for having an arbitrary definition of the term “nature” because it does not mesh with the AT account of nature to which you hold. We have opposing, mutually exclusive accounts of reality – only one can be true, but neither are arbitrary.

    You repeat the same assertions when I have already dealt with them without offering any rebuttal, or even showing that you understand the rebuttal itself (for example, see post #130 following the second quoted text).

    In other words, you can’t tell anybody what they ought to do, and be right about it, if you aren’t appealing to some value they already hold. If they hold no values, there’s no reason they ought to do anything. So to ask why they ought to fulfill their utmost desire is nonsense. There’s no such thing as “ought” without that value, on goal theory.

    I do not know how many times you have repeated this mantra already, to which I and Melissa have consistently and repeatedly responded: Exactly! By your own admission, and since the psychopath does not endorse your subjective choice of values, you are in no position to offer a rational critique of his moral theory, except hope they do not win out in the end.

    Again, if I were to use some other metaphysical account of the term “nature” to prove that AT metaphysics is inconsistent with itself, I’m sure you’d object (and you’d be right too).

    I have already *explicitly* said numerous times that neither I nor anyone else has purported to have derived a logical contradiction. To quote myself from post #125 “The charge is not one of logical inconsistency but of circularity, question-begging, subjective arbitrariness and strict incapability of providing rational grounds for the choices you make”.

    But there’s evidence that psychopaths do share some of the same desires as the rest of us and by acting in psychopathic ways, almost always hurt themselves in the process.

    *Exactly* as predicted, you invoke a form of empirical evidence to validate your criticisms of a psychopath’s moral theory. To quote myself from post #127: “Let me guess; now you will chase your tail once again and mention empirical studies about well-being and what-not. Please don’t until you *really* understand the nub of the problem.” This time, you also invoke a normativity claim that only makes sense on some form of essentialism about human nature, viz. “Analogous is the way that persons with that rare defect where they lack nerves that sense pain” proving my point, for the umpteenth time, that your talk can only be made non-subjective if something like the essentialist account is true.

    Perhaps if you *really* convince the psychopath he’s going to burn in hell if he hurts and deceives you, he might be given a reason to act moral for mere pain avoidance.

    Now you show that you do not even know the difference between giving rational grounds for a moral theory and a sufficient, personal motivation to lead a person to act in some desired way. Yes it is true, even if I could rationally convince the psychopath of the soundness of natural law moral theory, there would still be no guarantee that he would act morally. Impressive; you do not even understand what is in discussion.

    Summary:

    – You charge me with question-begging without bothering to read the posts.

    – You contradict yourself.

    – You make the same assertions over and over again without an argument or without responding to the objections people have made.

    – You do not understand the objections and consequently, never actually address them.

    – You attack things people have never said.

    – You prove my points over and over again without even realizing it.

    – You fail to make elementary distinctions.

    – You do not even know what is at stake.

  132. Melissa says:

    d,

    And of course, its worth pointing out that its unclear that your moral theory has any advantage with psychopaths by giving them reasons to obey moral rules.

    You are confusing being able to convince people they are defective with us having objective reasons to believe they are defective.

    But there’s evidence that psychopaths do share some of the same desires as the rest of us and by acting in psychopathic ways, almost always hurt themselves in the process. Analogous is the way that persons with that rare defect where they lack nerves that sense pain, hurt themselves unintentionally by scratching the lenses off their eyes, or their skin till they bleed even though it never causes physical pain. The inner life of a psychopath isn’t one of joy and glee and fulfillment, even though they are unable to feel the pain of guilt for their sadistic actions.

    Given naturalism you cannot say that there is objectively anything wrong with the person who lacks nerves which sense pain. That is something you need to grasp if you are going to understand our objections.

  133. d says:

    You are confusing being able to convince people they are defective with us having objective reasons to believe they are defective.

    I’m saying for objective morality live up to its name, it needs to be able give the psychopath a reason not to follow through with a sadistic plan, which would render him objectively irrational, should he fail to heed it. Goal theory can do this. It can tell him he is mistaken about what he desires most (based on facts about desires, human nature, the nature of persons, and other facts about the universe), or he is mistaken about what actions will move him closer to what he desires most – and in either case, he ought not follow through with his sadistic plans.

    Not only that, but if goal theory is true, the reason we give to the psychopath to avoid his sadistic behavior would also apply to me, you, G. Rodrigues, and everybody else.

    What reason you can give the psychopath, that would render him irrational if he followed through with his sadistic tenancies?

    Given naturalism you cannot say that there is objectively anything wrong with the person who lacks nerves which sense pain. That is something you need to grasp if you are going to understand our objections.

    Please believe me when I tell you I understand this objection just fine. Really, I know all about it. Goal theory overcomes it (if its premises turn out to be true).

    You guys aren’t grasping why this is, possibly from a lack of clarity on my part (it’s been a process to explain it clearly in my own words), but that’s why I’ve given links out to some of Carrier’s words on the topic.

    On goal theory, you certainly can tell the person without pain receptors, that they have a defect, through the hypothetical imperatives (moral imperatives being a subset thereof).

    If Sally values X, she ought to desire the ability to sense damage to her body.
    Sally values X.
    Therefore, Sally ought to desire the ability to sense damage to her body

    And if everybody values X, then everyone ought to desire the ability to sense damage to their bodies.

  134. Melissa says:

    d,

    and if Sally doesn’t value X?

    Goal theory can do this. It can tell him he is mistaken about what he desires most (based on facts about desires, human nature, the nature of persons, and other facts about the universe),

    No it can’t. You cannot be mistaken about what you desire most.

  135. d says:

    and if Sally doesn’t value X?

    If X is what goal theory proposes to be what all persons seek for its own sake, their utmost desire, then goal theory is false.

    (But note that if Sally doesn’t value X, that is an empirical objection)

    No it can’t. You cannot be mistaken about what you desire most.

    Goal theory posits you can be, and I agree. I don’t see anything weird about one being mistaken about what he most desires. Humans are bad at the sort of self-analysis and introspection required to properly understand our desires 100% of the time.

    Goal theory suggests there are two possible ways to fail to act the way you ought:

    a) you are mistaken about what it is you desire most of all
    b) you are mistaken about what actually fulfills that desire

    If you could remedy those two situations, you would always act the way you should.

  136. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    I don’t see anything weird about one being mistaken about what he most desires. Humans are bad at the sort of self-analysis and introspection required to properly understand our desires 100% of the time.

    If introspection cannot be trusted how are you going to measure “well-being”. Let me guess, by MRI scans or similar means? And what these means look for? The firing of neuron patterns correlated to… a feeling of well-being. Circularity anyone? And thus will you impose your totalitarian, arbitrary choice of desires on everybody else and deem them “wrong” about their desires, without a whiff of rational justification.

    I won’t comment anything else. You repeat and keep repeating the same lines without responding to any of the objections posed, maybe in the hopes that if you repeat them often enough even you will finally believe in them. You keep going in circles and by this point you must be completely dizzy.

    I will end up with a fitting poem, a little masterpiece of a divertissement, by Wallace Stevens, the supreme poet of the imagination and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the American poets of the 20th century. It is called “The pleasures of merely circulating” and is part of his book “Ideas of order” from 1936:

    The garden flew round with the angel,
    The angel flew round with the clouds,
    And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
    And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

    Is there any secret in skulls,
    The cattle skulls in the woods?
    Do the drummers in black hoods
    Rumble anything out of their drums?

    Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
    Might well have been German or Spanish,
    Yet that things go round and again go round
    Has rather a classical sound.

    You circle round and round, banging your drummers round, but do not ever, ever make a sound.

  137. d says:

    If introspection cannot be trusted how are you going to measure “well-being”. Let me guess, by MRI scans or similar means? And what these means look for? The firing of neuron patterns correlated to… a feeling of well-being. Circularity anyone? And thus will you impose your totalitarian, arbitrary choice of desires on everybody else and deem them “wrong” about their desires, without a whiff of rational justification.

    Just because those kinds of correlations will never be 100% accurate, and because people can be wrong about their emotional states (including the nature of their desires), we can’t know anything about them, ever? Yes we can, in the same way we can pin point a probable lie with a brain scan or other tells.

    And really… Is it seriously going to be the contention of you and Melissa, that people are omniscient when it comes to self-analyzing their emotions (or at least a particular emotion)? In desires, persons have an emotional state which they can never be confused about, ever? And its me who is questioned about justification… Sheesh.

    The claim is dismiss-able without further consideration based on the mere fact that there’s absolutely no area of human experience, where humans perform flawlessly. If either of you want to claim otherwise, prove it.

    The totalitarian hyperbole isn’t really worth responding too. All us naturalists are just Hiter’s waiting in the wings aren’t we?

    And if I’m repeating myself, its only because you two have been raising the same misconceived objections over and over (or moving the goal posts) without thinking through the particulars of the theory. Nor do I think either of you really understand how debates about moral ontology work, hence your claims that I rely on skepticism, nominalism, or that I’m just retro-fitting arbitrary definitions to reality.

  138. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    Just because those kinds of correlations will never be 100% accurate, and because people can be wrong about their emotional states (including the nature of their desires), we can’t know anything about them, ever? Yes we can, in the same way we can pin point a probable lie with a brain scan or other tells.

    Yes, we can learn *something* about correlations, and yes people can be wrong about how they perceive their mental states, I never said the contrary. Your whole paragraph hinges on this misconception of my argument, so the only thing I can suggest is you read it again.

    Is it seriously going to be the contention of you and Melissa, that people are omniscient when it comes to self-analyzing their emotions (or at least a particular emotion)?

    Once again, you are reading what is not there and attacking things people do not defend.

    And if I’m repeating myself, its only because you two have been raising the same misconceived objections over and over (or moving the goal posts) without thinking through the particulars of the theory.

    If there is someone who does not “think[ing] through the particulars of the theory” is you. But at this point, we are just trading charges. The whole thread is public record and it is a matter of objective fact that you barely understand the objections, much less respond to them.

    Nor do I think either of you really understand how debates about moral ontology work, hence your claims that I rely on skepticism, nominalism, or that I’m just retro-fitting arbitrary definitions to reality.

    I never claimed such things. 1. I claimed that you are a self-avowed nominalist and that for one specific criticism you made to have force you would have to prove nominalism true (and it is not like I invented you are a nominalist, is it?) 2. I claimed that you were embracing skepticism to defend yourself and added parenthetically that that was somewhat inevitable, but never made the argument 3. I claimed that you were constraining reality to fit your arbitrary definitions based on a confession of yours.

    So are you surprised that I made the charges I made?

    note: A couple of days ago, to freshen up my impression of Dr. Carrier, I wasted my time plodding through his article “Moral facts naturally exist” in the “The End of Christianity” anthology. Really, you should seek greener pastures if you desire some cogently argued, rational version of moral realism.

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