Tom Gilson

“Christianity the Worst Source of Evil? | John G. Stackhouse, Jr.”

Interesting response to an all-too-common question:

A friend writes:

I have run across the following issue a lot recently: the blaming of Christianity (and belief in God generally) for all the major evil of the world. I had a conversation in Seoul with a Canadian expat who argued that Christianity is to blame for the majority of hatred and violence in the world. She was then unwilling to also have a conversation about what Christianity has contributed to education, human rights, medicine and the sciences in general.

I usually respond to such people thus: “Like what? What hatred and evil are you talking about? Please describe the hatred and violence you’re decrying and show why you attribute it to Christianity rather than to, say, greed or lust or vengeance or envy or fear or something much more generic than a particular religion.”

If that doesn’t slow things right down, I might then ask, …

From Christianity the Worst Source of Evil? | John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

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363 thoughts on ““Christianity the Worst Source of Evil? | John G. Stackhouse, Jr.”

  1. But, but, but… what about all the christian wars, and witch burnings and opposition to Scientific advance and the indoctrination of young minds and the witch burnings?

    Silly Stackhouse. Doesn’t he know there is no “good” or “bad” atheism. This is because atheism is merely the lack of belief in the existence of god. Or maybe it’s the belief that god doesn’t exist. I can’t remember. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because the important thing to understand is that Stackhouse is wrong and I can prove it! Just look at Luke 12:49-53 that I’m quoting out of context. See how the good people at sceptics annotated bible have highlighted the text because it’s so shocking. Read what your zombie jesus says, christians!

    Also, I should point out that Sweden is an atheistic Utopia yada, yada.

  2. No doubt the Canadian woman believes that she just knows the “truth”, so there is no sense confusing her with the facts. You know, it’s the new post modern way of thinking: “truth (small t) is whatever is true for me.” How can anyone argue with that?

  3. JAD

    I don’t blame Christianity for all evil in the world.

    But it has it’s problems:
    How about the fact that the God doesn’t mention slavery as a sin but
    but has a place for ‘the coveting of your neighbour’s ass’ in the commandments. Thereby with the lack of condemnation and a few other statements in the Bible permitting and even condoning ages of slavery.
    An atheist could explain this perfectly. But for someone who see the Bible as the word of God, … not so easy to explain.

    And pithy perhaps for you Billy but Scandinavian countries do very well without religion.

  4. doesn’t mention slavery as a sin

    True, but slave traders and kidnappers into slavery are strongly condemned (e.g. 1 Tim 1:10, Ex 21:6, Deut 24:7).

    The critical issue is that modern man considers self-determination as the highest virtue. The Scriptures consider obedience to godly authority (most notably God himself) as a key virtue, and are thus far more content than modern man with all sorts of pre-determined social hierarchies. Hierarchies aren’t inherently sinful. Failing to treat those placed under your responsibility in the same way that God treats you is.

    That said, the Scriptures are generally positive towards manumission of slaves, depending on the circumstances.

    The fundamental spiritual issue is not people owning people, but that all people are created by nature to be owned by God. Once we embrace this, we can work at right ordering of our social hierarchies. If we reject it, then any hint of innate social hierarchy – whether pure or corrupt – is rejected in anger because it is an assault on our own petty god-hood.

  5. Dirkvg, it may have escaped your attention that much of the Old Testament is an account of the nation of Israel escaping from slavery, from both the Egyptians and the Babylonians. The Old Testament does not make slavery out to be a good thing, although it did regulate slavery, presumably because the alternative was to kill prisoners of war. Also, consult an ANE text for what slavery meant during that period.

    Scandinavian countries have done well without religion in very recent times. Do you think this is because of relatively high rates of atheism, despite it, or for other reasons? The USSR , China and others did not do so well without religion.

  6. I’ve studied the OT system of servitude. For Hebrew ebeds it was temporary (lasting 6 years) and contractual. And, for an agrarian ANE society it was very humane. Something like it existed in colonial America. It was called indentured servitude… Apprenticeships had a very similar system. The intent in the OT was to mitigate poverty and create a prosperous economy (Deuteronomy 15:4). Please read the verses 1-18 for the full context. This was an evil system?

  7. JAD:

    We all know that “slave” means “slave.” You’re just playing word games with ancient languages. Besides, the American South used the Bible to justify their slavery system, so that proves that the Bible’s view of slavery is wrong and bad.

    And even if it was an agrarian society, that just proves how backward it is. The Bible shows an agrarian society, so it opposes the development of industrialization and urbanization. And the Scandinavian countries are models of industrialization and urbanization, so that mean’s their modern and good.

  8. The dictionary says that “slavery” is “the practice of owning slaves.” I don’t know why you disagree with the dictionary.

  9. Those last two were sarcastic, of course.

    You guys have pointed up dirk’s classic fallacy of ambiguity: assuming a specified meaning for a term (“slavery”) that is has a variety of meanings. Since it is a function of the laws of any society, one must actually define “slavery” in the context of each society, based on the laws and rights about the status of those subordinates. Limits of time, limits of the master’s power over the slave, laws about the acquisition of slaves, etc.

    dirk also committed the fallacy of “failing to read the text,” and “not bothering to pay attention to different languages.”

    To be fair, he’s not alone in this: almost every atheist who brings up this issue does the same thing: just throw in a vague, blanket-term like “slavery” without any definition or discussion of language, culture, or the actual text.

    There’s also the fallacy of presumption: just assuming that “slavery” (whatever that term means) is automatically and obviously bad. On what grounds? Why is one person’s ownership of another wrong?

  10. Andrew W –

    The fundamental spiritual issue is not people owning people, but that all people are created by nature to be owned by God.

    I thought people were created to be children of God? Is the relationship between master and slave the same as between parent and child?

  11. Ray,

    I thought people were created to be children of God? Is the relationship between master and slave the same as between parent and child?

    The bible uses a number of metaphors to represent our multifaceted relationship with God, one is as children of God another is as slaves.

  12. It’s worth noting the transition from OT to NT. Referring to humans as God’s children is quite uncommon in the OT. Genesis does not suggest a filial relationship between God and human, and Israel is typically referred to as sons of Abraham or sons of Israel, not Sons of God. The nations are usually described using words of kingship, e.g. “possessions”, or creation, “work of my hands”, rather than family.

    The NT marks a radical change. Suddenly, the language of adoption and family comes to the forefront. Note that there is a political as well as relational aspect to this – adoption as heirs includes (sometimes explicitly) that we are now marked as children of the King of the Universe, with all the honour that entails. But the key here is adoption. Creation of God is a natural state. “Children of God” is not a natural state, but an imputed one.

  13. Since the topic of slavery is being addressed, I have always wondered about Exodus 21: 20-21 –

    20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

    That really seems to be saying that beating your slaves is OK as long as it’s not to hard that they die within a couple of days.

    Does anyone have any takes on this?

  14. bigbird,

    The links you gave seem to be saying “Yep, this is the case… don’t beat them so hard that they die within a few days. If they die after 4 or 5 not a problem. This is a big improvement from former codes.”

    Do you agree with this? Is this a good way to look at slavery?

  15. Bill,

    If you look at the two verses prior to the ones you cited you will see that the penalty imposed when someone struck a free person so that they were confined to bed, though not dead, was to pay them injured party for loss of time and to arrange for full recovery. Therefore the penalties for hitting a slave and hitting a freeman were actually equivalent.

    Edited to add: sorry, doesn’t answer your latest question. The word translated survives is literally stand in the Hebrew. Whether it should be translated survive or stand, i’m not really qualified to answer. I doubt that the intent of the law is to say it’s ok to beat your slave to death as long as they survive the beating by more than 2 days.

  16. Bill,

    How much does one pay a slave for “loss of time?”

    When I wrote loss of time I was referring to lost wages. The owner of the slave doesn’t pay anything because he has already lost the value of the work the salve would have done.

  17. So to recap – beating the slaves is OK if it doesn’t result in death. And the owner won’t pay anything.

    (Have you guys ever seen the Disney movie “The Lion King” where the character Timon asks, “…. and everybody is OK with this?”)

  18. No, we’re not “okay with this,” if anyone were to try to set that up as a standard in today’s climate. The interesting thing is to recognize just how “okay with this” most slaves would have been in that day, for the Hebrew treatment of slaves was far more just and merciful than was the case in other surrounding cultures.

    You might want to look not only at the OT law, but also the prophets, who consistently and repeatedly called for mercy and compassion. You might also want to look at the effect of New Testament Christianity on slavery over the centuries following Christ. Slavery gradually (and peacefully) disappeared on account of Christians’ unique and new understanding that all humans were of equal worth.

  19. Tom,
    That disappearance took on the order of 1800 years, and it certainly was not peaceful for the slaves who died at their masters hands.

    Look, let’s set aside any non-belief in Christianity for the moment. Let’s say I’m a believer in the divinity of Jesus. Then the Bible would still be responsible for a great deal of suffering since it not only does not condemn slavery outright, but it is saying that beating is just fine.

    There doesn’t seem to be two ways to slice this and if Christians are to be honest, they must deal with this and say that we (as a society) are in a more moral place now than God gave to the people at that time.

    I think this has been one of the biggest failings of Christians – namely, the willingness to openly admit that not only have Christians committed heinous acts in the name of Christianity, but that many parts of the Bible seem to condone their behavior.

    Maybe they could start to say that Jesus has taught them a better way and therefore be justified in rising above the immoral teachings of the Old Testament. Above all, let’s start with honesty and humility.

  20. No, Bill, that disappearance took just a few centuries. The recrudescence of slavery later on was another issue. I do not intend to condone evils done by Christians or anyone else.

    But I’m about to sign off for the evening; I’ll come back to this tomorrow. Thanks for being in the discussion.

  21. I’m going to bed too Tom,

    Look, I could be wrong about the history of slavery. But let’s be honest; the Bible is not clearly anti-slavery, and it gave justification for those who started it up again. You know as well as I do that slave owners in the US talked about Biblical justification endlessly.

    I know you don’t condone evils. And I know that people can and do commit evils in the name of a religion even though that religion does not support it. But very clear anti-slavery (especially the abuse) statements in the Bible would have gone a long way at removing the justification that slave owners used for centuries. And saying “Hey, this is better than what the other guys were doing” says nothing about a moral justification.

    I just think we should be honest and admit short-comings when they are there. It increases our credibility and allows others to see that we do not just defend the indefensible because it is what we want to be true.

  22. the Bible is not clearly anti-slavery

    I disagree to some extent. The entire Old Testament narrative is about setting a nation free from slavery. Slavery in any form is very clearly not a desirable state.

    It is true however that the New Testament doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery in the way I’d like it to. I suppose that this is largely due to context – after all the entire Jewish nation was subject to the Roman Empire. They were the ones in servitude at this point.

    But if being commanded to love your neighbour as yourself and being instructed that we are all equal in Christ is not sufficient to deter people from enslaving others, I doubt that an explicit command would be either.

  23. So to recap – beating the slaves is OK if it doesn’t result in death. And the owner won’t pay anything.

    I think you’re missing the point. As Melissa pointed out, the rules for one who strikes a free-man and the one who strikes a slave are comparable: death requires vengeance, injury requires recompense for lost wages and a responsibility to ensure the victim is healed.

    In the case of a slave, the owner is already responsible for (1) feeding, clothing, etc and (2) seeing the slave healed. What of lost wages? Well, the person who has suffered the loss of a worked is the owner, so he owes the wages to himself (and thus suffers the implicit value of the lost labour).

    Now, you may think that simply paying for lost time is a weak punishment for injuring another human, but that’s independent of the slave/master distinction.

  24. Bill,

    Just to be clear, I don’t think slavery is OK but I also don’t believe that the OT laws are meant to be read as if they are set in stone, laws from on high dictating how to ideally set up a moral utopia. Most likely they are an edited compilation of case history. They deal with issues that needed to be ruled on in that particular community.

    I understand the temptation to think we can directly apply from the bible to our lives, but the truth is that every generation, every community, must do the hard work themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work out what it means to live the good life, under God’s rule, in their own context.

  25. The point that Bill LaBarre is making here:

    But very clear anti-slavery (especially the abuse) statements in the Bible would have gone a long way at removing the justification that slave owners used for centuries.

    is the point I also made in 5.

    It is absurd that the ‘coveting of your neighbour’s ass’ could find a place in the ten commandments and a condemnation of slavery not.

    BigBird:

    I suppose that this is largely due to context.

    Most likely they are an edited compilation of case history

    Melissa:

    They deal with issues that needed to be ruled on in that particular community.

    The moment you go that way, you set the path for doubting all of the stories in the Bible.

  26. Big Bird

    ‘The USSR , China and others did not do so well without religion.’

    Yes, but these were economic and political dictatorships.

    I don’t claim that atheism is the cause Scandinavian countries do well, but they are examples of the fact that religion is not necessary for doing well. In discussions with some Christians one would get the impression that without religion everything would turn to chaos and anarchy. The facts show this isn’t necessarily the case.

  27. Dirkvg:

    It is absurd that the ‘coveting of your neighbors ass’ could find a place in the ten commandments and a condemnation of slavery not.

    Explain to us how you can arrive at the moral absolute: “slavery is wrong,” beginning with naturalistic assumptions. What basis do you have for believing that there are any moral absolutes, beginning with naturalistic assumptions, in the first place?

  28. Melissa –

    The bible uses a number of metaphors to represent our multifaceted relationship with God, one is as children of God another is as slaves.

    Actually, there’s another relationship that comes to mind, one that seems to fit pretty well. They are expected to obey their master, and while they are (supposed to be) well-loved and cared for, unlike children they have a fundamentally different nature and are never expected to eventually grow up and be the equals of their caretakers. Indeed, if they ever consider themselves, or act like they are, equals – it’s a disaster and may necessitate their destruction.

    Maybe we really are God’s pets. (Or, worse, the “shepherd and flock” metaphor is actually accurate. The shepherd doesn’t protect and provide for the flock for the benefit of the flock.)

  29. JAD,

    “Explain to us how you can arrive at the moral absolute: “slavery is wrong,” beginning with naturalistic assumptions. What basis do you have for believing that there are any moral absolutes, beginning with naturalistic assumptions, in the first place?”

    I would like to try to answer this, if you are interested and don’t mind that I nudge my way back in to the conversation.

    But first I must ask you, what do you mean by “moral?”

  30. Bill LaBarre,

    Here’s how Merriam Webster (.com) defines moral and morality.

    moral:

    a) of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical

    c) conforming to a standard of right behavior

    d) sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment

    e) capable of right and wrong action

    I would also argue that for something to be moral or immoral, it has to be objectively, or intrinsically, right or wrong– that is right or wrong at any time in human history or within any human cultural context.

    Second moral behavior, or morality, only applies to moral agents. Animals, for example, are not moral agents.

    morality:

    a) beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior

    b) the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something

    Let’s start with those definitions.

  31. OK, that’s a good start. So let’s make sure we are on the same page… how do you define right, wrong, good and bad?

  32. I hope you don’t mind me sticking my nose into your conversation, Bill. I also hope I don’t muck this up 🙂

    What is good is directly tied to what a thing is – it’s essence.

    For example: A perfectly good triangle has 3 perfectly straight sides with angles that sum to exactly 180 degrees. That is the ideal essence of a triangle, and any created triangle that has shortcomings (irregular sides) is less than the ideal triangle – or a bad triangle in some sense. Some triangles can be more bad than others – say by having more irregular sides when compared to another triangle. These are factual statements and the term ‘good triangle’ is objective, not a value statement.

    So when it comes to humans, the good is tied directly to what a human is – it’s essence. Naturalism fails here because there is no perfect human essence so there can be no imperfect (bad) human. That’s all for now.

  33. SteveK,

    Let’s see if JAD feels that way about “good” and “bad” as well, especially as it relates to morality.

    But I am just trying to be clear about your understanding… by your view, how do I look at 200,000 people being killed in a tsunami? Was it a perfectly “good” tsunami? It seems to be the essence of a tsunami to produce large waves.

    Why is there no perfect human essence?

  34. It is absurd that the ‘coveting of your neighbour’s ass’ could find a place in the ten commandments and a condemnation of slavery not.

    Absurd in what way?

    The ten commandments were given to an ANE culture that was constantly at war. The alternative to slavery was to kill prisoners of war. Instead, OT law regulated slavery as has been explained.

    You seem to think that coveting is by comparison a trivial issue, when in fact desiring what other people have is the cause of much of the evil that people do.

    You also seem to be expecting the Bible to provide a prescriptive morality – a detailed exposition of everything that should be prohibited. Instead, we are given moral principles, e.g. we are told to love our neighbour, whoever they might be, and we are told that we are all equal before God, who created us. These principles can be used in any culture at any time – and when applied to slavery, resulted in its abolition.

    I don’t know why there was no explicit statement forbidding slavery in the New Testament. Perhaps it was too radical for an age where one third of the population was in some form of slavery, and realization had to develop over time. But I also know there was no explicit statements forbidding abortion, or infanticide, euthanasia or polygamy, or many other things I consider wrong. But I don’t need to be told that they are.

  35. Bill,

    Was it a perfectly “good” tsunami? It seems to be the essence of a tsunami to produce large waves.

    Whether a tsunami kills people, or not, is immaterial to its essence as a tsunami.

    Why is there no perfect human essence? [under naturalism]

    Because you need an objective, factual standard by which you can conclude that a human is somehow deficient when compared with this ideal standard. Naturalism has no such standard.

  36. SteveK,

    So I’m still not sure. Can I say that the death of 200,000 people by the tsunami was a bad thing?

    By an objective, factual standard for humans, it seems that we could compare humans to other species and say that they have perfect human essence (say as opposed to a chimpanzee). I guess I’m missing what you are trying to say.

  37. bigbird,

    For me, the confusing thing about the Bible not condemning slavery is the fact that we now look at slavery as one of the worst human atrocities. It seems that an omnipotent God would have foreseen these heinous acts and explicitly forbade them.

    My 2 cents

  38. JAD

    Explain to us how you can arrive at the moral absolute: “slavery is wrong,”

    I’ve seen this tactic so many times before. An atheist makes an argument which a believer finds difficult to counter and the believer sees as the only option out: to try to show that the atheist claim is not an absolute for the atheist.

    In fact I don’t have to show a thing about my moral beliefs (which are by the way of course against slavery.

    It is the believer who believes in the absolute evil of slavery, and it is in his holy scriptures that slavery is not openly condemned but even condoned. As many Christians took for granted for centuries.

    The problem is his. And the contradiction between his present beliefs which he thinks are absolutes and the revelation by his God, who seemingly thought coveting of asses more important in the grand scheme of things, than the centuries of suffering slaves.

  39. For me, the confusing thing about the Bible not condemning slavery is the fact that we now look at slavery as one of the worst human atrocities. It seems that an omnipotent God would have foreseen these heinous acts and explicitly forbade them.

    Here you’ve committed the fallacy lampooned earlier in the thread – taking your view of slavery based on our modern understanding of the term, and equating it to slavery in ANE societies. Do you really think what was called slavery during those times was one of the worst human atrocities? For example, Israelites used to sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts. Would people do that if it was as heinous as what you say?

    I’m not trying to argue that slavery in those times was a great situation to be in – obviously it was not. The Bible does not portray it as desirable. But for some people it was better than starving or being killed.

    As an aside, I look at abortion and see one of the worst human atrocities. I look at child sexual abuse and think that is heinous. And yet neither of these were explicitly condemned in the Bible either.

  40. In fact I don’t have to show a thing about my moral beliefs (which are by the way of course against slavery.)

    That’s a fair point, although of course you should note that your moral beliefs about slavery are of course purely due to the times you live in. A few hundred years ago you would not have been against slavery – very few people were other than those Christians who founded the abolition movement.

    And the contradiction between his present beliefs which he thinks are absolutes and the revelation by his God, who seemingly thought coveting of asses more important in the grand scheme of things, than the centuries of suffering slaves.

    It depends what you mean by absolutes. Christians have always believed in loving your neighbour and that human rights are grounded in our equal standing before God. Working out the consequences of these beliefs in the culture you’re in is another thing altogether.

    Coveting probably is more important in the grand scheme of things. If people didn’t covet, we wouldn’t have slavery.

  41. Bill LaBarre,

    Cambridge philosopher G.E. Moore observed that “the property of goodness is simple and unanalyzable, and in particular is unanalyzable in non-moral terms.” He likened it to trying to define the color yellow (or any color for that matter). Unless you were born blind you know what I mean when I say yellow. Moral goodness like yellow, then, is an irreducible concept. If you have any kind of moral sense, you know what it means. In other words, we can only pursue this definition game so far.

    Nevertheless, I think there are a few more things we can say about good or goodness from a biblical perspective that will maybe bring us a little more clarity.

    For example, morality from a Biblical perspective is seen the context of relationship– actually a couple of relationships. First of all, there is the relationship between the Creator and the creature– between God and man. Second, there is the relationship between human beings– friendship, family, community etc. How many of the worlds problems can be traced to broken relationships? I think a lot. So what is good on a human level? What is good in terms of relationships? How do you want to be treated? Is that the way you treat others? Isn’t that what we call the golden rule?

    What then about the relationship with God? I think two words define our relationship with God. The first is trust; the second is respect. We trust God with purpose and plan he has revealed to us and we respect him as the Creator. He made us. We didn’t make him. Of course, one way to respect him is to respect his creation– other people and other creatures.

    You mentioned the 2004 tsunami. Do you know that a ten year old British school girl, Tilly Smith, was credited for saving at least a hundred lives because of what she learned about tsunamis in her geography class. She saw the warning signs she had learned and that was just enough time for her and her father to warn others and get them to higher ground… Nations around the Pacific had a tsunami warning system in place. Why wasn’t there one in place for the Indian Ocean?

    Of course, what I have described above is what the OT taught, and what Jesus taught in the Gospels (see Luke 10:25-28).

  42. BigBird

    I f you look at the link I provided (you will have to copy it because clicking on it doen’t work, don’t know why)

    The guy in the link cites Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Christ as stating: that slavery is against human nature. So if Philo knew this why didn’t Jesus or Paul?

    An all knowing God must have known the suffering that would be caused by slavery in the centuries to come. Never mind that some sorts of slavery were not so bad. Most were terrible. And God knew he could prevent them. BUt he chose to condemn the coveting of the ass.

  43. bigbird,

    I’m not sure what to say other than you didn’t deal with the issues. You seem to want an “out” by saying that the earlier forms of slavery were not as bad as later ones. But We’ve already shown that beating a slave was permissible by Biblical standards. I’m simply pointing out that the OT God certainly did not have a problem with this and that slope perhaps lead to later horrible acts. Just saying that these aren’t exactly the same does not excuse the lack of foresight or instruction from God. (Perhaps he is pro-abortion since nearly 50% of pregnancies self-terminate in a natural abortion – a miscarriage).

  44. JAD,
    Maybe you can see some of the problems we are going to have when you ask about a view of absolute morality in a naturalistic framework when your own definitions may include reference to God and the Bible. If we can’t agree on a basic starting point, I’m not sure what we can say. At best, neither the naturalist nor the Theist would be in a position to criticize the other. We would simply be talking about different things.

    The only thing I see that we may be able to use is when you say ” If you have any kind of moral sense, you know what it means.”

    Is this then what you would like to use?

  45. Dirkvg,

    You clearly do not understand the OT concept of debt servitude. As I said above in comment #9, “For Hebrew ebeds it was temporary (lasting 6 years) and contractual. And, for an agrarian ANE society it was very humane.” If you looked at the issue objectively you should, and would, see that. Your belief that slavery is wrong is something that cannot be justified from a naturalistic world view, because it’s just the way humans evolved. Apparently it’s something that you have arbitrarily just chosen to believe. However, you have no right, on naturalism, to pretend that it’s a moral absolute just to win an argument.

  46. Bill LaBarre,

    It’s one thing to compare slavery then with our views now. It’s another thing to compare slavery then with slavery then.

    None of us can imagine living in those days. Even the cities of first-century Greece and Rome were filthy, crowded, and noisy beyond all contemporary imagination. There’s a lot we can’t understand about other cultures.

    So why then did God not tell them 3,000 years ago what we understand now to be true?

    I think that cultures need to grow up, just as children need to grow up. I think that a contemporary understanding of slavery would have been as unimaginable to them then, as the common ANE (Ancient Near East) view of it is to us now. It would be like dropping a fourth-century Italian into Rome today and expecting him to know how to navigate not only its streets but its economy.

    Revelation is progressive: we learn more about God as time goes on, and we learn more about ourselves. We learn more about what’s in keeping with God’s truth. We don’t learn it all at once because it’s too much to digest. I’m speaking of cultures as well as of people: cultures have periods of inability to understand, and as time goes on, they learn.

    That’s my understanding of why God didn’t explain the whole story about slavery back then, and it’s parallel to the reason he also didn’t explain Ohm’s Law.

    We know more now. Where did we learn it from? From Scripture, especially the doctrine of equal creation in God’s image, and equality in the light of the Cross. We learned it from Jesus’ teachings to love one another. Empirically, historically, it’s undeniable: it was from the Bible that we learned not to keep slaves.

    Sure, there have been sorry circumstances where persons have misused the Bible to support slavery. It would be silly to blame that on the Bible, though. The real cause of it was the same human desire for power and to subjugate others that causes every kind of economic and interpersonal power-related sin. In the American South, the Bible was thrown in on top of it, misinterpreted and distorted, to provide cover for what a proper understanding of the Bible could never support.

    Christians supported slavery, obviously. I’ll grant that at all times. Christianity (the faith itself, biblically understood) undermined slavery in Greece and Rome, and within a relatively short time caused its disappearance.

    So while the OT is not easy to understand on slavery and other matters, the NT is clearer, and its effect on history is obvious. And it has been good.

  47. Dirkvg:

    The guy in the link cites Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Christ as stating: that slavery is against human nature. So if Philo knew this why didn’t Jesus or Paul?

    Are you sure of this?

    I invite you to find a supporting text for this on the Internet. I tried, and I was unable to do so.

  48. Your source in the video also QUITE FALSELY says “the Bible never told them [the slave traders] not to do that.

    Exodus 21:16.

    1 Timothy 1:8-10.

    No wonder your views are distorted. Your sources are.

    “Slavery is against human nature,” according to his quotation of Philo. As I read the sources in Philo that I’ve been able to find, he was speaking on a different level, a level of moral discussion having to do with one’s control over oneself. See also here.

    I’m no student of Philo, and I patiently await someone’s further instruction on it.

    For now, though, I am certain your source misquoted and misrepresented the Bible. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that he had done the same with Philo.

  49. I’m not sure what to say other than you didn’t deal with the issues. You seem to want an “out” by saying that the earlier forms of slavery were not as bad as later ones. But We’ve already shown that beating a slave was permissible by Biblical standards. I’m simply pointing out that the OT God certainly did not have a problem with this and that slope perhaps lead to later horrible acts.

    I’m saying 1) your conception of slavery is not the same as ANE slavery as practised by the Jews. I’m further pointing out that 2) eliminating it from that society was not possible at that time. For those in debt it actually offered a way out.

    I should also point out that regulation does not mean “God certainly did not have a problem with this”!

    Do you think God doesn’t have a problem with divorce simply because he permitted it explicitly in law?

    No, God permitted divorce because in some cases it was preferable to forcing people to remain married. It was a practical measure, not an endorsement. And in ANE society, slavery was also a practical measure. It does not mean it was ideal, just like divorce is not ideal.

    Just saying that these aren’t exactly the same does not excuse the lack of foresight or instruction from God.

    Do you think “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemies” is lack of foresight?

    (Perhaps he is pro-abortion since nearly 50% of pregnancies self-terminate in a natural abortion – a miscarriage).

    That’s little different to saying perhaps God is pro-death because 100% of us die.

  50. Bill LaBarre,

    The only thing I see that we may be able to use is when you say ” If you have any kind of moral sense, you know what it means.”

    Is this then what you would like to use?

    Yes, from my point of view I think that is on the right track. I think the Apostle Paul talks about a moral sense or conscience. He writes in Romans chapter 2:

    14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

    The question is, is our moral sense, without any kind of foundation, sufficient for us to live a moral life and create a moral and just society? Is it sufficient basis for something like universal human rights? For example, from an naturalistic evolutionary perspective we’re somehow hardwired with a moral sense, but people from different backgrounds have different moral beliefs. Who is right and who is wrong? Is there a right and wrong beyond our own personal perspective? How would we know? How could we ever settle such questions?

  51. bigbird,

    “1) your conception of slavery is not the same as ANE slavery as practised by the Jews.”

    My concept is derived directly from Exodus 21: 20-21. What have I said that is not in line with this?

    “2) eliminating it from that society was not possible at that time.”

    God could command people to give up child sacrifice. He called for the Jews to be released from slavery. He told people to love their neighbors as themselves. But you’re telling me that he couldn’t just command the abolition of slavery because of the prevailing economic issues?

    Remember, it is my contention that God could have foreseen the problems caused by slavery and made explicit statements against it. Wouldn’t you agree that on the whole, throughout history slavery has been a net negative? Do you really think statements telling people just how hard they are permitted to beat their slaves was a good way of showing your general distaste for the kind of slavery that was to come?

    “Do you think “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your enemies” is lack of foresight?”

    It is certainly a mixed message when combined with passages like the Exodus one mentioned above.

    “That’s little different to saying perhaps God is pro-death because 100% of us die.”

    We can talk about the killing God commanded and committed on a regular basis to get an idea of what his views of death were. He certainly was pro-death to some extent.

  52. JAD,

    OK, let’s see if we can move forward…

    If we see that morality is in service to the well-being of sentient creatures, then we have a framework from which to begin. Morality then becomes an exercise or practice of what brings about well-being. Now well-being can be objectively measured by things like lifespan, health, and happiness. Since humans are interacting in a social environment, we should try to maximize human well-being. Actions which lead to greater well-being, would be good and more moral.

    So from an evolutionary sense, we have our hard-wired understanding. But it does not always lead to the same results because of many factors such as culture and religion. But if well-being is seen as the objective, then we may rightly override ideas about culture and religion.

    Now don’t confuse morality in practice with morality in principle. We may not know right now what will lead to greater well-being (e.g. should I forgo giving my wife a Christmas present and send that money to children in Nepal who are in need of a new water well). But the answers are there, and they are objective. They way of knowing who is right and who is wrong is to do the hard and tedious work of determining the outcomes of our actions.

    That’s the very brief version… now, your questions and objections.

  53. Tom,

    Just saw your post. My problems with it are mostly covered by what I wrote to bigbird. However I want to address this comment:

    “Sure, there have been sorry circumstances where persons have misused the Bible to support slavery. It would be silly to blame that on the Bible, though.”

    You would be right if the Bible itself did not provide rather explicit support for slavery. But it does.

  54. Bill,

    So I’m still not sure. Can I say that the death of 200,000 people by the tsunami was a bad thing?

    Not within the context of naturalism.

    I’m not exactly sure how to answer that within the context of Christian theology, and thank God I don’t need to figure it all out. At the very least I would say it’s tragic, which is bad in some sense, but I don’t think I’d assign it to a moral category.

    By an objective, factual standard for humans, it seems that we could compare humans to other species and say that they have perfect human essence (say as opposed to a chimpanzee). I guess I’m missing what you are trying to say.

    It’s trivially true that humans are more perfectly human than chimps. Not very interesting nor too surprising. Squares are more perfectly square than circles too.

    We do know that some humans are better humans than others, which means some are more perfectly human. By what objective measure are they more perfectly human? That’s an impossible question to answer under naturalism.

    Is there an incorrect way for nature to evolve a living organism such that you could objectively say it was less than perfect at any given point in time? No. It’s incoherent to even try to answer the question without first having an objective standard by which you could compare every human to – just like we did with the triangle. That’s what I meant.

  55. JAD

    You clearly do not understand the OT concept of debt servitude.

    You try to defend this by narrowing it to the OT and the Jews, while the message of the Bible is meant for all men and for all history.

    So your defense misses the point.

    Your belief that slavery is wrong is something that cannot be justified from a naturalistic world view,

    I don’t need naturalism for my argument. Which I demonstrated in 47.
    But which I will repeat for your convenience:

    I’ve seen this tactic so many times before. An atheist makes an argument which a believer finds difficult to counter and the believer sees as the only option out: to try to show that the atheist claim is not an absolute for the atheist.

    In fact I don’t have to show a thing about my moral beliefs (which are by the way of course against slavery.

    It is the believer who believes in the absolute evil of slavery, and it is in his holy scriptures that slavery is not openly condemned but even condoned. As many Christians took for granted for centuries.

    The problem is his. And the contradiction between his present beliefs which he thinks are absolutes and the revelation by his God, who seemingly thought coveting of asses more important in the grand scheme of things, than the centuries of suffering slaves.

  56. Dirkvg, you say,

    You try to defend this by narrowing it to the OT and the Jews, while the message of the Bible is meant for all men and for all history.

    That is breathtakingly ignorant. And yet you speak it with utter confidence.

    Did you not know that the New Testament was written after the Old Testament? Did you not know that in the New Testament, some (not all, but some) of the Old Testament law was set aside?

    Did you not know that the Mosaic law was a mix of moral, ceremonial, and civil law? Did you not know that the civil law was never intended to be transported unchanged into every other context of civil law? Did you not know that much of the law concerning how persons relate to God—ceremonial law—was fulfilled or made complete in Jesus Christ, so that its requirements no longer need to be carried out by the rest of us?

    Did you not know these things?

    Did you know that you did not know them?

    Then why on earth do you approach this conversation with such calm assurance of your superior knowledge about these very things?

    Doesn’t it bother you to find that what you believe so confidently to be true, turns out to be based on nothing but a vapor of not-knowing?

    If nothing else, Dirkvg, if nothing else: for your own sake, would you please give up your misplaced confidence in what you do not know? For unless you give up your unreal certainties, you can never learn what is real.

  57. Let me add this, Dirkvg. I phrased that last comment of mine incorrectly. It is not your ignorance that’s breathtaking; it’s not at all uncommon to run into people who don’t know how the Bible fits together. What took my breath away was your supreme assurance that you knew what you were talking about, when to me and to the rest of us it’s clear that you do not.

    You see, it’s not your lack of knowledge that I fault. If you had asked, for example, “But isn’t the Bible meant to apply to all times?” that would have revealed the same not-knowing, but it would have been a good question and I would have been glad to work with it.

    What I fault in you, Dirkvg, is your unwillingness to recognize that on certain topics here—not all topics but some definitely relevant ones—your interlocutors here know more than you do. It’s also your failure to take a learning stance because (it appears) you’re sure that you already know.

    Once I coached a team of very young boys in baseball. I wasn’t the head coach (manager), but I was there with the boys to help. (Readers who don’t know baseball will still get the point, I’m sure.)

    On the first day of practice, when I hadn’t yet had time to get to know any of the boys, I was standing in short right field. One of our boys had taken up the first base position. He was standing right on the bag, which isn’t the bast place to play the position, so I told him, “It’s better if you move off the bag a few feet toward second base.”

    He turned and looked at me, and said, “I don’t have to listen to you!” Then he turned back to looking toward home plate.

    Well, that told me I was off to a great start! I answered, “If you do, you can learn something about baseball.”

    He looked at me again and said, “I already know everything about baseball.”

    He didn’t, obviously, and he proved it all season long. Not only that, but he didn’t learn anything that season, as far as I could tell.

    I’m not equating you with a little boy, Dirkvg; in fact, it would be better if I could, in a way: not to that boy, but rather to the vast majority, who know that they don’t know, and who are wide open to learning and to discovery.

    I’m not equating you to a little boy, but I do see something in common between him and you: you act as if you believe you already know everything you need to know about our topics here.

    You may take that as an insult; I don’t know, that’s up to you. I advise you to let the feelings roll over you and then think hard about whether, even though it hurts, it might be true anyway.

  58. Tom

    I was raised a catholic, so I am aware of all the points you mention.

    It is you who amaze me by taking one sentence and taking it out of the context of my other posts on this thread and out of the context of my discussion with JAD.
    And by supposing I have no idea what the Bible is about.

    Maybe you failed to notice that I raised the problem of slavery again and again, in the context of the ten commandments. Commandments which are meant not only for the Jews in the OT, but also for all men since.

    Do I have to teach you or what?

    So JAD limiting the discussion to the OT, is wrong.

    This is just one of several of your tactics in discussion:

    – overloading the opponent with a mountain of unanswerable questions

    – based on a quote out of context or a quote interpreted in the most unfavorablee way, accusing the opponent of being completely ignorant

    it seems to me that, as it is used in this discussion in the question of slavery, that these are dishonest tactics used when driven in a corner

    and as you wrote:

    You may take that as an insult; I don’t know, that’s up to you. I advise you to let the feelings roll over you and then think hard about whether, even though it hurts, it might be true anyway.

  59. Bill LaBarre,

    I have a feeling you’re rather bewildered by Christians’ willingness to look at OT slavery the way we are here. At some point in the near future I’m going to write a blog post on why we would give these passages the benefit of the doubt, for we certainly are doing that. There are reasons for it. I’ll try to explain that soon.

  60. SteveK,

    I guess I just don’t know how to relate your concepts of “good” and “bad” to morality. It seems to me you are talking about ideals rather then using these in a framework for talking about what is morally right or wrong.

    Perhaps I am wrong about what you mean. You also said this:

    -So I’m still not sure. Can I say that the death of 200,000 people by the tsunami was a bad thing?

    “Not within the context of naturalism.”

    But if you look at how I have defined morality in terms of the well-being of sentient creatures, I can then say that the results of tsunami were a bad thing. Granted the tsunami ITSELF was not good nor bad. But the results clearly were bad under naturalism.

  61. Tom,
    I understand the willingness. It’s a very difficult issue of morality where, from a modern point of view, we seem to have surpassed the morality of the Bible. You may be right that it was the NT teachings that lead to the societal changes, but it’s going to be a hard case to make for it seems that many non-Christian nations throughout time have seen the injustice of slavery.

    There are some things to address (perhaps in your post)…

    -Exodus 20: 20-21 seems to explicitly condone beating your slaves as an option.

    -God was perfectly willing to forbid many things from child sacrifice, to the making of graven images. He would have known the horrors committed through centuries of slavery. But he did not specifically condemn it. Certainly economics is not an insurmountable obstacle.

    I do look forward to your post.

  62. Dirkvg,

    You show no evidence that you understand that the OT is describing a system of debt servitude that was very humane for the primitive, tribal Israelite culture that existed in Palestine at that time in history. Was it ideal? No… No human economic system has been ideal, including our modern one. It’s very apparent that you’re taking the word *slave*, as you understand it in the modern western sense, and projecting your meaning, where ever you find it, just to find fault with the biblical text and Biblical teaching. (BTW “s-l-a-v-e” is not a word in the original Hebrew– you know that, right?)

    You’re the one with the absolutist concepts, not me. I’m willing to accept the idea that there has been an evolution of human rights since ancient times– just read history. However, that evolution has been largely based on the moral-ethical picture of man that has primarily emerged out of Jewish-Christian thought. That is what you have to conclude looking at this subject in a fair, honest scholarly way.

    Since you’re the one with the absolutist concepts, you’re the one who needs to justify your thinking from your world view.

  63. The introductory lines on the wikipedia about Human Trafficking are these:

    Human trafficking is the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or for the extraction of organs or tissues,[1][2] including surrogacy and ova removal.[3] Trafficking is a lucrative industry, representing an estimated $32 billion per year in international trade, compared to the estimated annual $650 billion for all illegal international trade circa 2010.[4]

    On the measure of the amount of people trafficked, the page says this:

    There are many different estimates of how large the human trafficking and sex trafficking industries are. According to scholar Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People (2004), estimates that as many as 27 million people are in “modern-day slavery” across the globe.[41][42] In 2008, the U.S. Department of State estimates that 2 million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade.[43] In the same year, a study classified 12.3 million individuals worldwide as “forced laborers, bonded laborers or sex-trafficking victims.” Approximately 1.39 million of these individuals worked as commercial sex slaves, with women and girls comprising 98%, or 1.36 million, of this population.[44]

    It is really ironic hearing people talk about how we have morally improved (which I happen to agree with) without attention to the historical circumstances of what slavery meant in OT times, without attention to the historical debates about slavery and what *assumptions* were used to argue against it, or even without attention to the present circumstances, which allows these abysmally ignorant comments being produced while sitting comfortably and behind the safety of a computer screen, oblivious to the simple fact that in no insignificant part, the West’s affluency is built on the back of exploiting other people’s and other people’s resources. It is very easy to blast our forefathers, when the computer you are typing in was probably assembled in some sweat shop in China where 12-year old children work in slave labor conditions and hardly earn enough for a hot meal a day. It is very easy to blast our forefathers, when whatever scraps of moral intuitions we have we owe them; and once the pillars they used to argue are gone, what are you going to appeal to? The idea of the dignity of every human being can be traced fairly accurately to an historical event: the birth of Christianity; we are all God’s creations, with a single, essencial human nature, and worthy in His eyes. These deep metaphysical intuitions are now replaced by a wishy-washy, vapid consequentialism, supposedly justified by our evolutionary history (that is supposed to justify what?), that is to morality what lynching is to justice.

  64. Bill,

    It seems to me you are talking about ideals rather then using these in a framework for talking about what is morally right or wrong.

    They are ideals, but perhaps not in the way we typically use the term. How else can you judge something real to be less than ideal? Go back to the triangle example. To be morally wrong, means it falls short of the ideal.

    But the results clearly were bad under naturalism.

    I repeat, you lack the objective standard that allows you to make that judgement. All you have is how you have defined morality, but that’s not objective at all. You could just as easily define it some other way or use the definition supplied to you by a 5th grader.

    Of course, I expect you to object to this last sentence, which only proves my point that there actually is some objective standard that your rational mind is grasping for, but cannot find under naturalism.

    In who or in what does that standard exist under naturalism? There is nothing.

  65. @Bill LaBarre
    you are continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again.
    You are imposing your assumptions and ignorance on the Biblical texts, rather than trying to understand it in its own historical and cultural setting first – a guaranteed prescription for coming to the wrong conclusions!

    You are hanging your argument on one passage (Exodus 21:20-21) without looking at its complete context. It sits in a section of case law (“If this, then that”) ; examples of specific issues rather than abstract generalizations.

    Where is your analysis of the complete context of this section of case law? How does it fit into the context of the Mosaic Law, in the historical-cultural context of the Ancient Near East, and in the context of what the Prophets had to say about how the Israelites failed to live up to the covenant between the nation and God?

    If you don’t see that these examples are designed to regulate and limit the abuses of practices that were basically the accepted norm in the ANE, then you are asking the wrong questions.

    First, what, exactly, is the institution of slavery in the ANE a corruption of? What would its legitimate counterpart look like?
    What assumptions in the context of an ANE agrarian society are implicit here? Hint: consider the necessity (in any age) of a hierarchical, organized labour force.

    If you can answer these questions, then perhaps you will have a hope of understanding what the case law examples in the Mosaic Law are designed to address.

    Perhaps you should step back a bit and consider the advice given here.

    Also, arguments of the form ‘An omniscient God could have done….’ are pointless. He did what He did what He did – our task as good Bible students is to discern the reasons behind those decisions. Tom already gave you a reasonably good start in his #55 reply to you – I suggest you take it seriously.

  66. Bill LaBarre,

    If we see that morality is in service to the well-being of sentient creatures, then we have a framework from which to begin.

    I think sentience is a very poor foundation for ethics. Peter Singer, however disagrees. He argues:

    In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversible intellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-conscious beings. We saw in our discussion of abortion that the potential of a fetus to become a rational, self-conscious being cannot count against killing it at a stage when it lacks these characteristics – not, that is, unless we are also prepared to count the value of rational self-conscious life as a reason against contraception and celibacy. No infant – disabled or not – has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time.
    http://www.utilitarianism.net/singer/by/1993—-.htm

    And…

    Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term ‘human’ has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater qualities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication and so on than members of any other species, but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be [8]

    Singer therefore concludes that, in those cases, where the parents or society do not desire an infant to live, it is permissible to kill infants. “the main point is clear, killing a disabled person is not morally equivalent to killing a person very often it’s not wrong at all”.[13] This will happen he believes only when the child is disabled.
    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2012/12/peter-singer-on-human-dignity-and-infanticide-part-one.html

    But, on the other hand, if sentience is what is that determines whether or not humans have rights, then don’t animals also have rights? Aren’t they also sentient? Yes, argues Singer:

    If we believe the account of creation given in Genesis, including its divine grant of dominion over all animals, then it makes sense to think that we are justified in using animals for our own purposes, as scientists wish to do.

    But if, on the other hand, we think Darwin was right, and we are all here because of an unplanned process of evolution, there is no reason to assume that human interests should always take precedence over the interests of non-human animals.

    As Jeremy Bentham wrote almost 200 years ago: “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’, nor, ‘Can they talk?’, but ‘Can they suffer?'”

    It may be possible to carry out some experiments on animals that do not cause them to suffer. And it may even be that, consistently with Bentham’s principles, one can imagine situations in which, without treating the interests of animals as less weighty than those of humans, the benefits of an experiment on an animal would outweigh the costs to the animal.

    But the entire institution of animal research, as it exists in Britain today, is based on a different foundation: that animals count for less, and those that we are not especially fond of count for less still.
    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2004/jul/30/research.highereducation

    In other words, rats have rights. (It would be fun to hear someone with a southern accent say that. 🙂 )

    The point is that under naturalism sentience replaces essence as the foundation of morality. Is that a good foundation?

  67. Re: slaves

    God has a goal in mind and he’s trying to get people to take the first steps within the context of their situation. God didn’t need to spell out the entire 78 steps the culture needed to go through to get to that goal. God didn’t need to even say what the goal was. All he needed to say was I am the one true God so listen up people. He continues to say that today and he continues to give us the next steps.

  68. Just to clarify, (comment # 75) Singer sees a spectrum, which all sentient beings, animals as well as humans, are part of. If, as is true early in a animals development, the sentience is low (meaning the organism is not capable of experiencing much pain or suffering) then we should have no ethical problem, according to Singer, terminating it’s life. In other words, being human has no bearing here.

  69. OK, one at a time here…

    I will set the slavery issue aside for now per Victoria’s recommendation. I will review her link and await Tom’s next post on the subject.

  70. SteveK,

    -How else can you judge something real to be less than ideal? Go back to the triangle example. To be morally wrong, means it falls short of the ideal.

    Can you explain how your above 3rd sentence necessarily connects to the previous two? You are saying that is your definition. I am not sure why that is necessarily the case.

    –But the results clearly were bad under naturalism.

    -I repeat, you lack the objective standard that allows you to make that judgement. All you have is how you have defined morality, but that’s not objective at all. You could just as easily define it some other way or use the definition supplied to you by a 5th grader.

    Maybe, but we need definitions for things. We have them for triangles, we need them for morality. Remember my point is to see how we can have an objective morality under naturalism. Can you then define morality for me in a way that we will agree upon? If morality does indeed relate to the well-being of sentient creatures, then we can have an objective morality. I also have to say that it doesn’t seem to make sense to say that a triangle is “morally bad.” That’s why I think you are using the word “bad” as it relates to triangles in a way that is different then how it is used in morality.

    -In who or in what does that standard exist under naturalism? There is nothing.

    Again, the standard exists under objective criteria such as life-span, happiness, and health (just some examples).

    Perhaps you should explain where I have erred in linking morality to the well-being of sentient creatures.

    I view morality the way I view medical science. That is, it is something that is in service to human health. It is objective in the sense that we can make measurements of its criteria. Under naturalism, doesn’t it make sense to tie morality to human well being? If not, why not?

  71. JAD,

    I am not trying to defend Singer’s arguments, even though I largely agree with them and YES, I do think they are a good foundation. However, where morality is concerned, it must be connected to human well-being. What else would it be for under naturalism?

    I know you think my foundation is poor, but it is there and it is objective nonetheless. I have to add that it seems that you think it is poor because you have predetermined certain results (the immorality of abortion, and your wish to not think about the immorality of eating meat) and don’t like what other kinds of ethics may conclude about that. This however does not dismiss that an objective morality is possible under naturalism. Which is the question I am trying to answer.

  72. Bill,

    Can you explain how your above 3rd sentence necessarily connects to the previous two? You are saying that is your definition. I am not sure why that is necessarily the case.

    I will explain below but look at what you are admitting to when you say “necessarily the case”. One of my main points is that morality is objective and your words here admit to it being necessarily a particular real thing that my mind can be mistaken about.

    One difficulty we have is attempting figuring out what that objective reality is. The bigger difficulty (for naturalism) is finding that reality within the framework of its own view. It’s like trying to fit the concept of a square into a framework that has only in curved lines to work with and saying, “trust us, those curved lines sufficently explain the square”. Right. (yes, I like using geometric analogies)

    Now I will explain. How does this

    To be morally wrong, means it falls short of the ideal.

    connect to this?

    How else can you judge something real to be less than ideal? Go back to the triangle example.

    I don’t know any other way to say it than to say: to be wrong means that you’ve fallen short of some truth or you’ve missed the mark in some way. But to miss the mark or fall short of the truth means there’s a mark to hit or a truth to grasp. There’s an objective answer to the question: “How am I wrong?” and that answer involves referring to this mark or this truth.

    That’s the objective ideal I’m talking about. Without it, it makes no sense to use the word ‘wrong’. Without it there’s no way to answer the question: “How am I wrong?”

    More later…

  73. Bill LaBarre,

    Well, this is about a lot more than abortion. For example, Singer also advocates the use infanticide under certain circumstances… Also, his agenda pushes assisted suicide and euthanasia , including involuntary euthanasia… eugenics and cloning… All this leads us directly to the issue of rights for the disabled and elderly (What groups do you think are going to be most directly affected negatively by Singer’s new ethic?) And, of course then there is also the issue of animal “rights”. Furthermore, Singer is not some isolated nut case. This movement has been growing and spreading. For example, euthanasia laws have already been passed in some countries like the Belgium and the Netherlands.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/26/us-belgium-euthanasia-idUSBRE9AP13T20131126

    Foundation? There is no foundation here. Rights are something people want; they’re not something that is forced on them. In American society there has traditionally been very little consensus about enacting this kind of “Brave New World” ideology into law. However, that hasn’t stopped the activists from pushing their agenda. They have shown a willingness to use lawsuits, the courts and coercive tactics to do an “end around” the democratic process. That is not a good foundation.

  74. SteveK,

    Thank you for explaining that. Now I think I see where you are coming from.

    But as I had said, if morality is dependent upon the well-being of sentient creatures, then we also have an ideal (maximum well-being). So it looks as though we both have an answer to the issues of the objectivity of morality.

  75. JAD,

    I don’t know all the specifics of Singer’s views. But my point was to answer your question about how it is possible to have objective morality in naturalism. Even though you probably wont agree with it, it is there.

    I am at a bit of a loss about this statement from you: “Rights are something people want; they’re not something that is forced on them.”

    First, I have not mentioned rights at all, so I wonder why you are bringing it up. Second, are you saying that people only have rights because and IF they want them?

  76. JAD,

    Do you have any links for Singer’s views on involuntary euthanasia, and infanticide? I’m having a hard time finding anything (other than Wikipedia which is not helpful).

  77. Bill LaBarre,

    You don’t see the connection between your moral beliefs and human rights? Why did Plato write The Republic? Do you know? Does he say anything about morality? Jesus grounded Christian moral beliefs in two commands: “Love God with all your heart… love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-28) How can you love your neighbor without respecting his rights. Who is your neighbor? Someone asked Jesus that question. Do you know what he answered?

    Do you believe in freedom of speech? Freedom of thought, conscience and belief? Freedom of association and assembly? Did someone force those rights on you, or do they seem to fit you and human society naturally? If they do, why have they been denied people for so much of human history?

    (For infanticide and involuntary euthanasia see my first link @ #75.)

  78. Bill,

    But as I had said, if morality is dependent upon the well-being of sentient creatures, then we also have an ideal (maximum well-being). So it looks as though we both have an answer to the issues of the objectivity of morality.

    You are close enough that I will agree and not quibble over other details. Now you need to answer the question I ended with back in #73?

    In who or in what does that standard exist under naturalism?

    One of the reasons this cannot be answered by naturalism is because it requires this objective standard to be immutable and eternal (not contingent). For the record, matter and energy are not immutable things – not that it really matters though.

    But the most damning reason why this cannot be answered by naturalism is that this same objective standard, this ideal, must be something that is itself moral. I can explain why some other time.

  79. JAD,

    I see now what you are saying about rights. I just wasn’t sure what your point was in the previous post; it seemed disconnected from the rest of the discussion.

    It also does not seem necessary for the purpose of answering your question about how we can derive an objective morality that says slavery is wrong – it is wrong because it hinders the well-being of sentient creatures.

    Well, I think I’ve answered your question and you don’t seem to have a serious objection to it other than you don’t like the outcome for some cases.

    So with involuntary euthanasia he is talking about killing someone who is experiencing intolerable suffering and is not capable of communicating. Is that correct?

    And in the case of infanticide it is a similar case, right?

    I don’t see the issue with the first. The second one I will grant you but it dose not seem to flow from the necessity of a naturalistic world view.

  80. SteveK,

    “In who or in what does that standard exist under naturalism?”

    Again, the standard exists for sentient creatures. If there are no sentient creatures, morality is useless, just as medicine is useless without subjects to keep well. So just as medicine is objective and its standards are keeping humans well, morality is as well.

    I don’t see that is has to be eternal or immutable. It is objective to say that the moon pulls on the earth (gravity) but before the moon and earth existed, this was not true. Many objective things are contingent in this way.

  81. Medicine is “objective”? In what sense? Objective morality is usually understood as values or duties that would be good or bad, right or wrong, whether or not any human agreed with them. Is objective medicine to be understood as medicine that would be good or bad, right or wrong, whether or not any human agreed with it?

    The question matters because either “objective” means the same thing on both sides of the analogy, or else you’re committing the fallacy of equivocation.

  82. For the interested readers, this is the more complete context of Exodus 21:20-21

    “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
    13  “But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.
    14  “If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.
    15  “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
    16  “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.
    17  “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
    18  “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed,
    19  if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.
    20  “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.
    21  “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.
    22  “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.
    23  “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,
    24  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
    25  burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
    26  “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye.
    27  “And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.
    28  “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.
    29  “If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
    30  “If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him.
    31  “Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to 2the same rule.
    32  “If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
    33  “If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
    34  the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.
    35  “If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox.
    36  “Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ex 21:12–36). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    Let’s do a bit of analysis on this text:
    1. It should be clear, even in an English translation, that the intent of this text is to proscribe penalties for injuries inflicted on a person, either directly by another person, or indirectly (as with farm animals owned by a person), not to determine what actions are condoned by the law.
    2. The cases are ordered according to perpetrator/victim/severity of injury and corresponding severity of penalty, rather than separate sections for free persons and slaves.

    . However, one should note the parallelism in the structure, especially in Exodus 21:18-21: If a man strikes another and that person dies, then [penality], else if that person is severely injured but does not die then [penality] else [ruling].

    If we concentrate on the sections that refer to slaves, we have

    20  “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.
    21  “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.
    26  “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye.
    27  “And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

    Now the if then else if structure is more obvious.

    The questions we need to ask are
    (a) What is the significance of strikes….with a rod?
    (b) What is the grammatical relationship between vs 20 and vs 21?
    (c) What does “if he survives a day or two” in vs 21 actually mean, in Hebrew, in the light of (b)?
    (d) What is the significance of “property” at the end of vs 21?

    Answers:
    (a) the word ‘rod’ in vs 21 is Hebrew shebet (986d); from an unused word; rod, staff, club, scepter, tribe:—club(4), correction(1), half-tribe*(22), rod(27), scepter(11), scepters(1), spears(1), staff(1), tribe(40), tribes(83).

    Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

    It has many contextual nuances, but the combination of strike and rod appears very commonly in the context of correction and discipline or judgement (see 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 89:32, Proverbs 10:13, Proverbs 26:3 for some examples ( a LOGOS search for this form of the word generates 71 hits….)
    Thus, in this context, vs 21 could be referring to a case where a man intends to discipline his slave for a (presumably) justifiable reason. In that case, it means “If a man disciplines his slave….if the slave dies, then the master is to be punished (Exodus 21:12 could conceivably apply, although this is not clear). It could also be judged as a case of unintentional death or injury – presumably this would be for the judges to decide.

    (b/c) if the slave does not die, but survives for two or three days:
    From the grammatical structure of vs 20-21, we see that the two are in opposition to each other, so to interpret vs 21 as equivalent to ‘if the slave lives for a few days and then dies” is wrong, on two counts:

    The word ‘survives’ is Hebrew amad (763c); a prim. root; to take one’s stand, stand:—abiding(1), act(1), appoint(2), appointed(15), arise(11), arisen(1), arose(3), attend*(1), attended(1), broke(1), changed(1), confirmed(2), continue(1), defend(2), delay(2), endure(5), endures(4), enduring(1), enter(1), entered(2), erected(1), establish(1), established(2), establishing(1), fixed(1), fulfill(1), gives stability(1), halt(1), halted(1), hung(6), join(1), last(1), living(1), make a stand(1), oppose(1), opposed(2), persists(1), place(1), placed(2), present(3), presented(1), presented*(1), propped(2), quake(1), raise(2), raised(1), refrain(1), rely(1), remain(5), remained(4), remains(5), replaces*(1), represent(1), resist*(1), restore(2), restored(2), retains(1), rise(2), rose(1), serve(1), served(3), served*(4), service*(3), serving(1), set(12), sets(3), stand(121), stand still(1), standing(67), standing upright(2), stands(15), station(1), stationed(8), stay(8), stayed(2), staying(1), stood(110), stood firm(1), stood still(11), stop(3), stopped(9), survives(1), take a stand(1), take their stand(1), took his stand(1), took their stand(1), wait(1), waited(1), withstand(1), withstand*(1), withstanding(1).

    Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

    and also, given the Hebrew parallelism with the surrounding context as in vs 18-19…

    so the functional intent of the phrase is to indicate that the slave recovers after a few days, the law proscribes no penalty (just as it did not proscribe a penalty for the case described in vs 19). In vs 19, the perpetrator was responsible for his opponent’s medical treatment and lost wages. And this is how the NIV and NLT renders Exodus 21:21 NIV

    (d) for the slave, this is where the nuance of the word translated as ‘property’ comes in.
    The word is Hebrew כֶּסֶף keseph (494a); from 3700; silver, money:—fine(2), fine silver(2), money(100), pay(1), price(10), property(1), purchase price(1), silver(284), silver from the money(1).

    Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

    The master has already invested money for his slave (as in the case of indentured servants – the master has paid off the person’s debts in exchange for services rendered, for example). In this case, the master loses the productivity of the injured worker until he or she recovers, still has to provide food, clothing and shelter for the injured person, and would most likely have to see to the person’s medical treatment as well.

    Finally, if the master causes any kind of permanent injury to his slaves, for any reason, then the slave is automatically freed – all debts are paid in full, effectively.

    Thus, far from condoning the practice of using corporeal punishment to discipline one’s underlings, common sense alone tells us that this is referring to the penalties and consequences of using that form of discipline if it results in injury.

    The keys to understanding the Law and the Prophets are well-known: Jesus (and Jewish legal experts) in the 1st century told us exactly what they are, so we don’t have to guess – see Matthew 22:35-40 and the parallels in Luke 10:25-28 and Mark 12:28-31:

    One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
    36  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
    37  And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
    38  “This is the great and foremost commandment.
    39  “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
    40  “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 22:35–40). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    If you want to understand the OT Law and Prophets, you must think in the larger context of those two principles, at least.

    So, how does ‘owning slaves’ fit into that context, then?
    Well, for indentured servants, love your neighbor as yourself would certainly mean, if you had the resources to do so, you’d help the poor guy out with his debts in any case, and a fair, time-limited exchange of services for debt payments is not unreasonable – the poor man keeps his dignity because he is doing useful, productive work, perhaps even learning a skill that will help him for the rest of his life. For an agrarian society with no state welfare system, is this not a prime example of applying the principle? For the master, loving your neighbor as yourself is going to mean compassion and kindness in those instances where correction or disciplining of one’s underlings is warranted. The Law provides recourse where a master fails to abide by the second greatest commandment

  83. Tom,

    “Medicine is “objective”? In what sense? Objective morality is usually understood as values or duties that would be good or bad, right or wrong, whether or not any human agreed with them. Is objective medicine to be understood as medicine that would be good or bad, right or wrong, whether or not any human agreed with it?”

    Medicine is objective in the sense that you can make someone more healthy and verify that through objective methods. Medicine is the practice of bringing about good health, so objective medicine would only be understood as “good” or “bad” in the sense that it accomplishes the goal (in this case, it is not MORALLY good or bad). And yes, in both cases no human has to agree.

  84. Victoria,

    What if the owner had used something like a whip or a crop to beat the slave… seems there would be a lot less chance of doing permanent damage. Do you think they may have had something like that in mind?

    I’m going to bed everyone. I will check for replies in the morning.
    Have a good night

  85. @Bill LaBarre

    What if the owner had used something like a whip or a crop to beat the slave… seems there would be a lot less chance of doing permanent damage. Do you think they may have had something like that in mind?

    That’s what you took away from this text!!??
    Unbelievable! Am I wasting my time with you??

  86. Dear Readers
    The next step in our understanding of Exodus 21 would be to correlate the case law examples with the original laws, commandments and statutes, given elsewhere in the Mosaic Law that each case represents a breaking thereof. But I’ll leave that for another time.

  87. Victoria,

    I can’t tell you if you’re wasting your time. This is just a question. I did not ONLY take that away from this text, but it is rather what seems to a possibility remaining. Of course I know that no one here would support something like that.

    I am wondering why the whip was such a preferred method of beating slaves throughout time. In other words, would American slave owners have used that as their reasoning?

  88. I would argue that in Matthew 7:12 Jesus gives us an objective starting point for human morals and ethics:

    12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

    Let’s first look at the first clause: “whatever you wish that others would do to you…” Let me ask you a question. Do you know how you want to be treated by other people? Can you articulate that? Can you list some of your basic needs? Do you think other people can do that as well? Do you think as human beings we could find some agreement here?

    Do you see how this provides an objective basis for morals and ethics? It’s like the human experience of perceiving the color yellow. In one sense that experience is subjective; in another sense it’s objective, because it’s a shared human experience. If you can see color, you know what it is like for me to see yellow. So in that sense it’s objective. I think we can say the same thing about human needs. We have a basic idea what other people need because of our shared human experience.

    I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs gives us a good overall description of human needs. Often represented as a pyramid, the hierarchy begins at the bottom with safety, security and physiological needs (food, water, clothing & shelter etc) then moves up to our needs for love, belonging and esteem and caps it off with our need for self actualization. (Notice that much of the upper two-thirds of the pyramid is not something we share with other sentient beings. So basing human ethics on sentience is really dumbing it down.)

    However, what if we have a person who is very dependent? They just need to have someone to take care of them. Or, we have another person who is very domineering. They have a “need” for power. That’s where the second clause “do also to them” provides something of a check and balance. This ethic is built on the idea of reciprocation. So while there are people who are completely dependent on others, if you are capable of reciprocating you are obligated to do so. Of course, I would also question if a “need” for power is really a need. But if someone thinks they have what it takes to be in a leadership role, they should then also think, without using it as a rationalization for their own desire for self fulfillment, how their being a leader is going to benefit others.

  89. JAD,

    I’m sure you are aware the “Golden Rule” goes back quite a bit further than Jesus. And of course I think this is a good guideline that we would also use in a naturalistic morality as well – so it looks like we agree.

    As for dumbing down ethics, I think it’s better to see it as extending empathy to others. This is something Christians became better and better at over time. Once, protections from slavery were for the Jews. It was extended later to all people as Tom pointed out – great, moral progress!

    So if we can we should extend empathy and being treated as we would like to be treated to all beings that are capable of suffering. That is why we have seen the elimination of cat burning as once practiced in France, and we are beginning to see a general distaste for bull-fighting, even in Spain. I just watched the movie “Blackfish” last night… very disturbing, and I hope we continue with extending moral progress to other sentient creatures.

  90. @Bill LaBarre

    Well, if that is what you think, prove it by showing us your analysis of the Biblical text. Otherwise, you are just reading your own presuppositions into the text – what you think it should say, rather than what it does say.

  91. I’ve already answered it. The Biblical text speaks for itself.
    You claimed that the case law example of Exodus 21:20-21 condones beating of slaves. I showed from the context that you have no idea of what you are talking about.

    While the text could support an owner’s right to discipline his underlings, it most definitely does not support his right to inflict physical injury or death without consequences.

    Have you read the reference link I pointed you to? Do you want to get into those principles?

    Have you read yet what the Prophets had to say about this sort of thing?

    If you did, then you’d know that God took the Israelites to task for failing to obey all of the requirements of the two greatest commandments.

    Did it occur to you that you are committing the same intepretational evils that American and European slave owners made when they twisted the Bible in support of their own evil and avaricious agendas? Well, they are all dead now, and have had to give an account for their deeds to Almighty God.

    The only understanding of this text that is consistent with the two greatest commandments is “do NOT mistreat your slaves at all”.
    You seem to have the mistaken idea that the text allows any amount of physical beating, so long as it doesn’t result in severe physical injury or death. How is that consistent with the requirement to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’?

  92. Forgive me Victoria, I don’t really see where you have shown me that the practice is not condoned. I do see this:

    “Thus, in this context, vs 21 could be referring to a case where a man intends to discipline his slave for a (presumably) justifiable reason. In that case, it means “If a man disciplines his slave….if the slave dies, then the master is to be punished (Exodus 21:12 could conceivably apply, although this is not clear). It could also be judged as a case of unintentional death or injury – presumably this would be for the judges to decide.”

    This seems to be talking about severity. I think we are in agreement there. But I don’t see where something like using a whip would have been condemned.

    I have not read what the Prophets have written.

    I also ask for your patients; I am new to this.

  93. “Did it occur to you that you are committing the same intepretational evils that American and European slave owners made when they twisted the Bible in support of their own evil and avaricious agendas?”

    -I’m just trying to understand the system of thought that was used by the people writing the OT and former slave owners who would use it to support their beliefs. I could be making a mistake; that is what I am trying to find out.

    “The only understanding of this text that is consistent with the two greatest commandments is “do NOT mistreat your slaves at all”.
    You seem to have the mistaken idea that the text allows any amount of physical beating, so long as it doesn’t result in severe physical injury or death.”

    -Let me look at this again:
    20 “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.

    -I am just having a hard time seeing this as saying anything other than beating slaves too severely will be met with consequences. I will grant that it does not say that they MUST be beaten. But it does seem to presuppose that slaves will be beaten.

    21 “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

    – This seems to be saying that they should not be been too severely. This is what I’m wondering would have given the “rationale” for slave owners to use something like a whip since death or severe injury would be far less likely.

    “How is that consistent with the requirement to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’?”

    -Christians go to war believing that they love their enemies. Christian wardens and governors execute people believing they love everyone. They perform corporal punishment with that same belief. Holding inconsistent ideas in ones head is just all to easy.

    -Did God love the people he had killed during the flood or those he ordered the Israelites to go to war with? From a secular point of view, the Biblical God sends people that he supposedly loves to eternal damnation and torture. [I am not suggesting you support any of this. I have no idea what your views on this are.]

    -So if you’re asking me if I consider this consistent, the answer is no. But there are a lot of things I see inconsistent in Christianity (and other religions). I am not saying I have a perfect understanding on these issues. That is what I am trying to learn right now.

  94. Bill LaBarre,

    I’m sure you are aware the “Golden Rule” goes back quite a bit further than Jesus.

    Indeed Jesus was not even the first Jew to teach it. A first century B.C. Rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, who died just before Jesus was born, had a similar version of the “Golden Rule”.

    For example, a Gentile once asked Hillel explain the Torah to him while he stood on one foot. Hillel accepted the challenge and answered the man:

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

    Except for being stated negatively Hillel’s version parallels very closely what Jesus taught. Was Jesus influenced by Hillel? Possibly. Remember, Jesus teaching was drawn from the OT. No serious student or scholar argues that Jesus’ teaching was completely original. Plainly, it wasn’t.

    However, it’s been around for two thousand and has had a major shaping the morals and values of western culture. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel and experiment with a naturalistically based ethical system, especially if it dumbs down human ethics by dehumanizing man?

  95. JAD,

    I have always liked that story from Hillel… One of my favorites.

    But it looks like it goes back a few centuries earlier in Indian and Chinese cultures.

    So, why reinvent the wheel? Well, it seems rather necessary in an ever more secular and integrated world. We need to develop a common understanding of what morality is just in order to get along with each other since forcing religious beliefs on others tends not to go well.

    I also don’t see it as “dehumanizing man” but rather attempts to understand what man is.

  96. Victoria,

    I am trying to understand this but I do have some problems with the first site you provided:

    “[From the] Hammurabi code…. if someone was building a house and it collapsed and killed a child, then the builder’s child was also to be killed. There is nothing like that in the Old Testament laws.

    Maybe not EXACTLY like it but there are similar barbarisms like 1 Samuel 15: 3 and Deuteronomy 22: 20-21

    But in general, why not lay out a more moral code? Just because people started out in a very barbaric manner, why not give them a more moral standard to live by that was a huge improvement? People living in very rough/violent societies in modern times can walk away from that; why not the early Jews?

    This is really the only thing I see in the first link that suggests your position:

    “The bible is a collection of books which interpret each other. The law was to be read alongside the prophets and the books of wisdom. Therefore, all the laws were meant to be applied with wisdom, mercy and compassion. Indeed, the prophetic tradition challenges the heartless application of God’s law. The elders who applied the Old Testament laws had much more scope for interpretation and application than contemporary officials.”

    But I don’t (YET) see that there is anything that would forbid the use of beating. By now I’ve looked at several other sources including CARM and they do not seem to say that the passage is anything other than what it looks like. I will begin looking at the second site you provided.

  97. I’ve been busy and lost track of this thread a little, so I haven’t followed up everything at present. But the question below is at the heart of the matter.

    But in general, why not lay out a more moral code? Just because people started out in a very barbaric manner, why not give them a more moral standard to live by that was a huge improvement?

    That’s exactly what Old Testament law did – it gave Israel a far more moral standard to live by than that of the surrounding nations.

    For example, look at how the poor and the alien were treated in Israel. It really was an astonishing model of caring for the less fortunate that far outshines many Western countries even today.

  98. Bigbird,

    The topic is Exodus 21: 20-21

    but also look at 1 Samuel 15: 3 and Deuteronomy 22: 20-21.

    While I could agree that some improvements may have been made, it’s hard to see how these were shining examples.

  99. @Bill
    Because the Bible was never meant to be read apart from having a redeeming relationship with its Author. Until you have that relationship yourself, you will always be on the outside, seeing only faintly what only the Spirit of God can show clearly to those who are His.

    You don’t see God’s Heart, because you don’t yet know Him. You do not see Him as the sovereign Lord and King of Creation, utterly holy and resolutely determined to deal with evil and remove it from His creation in His own good time and according to His purposes, the Judge of all the Earth with the authority to redeem and condemn, and the God of John 3:16. You do not yet see yourself as Isaiah saw himself in Isaiah 6:1-7, and you have not experienced His very real presence (there is no mistaking that, as all of us who are His can attest to).

    If your purpose in reading His Word is to know Him and grow in a relationship of faith and obedience and love with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, then that will be given to you.

    I’d suggest that you concentrate on that first – seek first to know Who Jesus Christ is and what He offers you – He is the focal point of the entire story. Find Him, and that relationship, and let God’s Word accomplish in you what He intends it to accomplish (2 Timothy 3:16), and you will see and understand it in ways that you do not yet know.

    Also, as much as the Bible is God’s Word, it was also human authored, by people living in a particular time and place and culture, so it is only natural that it would address specific issues and concerns of theirs that no longer apply to us, and especially under the New Covenant brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    Because you don’t understand sin and God’s holiness and His resolute plan for His people to be holy as well, you look at Deuteronomy 22:20-21 with derision and puzzlement – you interpret it from your own completely un-Biblical viewpoint and not surprisingly get it completely wrong. You do not understand the difference between being under Law and under Grace.
    Neither have you understood what Tom said back in #55 – to Christians used to walking with God, this work-in-progress model is self-evident.

  100. Victoria,

    I understand and am trying to proceed as though you are correct.

    I hope you understand that I have questions and doubts. These are things that I will eventually need to understand not only for myself, but also if I am to explain them to others.

    Goodnight

  101. I am talking about how law and society worked in those times – it was far advanced over any other society at the time and did exactly what you asked: it gave them “a more moral standard to live by that was a huge improvement”.

    Your quote from 1 Samuel is not part of Old Testament law, but rather a case of God’s exercising judgement on a corrupt nation.

    Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 is an example of how that society valued sexual purity – something not uncommon in many societies. It seems like a harsh penalty for us, probably because in our individualistic society we fail to consider the consequences for society from what we do. In Israel’s society, community was extremely important, and more so than the individual.

    Exodus 21: 20-21 made clear that slave owners were not in sole control of their slaves – they could not do with them as they liked (unlike for example slavery as practised in the US prior to the Civil War). So again it was a significant moral advance.

    We need to be careful not to be too judgmental of a culture so far removed from ourselves without doing the background work to understand both the culture and the times that the culture existed in.

    A bit of reflection helps too. For example, it might be instructive to compare your own country’s (whatever country that might be) treatment of illegal immigrants with Israel’s treatment of aliens. When I look at Australian law, it seems that Israel was far more compassionate.

  102. Bill (waaay back in #89)

    Again, the standard exists for sentient creatures. If there are no sentient creatures, morality is useless, just as medicine is useless without subjects to keep well. So just as medicine is objective and its standards are keeping humans well, morality is as well.

    I don’t have a problem with this if I am understanding you correctly, although the part about being useless if no human exists is irrelevant.

    I don’t see that is has to be eternal or immutable.

    If you think it through, I think you will see it must. Tell me if this sounds reasonable to you.

    This standard of “maximum human good” is the same for all humans throughout the ages. It doesn’t change over time. It has no potential to change either. If it did have that potential, it could become less than the maximum human good. This is immutability.

    Matter and energy have the potential to change over time, and do change over time. We can therefore say that the essence of this standard is not composed of matter and energy. The essence of “maximum human good” must be immaterial.

    No lesser thing can cause (as an effect) a greater thing. In other words, cold cannot produce heat. Heat must be present in some form (perhaps energy) in order to produce heat. In the same way, lesser good cannot produce maximum good. Maximum good must be present in some form in order to produce maximum good. This means the standard “maximum good” is eternal in some form (not contingent).

    So there you have it, Bill. All I did is take what we know about cause/effect relationships and apply them to this standard that we both agree exists as a real, objective thing.

    In summary: a real, objective standard of maximum human good must be immutable, immaterial, and eternal.

  103. Hope folks don’t mind, I’m shortening my name. (Gosh there are a lot of Bills on this site).

    SteveK,

    If I understand you then I think we may agree. For this idea of “maximum good” only comes from the recognition that if humans (or any life-form) exist and are capable of suffering or having differential health, then there must be conditions that will either maximize of minimize those capabilities. So in this case the standard is brought about by both existence and variable conditions. And in this way it would be real, objective, and immaterial (in the sense of an idea) as you say. But I think it would only be immutable or eternal under the conditions that life exists for sentient creatures living under variable conditions.

    So it looks as though both a materialist and a non-materialist can agree that the other can have an objective morality. I’m guessing you probably subscribe to divine command theory. Perhaps we can discuss the Euthyphro dilemma some other time.

    (Note from Tom: in case it’s not clear, Bill L is Bill LaBarre.)

  104. Bigbird,

    Thank you for that correction on 1 Samuel. But I could also point to things like Exodus 21: 15 and 17, and Deuteronomy 17: 2-7 to show that we’re not exactly talking about huge advancements in morality from the OT. How much worse could it really get than these? This something many non-believers point to to ask, “Is there anything in this book that makes it look as though it was written by any other than humans of their time?”

    But let me ask at this point, what is the evidence that the non-Jews of the ANE behaved so much worse than this?

  105. Bill LaBarre,

    According to Michael Ruse, a professor of the philosophy of science and a staunch defender of Darwinian evolution:

    “The position of the modern evolutionist…is that humans have an awareness of morality…because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than are hands and feet and teeth…. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, [ethics] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Nevertheless…such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and…any deeper meaning is illusory….”

    Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268–69.

    And, according science writer Robert Wright:

    Natural selection was [once] thought of almost as a benign deity, constantly “improving” our species for the greater good. But evolutionary psychology rests on a quite different world view: recognition that natural selection does not work toward overall social welfare, that much of human nature boils down to ruthless genetic self-interest, that people are naturally oblivious to their ruthlessness.

    “Infidelity–It may be in our genes. Our Cheating Hearts Devotion and betrayal, marriage and divorce: how evolution shaped human love” Time Magazine, By Robert Wright, August 15, 1994

    I can give you names of several other naturalistically oriented academics/ writers/ thinkers who believe the same way. They include Darwin, Dawkins, Provine, Marks and E.O. Wilson to name a few. They all agree that natural selection cannot lead us to any kind of moral truth

    So, Bill, if your so called moral sense is illusory, as these other naturalists claim, how can it be used to establish a moral foundation for anyone else but you? Are they wrong? Can you prove that?

    I want to believe in something (scientific knowledge, moral values, religious claims etc.) because I’ve been convinced it’s true, not because it’s someone else’s opinion. So far all you shown is that you have an opinion about morality.

  106. @BillL
    You are still not listening, much less understanding, what we have told you so far!

    We tell you what the integrating principles are for reading the OT in its context, and ask that you at least try to apply those principles, and then you just ignore us and continue to cherry-pick passages here and there, without regard to context or the ANE historical/cultural background ( do you know what an ANE suzerainity treaty is, for example? without having to google it!), and then smugly think you have damning evidence against the OT.

    Did you know that the “eye for an eye….” principle is not original with the Mosaic Law, but that it was a more or less common understanding of case law in the ANE? Do you know what that principle was designed to curtail?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi
    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_the_Assura
    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/1075assyriancode.asp

    You can also google for Ugarit or the Armana letters, or Assura (Assyria) or Sumeria, etc.

    If you do, and then take the time yourself to compare and contrast the Mosaic Law with other ANE law codes, you will find both similarities and differences – not unexpected as they are all Ancient Near Eastern societies, and yet Israel was called by God to be different from their neighbours ( see Exodus 20:1-11 and Exodus 23:20-33 or Leviticus 18:1-5 and again Leviticus 18:24-30, for example). Do you understand that Israel was to be different because they were bound to the One True God and should be holy because He is holy ( Leviticus 11:44-45, Deuteronomy 7:1-11)? In fact, the key to the structure of the law codes is to bracket them by the repetition of the phrases “I am the Lord you God” and “You be holy, because I am holy”.

    Do you understand that the Mosaic Law is covered in four books, and that the last book, Deuteronomy, reiterates and explains the laws in Exodus to the second generation of Israelites just before their entry into the land of Canaan?

    You keep asking for our patience, but you are not showing any signs of having learned anything, and asking us to do all the heavy lifting for you.

  107. JAD,

    I’m not here to defend what those other folks believe and I honestly don’t really know why there positions are what they are. So with that in mind, I do not know what they would think of what I have said. I do agree with what they have said about the evolutionary foundations of ethics. But I do not see how this prevents the establishment of an objective morality.

    All that is required of the position that I’ve laid out is that you would have to agree to a morality tied to (or in service to) human well-being. If you also agree there would be a way for humans to experience maximum well-being and conversely minimum well-being, then there would be ways that we could objectively move between these extremes.

    Possibly those folks were referring to some kind of “cosmic morality” which is not what I agree to either. What I am saying just follows from a consequence of natural laws that bring forth the presence of sentient creatures in a non-static world.

  108. Bill,

    So it looks as though both a materialist and a non-materialist can agree that the other can have an objective morality.

    A strict materialist can’t allow what I described in my last comment so they would not agree.

    For non-materialists that are not Deists or Theists, I think the only good option is Platonism. It’s not very good in my opinion because it falls short of some very necessary requirements that we know must be true. Maybe one day we can discuss why that is the case.

    I’m guessing you probably subscribe to divine command theory.

    I don’t. I subscribe to the theory/belief of divine nature from which only good can come. It’s significantly different.

    As we’ve been discussing these things I hope you can see that this thinking is quite rational. Notice there is no ‘blind faith’ element to any of this. It’s reality-based.

    The rational approach by itself won’t get you to Christ, but it will get you so close that you’ll be able to know that many other worldviews (materialistic naturalism) are surely false. In order to get to Christ himself, you need divine revelation, and we have history to supply that information – and if you are blessed, individual encounters.

    I hope this helps you during your look into Christianity. God is real. He is good.

  109. @ Victoria

    “You are still not listening, much less understanding, what we have told you so far!”

    I am feeling that way a bit about you as well. I have not told you that I was done reading everything you’ve sent me. I still have a lot to do and I never said my mind was made up. I was just answering with what I think so far.

    “We tell you what the integrating principles are for reading the OT in its context, and ask that you at least try to apply those principles, and then you just ignore us and continue to cherry-pick passages here and there, without regard to context or the ANE historical/cultural background ( do you know what an ANE suzerainity treaty is, for example? without having to google it!), and then smugly think you have damning evidence against the OT. ”

    No, I do not know what the treaty is. But I think you’re missing the point. I am not saying I have damning evidence against the OT. I am simply trying to understand the OT by asking questions. If you want me to completely understand it in context, well, that is going to take me a while (several years of diligent study, I would imagine). Do you just assume that everyone who talks about there issues, doubts and questions is just trying to ignore your advice? I’m guessing you were never a teacher.

    “Do you understand that Israel was to be different because they were bound to the One True God and should be holy because He is holy?….

    Do you understand that the Mosaic Law is covered in four books, and that the last book, Deuteronomy, reiterates and explains the laws in Exodus to the second generation of Israelites just before their entry into the land of Canaan?”

    I knew both of these claims – and I didn’t have to Google them 😉

    You keep asking for our patience, but you are not showing any signs of having learned anything, and asking us to do all the heavy lifting for you.

    I was simply asking for a reference for your central claim. It only required that you provide one little cut and paste link.

    Victoria, if this is too frustrating for you, you may want to limit yourself to talking to people who are already convinced of your position. I still have questions and I’m doing the best I can to understand. I don’t know what more I can offer.

  110. SteveK,

    “A strict materialist can’t allow what I described in my last comment so they would not agree.”

    I think your last comment was “In summary: a real, objective standard of maximum human good must be immutable, immaterial, and eternal.”

    I’m assuming you say a materialist can’t allow this because of the ‘immutable’ and ‘immaterial’ parts. If that is the case, then I have shown you why those are not necessary, so I see no discrepancy.

    As for the rest of what you wrote – I am giving it my best shot.

    Thank you

  111. By the way everyone, I am seeing a bunch of underlining in my posts. It is not intentional. Also sorry for the typos (their).

  112. Bill,

    I’m assuming you say a materialist can’t allow this because of the ‘immutable’ and ‘immaterial’ parts. If that is the case, then I have shown you why those are not necessary, so I see no discrepancy.

    I’m confused because your comment below doesn’t seem to be saying that.

    Bill said: And in this way it would be real, objective, and immaterial (in the sense of an idea) as you say. But I think it would only be immutable or eternal under the conditions that life exists for sentient creatures living under variable conditions.

    To keep the discussion on the same track, perhaps you can address the points I made in #114 and show where I am wrong and how this leads to a different conclusion.

  113. @BillL

    I did, in fact, teach Physics and Computer Science, at the university level, for a number of years. I expected that good students would be able to apply the principles I had taught in the classroom to similar classes of problems to which the principles applied.

    If I taught them, say, the mathematics and physics of Lagrangian dynamics, and then applied it in the classroom to one or two textbook example dynamical systems, I’d naturally expect them to at least attempt to apply the framework to other dynamical systems, as homework assignments. If a student was having trouble applying the math, I’d expect that at least the student had made some attempt to understand the principles and would be able to articulate his or her understanding of those principles, so I could explain what mistake(s) they were making.

    You are not doing even that much. We explain to you by principle, analysis and example, how we understand one particular passage in its context and answer your questions about it. We even explain to you what mistakes you are making! And your response? You bring up another text, and make exactly the same mistakes!
    When I call you on it, you fall back on, “I haven’t actually had a chance to read and study everything yet”. At least take the time and effort to read and study and understand what we have explained, and demonstrate that you think you understand it well enough to try and apply those principles to other texts. If you are not going to do that, why should I bother to continue to answer the same questions over and over again?

    Your response to bigbird in #116 is a case in point. You make the same assertions about another couple of passages, with no indication that you have actually understood, to say nothing of having attempted to apply, the answers you were given. Is this the kind of student you want to be? If you are really here to learn, you’re not doing a very good job of it.

  114. I’d also expect that a student would first demonstrate understanding and mastery of one principle before jumping on to other topics. If a student was not yet proficient at setting up Lagrangians, and the Euler-Lagrange equations, and then turned around and objected with, “well, what about Special or General Relativity?”, I’d respond with, “Well, you won’t understand Relativity at all if you don’t understand this”.

    First, show us that you have understood what we have explained. Then we can move on to other issues. I’m not asking you to agree with us – I’m asking if you can set forth your own case – can you do more than make assertions that sound like they come from the Skeptics’ Annotated Bible?

  115. BillL,

    Well we agree on a number of points. For example, we agree that the Golden Rule, treating other human beings with love and respect, is a good moral principle and a good starting point for human ethical behavior, but you haven’t given me a good reason why on naturalism you ought, I ought, we ought, anyone ought to follow the Golden Rule. I would argue that what is morally right or wrong, what people ought (or ought not) to do, cannot be grounded in one’s personal opinion, rather it needs to be grounded in the truth. What is truth? Truth is what is true for me, is true for you and everyone else. Darwinian evolution is not interested in truth. It’s only “goal” is reproduction and survival of the fittest. Of course that’s not a good theoretical foundation for morals or ethics. But according to a naturalistic world view it’s why we are here. Is evolution the explanation for our moral sense? If it’s not,what is?

  116. So if evolution is not the explanation for our moral sense, what is?

    Something that exists as a real thing. something objectively and immutably good, something that explains why we sense goodness and why our will is directed toward achieving that good end. 😉

    Seems we are having the same conversation with Bill, JAD, but are looking at it from a different starting point. I think Bill will find that no matter where you start, the conclusion will be the same.

  117. JAD,

    We also agree that evolution does not get you to an objective morality. It gives us the feelings and inclinations to do certain things; some of those will be immoral. So in that sense, the people you quoted were right.

    This is why it is necessary to tie morality to human well-being in the same way we tie medicine to human health. And since it is objective, it is not grounded in one’s personal opinion in the same way health is not a matter of personal opinion. And in this way it is also grounded in truth.

    The Golden Rule is followed on the basis that it tends to lead toward greater human well-being.

    So that is one way we can have an objective morality. If you wish to see another (not one I subscribe to) you can watch this debate/discussion with William Lane Craig:

  118. BillL,

    You have only kicked the can down the road, because you still haven’t answered why I ought to be morally responsible for anything. In others words, “you haven’t given me a good reason why on naturalism you ought, I ought, we ought, anyone ought to” be concerned with human well being.

  119. SteveK,

    Shoot, I’m sorry… I meant to say a materialist can’t allow this because of the ‘immutable’ and ‘eternal’ parts. I am saying that I think YOU are saying that a strict materialist would have problems with ‘immutable’ and ‘eternal.’ Is that correct?

    [Come to think of it, I don’t know what a strict materialist would think of a discoverable concept like addition. 2 + 2 = 4 is a concept that would be immaterial until it becomes known by sentient creatures – then it becomes a material thought in someone’s mind.]

    Anyway, let’s look at it from 114 (let me know if I miss anything):

    “This standard of “maximum human good” is the same for all humans throughout the ages. It doesn’t change over time. It has no potential to change either. If it did have that potential, it could become less than the maximum human good. This is immutability.”

    Please remember that I said maximum human “well-being.” I agree about the change but I would add the caveat that there must be humans in existence for this to be the case. Thus it was not 60 MYA.

    “Matter and energy have the potential to change over time, and do change over time. We can therefore say that the essence of this standard is not composed of matter and energy. The essence of “maximum human good” must be immaterial.”

    I agree with you. The concept is immaterial. I don’t know what a strict materialist would think.

    “No lesser thing can cause (as an effect) a greater thing. In other words, cold cannot produce heat. Heat must be present in some form (perhaps energy) in order to produce heat.”

    If we are talking about thermodynamics, I agree.

    “In the same way, lesser good cannot produce maximum good. Maximum good must be present in some form in order to produce maximum good.”

    I don’t see why these two sentences necessarily follow. I also don’t see how “good” can produce anything.

    “This means the standard “maximum good” is eternal in some form (not contingent).”

    Again, my standard was maximum human well-being (I hope I did not misspeak. Please forgive me if I did). But again, it would only be ‘eternal’ if humans were eternal. So it is only ‘eternal’ for humans while they exist.

  120. SteveK,

    I see where we went off track. You first used “maximum-good” in 114 and I carelessly copied it into 115. The distinction is important. Sorry for that.

  121. Bill L,

    Early in the morning on January 28, 1986 there was an angry debate that broke out over the telephone. NASA managers wanted to launch the space shuttle Challenger. On the other hand, engineers from Morton Thiokol, the company that designed and built the shuttles solid rocket boosters, argued that it was too cold and told NASA, in no uncertain terms, that they ought to postpone the launch. NASA went ahead and launched any way…

    So who was in a better position to have known what ought to have been done? The designers, or the people who had been delegated the authority to approve the launch? Do you see the analogy?

  122. JAD,

    I think you are saying the (D)esinger is in the better position.

    But tell me, under your scheme, why ought I not murder someone? That is, why ought I follow the position of the (D)esigner?

  123. Bill L,

    I hope you and JAD won’t mind me butting in but on another thread I was asked why I thought I had an “objective moral obligation” towards others. My interlocutor ignored my reply but I thought it might be helpful here.

    I have an objective moral obligation because I have a God who can be and is an objective law giver. An objective moral obligation comes from and can only come from an objective law giver. Without it you have nothing but a subjective personal opinion about what is right. With it you have an objective standard that is applicable to everyone.

    Further to its objectivity, it is an obligation because the rest of mankind, to whom I am obligated, is such because they are “created in God’s image”. We are all bound together in that obligation because and only because of that shared creation. Without that, I have no responsibility to anyone for any action I might decide to take. (As a corollary you have the “beasts of the field” who’s only responsibility is to eat anyone they can in order to survive.)

    So in summary, either you have an objective standard applicable to everyone or you have a subjective standard that people can ignore at will. And you either have an obligation to others or you are just another of the “beasts of the field”. The only way you can have the former of these rather than the later is to have a God within whom they meet.

  124. Victoria,

    I wish you had a sense of things from my position…

    I brought up the Exodus reference back in post #17. Between then and your post #74, at least 4 people (bigbird, Melissa, Andrew W and JAD) have commented on the issue and none of them objected to what I thought it said. In fact, Andrew W seem to agree with me in #29. I have looked at several Christian websites now and they don’t object to my reading either.

    Tom also doesn’t really object but says that things got better with Christianity and that imposing manumission too early would just have been too much culture shock (which is a little baffling given the Jews own release from bondage and the fact that there was a large thundering voice speaking to them from the sky).

    By the time we got to your #74, you never really did say how beating was not condoned; you just said it was case law. I followed your link and told you I had objections – to which you did not respond.

    Even in your exposition in #91, you did not explain how beating was not condoned.

    I later offered examples to bigbird about how harsh sentences were common since he said things were such an improvement. My point was just to show that these kinds of harsh punishments were consistent with other punishments extolled in the OT. Do you not agree that stoning to death was permitted in some circumstances?

    In your post #101 you say it says “do not mistreat your slaves at all” but I’m afraid I just don’t see it the way you do, and apparently many Christians don’t either. It looks like scholars do not either. I hope you can see the pages here that I can. Especially read page 384.

    http://www.amazon.com/Jewish-Slavery-Antiquity-Catherine-Hezser/dp/019928086X#reader_019928086X

    Am I saying I’m right? No. I have no idea what the answer is. But my strategy is to keep various sources in mind.

    You want me to show you (you actually said ‘we’ but no one else was showing me much) what you have explained but I don’t see how you have really explained how this excerpt is anything other than what I described. Perhaps I will learn more as I dig into the reading. I suppose you think I need to keep the admonishments of the Prophets in mind, but as I look at historical sources, it doesn’t seem like the Jews had your understanding either.

    I was trying to have a SPECIFIC question answered and the advice given to me really didn’t answer it (did I just miss it?). The things you told me to read have (so far) not answered it either. Would you like me to turn your comment around and say “If you’re here to teach, you’re not doing a very good job at it?”

    Now, don’t get me wrong. Yours may have been the HIGHEST understanding on God’s terms. But maybe I’m not at that level of advancement yet.

    Maybe you were a good Physics teacher, but remember those students are falling over themselves to please you and get a good grade. They also all know how much study and work you put into Physics so they have pretty sufficient grounds to trust your word as a teacher. The only things I know about you are that you are NOT a historian and that you are likely biased (but not necessarily wrong because of that) when it comes to seeing the Bible in an overly positive light.

    I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and be patient. But I again suggest if I’m just not doing a good enough job for you, then don’t waste your time.

  125. Thanks for responding BillT,

    I’ll give JAD a chance at a response as well. But let me dig a little deeper…

    Why OUGHT I care that there is objective law and an objective law giver? Why am I obligated to mankind just because they were created in Gods image.

    Suppose I say that I don’t care that there is an objective law? Or I say I don’t want to be obligated to mankind?

  126. Bill L,

    You can definitely say that and do all those things. You can do that because have free will after all. (Another thing that wouldn’t exist without God but that’s another thread!) But there is a difference between you exercising your free will and acting in any way you like (see: Bundy, Ted) and the existence of an objective moral obligation. I believe my post explained the why. It’s objective because it is not subject to any human input. It’s an obligation because we all belong to the same creation. Just saying you can ignore it if you like doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  127. Bill L,

    Under my “scheme”? Well, first of all it’s not my scheme, it God’s scheme… Every man’s life is under God’s sovereign control. No creature has the right to assume the role of the Creator… We do that not only when we murder another creature who was made in the image of God, but we do that when we choose to live and act autonomously like He doesn’t exist.

  128. Because you will one day stand before the Designer and be required to give an account of how you lived your life. Did you live it in a relationship with Him, learning to obey Him, walk with Him, love Him with everything you are? Did you live your life loving the things He loves (and that includes other people)?

    And what of your failures to live according to God’s standards, and in this case, your rebellion against those standards? To do otherwise is to grow into a sort of anti-relationship, where you will increasingly come to hate God and all that He represents, and He will give you what you want most – to be rid of Him, as it were.

    Like it or not, Christianity affirms that God will hold us accountable for our sin and rebellion against Him. Christ did not die so that we might be better able to keep His commandments, but to give us new life, to make us not better, but completely new.

    Now here is the kicker – merely keeping His commandments (if you were able to do so perfectly, which you cannot) will not earn you the right to enter into His presence. You ought to keep His commandments, yes, but without the context of a living, covenant relationship with Him, doing so gains you nothing that will allow you to live in His presence. At best, it would reduce the severity of your sentence to Hell, but sentenced to Hell you will still be.

    Now, God offers grace and forgiveness to us, based on Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, but it is conditional. Accept that grace, and receive the new life that will enable you to live with Him in Eternity – reject it, and you will not be able to survive in His presence – there will be only one place for you – Hell, which is completely devoid of His presence.

  129. Bill,

    Why OUGHT I care that there is objective law and an objective law giver? Why am I obligated to mankind just because they were created in Gods image.

    The answer to this question can be found in the objective reality that grounds it (God). Briefly stated, you ought to care because it is a fact of reality that could not possibly be otherwise.

    Suppose I say that I don’t care that there is an objective law? Or I say I don’t want to be obligated to mankind?

    This is what Adam said to God and ruined it for the rest of us. In doing this you are willfully choosing to accept as factually true, something that is not factually true. Everyone knows that if you accept a falsehood as truth, then bad things will result.

  130. Bill,

    Hopefully I can get a word in edgeways. Let’s rewind this entire discussion to a key point that has been passed by.

    Here’s a scenario which (I assert) is morally but not mechanically comparable to the above discussions:

    – you’re born into a culture where the ruling family of the village has absolute authority. Your parents teach you that the village elder is your boss – it’s his job to make sure everyone in the village is provided for, but in return has absolute authority, even over life and death. It’s your job to obey him and do your part for the village.

    Is this scenario “immoral”? Why / why not? Show your reasoning, including the basis for any assertions of human value. If further qualifications are required to distinguish between moral / immoral, please introduce them and explain why they make a difference.

    (I’d really like for Bill to have a go first, and for others to restrain from critiquing his response until (1) they’ve fleshed it out and (2) they’ve provided their own answer for critique. I also realise that while this is on-topic with the discussion it’s somewhat removed from the original post, so I’m happy to defer it until a better time if Tom would prefer).

  131. C. S. Lewis answered most of these questions quite some time ago. I like what he said in Mere Christianity:

    “[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

    and

    “[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  132. JAD,
    Sorry, I couldn’t think of a better word then “scheme.” It just kind of popped into my head.

    So BillT says (roughly) he OUGHT to do things because there is a moral law giver and that we have an obligation to others like us.

    SteveK says because it is factually true.

    I’m not so clear what your answer is to why we OUGHT to do anything. Are you saying we OUGHT to do things because we are under God’s sovereign control?

    I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

  133. Bill,

    I’m not so clear what your answer is to why we OUGHT to do anything. Are you saying we OUGHT to do things because we are under God’s sovereign control?

    Because humans were made for a purpose. This is the factual truth I mentioned above. The purpose of a human is to fulfill the end for which it was created. Said another way, it is perfectly good that each human love God and love other humans because that is what we were made to do. When we don’t, we fall short and are less than perfectly good – which mean we have sinned.

    If you think this is odd, it’s not. We think in these terms with all natural things, and even things we create ourselves. You can be a naturalist and see this, and many do – at least the smart ones do.

    Take an acorn as an example. An acorn is a particular natural thing with a particular nature, or essence. It’s natural end is to become an oak tree. If an acorn fails to fulfill that natural end then we recognize that as a shortcoming. We say that acorn is a bad or defective acorn. We throw it away and get a good acorn because acorns *ought* to result in oak trees.

    I’m not using bad/good in the moral sense because acorns don’t have free will, but the principle is the same for humans too. Maximum goodness results when each created thing fulfills the end for which it was created.

    If you’ve ever heard of the term “final cause” then you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, look it up.

  134. SteveK

    That question was actually intended for JAD. I appreciate your joining in and I understood your answer all along. I started this line as a way to respond to something JAD had asked another very early on. But stay tuned for his response.

  135. Andrew W,

    I don’t mind joining in your reindeer game (just kidding – it’s Christmas) but before I go down that road, I want to here a response from JAD. I think we are close to the end of our train of thought on this topic.

    I hope you do understand that the whole point of this was that I was asking JAD if I could show him how on naturalistic grounds we can say slavery is objectively wrong.

    I have given him my basis in human well-being but he says he doesn’t understand “….why on naturalism you ought, I ought, we ought, anyone ought to be concerned with human well being.”

    I’m just waiting for him to clarify why anyone OUGHT to be concerned with anything in his view.

  136. Bill L,

    I’m not so clear what your answer is to why we OUGHT to do anything. Are you saying we OUGHT to do things because we are under God’s sovereign control?

    PETA thinks I OUGHT to be vegan because, according to them, the poultry industry abuses chickens. Do you see what PETA is doing? They are making up their own morality which they think they can impose on others. What gives them the right to impose their morality on others? What gives any human being the right to impose his particular morality on another human being? According to Christian theism God and God alone is the source of morality. Man living and acting autonomously is an insufficient source of morality. At best any human created morality is a cheap imitation of the moral values and duties that come from God; at worst it results in ruthless tyranny.

    Again, you still haven’t answered why I ought to be morally responsible for anything. In others words, “you haven’t given me a good reason why on naturalism you ought, I ought, we ought, anyone ought to” be concerned with human well being.

  137. JAD,

    I am trying to answer your question. But I want to know from you first, why OUGHT I be concerned with anything by your view?

    (Did you notice that you didn’t really answer the question?)

  138. Bill,

    I thought you were smart enough to figure that out yourself. We ought to follow God’s moral teaching because God (an eternally existing transcendent Mind) is the ultimate source of all reality. He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe, the Creator and sustainer of all life and the Creator of mankind. We have a moral conscience because that is the way we were designed, and we were delegated moral responsibility by Him from the beginning of our history. (That was also according to his plan and purpose.) Therefore, any moral teaching that He then gives us by special revelation has ultimate authority.

  139. JAD,

    First, I make no claims about being smart. I’m just a guy trying to make his way in this world. I think there can be a danger in believing we are smart if we become over-confident about beliefs we have arrived at for non-smart reasons. Smart people can make very good arguments for things that just aren’t true.

    OK, so if I can summarize why you (and others) think we OUGHT to do anything:

    -God is the source of reality. We have a moral conscience and responsibility. [yours]

    -There is a moral law giver and that we have an obligation to others like us. [BillT]

    -It is factually true. [SteveK]

    So keep in mind everything I have told you about objective morality based on naturalism and let’s look at your question:
    -Why anyone ought to be concerned with human well being?

    My answer is not really that different from any of yours. God may not be the source of reality, but there IS a reality and it is factually true. Whether or not we know the source of that reality is not necessary for our purposes in determining a naturalistic morality. We also have a moral conscience that comes to us via evolution – our brains. Our responsibility to do this comes from the fact that there are other human beings (and sentient creatures) we interact with.

    Humans have a drive to be happy. And if you remember from our discussion, maximum well-being is the standard. In order for humans to achieve that, they have a responsibility and a necessity to interact in a manner with others that will move towards this peak. They ought to do this because it is in their interest and in the interest of others.

  140. @Bill LaBarre:

    Whether or not we know the source of that reality is not necessary for our purposes in determining a naturalistic morality.

    With some appropriate (and important) qualifications, Theists, at least those in the natural law tradition (whether new or classical) agree with this.

    We also have a moral conscience that comes to us via evolution – our brains. Our responsibility to do this comes from the fact that there are other human beings (and sentient creatures) we interact with.

    I am sorry, but this is where you go wrong. Evolution theory is a descriptive theory of the development of life; as far as human beings are concerned, it answers questions about their origins. It has absolutely *NOTHING* to say about any putative moral obligations human beings have; zilch, zero, nada. The fact that human beings are allegedly hard-wired for altruistic, social behaviors says nothing about whether I ought to behave altruistically; and the reason is pretty easy to see: Evolution (sorry for the antropomorphism) also hard-wired selfish, egotistical, violent behavior.

    If you want to substantiate your argument, what is missing is an account that gets from what we are to what we should do and that can bridge the is / ought gap. Now, from the classical natural law theory POV, the is / ought gap is just a red herring and a modern mistake at that, but for naturalists it is a huge, unbridgeable gap — but feel free to try to bridge it.

    In order for humans to achieve that, they have a responsibility and a necessity to interact in a manner with others that will move towards this peak. They ought to do this because it is in their interest and in the interest of others.

    This is both false and question-begging.

    If there is a thing that experience teaches is that all sorts of moral ills make us happy, in some sense, and lots of people go through life behaving like authentic bastards and quite happy to be so. Just take a sociopath. Sociopathy is not here taken as a medical condition, but a moral condition. So why should a sociopath care for others? If maximizing happiness is what drives morality, then well, the sociopath is doing just that. Others get trumped in the way? Why should he care? It is better for him? In what sense, it is better?

  141. G. Rodrigues,

    I did not say evolution had anything to do with our moral obligations. In order to understand where our obligations come from, you would have to have been following the conversation. The rest of what you have written seems to come from not knowing what I have actually said.

    I know there have been a lot of comments and discussion. The first relevant post is #35. From there you can follow the interactions (I am both Bill L and Bill LaBarre). The relevant posts are mostly between JAD, SteveK, and BillT, and me. But Tom also comments in #90.

    If you read through them and still have issues/questions, I will try to address them.

  142. Bill,

    And if you remember from our discussion, maximum well-being is the standard.

    You still haven’t accounted for this standard, have you? We agreed it was objective and real, immutable and immaterial. Beyond the problem of fitting that real thing into a naturalistic worldview, you haven’t accounted for why humans are obligated to pursue *this* standard.

    This standard exists as some natural fact among other facts. It fits alongside other standards like the standard for maximum pain and the standard for maximum suffering. These standards are for sentient creatures too, right?

    Everything is a natural object so humans are not unique. We experience pain, suffering, happiness and well-being. Why would a naturalist conclude that *all* humans *ought* to pursue one objective standard but not some other.

    For the few humans that evolved a drive for maximum suffering, you need a reason why they ought not pursue it.

  143. Bill – If one of the “maximum” facts was an actual standard of obligation rather than another fact of nature, that would give us the reason we needed. Can a series of facts create a standard of obligation this isn’t just another fact? No, thus the failure of naturalism.

    I’m going to try to step away until after Christmas. Wishing you and everyone else a very blessed and joyous Christmas.

    Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

  144. We also have a moral conscience that comes to us via evolution – our brains.

    Bill L,

    This is where your argument fails. In fact, the argument from evolution doesn’t explain morality it explains it away. If all our morality is is some evolutionary hard wiring why should I care about it? Evolutionary hard wiring is not a compelling reason to act morally. It’s no reason at all. It’s just a coincidental aspect of our development as a species and has no hold on my behavior whatsoever.

    Our responsibility to do this comes from the fact that there are other human beings (and sentient creatures) we interact with.

    Nor does the existence of other sentient human beings create in me any responsibility to them. They are, just as I am, simply better evolved “beasts of the field” and I own them nothing on that accord but to “eat” any of them I need to in order to survive.

  145. SteveK,

    That was the question I was waiting for and I admit it is the most difficult one. Let me give it a shot…

    “Why are humans are obligated to pursue *this* standard?”

    Remember that your standard for an ought was to say that it is factually correct that the world is this way. Well, it is also factually correct that humans seek happiness and that well-being is a way to achieve this. You pointed out that Adam did something to move the world towards lesser well-being under the presumption that this should be avoided. So why should Adam have avoided it? Well, he probably does not enjoy suffering and probably likes greater happiness. Ultimately you are making pleas to someone’s self-interest or interest in others to follow some standard.

    Did you notice some of the other motivations given? “We have a moral conscience” – Well, on naturalistic grounds we have that as well so we tend to choose that standard. “We have an obligation” – again this is true for anyone living with others.

    I have stated the concept is similar to medicine. We decide we want to be healthy so we have this thing called objective medical science. Now someone is always free to say “Well, what if I don’t want to be healthy? What if I want to vomit until I die because that is the standard I choose?”

    He would be free to say that. And we would be equally free to call him a nut. It is just simply possible to be wrong about a standard. As it relates to morality, this is where psychopathy comes in.

  146. BillT,

    For your first objection, see my response to G. Rodrigues in #157.

    As for your second objection, I explained this a few dozen posts or so ago. You are only obligated to other sentient creatures on a continuum. But I would argue for the idea of extending empathy and compassion as a form of moral progress. I think at a minimum we should not cause suffering where it is not necessary.

  147. Bill L,

    I don’t see where #157 addresses my point. (Perhaps another of your posts does? And I did quote you correctly from #155) And as far as your objection to my second point I fail to see where you have explained why I am “obligated to other sentient creatures on a continuum” or that “we should not cause suffering where it is not necessary.” That they are “true” certainly makes them an “is” but you make no case or have shown that they are an “ought.”

  148. BillT,

    I think you came in pretty late. So what 157 is saying is that you need to go back and read everything related to the topic up to this point (yes, it is addressed in other posts and you can follow the “short-cut” instructions in 157).

    Obligated to other sentient creatures on a continuum is rooted in the ideas of suffering and happiness and extending moral behavior to others in a way that leads to greater overall well-being. It’s not the central part of my post nor is it necessary to understand the argument. I was almost thinking all along that I shouldn’t bring it up for lack of time. Perhaps I could go into it some other time if you are interested.

  149. Bill L,

    I think I see where we are having problems communicating on this subject. You have said the following:

    maximum well-being is the standard.

    (we are) obligated to other sentient creatures on a continuum

    we should not cause suffering where it is not necessary.

    These first three statements are “true”. They reflect what “is” true about our world.

    You have also said:

    Remember that your standard for an ought was to say that it is factually correct that the world is this way.

    This statement is not true.

    The fact that you can make statements that are true establishes the “is”. However, as has been said many times you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. I don’t know where you get the above idea. It’s been a standard of moral philosophy for time immemorial that you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    To get an “ought” you must show why it’s an ought not just that it is an “is”. You must be able to explain by what authority (or whatever) we are beholding to that moral ideal. You have to explain why a moral obligation exists not merely that it does.

    Here is something for you to consider. You can correctly identify the “is”. Most everyone can. Why do you think that’s true? Evolution isn’t the answer. Naturalism provides no solution. Atheism has no clue. What could account for this seemingly universal understanding of right and wrong when all of the secular philosophies fall so short. There is one kind of philosophy that does provide a cogent, comprehensive answer. Could it be what is true?

  150. BillT,

    That statement (“Remember that your standard for an ought was to say that it is factually correct that the world is this way”) was really intended for SteveK.

    If you had asked the same question I would have pointed out the reasons you gave me for why we OUGHT to do something. You said “There is a moral law giver and that we have an obligation to others like us.”

    So are those “is” statements? They seem like it.

  151. Bill T,

    The fact that you can make statements that are true establishes the “is”. However, as has been said many times you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. I don’t know where you get the above idea. It’s been a standard of moral philosophy for time immemorial that you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    Actually this is-ought problem is a problem for modern philosophy that rejects natures and natural ends. Without some kind of teleology embedded in the creation you don’t have the foundation for objective morality. The problem for atheists is if we accept the reality of natural teleology it’s difficult to avoid the implications that follow.

  152. Bill L,

    No, those aren’t “is” statements. The statements in my post explain why morality is objective and why we have obligations to each other. They also explained why the lack of a law giver and shared creation cannot establish an objective moral obligation.

    Melissa,

    Thanks for the further explanation.

  153. The late Phillip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences , questioned the explanatory utility of natural selection:

    Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive – except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed – except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers.

    In other words, Darwinian evolution has been used to explain both.
    So it’s hard to see then how an amoral mindless process, like natural selection, could be used to explain even simple moral choices, let alone the evolution of any kind of moral system.

    Furthermore, not only is natural selection impotent in choosing traits or behaviors in regards to their moral outcomes, as an amoral mindless process, it lacks any thing even remotely like moral authority. However, that’s not true of minds or a Mind.

  154. BillT,

    Let’s me look at your post #137 more carefully:

    “I have an objective moral obligation because I have a God who can be and is an objective law giver.”

    OK, good enough.

    “An objective moral obligation comes from and can only come from an objective law giver.”

    Why? ‘Objective just means that it conforms to reality, right? If (on naturalism) there is no God, then it could come from something else if the word obligation is to mean anything. As long as we can find an objective criteria, then it would be there. For instance, suppose there is no God and we want to know how hot something is. It would be objectively true to say a star is hotter than a planet.

    An obligation is just something we are bound to by commitment. If we have objective criteria (e.g. human well-being) we would be obligated by self interest to fulfill that obligation similar to the way we would be bound to an obligation given by God (after all, we could still ignore the obligation to a God if we choose).

    “Without it you have nothing but a subjective personal opinion about what is right.”

    Not true if you agree morality is in service to or is tied to human well-being, which is the argument I am trying to make for an objective morality.

    “With it you have an objective standard that is applicable to everyone.”

    I agree. But if human well-being is the standard, you also have a standard that is applicable to everyone.

    The other part of your argument is about shared obligation. Which I also agree with, but humans also have a shared humanity. So it looks like we are on somewhat common ground here.

  155. JAD,

    Let me reiterate, this argument is NOT dependent on natural selection. I have only said that natural selection/evolution is a part of it. It gives us the kinds of brains that we have now. These are the brains that tell us to love, to fear, to hate, and to be jealous. They tell us to want acceptance and to seek the help and cooperation of others. They also tell us to fear others and distrust those not like us… A mixed bag.

    A moral choice may be to kill this stranger, or to try to make him my friend. I can do either. If he can help, or if his tribe lives nearby and I don’t want to go to war with them, I may decide to make him my friend. If supplies are short in my tribe, and there is no one else within earshot, I may decide to kill him. This may be why it is advantageous to become more moral and cooperative as my land becomes crowded and resources become more evenly distributed.

    It’s quite probably that the most moral people on earth are the Jains. But they are few in number because there is a certain reproductive advantage to being a little more aggressive. Unfortunately it takes a certain competition with your neighbors to be the ultimate victor. Success in a species depends on their reproductive success. This takes a peaceful society where children can be raised to produce more children. Clearly, not going to war and killing each other is a part of that.

  156. Bill l.,

    Not true if you agree morality is in service to or is tied to human well-being, which is the argument I am trying to make for an objective morality.

    But the kicker is that without human natures directed towards natural ends well-being is just the fulfillment of the goals and ends we invent for ourselves. You may argue that we do really have natural ends that are independent of what we think about the matter (I would agree that much is obvious) but then the question becomes how to situate teleology in a purposeless reality.

  157. Not true if you agree morality is in service to or is tied to human well-being, which is the argument I am trying to make for an objective morality.

    Can’t you see that you are kicking the can down the road here. On what basis to you claim human well-being is an objective good or good in any way. It’s just an opinion about what is good grounded in your subjective beliefs.

    Or let me ask this in another way. You say: “Not true if you agree morality is in service to or is tied to human well-being.”

    But I don’t agree. Tell me why I should agree with that.

  158. Bill L,

    You misunderstand. My point is that human well-being or flourishing is the state such that our human essence (or nature) and as such our natural ends are fulfilled. Human well-being can only be defined objectively such that it supports moral realism if there is such a thing as essences or natures. That way we can be objectively right or wrong about what is good for human beings.

  159. In the previous posts I read a lot about those objective norms which believers seem to be so sure they possess. The real situation is in fact not so clear cut. They have to take at least four hurdles

    1) The world doesn’t only exist of believers in your brand of religion. And for atheists and believers in other religions, your God, doesn’t exist. So in discussions with them it is useless to call on those objective rules. You will have to find a common ground and justification to find a way to agree.

    2) If your God would exist:
    Then there is still the Euthyphro dilemma.

    I know, some of you think Feser gave a good counterargument based on Thomism, and I haven’t yet had time to read it attentively, but as far as I know most internationally known living philosophers are not Thomists. Come to think of it, most of them are not even Christians. And as far as I know the only two Christian philosophers of some renown, internationally,William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga ,
    are, as far as I know, also, not Thomists (in Plantiga’s case not classical Thomism). Which kind of suggests that Thomism is not really that convincing anymore.

    3) Unclear or lacking communication between God and man.
    Shown by:
    Division between religions.
    Division between Abrahamaic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).
    Deep centuries old divides between Christian churches.
    Rules by God for food, dress, behaviour which were once in use but are no longer maintained by some
    and still maintained by others.
    Seemingly changed opinions of God: OT: God commands murder of women and children and even donkeys and camels (Caanite, Amalekites), while the message of the NT is: love thy neighbour.
    So in these cases, where is the clear cut objective unchanging rule? Maybe somewhere, but seemingly hidden well. Since it’s just interpretation and discussion all around.

    A number of moral problems for which there is no clear cut objective rule: such as cloning.
    So in these cases the believer has to interpret and reason to arrive at his own rules, in the hope he does it well.

    4) The ‘trolley problem’. I would advise you to look it up in wikipedia. It would take too long for me to describe it here. It’s an ethical problem where people are asked to make a choice. When questioned afterwards, it is clear that the respondents (Christians, atheists, …) in most cases can’t define the reason why they made the choice. They invent an explanation on the spot.
    This experiment shows that in a number of cases people don’t rely on those ‘objective norms’, but
    react based on intuition. So what use are those ‘objective norms’ in these cases? None.

    Conclusion: there is really no basis to take the stand: my rules are objective and yours are not.
    In our multicultural society one has to communicate, agree with others.
    One has to base justification on mutual ground.
    You can be convinced of the objectivity of your rules but that can’t form a basis for discussion

    I personally don’t think I possess objective rules. But I stand for empathy, care, absence of harm if there is no necessity for it as in the case of an operation, and flourishing. And thanks to evolution most men and women seem to agree on that. If it would be otherwise we wouldn’t be around anymore. And it works too, just look at the Scandinavian countries, which are amongst the most atheist in the world.
    And as far as I know, they are happier than the citizens in the US.

  160. BillT,

    I didn’t see your post last night. I have a quick 2-part answer:

    1. Really try to answer the question I posed to Melissa in #174.

    2. It seems that the issue is obligation, is that correct? Take a look at my reply to SteveK in #161, especially the last 2 paragraphs.

    Merry Christmas Everyone

  161. Melissa,

    I’m not really understanding your #175. Let me try to break it down:

    “My point is that human well-being or flourishing is the state such that our human essence (or nature) and as such our natural ends are fulfilled.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘fulfilled’ in this context. I just see it as an objective measure or set of measurements.

    “Human well-being can only be defined objectively such that it supports moral realism if there is such a thing as essences or natures.”

    I don’t see that this is the case. I see human well-being in a manner that is similar to human health. But I don’t know if there is anything like ‘health realism.’ What we ultimately do with health is just say that we know what it is through certain measurements.

    I started this line of discussion with JAD, and way back in #59 he had this to say in response to how we should understand ‘good, bad, right and wrong’:

    “If you have any kind of moral sense, you know what it means…. from my point of view I think that is on the right track. I think the Apostle Paul talks about a moral sense or conscience. He writes in Romans chapter 2:

    14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

    So even Christians make some kind of appeal to instinct and self-interest. So it is with human health and we don’t have any issues (I think) with saying we have an objective medical science.

  162. @Bill L, re #178

    You really should not try to explain what Paul writes without understanding him, without understanding Christian Theism and its implications (this is a bad habit of yours).

    No, Paul is not appealing to instinct and self-interest here – from within the full context of a Christian framework, Paul is talking about the conscience, or moral sense, that God placed in humanity. As he usually does, Paul is taking the Greek concepts of συνείδησις or syneidesis (conscience) and φύσις or physis (nature> and filling them with their full Christian meaning. In the Old Testament, this is referred to as one’s inner self – the heart. Psalm 36:1-4 is a particularly appropriate reference here – (in fact, the Psalms are full of references to this idea, so if you want to understand Paul, you need to understand David, too):

    Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart;
    There is no fear of God before his eyes.
    2  For it flatters him in his own eyes
    Concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
    3  The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
    He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
    4  He plans wickedness upon his bed;
    He sets himself on a path that is not good;
    He does not despise evil.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ps 36:1–4). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    Don’t forget that what Paul has written comes after Romans 1:18ff, which deals with God’s general revelation of Himself, and the rejection of that revelation by humanity.

    Here, perhaps these two references will help you, if you think my 35+ years of Biblical literacy and study are not good enough for you.

    https://bible.org/article/mosaic-law-its-function-and-purpose-new-testament

    https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-10-judged-your-deeds-romans-26-11

  163. Sorry, I need to continue the comment here – editing has timed out on me 🙂

    The heart in the OT is also referred to by Jeremiah as well, so if you want to understand Paul in Romans 2, you have to understand Jeremiah, too.

    In Jeremiah 17:9-10, God speaks (through Jeremiah) that the human heart is deceitful and sick, and that He searches the heart, tests the mind, and renders judgement to each man according to his deeds. Does this sound familiar? Do you see the connections to Romans 2?

    In Jeremiah 31:30-34, God talks about a new covenant that will be written on people’s hearts. Jesus, in Luke 22:14-20, tells His disciples that His death will inaugurate that new covenant. Although Jeremiah talked about the new covenant with Judah and Israel, the New Testament shows us that Jesus’ death and resurrection applies that new covenant to Gentiles as well – Paul had talked about that in Romans 1, and he continues that thread in subsequent chapters, and indeed, it is found throughout the NT.

    What you do not yet seem to grasp is that the Bible is like a tapestry, with continuous threads that connect all of its parts to form the wonderful picture that God is weaving. Your superficial approach to reading it misses that richness and leads you to wrong conclusions.

  164. The theist has an explanation how we got our moral sense or conscience. But if you reject natural selection as a sufficient cause, as Bill L. appears to do (#171), then what is the explanation as to how we acquired a moral sense, conscience or our moral “hard wiring”? There is nothing in nature that has any kind of plan or purpose that has human beings in mind. On naturalism, I don’t see how objective moral values can be explained or grounded.

  165. Within a Christian framework, morality is not a physical thing, like health – it is a spiritual concept, placed within the human heart by God – that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. This goes back to Genesis 1 and 2, and whatever physical processes God might have used to bring about human beings, and however we should understand those opening chapters of the Bible in the light of modern origins science, it seems inescapable that a spiritual nature is something that only God could have imparted to us. We also understand that that original image of God imparted to us has been corrupted and no longer functions as God intended it – our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick, so much so that only a work of God can fix us and make us right.

    Thus, when we as Christians speak of human nature we are referring to much more than what a mere physical process could have produced. We maintain that our moral sense is not derivable from our physical natures, but the image of our Creator that He placed within our hearts. “Ought” comes from our spiritual nature, not from our physical nature, and sadly, both have been corrupted.

  166. Victoria,

    Maybe I need another 35 years of study to understand Paul then. But I have a feeling that no matter how much study I put forth, lots of people will still say my understanding is just not right. So I’m doing the best I can with what I know. Quickly weaving things together to see them the way you do is not all that easy, especially for someone who is not convinced that this is the best method to approach truth claims.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever spent time talking to someone like a “9/11 Truther” or JFK conspiracy theorist, or even an anti-GMO activist? Many of them are very intelligent people and have a very rich understanding of an incredible amount of details and facts that surround their beliefs. The see connections and put things together in incredibly sophisticated ways. In this manner they will see non-supporters of their ideas as just having a superficial approach that leads them to the wrong conclusions. I am not saying that you are like them, but that it can appear to an outsider as a possibility. I wonder what Jewish scholars would think of your views.

    Yes, I have read your links and looked at the passages. I understand what you are saying but I still don’t see how that interferes with my point – that I see no way to distinguish what you believe God has written on people’s hearts from instinct and intuition.

    As I said before, I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but it can be difficult when you don’t answer my questions and objections. I know this is less related to the concept of objective morality under naturalism, but I had asked you in this thread what evidence you have that non-Jews behaved so much worse than Jews during these early Biblical times – much of what you have said is dependent upon this. I had also asked that people answer #’s 398 and 399 in this one:

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/09/what-does-faith-have-to-do-with-knowledge-part-two/

    What did you think of Catherine Hezser’s book? What do you think of that fact that the pages I pointed you to seem to contradict your central claim about the Exodus passage?

    You once cited prophecy as evidence for Christianity. But since I have been looking, it seems we have no documents that we confident were written before the event took place.

    Since I am bringing up my biggest doubts and since you have put in so many years of study, don’t you think a good way to get to the heart of my skepticism would be to answer the questions? I think it would go a long way. Frankly, it also leaves me even more skeptical of someone when they don’t seen to deal with these issues. I’m sure it does for you as well.

    I understand if you don’t have time right now; it’s Christmas. So have a good one.

  167. JAD,

    OK, I guess I haven’t explained this well. Natural selection has given us the hard-wiring that gives us moral inclinations and feelings. However it does not give us an OBJECTIVE MORALITY. It is a necessary cause but not a sufficient cause. In order have objective morality you would have to have a morality that is in service to an objective standard.

  168. If anyone is interested here are some good books on the evolutionary origins of morality:

    “The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation”

    “The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology”

    “The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule”

    “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society”

    For more on objective morality:

    “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”

  169. I read the excerpt from her book that you linked to – I have not read the entire book, though.

    I agree with what she wrote, but what she wrote was not the point I was trying to make. Perhaps I didn’t make it clear. My point was that the Law in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is the standard by which Israel was to live – it was how God intended them to relate to Himself, other Israelites, to the strangers and aliens (ie, non-Jews) among them, and to the surrounding nations.

    In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses (as with typical suzerainity treaties of the 2nd millenium BCE) pronounces blessings for keeping the law and curses for failing to keep it – he refers back to the standard that was previously laid out.

    You might find this article useful
    https://bible.org/seriespage/giving-law-part-i

    And how did Israel interpret and apply that standard? Not very well at all, as their subsequent history shows. Within a generation or so after occupying the land of Canaan, which God had promised to Abraham, as a judgement for the wickedness of the Canaanites living there at the time, the Israelites fell into the very same wickedness and idolatry (see Judges, where the key refrain is “every man did what was right in his own eyes”, i.e. not according to the Law of Moses). There were exceptions, of course, and one such man is Boaz, who kept the Law as it was meant to be kept. There seems to have been a spiritual renaissance with David, and Solomon in his early years, but even Solomon in his old age fell into idolatry. Despite the admonitions of Deuteronomy 17:15-20, Solomon had so many foreign wives that they turned his heart away from God, and with his death, Israel once again fell away from God’s standards. That is where the prophets come in – to call attention to the sins of the nation and to call them back to repentance and to the standard, and warns them of God’s judgement if they do not turn back to Him (hence the destruction of the northern kingdom (Israel) and the exile of the southern kingdom (Judah) to Babylon – read the books of the Kings ( 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Chronicles).

    So, I am not surprised when Hezer says what she says – this is consistent with the biblical narrative.

    As to prophecy, I knew you would say that – if you go back to the other thread where you asked us about prophecy, you will see that I said that you’d go with the anti-supernaturalist/skeptical viewpoint – just how thoroughly did you consider the conservative positions? I’m not going to waste my time trying to argue with you – I can only say that there are plenty of scholarly works available to you that articulate and defend the conservative positions – you find them and read them for yourself.
    If you don’t, that is your problem, not mine.

    I gave you search references for other ANE cultures. I am not obligated to do all the heavy lifting here.

  170. That link above is part of a series. The next part

    https://bible.org/seriespage/giving-law-part-ii

    goes into more detail

    Exodus 20-23

    We should first note the difference between the general commandments and the detailed ordinances, statutes, and precepts of the Law.

    The Ten Commandments are really the summary declarations of God’s Law which encompass all the detailed ordinances and statutes that follow. There are many other declarations in the Law that take the form of direct commandments, but the Ten Commandments are the overriding principles of law, which the ordinances and statutes flesh out.

    1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath of in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16”You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:1-17).

    The Ten Commandments, as many of you know, address two essential aspects of man’s experience. The first four commandments focus directly on man’s relationship with God, and the remaining six focus on man’s relationships with man. This is parallel to Jesus’ own statement about the essence of the Law in Mark 12:28-31, in which one of the Jewish scribes asked Jesus,

    “What commandment is the foremost of all?”

    Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

    “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

    Ultimately, all of the commandments and ordinances are found to be outworkings of these two overriding commandments. Genuinely loving God and our fellow man is the fulfillment of the Law, and this godly love is the goal of God’s work of sanctification in the life of the believer.

    THE ORDINANCES

    Exodus 21-23

    In Exodus 21-23, many of the Laws are worded in the form of “if, … then” statements. For example, in 22:1:

    “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”

    These and many of the other laws address fairly specific scenarios that might arise in the lives of Israelites. These laws, or ordinances, are not to be taken as comprehensive, but rather are to been seen as examples to guide the Israelites in the application of the Law to their daily lives. One of the great errors of Israel was to treat the Law as a set of rules that addressed every area of their lives, like a big box they could live in to be sure they were pleasing to God. But in God’s design, the Law was always a matter of the heart. There is no difference here between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

    In fact, Bill L, I’d recommend that you work through that series, starting here

    https://bible.org/series/creation-cross

    This is another good study series
    https://bible.org/series/what-world-going-study-gods-plan-man

    I’d also recommend that you bracket your skepticism, and give the Bible a chance to speak for itself, on its own terms. There are solid, scholarly, rational reasons to reject the skeptical conclusions of the ‘liberal’ Biblical scholars, and solid, scholarly and rationally justified reasons to trust the Bible on its own terms for what it claims to be. We have given you many of those arguments and counter-arguments.

    I have also said, and I can’t stress this enough, that the Bible is meant to be read and understood within the context of a covenant relationship with its ultimate Author. Without it, you are just accumulating facts, not wisdom, and certainly not redemption. You have to decide what you want and seek it with all your heart – this does not mean you give up rational thinking and reason – it means that you factor in your heart and soul into the process.

  171. Bill L.,

    I don’t see that this is the case. I see human well-being in a manner that is similar to human health. But I don’t know if there is anything like ‘health realism.’ What we ultimately do with health is just say that we know what it is through certain measurements.

    Since being physically healthy is just another part of human well-being I’m not sure that it helps illustrate what you think it does. We fix our physical bodies because we think there is a way they are supposed to be. The heart is for pumping blood and so if it’s not doing the job well we fix it. Now, either that purpose is just in our minds or it is also an objective aspect of reality. I’m guessing that you would hold that the heart really is for pumping blood and if someone was to say otherwise they would be wrong, but that is only true if the purpose exists outside our minds.

    In the same way, humans have purposes that exist apart from their conscious intentions. To the extent that they frustrate these purposes they are objectively defective. You maintain that there is an objective standard of human well-being and I agree, but you haven’t shown how the rest of your philosophy supports this standard. That’s what you need to do.

  172. Just so you know I’m not abandoning you, Bill L…

    Here are a number of links where you can find conservative Biblical scholarship, articles, blogs, etc.

    http://www.apologetics315.com – on the left side of the page, there are links for various topics and authors. I’d use this one as my primary launch point for finding authors.

    http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com – a good blog where you can also comment and ask questions.

    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/research.aspx#.Urtco_RDt8E for some really fine work on archaeology and its relationship to the Bible.

    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/ – Biblical Archaeology Review – especially good because you can actually see the debates between the minimalists and the conservative scholars, but you have to have a paid subscription to see in-depth articles.

    http://www.bible.org – this is the NET Bible home site (a lot of my links come from there) – Resources – Topics will get you to articles, scholarly and devotional.

    If you are looking to see how professional scientists who are Christians (and not YECs 🙂 ) deal with issues of science and faith
    http://www.biologos.org and http://www.asa3.org are your two best places, with http://www.reasons.org providing a concordist Old Earth Creationist viewpoint.

    I said once that I favoured the latter over the first one, but a recent article published by a Christian biologist at the second site has given me something to review that position.

  173. In his 1993 debate with William Lane Craig, atheist philosopher Richard Taylor was asked, “Is the basis for morality natural or supernatural?”

    “It is neither,” he answered.

    Taylor then goes on to explain:

    The basis for morality is conventional, which means the rules of morality were fabricated by human beings over many generations. These rules are: to abstain from injury, to abstain from lying, theft, assault, killing, and so forth. These rules were not the invention of God. No one in this room imagines that if there were not a God to tell us these things, we would not know any better. No one in this room thinks that if God had not told us this, if God had not delivered these rules to Moses, then we would not see anything wrong with my stealing, assaulting, and killing. The Greeks assumed that human morality is based on convention.

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-basis-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-taylor-debate#ixzz2oUsGjk2B

    Actually, Plato saw that the conventional morality of his day creating more problems than it solved. For example, if morality is based on human convention, then it’s not objective… it’s relative and changeable, like fashions and fads are relative, changeable and trendy. It’s also open to abuse by those who know how to manipulate public opinion and by influential people who want their opinions justified (II Timothy 4:3). For example, in ancient Greek society there were paid professionals, itinerant “philosphers” who worked on a consulting fee basis. (Some of them became very wealthy.) Plato had contempt for for these men, who historians refer to as the “sophists” (obviously truth wasn’t their over-riding motivation.) Plato, who was confronted with political corruption in his time, just like we are in ours, was a philosopher who was honestly interested in seeking the truth. He wanted to ground, not only morality, but also epistemology and metaphysics in something that was eternal unchanging. IOW he was looking for something that was objectively true.

    Some other sophists, however, argued that morality could be grounded in nature, but Plato didn’t think these philosophers arguments were very tenable. For example:

    Callicles holds that conventional morality is a contrivance devised by the weak and unintelligent to inhibit the strong and intelligent from doing what they are entitled by nature to do, viz. exploit their inferiors for their own advantage. He is thus an inverted moralist, who holds that what it is really right to do is what it is conventionally wrong to do. The true, authoritative norms are those which prevail in nature, as shown by the behavior of non-human animals such as beasts of prey; those who act in accordance with these norms ‘do these things in accordance with the nature of justice and … the law of nature, but perhaps not in accordance with this one which we lay down’ (Plato, Gorgias, 483e)
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sophists/#NomPhu

    This sounds a lot like the kind of moral reasoning that the so-called “social Darwinists”, which they derived from Darwin’s theory of natural selection– “survival of the fittest,” “might makes right” etc., used to justify racism and involuntary forms of eugenics, like forced sterilizations.

    Plato saw that besides the possibility that moral norms originated in society (nomos), or that they originated in nature (physis), there was a third possibility: morality was grounded in something that transcended both society and nature. Of course, later on Christian theologians co-opted this idea. Plato, for example, postulated that there existed a transcendent “Good” that grounded moral values. Christian theologians, however, identified Plato’s Good with the goodness of God.

    To summarize, there are three possible ways to ground (or “objectify”) moral values: (1)society, (2)nature or (3)God. As we have seen Plato argued that both #1 and #2 were insufficient. Most modern philosophers would agree. On the other hand, not only is #3 a sufficient explanation, it is self evidently true that it is.

  174. Melissa,

    “We fix our physical bodies because we think there is a way they are supposed to be.”

    I’m not so sure this is true. It seems we fix our physical bodies because we CAN. I’m sure we can imagine a time in the future (say 100 years from now) were the norm becomes living to 150 years of age. I don’t know if that’s possible but we do not say right now that we are supposed to live to 150. All we are doing is making incremental steps towards improving conditions that are possible.

    I would say that the heart pumps blood is just a fact. It’s a rather accidental but beneficial fact from evolution. But no purpose need exist outside of our minds. So it looks like this is where we diverge.

  175. Richard Taylor was wrong about this:

    No one in this room imagines that if there were not a God to tell us these things, we would not know any better. No one in this room thinks that if God had not told us this, if God had not delivered these rules to Moses, then we would not see anything wrong with my stealing, assaulting, and killing. The Greeks assumed that human morality is based on convention.

    Here’s the error. It’s a very common one, and a vexing one for people who try to explain morality and God. Take a look at these assertions. They’re very different from one another, and yet atheists and skeptics seem to think they’re virtually the same.

    1. Without God there would be no morality.
    2. Without God there would be no knowledge of morality.
    3. Without God’s revelation in the Bible there would be no knowledge of morality.
    4. The one who lives without God has no basis for morality.
    5. The one who lives without belief in God has no basis for morality.
    6. The one who lives without belief in God has no basis for explaining morality.

    Atheist writers and debaters conflate these all the time. Taylor did it in this debate. They treat the argument as if these were all one and the same thing, and as if Christians affirmed them all. That’s a total misunderstanding, however.

    Christian theology generally affirms assertion 1. Assertion 2 follows from 1, so Christian theology also affirms it as well; and assertion 6 follows from 2, so Christian theology also agrees with 6.

    The Bible itself categorically denies assertions 3 and 5: see Romans 2:14-15 (there are other passages, but this is the quickest and most direct route to demonstrating the point). Moral knowledge is planted in our hearts by God, whether we recognize and acknowledge him and his revelation or not.

    Christian theology categorically denies the premise of assertion 4. There is such a thing as living without belief in God, but there is no such thing as living without God, for God is, and all who live, live in the reality of God even if they deny it.

    Now, if Taylor had said,

    If God had not delivered these rules to Moses, then we would not see anything wrong with my stealing, assaulting, and killing. The Greeks assumed that human morality is based on convention

    He would have been speaking a form of 3 and/or 5, and everyone could agree on that.

    His first sentence quoted here, though, with the clause, “if there were not a God,” intersects with assertions 1, 2, and 4. And I guarantee that there was someone in the room (Craig, at least!) who “imagined” that if there were no God, then morality would be both nonexistent and unknown.

  176. On evolutionary theory, Bill L, this is exactly right and amazingly wrong, both at the same time:

    I would say that the heart pumps blood is just a fact. It’s a rather accidental but beneficial fact from evolution. But no purpose need exist outside of our minds. So it looks like this is where we diverge.

    Evolution’s innovations are all accidental. They are guided accidents, to be sure: natural selection is not accidental. It preserves adaptive accidents, the ones that tend toward enhanced reproductive success. So to that extent, on evolution, you are exactly right.

    But you threw in another word, “beneficial.” That calls for the question to be asked, “beneficial to what end?” For “beneficial” cannot stand alone, it must always be tied to some valued end. Is counterfeiting currency beneficial? Yes and no, depending on the end one seeks. Is sunlight beneficial? Yes and no. Is life itself beneficial? To what purpose?

    You denied purpose, Bill, but in the very same sentence you employed a word that demands it.

    You could hardly avoid it though: for sanity and rationality demand it.

  177. JAD and Tom

    and BillT,

    who probably thought I ignored him, but the real reason is that I had other things to do

    I guess my post got lost between the multitude of other posts so here goes again:

    In the previous posts I read a lot about those objective norms which believers seem to be so sure they possess. The real situation is in fact not so clear cut. They have to take at least four hurdles

    1) The world doesn’t only exist of believers in your brand of religion. And for atheists and believers in other religions, your God, doesn’t exist. So in discussions with them it is useless to call on those objective rules. You will have to find a common ground and justification to find a way to agree.

    2) If your God would exist:
    Then there is still the Euthyphro dilemma.

    I know, some of you think Feser gave a good counterargument based on Thomism, and I haven’t yet had time to read it attentively, but as far as I know most internationally known living philosophers are not Thomists. Come to think of it, most of them are not even Christians. And as far as I know the only two Christian philosophers of some renown, internationally,William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga ,
    are, as far as I know, also, not Thomists (in Plantiga’s case not classical Thomism). Which kind of suggests that Thomism is not really that convincing anymore.

    3) Unclear or lacking communication between God and man.
    Shown by:
    Division between religions.
    Division between Abrahamaic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).
    Deep centuries old divides between Christian churches.
    Rules by God for food, dress, behaviour which were once in use but are no longer maintained by some
    and still maintained by others.
    Seemingly changed opinions of God: OT: God commands murder of women and children and even donkeys and camels (Caanite, Amalekites), while the message of the NT is: love thy neighbour.
    And Tom in the cases of the Caanites and the Amalekites, where were sanity and rationality?
    So in these cases, where is the clear cut objective unchanging rule? Maybe somewhere, but seemingly hidden well. Since it’s just interpretation and discussion all around.

    A number of moral problems for which there is no clear cut objective rule: such as cloning.
    So in these cases the believer has to interpret and reason to arrive at his own rules, in the hope he does it well.

    4) The ‘trolley problem’. I would advise you to look it up in wikipedia. It would take too long for me to describe it here. It’s an ethical problem where people are asked to make a choice. When questioned afterwards, it is clear that the respondents (Christians, atheists, …) in most cases can’t define the reason why they made the choice. They invent an explanation on the spot.
    This experiment shows that in a number of cases people don’t rely on those ‘objective norms’, but
    react based on intuition. So what use are those ‘objective norms’ in these cases? None.

    Conclusion: there is really no basis to take the stand: my rules are objective and yours are not.
    In our multicultural society one has to communicate, agree with others.
    One has to base justification on mutual ground.
    You can be convinced of the objectivity of your rules but that can’t form a basis for discussion

    I personally don’t think I possess objective rules. But I stand for empathy, care, absence of harm if there is no necessity for it as in the case of an operation, and flourishing. And thanks to evolution most men and women seem to agree on that. If it would be otherwise we wouldn’t be around anymore. And it works too, just look at some of the Scandinavian countries, which are amongst the most atheist in the world.
    And as far as I know, they are happier than the citizens in the US.

    Somewhere BillT writes on the subjective rules: ‘that people can ignore at will’. That is a common misconception. Only Mr Spock in Star Trek and psychopaths, who lack the emotional connection between the fundamental rules and behaviour, can just change their behaviour at will without internal psychological repercussions. Of course people who are not psychopaths can be brought to do horrible things, but only after having undergone strong psychological influences. The fact that these influences have to be that strong shows that the change is not just ‘at will’.

  178. Dirkvg, if it’s your intention to dispute the Euthyphro through an argument from authority or ad populum, let me advise you of several things:

    1. The argumentum ad populum is usually an informal fallacy, except in cases where the numbers are relevant to the case, which is not so this time.
    2. The argument from authority is often an informal fallacy, except in cases where the chosen authority’s credibility, competence, and trustworthiness can be established.
    3. To use either of those argument methods to dispute an argument that you don’t know is extremely unlikely to succeed.
    4. To use them when you know next to nothing about the authorities you cite is also extremely unlikely to succeed.
    5. You just attempted both 3 and 4, and you did it where the numbers are not directly relevant to the case and where (because of 4) you haven’t begun to establish your chosen authority’s credibility, competence, and trustworthiness.
    6. The effect of 1 through 5 is that you have shown, just as clearly as ever, that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Feser is a Thomist, but the Euthyphro doesn’t fail because of Thomism, it fails because it applies to gods such as Plato knew, whose moral character was contingent and changing. It doesn’t apply to God who is essentially and eternally good.

    Plantinga and Craig are not the only theistic philosophers with international stature. See the list at Common Sense Atheism, and note how many theists are at top-tier universities.

    Nor is theism rare in philosophy. See the complaint raised by the atheistic philosopher Quentin Smith, in a paper published in the atheist-leaning Philo:

    Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians.

    I still long for the day when you decide not to be so confident declaring that which you do not know.

    That’s all I want to say this time, because until you realize you don’t know as much as you think you know, there’s no reason to think you’ll listen.

  179. Dirkvg,

    I’ll ditto everything Tom said and simply add that I’m not going to respond to someone who doesn’t know how present a valid, non-fallacious argument. For example, take #2 in your list, the Euthyphro dilemma. Where is your argument in favor of it? You do not explain why it’s a dilemma, nor did you counter Feser’s rebuttal… Nor did you bother with Craig’s rebuttal. Did you know that he has a rebuttal? Did you even bother to look? It took me 30 seconds to find this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSRZGxwiNQg

    You don’t even need to read, just watch and listen.

  180. Tom,

    Dirkvg, if it’s your intention to dispute the Euthyphro through an argument from authority or ad populum,

    No not at all. You wasted your time battling with a straw man of your own making. You should now better by now.

    I clearly indicated that had yet to read attentively Feser’s argument.

    I never stated that the list of philosophers proved anything. Read it again. I used the term ‘suggest’ which is quite something else. I knew you would jump on that. Besides I have the impression you confuse ‘internationally known living philosophers’ with American philosophers.Not uncommon for Americans.

    I guess that straw man was the only easy target. (joke)

    It doesn’t apply to God who is essentially and eternally good.

    I guess in your eagerness to accuse me of a fallcy you missed my remark on the Caanites and the Malekites.

    I still long for the day when you decide not to be so confident declaring that which you do not know.

    I long for the day you will, instead of going for the easy fireworks, to impress your fellow believers, go for the real argument

    I found nothing in your reply which adressed the cumulative argument about objective values and the four hurdles.

  181. JAD

    see my answer to Tom in 203

    On Craig: I read him before but until now , nothing
    Don’t underestimate me.

    But ok, I’ll look at the clip

    you didn’t adress any of the other points but just kept to the easy target which, in fact, I didn’t even defend explicitely

  182. So, Dirkvg, it would seem that since you didn’t claim that your comment presented an argument, my refutation of it is fallacious. That’s weird. Besides, if you’re going to split hairs and use “I didn’t argue, I only suggested,” then I’ll answer that by pointing out that I began my entire comment with “If it’s your intention….” See? I didn’t accuse you of anything. I merely set up a conditional!

    But this is just nuts. The basic problem remains: you’re speaking of that which you do not know. The reason I haven’t gone for what you call “the real argument” is because there’s a real problem behind your “real argument:” over and over again, your assertions are rife with misinformation that you refuse to recognize. Over and over again you make “arguments” out of what I call false facts.

    I thought when you asked me earlier about the Caanites and the Malekites that you had committed a simple typo in both names. You’ve repeated it now. I never heard of “Caanites” or “Malekites,” and if you ever read anything about the Canaanites or Amalekites, it didn’t influence you enough for you to notice how their names are spelled. (Maybe it’s different in your first language. If so let me know and I’ll apologize as appropriate.)

    Your question about whether I was focused only American philosophers is very strange. I have no clue where that came from.

    Your charges of inconsistency between the OT and NT have answers. I didn’t miss that, as you now accuse me. I chose not to respond to it, and I explained my reasons, which are consistent with what I’ve been telling you for a long time now. I’ll repeat what I wrote there, in case you missed it:

    “That’s all I want to say this time, because until you realize you don’t know as much as you think you know, there’s no reason to think you’ll listen.”

  183. @BillL:

    No. I don’t see the problem. Help me out here.

    You said and I quote:

    It is beneficial in an evolutionary sense.

    Tom writes in #194 and I quote:

    You denied purpose, Bill, but in the very same sentence you employed a word that demands it.

    Still do not get it? To say that something is “beneficial” is tantamount to recognize purposes; there is no such thing as beneficial simpliciter, there is something that is beneficial *for* this or beneficial *for* that, in other words, there is “beneficial” only if there are purposes. But in #192 you say explicitly and I quote:

    I would say that the heart pumps blood is just a fact. It’s a rather accidental but beneficial fact from evolution. But no purpose need exist outside of our minds. So it looks like this is where we diverge.

    Here it is: there are no purposes. It follows, as night follows from day, that there are no “beneficial” anything’s outside the mind. In other words, you have just conceded that if some behavior is deemed “beneficial”, it is nothing but a construct of the mind.

  184. I did make some typing errors, but I did write Amalekites:

    ‘Seemingly changed opinions of God: OT: God commands murder of women and children and even donkeys and camels (Caanite, Amalekites), while the message of the NT is: love thy neighbour.
    And Tom in the cases of the Caanites and the Amalekites, where were sanity and rationality? ‘

    in my first post. So you are again picking on details, making fireworks to impress the impressable.

    And ‘Canaanites’ and ‘Caanites’, really? Your kidding right? You didn’t got that, that it was a typing error and that it should have been Canaanites?? You do read the Bible do you? (just joking)

    If you have no strong justifications, just admit it, and don’t hide behind my typing errors and your wrong interpretation. That’s very weak.

    Besides I made 4 arguments and you hide behind the typing errors in one and your wrong interpretation of another to explain your refusal to answer. This becomes sad.

  185. I think maybe two things are being conflated and confused here. Yes, it requires sentient minds to determine that something is beneficial in terms of being desirable. If a sentient being exists and want to continue to exist, then it is beneficial that he has a heart. So when I wrote “But no purpose need exist outside of our minds” it means that minds must be there, to say there is purpose, but it is not necessary to receive that purpose from anything other than a mind.

    Perhaps the misunderstanding lies here: We often impart “purpose” (out of convince or habit) to things that don’t really have them. We say that evolution is successful by leaving more offspring. In this I attributed a sort of “purpose” to evolution, but of course there is no real purpose from a non-conscience process. I know that we are using these terms as a matter of convention. When I say something is beneficial in an evolutionary sense, I am talking about what leads to greater survival. If I want to talk about stellar and planetary formation, I might say it’s beneficial to have an accretion disc from which these can form.

  186. Thanks, Bill L.

    I really think it’s important for you to keep straight what you mean by “beneficial.” It is by no means obvious that “beneficial” in the evolutionary sense (contributing to reproductive success) has anything whatsoever to do with what humans consider beneficial. Survival, yes, reproduction, yes; but what about everything else we consider beneficial (arts, fulfillment, moral behavior…?)

  187. Tom,

    Those other things you mention – arts, fulfillment, moral behavior go back to the central theme of what I have been trying to present here about an objective morality. They are beneficial in the sense that they lead to greater well-being.

  188. Bill,
    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

    They are beneficial in the sense that they lead to greater well-being.

    I think we all agree that a person ought to pursue greater well-being. However, to repeat, you need to explain where that obligation comes from. It’s an obligation directed at humans – all of them. Evolution doesn’t obligate humans to do anything.

    You cannot say that the human mind created that obligation because that would fly in the face of what you already said was true – that this standard is real, immutable, objective and immaterial.

    Can’t you see that objective obligations cannot exist without objective purpose?

  189. Steve K,

    Evolution doesn’t obligate humans to do anything.

    William Lane Craig in his debate with Richard Taylor points out that Taylor, who rejects the idea that objective moral values exist, argues in his book that one cannot root “moral obligations or objective right and wrong” in nature or any kind of dysteleological evolutionary process.

    italics “On Taylor’s view,” says Craig, “there are no such things as moral obligations or objective right and wrong. For example, Professor Taylor imagines in his book a race of people living in a state of nature, where there are no customs or laws because, you see, he thinks values are rooted in just customs and laws. He says, suppose one person kills another one and takes his goods. He writes,

    “Such actions, though injurious to their victims, are no more…unjust or immoral than they would be if done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it, for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining.”
    Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice–Hall, 1985), p. 14.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-basis-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-taylor-debate#section_2

    Again, Taylor doesn’t believe in any kind of objective basis for moral values or duties, so he is committed to some kind of moral relativism.

    People who want to try to ground ethics or morality in “nature”, need to not only answer theists but also philosophical naturalists like Taylor, who also thinks the idea is misguided.

  190. SteveK,

    The human mind only inclines one to DO the obligation (because it seeks states of greater human well-being). But that of course does not make it objective. It is only in that there are objective states of well-being that allow it to be objective. The obligation (something we are bound to by commitment) exists because of the recognition that humans seek well-being.

  191. Bill L.,

    It is only in that there are objective states of well-being that allow it to be objective.

    If there are no objective purposes there are no objective states of well-being. Given your comment above, a heart that doesn’t pump blood is only defective relative to our imposed purposes or values. In the same way someone who murders is only defective relative to our imposed purposes or values.

  192. The obligation (something we are bound to by commitment) exists because of the recognition that humans seek well-being.

    Then it’s not an objective, immutable standard. You said it was before, but now I guess you’ve changed your mind, huh?

  193. Bill L,

    Projecting human purposes and values (benefit, well being etc.) onto nature doesn’t explain how we came to have those purposes and values in the first place. Where does purpose exist in nature? Your reasoning, it appears, is circular: we have a sense of purpose so that sense of purpose must have arisen somehow out of nature. However, Darwinian evolution, according to a number of leading evolutionary scientists, is a mindless, purposeless process. For example:

    (1) Stephen Jay Gould tells us that ‘Darwin argues that evolution has no purpose. Individuals struggle to increase the representation of their genes in future generations, and that is all’.

    (2) William Provine asserts, ‘Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans’.

    (3) Richard Dawkins maintains, ‘The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music’.

    (4)Edward O. Wilson writes, ‘no species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history’.

    (5)Lastly, George Gaylord Simpson claims, ‘Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind’.

    http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html?http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000016/index.html

    How can a mindless, purposeless process result in real purpose? A better explanation from a purely naturalistic perspective would be that “Morality… is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”
    —Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics.”

  194. Melissa,

    —It is only in that there are objective states of well-being that allow it to be objective.

    “If there are no objective purposes there are no objective states of well-being. Given your comment above, a heart that doesn’t pump blood is only defective relative to our imposed purposes or values.”

    I’m not sure I follow you. The comment above was about obligation. Did you understand it some other way?

  195. SteveK,

    “Then it’s not an objective, immutable standard. You said it was before, but now I guess you’ve changed your mind, huh?”

    I don’t follow you either. The objective standard is maximum well-being.

    Maybe I’m just slow tonight.

  196. JAD,

    Your 5 quotes seem to be talking about there being no purpose behind evolution. I agree with them and it seems you do to.

    So to wonder where minds that develop a sense of purpose is akin to asking how minds that can think were brought forth from a non-thinking process. I highly recommend you read at least one of those books I recommended. They all cover this. For my purposes it is enough to say that humans have evolved a sense of purpose. If you don’t understand how this has happened then we need to discuss a rather different topic that will take a lot of time.

  197. Bill L.,

    It is only in that there are objective states of well-being that allow it to be objective.

    Given what else you’ve affirmed there are no objective states of well-being. I’m not sure how I can make it any clearer.

  198. Tom

    to the two points I put forward

    1) the problems a believer faces in determining if he has got the right interpretation of the so called objective rules

    2) the fact that claiming that one has the obective point of view and that the other one hasn’t got a leg to stand on, is not a fruitfull basis for discussion in a world with many cultures and worldviews

    well, to those points you haven’t given a real counterargument

    besides your obsession with two details, which I mentioned above, and your mistaken personal opinion of me

    and personal opinions are not strong arguments

    neither are details

    but since you are convinced that, against all rational reasons, such things as ancedotal evidence forms a strong justification, I guess rational argument isn’t that important to you

    and as to listening I have the same feeling about you

    as I stated already a while ago

    I have the feeling tat you are not here to reason the aguments but to convert and if that doesn’t work to bluff your way through it or to sucker punch your adversaries

    a tactic you started already on my firts posts, by putting to me, a guy who just came on the forum, 10 or 14 sucker punch questions

    the way you reacted to my post above , by concentrating on the typing errors and a mistaken idea of a logical fallacy, instead of the real argument, just proves my point

  199. Melissa,

    Objective states of well-being can be measured by things like lifespan, happiness, less suffering, and so on. I don’t see the problem.

  200. Bill L,

    Does caring for physically, emotionally and mentally disabled people promote the well being or flourishing of human society?

  201. JAD,

    Now of course we are getting into the specifics of how this system would play out – which is fine. But keep in mind what I said early on in this thread… We may not have answers to all of the specifics of how everything will work out (e.g. Do I donate my $1000 to education projects here in the US or do I send that $1000 to Nepal for the construction of a water well) but don’t confuse not having an answer in practice with an answer in principle. In other words, there are right and wrong answers to questions like yours. A right answer moves us towards greater well-being, while a wrong answer moves us towards greater suffering.

    So my quick off-the-cuff answer to your question is to say ‘yes.’ But of course there are a thousand and one details that need to be worked out (e.g. How much care before costs outweigh benefits? How disabled are we talking about? What is the chance of recovery with our efforts? etc.).

  202. JAD and Bill L

    there is a lot of research in positive psychology, and caring is one of the factors which promote happiness

  203. I think there are two things in the objective morality discussions that needed to be considered and fleshed out as part of that discussion (I’m not going to do that here, though):

    1. If we have an innate moral law ‘hard-wired’ (by whatever means), why do we, more often than not, break that law?

    2. Who, or what, enforces the law and sees to it that ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’, especially in those cases where it is the ruling authorities themselves, who have the might and power to do so, who are breaking that law, so that ‘maximal well-being’ for us, our people comes at the expense of them, other peoples?

  204. Victoria,

    1. I would not have referred it to an innate moral law but rather a tendency and that is part of where the answer lies. It is these tendencies that come hard-wired in our brains via our evolutionary background; but they conflict. If you’re an early human trying to survive on the plains of Africa, sometimes it is to your (and your group’s) advantage to cooperate with others and share in their food through hunting, gathering and so on. Sometimes it is in your advantage to kill a stranger who has invaded your area, since he could be planning to kill you and your loved ones.

    (Back in #186, I recommended some books. The first 3 of those deal much more extensively with this issue.)

    2. That greatly depends on the kind of political and civil system(s) we put in place. Really, we police ourselves and we may decide to do that with police, and courts, or we also make little steps with parenting and community problem solving. But understand that if someone (a government for example) decides that maximum well-being should only be for one group, then they will be fundamentally wrong about objective morality. They will not have taken all outcomes into consideration nor will they have understood the premise of maximum well-being.

    (See the 5th book in #186 for more on this.)

  205. Bill L,

    How can we use “well being” as an objective moral standard when you discover, after looking into a little history, that there has been a wide diversity of opinion about what well meaning people mean by well being. For example, biologist Ernst Haeckel, an early follower of Darwin, had the following view of well being:

    Haeckel’s primary concern, consistent with the Golden Rule, was with the promotion of the health and progressive development of humanity… To Haeckel, the belief that human life should be preserved at all costs was a remnant of medieval superstition relating to life after death, namely the belief that one will suffer eternal punishment for disobeying divine commandments. There emerged a dilemma between the goals of preserving life and that of reducing suffering. Haeckel’s reply was taken straight from the pages of Spencer’s Social Statics. Efforts to prolong the lives of the ill actually led to a greater evil: increased pain and misery for the living. Many practices of modern institutions had the effect of artificially selecting harmful biological traits. A prime example of this is what Haeckel referred to as “artificial medical selection.” Well-intended efforts to prolong the lives of those suffering from such inheritable diseases as consumption, tuberculosis, syphilis, and mental disorders had the effect not only of extending their suffering, but also of increasing the number of the children they produce who in turn suffer from these infirmities. Haeckel asserted that “the longer the diseased parents, with medical assistance, can drag on their sickly existence, the more numerous are the descendants who will inherit incurable evils, and the greater will be the number of individuals, again, in the succeeding generation[…] who will be infected by their parents with lingering, hereditary disease.”

    Furthermore, muddled religious views should not prevent one from escaping from chronic pain or even misery caused by poverty by means of suicide, for which he coined the word “autolysis” or “self-redemption.”Recent anatomical observations have proven, Haeckel also informed his readers, that the phromena cells, which are the seat of consciousness, are undeveloped in the brain of the newborn infant; therefore, it should not be considered murder to put sickly infants out of their misery. “We ought rather to look upon it as an advantage both to the infants destroyed and to the community,” Haeckel advised.

    He also claimed that northern Europeans have a higher life-value
    than other peoples on account of the inherited intellectual superiority of their race, as well as the amount of education that their respective societies have invested in them.

    However, Darwin’s kind and gentle views were exceptional among this group of scientists, who continued to argue strenuously the long-term benefits of a hardened and resolute social policy guided by reason rather than misplaced feelings of compassion.

    “Ernst Haeckel and the Morphology of Ethics”
    Nolan Hele Journal of the Canadian Historical Association / Revue de la Société historique du Canada, vol. 15, n° 1, 2004, p. 1-27.
    http://www.erudit.org/revue/jcha/2004/v15/n1/012066ar.pdf

    It appears to me that what one means by “well being” is determined by the moral standard that one presupposes, not the other way around. So well being fails as an objective standard. Whatever morality is, it transcends it.

  206. Bill,

    I don’t follow you either. The objective standard is maximum well-being.

    Once again I’ll ask you two key questions that naturalism cannot answer:

    1) Why must *all* humans follow *one* standard rather than some other factual standard that nature hardwired into sentient creatures? For example: why shouldn’t all humans be obligated to follow what the evolutionary hardwiring of the human sociopath tells them about maximum well-being?

    2) How can there exist an objective standard of obligation when nature has no ability to obligate? If evolution one day instills sociopathic behavior in all humans, you will be arguing that *this* is the standard of well-being for which all humans are obligated – because it makes humans the most happy. This is not the immutable standard you said existed.

    The problem, Bill, is you are attempting to argue that humans are obligated to correct what evolution formed through naturalistic processes. But this argument means that the obligation (which is a final cause) for sentient creatures to exist a certain way *preceded* sentient creatures and the evolutionary process – otherwise you could never successfully argue that evolution got it wrong.

    So, in order for your argument to succeed naturalism must be false. Obligations (final causes) require some real thing that can obligate.

    In #161 you attempted to answer these two questions under the framework of naturalism but you didn’t – because that framework doesn’t allow you to do that. Nature cannot create an obligation.

  207. JAD,

    We probably don’t have perfect agreement on what it means to be maximally physically healthy, but we do agree that there are ways to be less and more healthy. I don’t think any rational person would think that living without a limb is what it means to be maximally physically healthy. But we may not agree on who is the more healthy – the yoga enthusiast or the weight lifter. There are surely different ways to approach being healthy and many of those ways will be more healthy than alternatives (such as someone who just watches TV and smokes all day long). The fact that it is not clear what is the best way to be healthy does not prevent us from having an objective medical science. Someone may argue about if it is better to eat a vegetarian diet to maximize health, or if a paleo-diet is better. The point is though, there are right and wrong answers to these questions. Through some action or inaction we will likely either become more healthy or less healthy and these results will be objective in terms of things like heart rate, incidence of disease, and so on. We may shift our definitions a bit as we obtain better knowledge. But objective criteria are graspable.

    Similar for morality… We may not agree on what “well-being” means but we can remove definitions that are dependent on a presupposed morality. In a naturalistic objective morality we can remove superstitions like “the belief that one will suffer eternal punishment for disobeying divine commandments” and we will be left with objectively measurable criteria to define what it means. You could do the wrong thing by presupposing a predetermined personal morality on what well-being is, but that is akin to the person who says “What if I don’t agree with your definition of health? What if I think what it means to be healthy is to vomit every day until I die?” Again, someone could do that, but they would simply be wrong, or confused about what it means to be healthy.

    You may complain that you want a morality that is more objective than something like medical science, and in that case I can not help you.

  208. [I previously posted a reply to JAD from me (Bill L). I don’t know what happened and I hope will pop back up in a while. I simply meant to address the comment to JAD but for some reason it did not take with my name on it. I probably screwed it up. Sorry.]

    SteveK,

    1. What other standard makes any sense? (I really think you should try to answer this). Even the sociopath does not want to live in a world full of sociopaths. They think (in whatever warped fashion) that they are making themselves happy. They are simply wrong about morality.

    2. See my reply to your #1 above. Add to that that an obligation is something we commit to – whether or not we are completely aware of why we do it (part of it is imbued in our minds), or in complete agreement with it (a sociopath will not agree and is just wrong).

    The problem, Bill, is you are attempting to argue that humans are obligated to correct what evolution formed through naturalistic processes. But this argument means that the obligation (which is a final cause) for sentient creatures to exist a certain way *preceded* sentient creatures and the evolutionary process – otherwise you could never successfully argue that evolution got it wrong.

    Consider this: Humans have a drive to live. Let’s say for a moment that we proceed on our current paths of overpopulation, climate change and over-consumption that it becomes very apparent that we must build space colonies in order to survive (if you don’t like that scenario, let’s say the sun is going to explode). If we wish to go on living we may say that we have now an obligation to build space colonies. All of our duties should be directed towards that. Note that this obligation came later.

    The answer I gave in #161 was little different than your answer. That was why I asked for your view.

  209. Bill,

    What other standard makes any sense?

    The standard doesn’t depend on the rational sensibilities of any human. That’s what makes it an objective standard of obligation.

    Add to that that an obligation is something we commit to…

    Wrong. An obligation is directed at some thing by another thing. Whether you commit to it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an obligation directed at you. The obligation comes first.

    Humans have a drive to live…..All of our duties should be directed towards that. Note that this obligation came later.

    You are conflating the commitment and the obligation to commit. They are two distinct realities. The obligation precedes the commitment. Where does this obligation to do *anything* come from? The reality that naturalism portrays doesn’t obligate any species to live any particular way. Each lives in accordance with how they were evolved to live.

  210. In case it’s not clear here, it looks like #238 is actually me (Bill L) responding to JAD. Sorry for the confusion.

  211. SteveK,

    It looks like we disagree about what an obligation is. It also looks as though you require a moral system that would be more objective than something like medical science. I suspected you might want that, but I may not be able to offer it. But I believe what I have said about the motivation to follow an objective standard was at least comparable to the one you gave for following yours. I don’t know how much further we can take this.

  212. Bill,

    It looks like we disagree about what an obligation is.

    An obligation is the duty to commit. It comes as no surprise to me that naturalism has lead you to a form of self-contradicting, anti-realism where an obligation is “the commitment to something humans are not dutifully required to commit to”.

    I don’t know how much further we can take this.

    I’m committed to go further if you are, but I’m not obliged to.

  213. It also looks as though you require a moral system that would be more objective than something like medical science.

    Not sure what this means, Bill. Can you explain?

  214. Bill L.,

    Objective states of well-being can be measured by things like lifespan, happiness, less suffering, and so on. I don’t see the problem.

    I know you don’t see the problem but it is there. Your have effectively argued in previous comments that human lifespan, happiness, less suffering etc. only have value relative to purposes and values imposed on reality by humans. They are not objectively beneficial facts about reality therefore if someone doesn’t agree with your version of human well-being they can’t be wrong – they just have different values and purposes that they impose on the clumps of matter their brain picks out and designates as humans.

  215. SteveK,

    Sorry I can’t get to you right away; I have a lot of work obligations. Honestly I don’t know why I commit myself to so much.

  216. Bill L.,

    You could do the wrong thing by presupposing a predetermined personal morality on what well-being is, but that is akin to the person who says “What if I don’t agree with your definition of health? What if I think what it means to be healthy is to vomit every day until I die?” Again, someone could do that, but they would simply be wrong, or confused about what it means to be healthy.

    Further to my comment above. For someone to be more or less healthy is just for their body to work more or less in the way it is intended to. Unhealthy habits are those that frustrate our bodies natural ends. You have disputed that natural ends exist. so on what grounds can you say that someone can be objectively wrong that it is healthy to vomit every day?

  217. I’m not sure intention enters into the equation, Melissa. By observation alone we can see that certain habits result in a limited range of bodily effects, and we call those bodily effects “health”. Vomiting daily doesn’t result in the range of bodily effects that we call “health” so vomiting daily is objectively not a cause of health.

    That thinking seems to fit okay under naturalism too. Do you agree, or have I made an error?

    If Bill has disputed that natural ends exist, it’s because he has his eyes closed and isn’t paying attention.

  218. Steve K.,

    I wasn’t meaning our conscious intentions. Bill L, has disputed the reality of natural ends further up the thread. My point is that when we talk about health what we mean is the body working well or habits that contribute to the body working well. We all know what it means for the body to work well because we all know for example the digestive system is supposed to digest food to provide the fuel for our bodies. Therefore to vomit everyday not only prevents our body from digesting the food we eat but also could result in damaging it’s ability to digest food in the long term. Bill L., denies that the objective purpose of the digestive tract is to digest food, rather that purpose is imposed on the digestive tract by us. Therefore if someone was to say that no, the digestive tract is for vomiting, Bill would not have any foundation for claiming they are wrong.

    The naturalist can still say that if we define health as (in this case) not interfering with the digestive tract digesting our food then of course vomiting everyday will not be healthy but that would be an objective statement in relation to a subjective definition.

  219. SteveK,

    OK, first to go back a little… in #143 you described “oughts” in terms of avoiding negative consequences (Adam ruined things for us). It seems that most people that have commented on this are talking about a morality that is described in terms of avoiding negative consequences (these laws written on our hearts by God help us live with one another, the commands give specific instructions about how to interact with one another in order that we may avoid suffering and be happier). I have a feeling that you believe there is a reason God gave us moral commands and laws. He wanted us to be happy, right?

    Adam screwed things up (one wonders how he should have been accountable since he didn’t have knowledge of good and evil) by disobeying God and we suffer as a consequence. We, should avoid wrong and sinful actions so we can avoid the negative consequences that are here on this earth or await us in the afterlife. We are all appealing to avoiding negative consequences. This is what morality is if it is to mean anything.

    Or are you saying that there is no reason for the moral laws and commands other than that God has commanded it. I suppose this is possible, but it would seem very strange indeed. God could very well command us to wear yellow-colored clothing in the summer and green-colored clothing in the winter for no particular reason. He could also tell us to gouge the eyes out of every first child in each family for no other reason then it is his dictate. Both would be perfectly moral if you are saying that morality is just what God dictates.

    But I suspect you do not believe that. I think you believe there is a reason God has commanded this. I think you would say that the point of morality is for us to flourish… to experience well-being. If that is the case, then we are not too far apart. The question would just be then where it comes from. Is well-being only defined by God’s teleology (objective because of God’s POV), or can it be defined by criteria not dependent on human opinion (objective because it conforms to reality)?

    OK, next…

    I hope you noticed my little joke in #246 (I’m not that witty, so this is as good as it gets for me). But clearly there is more than one way to look at the word obligation. This is what I mean when I say you want something more objective than medical science. You want an OBLIGATION delivered from above and I think that is the only meaning that will suffice for you. Given that, it not surprising that we differ here and I may never be able to convince you of anything under naturalism. I can only ask that you (for the purpose of this topic) see that this is at least feasible under naturalism.

  220. Bill L,

    The goal and intention of the eugenics movement, which was widely promoted in the U.S., U.K. and Germany in the early twentieth century, was to promote human well being and flourishing. Was the eugenics movement morally good? It was based on a scientific, naturalistic world view and it had the right intentions and goals, so it should have been, shouldn’t it have?

  221. Melissa,

    Your have effectively argued in previous comments that human lifespan, happiness, less suffering etc. only have value relative to purposes and values imposed on reality by humans. They are not objectively beneficial facts about reality therefore if someone doesn’t agree with your version of human well-being they can’t be wrong – they just have different values and purposes that they impose on the clumps of matter their brain picks out and designates as humans.

    At some point we need to start making sense. What would you say to someone who says they just don’t agree in the law of non-contradiction? It is a standard that you would doubtlessly hold God himself to. Similarly, what rational argument could you give to someone who someone who says he just doesn’t see the value in rationality?

    When I asked SteveK what other standard made any sense he said:

    The standard [that] doesn’t depend on the rational sensibilities of any human. That’s what makes it an objective standard of obligation.

    So the standard comes from God and is therefor objective. But it still requires a rational actor to decide to obey it. What would you think of someone who believes it is in his interest to disobey God? He might say “I am more clever than God and I will some day rule the Universe.” You would say to him, “That’s stupid. If God created you, you can never be more powerful.” You would try to appeal to his sense of reason. If he disagrees, you would dismiss him as having some other motivation that he is not divulging or is not aware of, but ultimately he believes his motivations are in his interest.

    So it is in this case – the standard is well-being. But someone must be reasonable about what he wants or he is just not making sense. In this way, someone can be wrong about morality the way they can be wrong about the idea that the Earth being held up on the backs of turtles.

    If “good” and “bad” are to mean anything at all then then it would be one of the most beneficial facts to think about well-being in these terms. What else could they possibly mean if it is not related to the suffering and well-being of sentient creatures? Good and bad are words that derive from having an experience in the world.

    You are correct, I am removing teleology from this (if I have used it to describe this position it has been an accident out of convention of language). But I again need to go back to what makes any sense in a rational discussion. Humans seek well-being and I have argued that morality makes no sense for any of us to be understood as something else. If someone argues that well-being is actually being miserable, then he is just confused about what that means.

    This sort of goes back to what I said to SteveK; one must take on an obligation if one desires something. If one desires a long life (one of the key definitions of health) then one should not want to vomit every day. To define health an any other way is nonsensical and in this way we will recognize that there are people who will simply be wrong about what it means to be moral. You could define morality as not related to well-being. But I simply wouldn’t know what you mean (and I suspect you wouldn’t either).

  222. JAD,

    No, it was not. They neither understood all of the inputs nor the consequences of their actions. In other words, their actions did not maximize well-being.

  223. But Bill, the eugenics movement was supported by some of the most well known and influential people of the twentieth century.

    Michael Chrichton gives a partial list:

    Its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. It was approved by Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, who ruled in its favor. The famous names who supported it included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; activist Margaret Sanger; botanist Luther Burbank; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; the novelist H. G. Wells; the playwright George Bernard Shaw; and hundreds of others. Nobel Prize winners gave support. Research was backed by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. The Cold Springs Harbor Institute was built to carry out this research, but important work was also done at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Legislation to address the crisis was passed in states from New York to California.

    These efforts had the support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. It was said that if Jesus were alive, he would have supported this effort.

    http://www.michaelcrichton.net/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html

    Who are you?

  224. Andrew W,

    This message is to see if you are still paying attention to this thread and to ask if you still want me to consider your scenario.

    Hopefully you have been following this and see that in order for me to answer it, we would first have to ask what do we mean by morality.

  225. For everyone still reading,

    I’ve been trying to answer a lot of questions over the last few days about morality. Now if you will permit me for a moment, I would like to ask a question.

    What is the moral responsibility to animals under Christianity? I’m not referring to something like extinction. I am referring to something like how we should treat individual animals.

    Thanks in advance

  226. @ Bill L, (#255)

    No, I’m saying that if some of the best, brightest scientific and legal minds of the twentieth century couldn’t come up with a moral system based naturalistically on human well being and flourishing, why would I think you are able to? Aren’t you being just a little bit presumptive?

  227. JAD,

    1. I didn’t claim the system was my idea. (See the 5th book recommendation in #186)

    2. Now the difficult part… what I have described doesn’t easily solve a problem like eugenics. That is a problem of having an answer in practice. I was addressing having an answer in principle. In order to solve the problem in practice, you must have rather complete knowledge of the outcomes (not easy to do, but it is clear to us now with this issue). Keep in mind that our best and brightest minds couldn’t cure polio at one time either.

    Of course it would be nice if there were simple answers to our moral problems, but this is not the world we live in.

    Anyway, I’d be interested to hear what you think about my question in #257.

  228. Bill L.,

    At some point we need to start making sense. What would you say to someone who says they just don’t agree in the law of non-contradiction? It is a standard that you would doubtlessly hold God himself to. Similarly, what rational argument could you give to someone who someone who says he just doesn’t see the value in rationality?

    In what way are they irrational? What they say obviously doesn’t make sense but that us only because it obviously does not confirm to objective reality but you are maintaining that there is nothing in objective reality to conform to so what is your objection?

    So the standard comes from God and is therefor objective. But it still requires a rational actor to decide to obey it. What would you think of someone who believes it is in his interest to disobey God? He might say “I am more clever than God and I will some day rule the Universe.” You would say to him, “That’s stupid. If God created you, you can never be more powerful.” You would try to appeal to his sense of reason. If he disagrees, you would dismiss him as having some other motivation that he is not divulging or is not aware of, but ultimately he believes his motivations are in his interest.

    You are missing an important middle step. God creates us with natures and natural ends, it is these that are the proximate source of what is good and bad for human beings. Because of this we can have a rational foundation for morality evident from objective facts about humans but ultimately grounded in our creation by God. My objection to you is not that you can’t convince people but that you have no rational underpinning to convince them.

    If “good” and “bad” are to mean anything at all then then it would be one of the most beneficial facts to think about well-being in these terms.

    Exactly. Well-being is having our natural ends fulfilled. The state such that we have what us good for us and avoid what is bad. At least that’s how I understand the terms. How do you define these terms without your argument being circular?

    You are correct, I am removing teleology from this (if I have used it to describe this position it has been an accident out of convention of language). But I again need to go back to what makes any sense in a rational discussion. Humans seek well-being and I have argued that morality makes no sense for any of us to be understood as something else. If someone argues that well-being is actually being miserable, then he is just confused about what that means.

    The problem is that you can’t remove teleology and still have an objective standard for anything. You say that use of language that might imply teleology is accidental but my challenge to you is to remove from your explanation that language and then see if the explanation can stand up on it’s own. Humans may seek well-being but you still haven’t offered any way to define well-being by reference to objective facts about humans. Bear in mind that what you may find leads to your feeling of well-being may not be what someone else thinks leads to their feeling of well-being. If all we have to define well-being is what individual humans seek and the only thing to judge is their feelings of satisfaction then you have no rational foundation by which to judge the other person’s morality as wrong.

    You could define morality as not related to well-being. But I simply wouldn’t know what you mean (and I suspect you wouldn’t either).

    I think you misunderstand what I am contending. I agree moral behaviour is about human well-being, flourishing and the good life, but I think you have removed from your account of reality anything that could ground them as anything other than the fulfillment of personal desires.

  229. Melissa,

    Why are they irrational? Consider for a moment the kind of people you would be describing… they would have to be saying “Well, I don’t want well-being, because that would make me happy and better off. I think I would be happier and better off by not being better off.”

    And I am saying that there is something in objective reality they would conform to (or would be the standard) – maximum well-being. (Maybe I’m missing what you are trying to say with that). Well-being defined by lifespan, and happiness are examples of objective definitions.

    One small example (there are many more):
    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-03/fyi-can-scientists-measure-happiness

    I agree that the part about God creating us with natures is a logical part of your view. But that’s not really the point of what I am trying to present. In the view I present, it is sufficient to say that the brain is “hard-wired” with many of these attributes. (See the first 3 books in #186).

    I also agree that not all things will bring a perfectly equal sense of happiness to everyone. That is why it must be the objective of society to increase overall well-being (not that of a few individuals at the expense of others). But this overall measurement will not be defined by individuals. It will be defined for everyone.

    Your circularity arguments have some truth to them. I don’t know how to better explain this then to say that some things just require it. If you do not believe me, try explaining to someone who does not value logical reasoning that he should value logical reasoning. Try to explain why the law of non-contradiction works. Try explaining the value of science to someone who says he does not value science. We need to start with some postulates that are obvious to rational people. Those who do not agree will just have to sit on the sidelines until they wish to be part of the conversation. (This is why we can not appeal to the insane to start acting sane).

    I probably won’t be able to say much more to pique your interest on this enough to read the last book recommended in #186. So if you do want to discuss more, I would like you to show me how you would appeal to someone who says he does not value logic.

    Also, I would really appreciate it if you would look at my question in #157. I really don’t know what the Christian position on this is, so I’m asking for genuine feedback.

  230. Bill L.,

    Why are they irrational? Consider for a moment the kind of people you would be describing… they would have to be saying “Well, I don’t want well-being, because that would make me happy and better off. I think I would be happier and better off by not being better off.”

    I thought I had made it clear where I am probing your view but obviously not. The question is not people arguing they don’t want well-being but that they disagree with how you define well-being. Since you do not accept the obvious reality of natural ends you can’t define well-being in an objective, non-circular, non-question begging way. The only reason why your argument requires circularity at this point is because you refuse to acknowledge that we have natural ends.

    And I am saying that there is something in objective reality they would conform to (or would be the standard) – maximum well-being. (Maybe I’m missing what you are trying to say with that). Well-being defined by lifespan, and happiness are examples of objective definitions.

    And I agree that well-being is an objective standard, but you haven’t shown how your definition can be objective. Yes we can measure lifespan objectively but you can’t show objectively why lifespan should be included in your measure of well-being. I know it seems obvious to you but that’s because of your understanding of human values and purposes, they lurk in the background of your thinking.

    I also agree that not all things will bring a perfectly equal sense of happiness to everyone. That is why it must be the objective of society to increase overall well-being (not that of a few individuals at the expense of others). But this overall measurement will not be defined by individuals. It will be defined for everyone.

    Defined for everyone by who? Yet another riff on will to power. Whoever has the power decides what is right rather than being subject to what is right.

    I probably won’t be able to say much more to pique your interest on this enough to read the last book recommended in #186. So if you do want to discuss more, I would like you to show me how you would appeal to someone who says he does not value logic.

    And as I’ve already written it is not a question of logic but of beginning from objective facts about reality without smuggling in purpose or value. I’ve read a lot of attempts to produce a purely natural morality, they all make the same mistake you do of hidden (but denied) purpose and value in the system.

  231. Yes we can measure lifespan objectively but you can’t show objectively why lifespan should be included in your measure of well-being.

    Ah, now I think I’m understanding you better. This is where I would go back to the example of human health.

    You’re right, we may not all agree in some of the fine details such as should we include the ability to bench press 2 times ones body weight. But we somehow manage to come up with some measurements of health that even seem to apply across many species, and even plants and bacteria. We do this by simply observing that they are alive and that there are things that contribute to this and things that diminish this. We could say that we are assuming an end purpose. But that is a convenient way the human mind works when talking about such things. It is enough to observe that embers of a species have differential lifespans. This is why I said to SteveK earlier that this system is only as objective as something like a science of human health. You may want cosmic objectivity and I can not provide that.

    I can likewise observe that there are certain actions and conditions that lead to the formation of grasslands vs shrub-lands in the mid-western US. I needn’t presume outside purpose in order to favor one over the other. I need only understand that some sentient creatures prefer one over the other. Now when all of these sentient creatures happen to agree on this preference, I would argue that this is then makes our actions an obligation to move these ecosystems in the desired direction.

    Defined for everyone by who? Yet another riff on will to power. Whoever has the power decides what is right rather than being subject to what is right.

    This is where we come to the need of a society to be composed (primarily) of rational actors. One composed of irrational actors could easily create conditions that would lead themselves to the greatest possible misery for all individuals (a country full of sociopaths would probably eventually find there numbers dwindled to one individual).

    I know it seems much simpler to have something imposed from Above but this is what you have in a naturalistic morality. It must be performed by rational sentient creatures. I see that as preferable to being subject to one or a few who may not have our best interests in mind. You even seem to agree that this is the only possibility rational people could want.

    Anyway, I’d really like to hear an answer to my #257 if you wouldn’t mind. It shouldn’t take long. Just a short paragraph is all I ask.

  232. Melissa,

    Another thing that may help is to ask ourselves what we are talking about in the first place… What is morality? I can’t think of any reasonable way to talk about it other than to include ideas like good and bad in a way that relates about how we are to live good, meaningful and fulfilling lives. This is why I wrote that theists usually talk about their reasons for morality as coming from God in as a way to teach us to live in harmony with one another. It’s hard to see how this will not be at least somewhat circular for anyone.

  233. Bill L.,

    What is the moral responsibility to animals under Christianity? I’m not referring to something like extinction. I am referring to something like how we should treat individual animals.

    Since we are creatures in God’s creation we should treat all of nature with the respect and care that is due it as the creation of God. We should act as the good stewards we are supposed to be.

    I know it seems much simpler to have something imposed from Above

    Since, way up in the thread, I was careful to point out that I am proposing human nature and their natural ends as the proximate source of morality I’m not sure why you are trotting out this old chestnut.

    Another thing that may help is to ask ourselves what we are talking about in the first place… What is morality? I can’t think of any reasonable way to talk about it other than to include ideas like good and bad in a way that relates about how we are to live good, meaningful and fulfilling lives. This is why I wrote that theists usually talk about their reasons for morality as coming from God in as a way to teach us to live in harmony with one another. It’s hard to see how this will not be at least somewhat circular for anyone.

    Morality involves an ought and knowing what is good for humans. You have provided us with neither of those and my point is that you can’t provide these. To just say morality involves doing what is good is just stating the obvious. To illustrate the ought and good that I am talking about:

    1. Human beings want what is good for them.
    2. It is good for humans to fulfill their human nature and natural ends.
    3. Human beings ought to fulfill and not frustrate their human nature and ends.

    1. Is obviously true. We always do what we think is in some way good for us. 2. Is a definition of the good that is independent of what we might think about it and based in objective reality and so we could be wrong about the facts of what is good for us. 3 follows from 1 and 2. As you can see, it’s not circular.

    Naturalism is unable to provide an argument that is not circular. The problem for naturalism us that you don’t have anything to substitute in the place if 2 so good can only be defined by human desires and I think we would both acknowledge that humans often have desires for things that are not good. Maybe you have a different proposal that could be substituted for 2?

  234. Since we are creatures in God’s creation we should treat all of nature with the respect and care that is due it as the creation of God. We should act as the good stewards we are supposed to be.

    I was asking about the treatment of individual animals. I want to know the basis for the Christian treatment of other feeling creatures. Why we should or should not kill them and under what circumstances, use them as a kind of slave, chop them up into bits when it is not necessary. These are the things I was hoping someone would answer, but folks seem reluctant to offer anything. I do wonder why.

    2. It is good for humans to fulfill their human nature and natural ends.

    How exactly is this much different then what I wrote? How is human nature and natural ends much different than say natural abilities and lifespans?

  235. It is good for humans to fulfill their human nature and natural ends.

    How exactly is this much different then what I wrote?

    Bill,

    On what basis do you determine just what is our human nature? If there is no God then we are an accident of nature and have no purpose and thus no human nature or natural ends (short of doing whatever we need to stay alive). You keep taking what we know we are, based on the purpose you perceive we have, without giving credit to just where that purpose must come from.

    What is morality? I can’t think of any reasonable way to talk about it other than to include ideas like good and bad in a way that relates about how we are to live good, meaningful and fulfilling lives.

    Of course you can’t talk about morality without using terms like good and bad. The problem for you is you can’t explain what is good and bad without reference to some objective standard and you don’t have one. You’re left with subjective standards that obligate no one. (Notice the key terms “objective” and “obligation” two things you can’t establish and the answer to your above question.) Yes, “good meaningful and fulfilling lives” is what we all want but you can’t tell me why I can’t pick different standards or why I’m obligated to others to have those standards. You’re stealing your standards from theism.

  236. Bill L,.

    I was asking about the treatment of individual animals.

    Sorry. It’s wrong to tie firecrackers to a cats tail and let it run down the street for your enjoyment. I hope that’s specific enough. Why? Because there is something defective in a person who takes pleasure in another creature’s pain and fear. I hope that’s specific enough.

    How exactly is this much different then what I wrote? How is human nature and natural ends much different than say natural abilities and lifespans?

    Human nature and natural ends are just another way of referring to formal and final causation. Natural abilities and lifespan are obviously not the same. Why I think it seems like we are talking about similar things is because the common sense view is that things do really have purposes and my guess is you only deny this because it doesn’t fit into your philosophical view. You might want to go to this link that goes into more detail of some of issues involved in an A-T or essentialist take on morality as I’m guessing it may be new to you.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/does-morality-depend-on-god.html?m=1

    On an unrelated matter I tried yesterday and today to access the last link you posted and it is unavailable.

  237. Bill,

    How exactly is this much different then what I wrote? How is human nature and natural ends much different than say natural abilities and lifespans?

    The difference is huge. Under naturalism, *all* of your abilities are natural and so is your lifespan.

    Under Christianity, some of your abilities are not natural (some are corrupted), and your lifespan is not your natural end – it’s knowing and loving God.

    Naturalists have no way to separate natural abilities into natural (keep these) and corrupted (restore these) – so all abilities are natural and thus morally neutral. For the naturalist, fulfilling your natural abilities and lifespan means this: do what comes natural to you and what gives you pleasure until the day you die.

    Some have personalized this statement for themselves and put it on a bumper sticker. Perhaps you’ve seen it: He who dies with the most toys, wins.

  238. Melissa,

    It’s wrong to tie firecrackers to a cats tail and let it run down the street for your enjoyment. I hope that’s specific enough. Why? Because there is something defective in a person who takes pleasure in another creature’s pain and fear.

    You seem to be saying it is wrong because someone enjoys it because this would show a defect in them. Two things seem to follow from this:
    1. That there would be a defect in such people. (I agree.)
    2. There is really noting wrong with treating the animal this way unless the person derives a twisted pleasure. So what if the person did not derive pleasure? What if in a cat eating society, it were found that tying firecrackers to cats tails made them taste better when it came time to eat them. The managers of these cat farms would experience no pleasure from doing this but just see it as a necessary part of the business. Is this morally acceptable? Why or why not?

    [By the way, I realize that scenario is quite extreme. It is not my intention to go for shock-value. I find that these extremes can be useful for understanding the implications of moral systems.]

  239. BillT, Melissa, and SteveK,

    I will get back to you later on naturalistic morality. But I still await an answer from BillT and SteveK to #257. If you don’t want to answer, could you at least tell me why? Thank you.

    In the meantime, if you see circularity in this concept, I ask you to remember that I started this as a reply to JAD. I urge you to go back and look at his #38 and #50 and see if there is some circularity in his description. If you see none, then you are doing better than I am. If you don’t agree with what he wrote, then I urge you to put forward your own definitions.

    I also repeat that I am only providing a brief sketch of an idea that took the author I mentioned an entire book to describe. I will fully admit that I am not a very good writer, but I’m trying to practice through blogs just like this one.

  240. Bill,

    There is really noting wrong with treating the animal this way unless the person derives a twisted pleasure. So what if the person did not derive pleasure?

    In my opinion that would be an example of a human defect in need of restoration. If a human didn’t derive pleasure from this act, then on what rational basis did they do it? There’s some underlying reason that we don’t know of, and I’m betting it centers around a disordered will / appetite.

    I don’t think scripture goes into a lot of detail about how we ought to relate to animals, but certainly there are some limits given.

    Fortunately, Christians live by the grace of God and don’t have to obsess over every rule of the law in order to gain God’s favor. There is freedom in being able to trust Christ to cover our sins so we can focus on loving God and loving people. This is the Good News that scripture speaks about.

    Hope this answers your #257.

  241. SteveK,

    As I said in the post, they are doing it because they believe it made the cats taste better. Thus they can sell them at a higher profit, and better provide for their family and perhaps donate more to the local church’s efforts to aid the poor.

  242. I guess I didn’t read that far, Bill. Sorry. So it looks like we have a morally good end and a questionable means to achieve that end.

    My judgement would be the same, but at the end of the day I’m either right or wrong in my understanding of the situation.

  243. SteveK

    I want to be clear. You seem to be saying that it is wrong based on an idea of human deficit; is that correct?

    If so, how do you arrive at this particular deficit? I honestly don’t understand.

    Do we have a moral obligation to not cause pain and suffering to animals that is not bound to the idea that it might show some psychopathy in the individual inflicting the pain? I am unclear about your position. You say the ends are morally questionable, but I don’t understand why. [You may assume for this example that the quality of the taste does change for the ones that were treated with firecrackers (I’m just trying to go off of Melissa’s example).]

    If you want a less abstract example, consider the treatment of veal calves (forced to live their lives tied or in small crates), or the treatment of egg-laying chickens (males are killed right away).

    Or for that matter, consider most meat consumption at all in places like the US. Almost no one NEEDS to do this (we will set aside anemics, Yupik peoples, and Eskimos); millions of vegetarians get along just fine.

    We are talking about morality and I don’t see a more fitting place on this site to discuss the topic of Christianity’s ethics towards other sentient creatures. Frankly I’m a bit shocked there seems to be so much apathy towards this topic.

  244. Have we agreed that morality is a measure of the wellbeing and suffering of conscious creatures? The rest of the discussion is kinda pointless otherwise, if the premise is rejected then nothing can follow.

    To show that this is not what we mean when we talk about morality, then we would need an example of a moral or immoral situation that doesn’t involve or reduce to the wellbeing or suffering of conscious creatures. If you cannot provide such an example, the premise cannot be rejected.

    With regard to eugenics, the authority was empiricism, not the people who thought it was right. It is an empirical fact that the idea of eugenics causes widespread empathetic suffering and fear for one’s own family and offspring, which meant that it had immoral consequences, added to which it did not have consequences that improved people’s wellbeing.

    With regard to people disagreeing about how best to improve their wellbeing, there may very well be different types of equivalent wellbeing, but there are definitely methods of achieving wellbeing that are not equivalent and some will cause more suffering than others. Therefore there can be objectively moral or immoral behaviours and consequences.

    We can also discuss the failings of divine command theory, if you’d like, they are dime a dozen.

  245. Bill,

    You seem to be saying that it is wrong based on an idea of human deficit; is that correct?

    It might be, yes. I’m not making any absolute statements.

    If so, how do you arrive at this particular deficit? I honestly don’t understand.

    I’m trying to judge the situation. I haven’t given this topic much thought, most likely because I’m not asked to deal with it in my own life. Erring on the side of caution is good, right?

    We are talking about morality and I don’t see a more fitting place on this site to discuss the topic of Christianity’s ethics towards other sentient creatures.

    I’m sure it’s being discussed somewhere on the internet. Try those places.

  246. I haven’t given this topic much thought, most likely because I’m not asked to deal with it in my own life. Erring on the side of caution is good, right?

    Are you vegetarian Steve? That’s great to hear! I meet so few Christians that are.

  247. I’m not, Bill. What I meant was I’m not asked to deal with animal moral issues because I have no reason to think my steaks are mistreated on the way to my dinner table. If they came with a label on the package that said “Whipped, burned and beaten for added flavor” I would buy some other package of steak.

  248. Bill L.,

    If you don’t agree with what he wrote, then I urge you to put forward your own definitions.

    I provided what I think is the correct way to think about morality at #265. You haven’t provided an alternative that isn’t circular. If our moral sense is real (and I think you agree it is) and a philosophical worldview is unable to account for that then it suggests that worldview is inadequate. Wouldn’t you agree?

    There is really noting wrong with treating the animal this way unless the person derives a twisted pleasure.

    Actually we have an obligation to God to fulfill the mandate he has given us responsibly as his agents. Our relationship to the creation is not supposed to be one of exploitation. How that plays out in particular situations and where the limits are drawn are up for discussion and open for revision. I don’t consider whether we eat meat to be a moral issue. You might disagree because of the way you define morality as the maximum well-being of sentient creatures but that falls prey to all sorts of problems, including the problem that none of us are conscious all the time, as well as the circularity I have already mentioned.

  249. To show that this is not what we mean when we talk about morality, then we would need an example of a moral or immoral situation that doesn’t involve or reduce to the wellbeing or suffering of conscious creatures.

    Sociopath parents torturing their infant who is conscious but under heavy sedation until their injuries heal. No suffering, no bad memories, no emotional problems, no reduction of well being — yet immoral. Try again.

  250. Sociopath parents torturing their infant who is conscious but under heavy sedation until their injuries heal. No suffering, no bad memories, no emotional problems, no reduction of well being — yet immoral. Try again.

    Well, that certainly reduces my well-being and the well-being of any rational sentient creature. Who would want to live in a world where such things are permitted? Try again.

  251. SteveK:

    would it be conducive to your wellbeing to be dosed up with anaesthetic and tortured by the people you love throughout your childhood? The suffering cannot be removed from this situation even if the child is prevented from directly feeling the pain.

  252. Bill L.,

    Well, that certainly reduces my well-being and the well-being of any rational sentient creature. Who would want to live in a world where such things are permitted?

    Unfortunately there might be some people who want to live in that kind of world. What right do you have to place more importance on your desires above theirs?

  253. Melissa,

    OK, let’s look at your 265:

    I know it seems much simpler to have something imposed from Above

    Since, way up in the thread, I was careful to point out that I am proposing human nature and their natural ends as the proximate source of morality I’m not sure why you are trotting out this old chestnut.

    Because I thought you had tied natural ends to those endowed by God. Perhaps I am mistaken. Where else would it come from in your view?

    Morality involves an ought and knowing what is good for humans. You have provided us with neither of those and my point is that you can’t provide these. To just say morality involves doing what is good is just stating the obvious. To illustrate the ought and good that I am talking about:

    Ought seems to talk about a duty or correctness when talking about a particular objective. We might say ‘we ought to put more money into space exploration’ because we thing the outcomes will be desirable. We say ‘he ought to observe the law’ because we agree with the law. Maybe I’m making this too simplistic.

    But I did say we ought to work towards well being because that is what rational people want. Knowing what is good will be determined by bringing about the objective end of human well-being.

    But let’s go on…

    1. Human beings want what is good for them.
    2. It is good for humans to fulfill their human nature and natural ends.
    3. Human beings ought to fulfill and not frustrate their human nature and ends.

    1. Is obviously true. We always do what we think is in some way good for us. 2. Is a definition of the good that is independent of what we might think about it and based in objective reality and so we could be wrong about the facts of what is good for us. 3 follows from 1 and 2. As you can see, it’s not circular.

    1. We agree.
    2. I think that concords with what I have put forward. I looked through your link and I don’t think you nor it provided a good reasons why these are necessarily incomparable, but I would like a second chance to review it. You (and your link) seem to state that this is so. I already knew you thought that. But I still see these ideas as essentially the way, you seem just to want to have that teleology in place.

    So how do I know what our human natures are? It is from objective observations I can make about us biologically and about the states of our brains.

    I agree with you that we could be wrong about what is good.

    Naturalism is unable to provide an argument that is not circular. The problem for naturalism us that you don’t have anything to substitute in the place if 2 so good can only be defined by human desires and I think we would both acknowledge that humans often have desires for things that are not good. Maybe you have a different proposal that could be substituted for 2?

    Does Theism provide one that is not? In other words, if I start asking you about where our natures come from, how we know these things, what is ultimately good, would that be less circular? Why is it good for humans to fulfill their nature? Why ought we do that anyway? Or would this come back to God? I’m not saying that would make you wrong. But it would ultimately be somewhat circular.

    Most sciences rest on propositions and axioms. If you try to tell someone about the value of science, you are ultimately going to have to rest your appeals on his willingness to accept reason. What if he will not accept reason?

  254. Melissa,

    Unfortunately there might be some people who want to live in that kind of world. What right do you have to place more importance on your desires above theirs?

    If the rational people can’t decide what is right and enforce that, then “rights” and “rationality” are meaningless. This is what I previously referred to when I said this is a system for rational people.

  255. BillT

    @ 280

    If you are talking about the needless suffering and killing of animals, it is interesting that you see that as nothing more than a diversion.

  256. Oisin,

    With regard to people disagreeing about how best to improve their wellbeing, there may very well be different types of equivalent wellbeing, but there are definitely methods of achieving wellbeing that are not equivalent and some will cause more suffering than others. Therefore there can be objectively moral or immoral behaviours and consequences.

    We can also discuss the failings of divine command theory, if you’d like, they are dime a dozen.

    Once we agree on what kinds of things lead to well-being then we can get to objectively moral behaviours. Unfortunately to get there you need objective facts about humans that lead to an understanding of what is good for them. My comment @265 and the link in 268 will give you a quick idea of what I’m proposing, as you can see anything you have to say about DCT will be irrelevant.

    Do you have anything to offer regarding how you might bridge the is-ought divide. As it us you are assuming value when you need to show it.

  257. Bill L.,

    If the rational people can’t decide what is right and enforce that, then “rights” and “rationality” are meaningless. This is what I previously referred to when I said this is a system for rational people.

    And I have shown that rationality only comes into it once we get above the level of individual desires and sentimentality. You have not provided a way to do that yet so your objection misses the mark.

  258. Melissa

    @ 294

    Sure I have. I talked about a collective well-being where all sentient creatures are considered. And again, the outcomes are measured by objective criteria. Remember, one individual (or a few) may wish to believe that being obese is really healthy. But we only need point to their death rates.

  259. Bill L.,

    If you are talking about the needless suffering and killing of animals, it is interesting that you see that as nothing more than a diversion.

    I agree with the other Bill. It is a diversion and you’re continuing by attempting to paint the other Bill as uncaring to avoid addressing the severe deficiencies in your worldview.

  260. Once we agree on what kinds of things lead to well-being then we can get to objectively moral behaviours. Unfortunately to get there you need objective facts about humans that lead to an understanding of what is good for them

    These facts exist in principle, so we know this version of morality is true. Further, studies in psychology and neuroscience have begun to look into how to improve the wellbeing of humans and minimize suffering, these objective facts about how to maximize wellbeing can already be seen in the fields of medicine and law especially.

    Do you have anything to offer regarding how you might bridge the is-ought divide

    Is there any way to convince someone to value rationality and logic, as Bill L has been asking? Similarly, is there any way to convince someone to value morality? We can talk about the logic of valuing morality, we can refer to game theory and the tragedy of the commons, we can refer to historical records of immoral behaviour leading to suffering and unhappiness for all involved, but ultimately if someone chooses not to value morality there is not much we can say to convince them we should. This does not affect our view of what is moral and what is immoral, however, people who do not value the wellbeing of others generally wouldn’t be in a position to consider how to maximize the wellbeing of conscious creatures collectively and so wouldn’t be in a position to make moral claims.

    For the rest of us, this means that we must design a society that maximizes wellbeing for all, including the sociopaths, and finds ways of ensuring that they behave morally even when they do not value morality. This is the premise of our legal system, and it works. It could be better (and therefore more moral), but it’s better than it used to be.

  261. Melissa,

    I can talk about more than one topic. I’m not slowing down on the other. Why does everyone seem to want to avoid this? Why not just be honest? If you don’t know the answer, or don’t care about the suffering of animals, just say so.

    Let me give SteveK credit. He has at least made an attempt and has admitted that he just hasn’t thought about it.

    As for BillT, he could have given an answer with the same effort he put into explaining why he didn’t want to answer.

  262. Bill L.,

    Sure I have. I talked about a collective well-being where all sentient creatures are considered. And again, the outcomes are measured by objective criteria. Remember, one individual (or a few) may wish to believe that being obese is really healthy. But we only need point to their death rates.

    I know you think you have but let’s break down what you’re saying:

    1. Being healthy by definition means your body works well physically.
    2. Lifespan is an objective measure of health.
    3. Being obese generally reduces lifespan.
    4. Therefore obesity is unhealthy.

    A couple of issues here are the idea of the body working well and why we might pick lifespan as a measure. They are obvious but ask yourself what is our justification for believing these two premises are true. Do they convey something true about external reality or just represent an idea in our minds?

    Before we go any further I think you need to answer these questions or provide your own break down of what the argument is.

  263. 1. Being healthy by definition means your body works well physically.
    2. Lifespan is an objective measure of health.
    3. Being obese generally reduces lifespan.
    4. Therefore obesity is unhealthy.

    A couple of issues here are the idea of the body working well and why we might pick lifespan as a measure. They are obvious but ask yourself what is our justification for believing these two premises are true. Do they convey something true about external reality or just represent an idea in our minds?

    Maybe I am saying that at some point we need to stand on reasonable foundations. What else makes sense? Again, what kind of an argument could I give someone who says he just does not value logic?

    Maybe before we go further you should answer that.

  264. A couple of issues here are the idea of the body working well and why we might pick lifespan as a measure. They are obvious but ask yourself what is our justification for believing these two premises are true. Do they convey something true about external reality or just represent an idea in our minds?

    Maths is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality. Health is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality. Morality is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality.

    Is maths only subjectively true? Is health only subjectively true? Is morality only subjectively true?

    No. Each of these things rely on a measurement of external, objective reality, maths is objective just the same as morality and health and physics and biology and economics are.

    Bill L in 298: I enjoyed that comment immensely.

  265. Bill L.,

    Apologie, I missed you longer comment @288.

    <Because I thought you had tied natural ends to those endowed by God. Perhaps I am mistaken. Where else would it come from in your view?

    God creates our natures, but it would be incorrect to think of our purposes being imposed on us, rather they are immanent or intrinsic to us as human beings.

    2. I think that concords with what I have put forward. I looked through your link and I don’t think you nor it provided a good reasons why these are necessarily incomparable, but I would like a second chance to review it.

    The nature, essence or form of a thing is an ideal. Forms do not exist without final causes. The physical instantiation of a form have defects. Humans can willing choose to deviate from the ideal as well, pursuing goals that frustrate their natural ends. Steve K., succinctly spelled out the differences between what your are proposing and what we mean in #269.

    You (and your link) seem to state that this is so. I already knew you thought that. But I still see these ideas as essentially the way, you seem just to want to have that teleology in place.

    No. The four causes are a more systematic way of what it means to explain something. The metaphysics were proposed by Aristotle to solve certain philosophical problems such a the problem of universals and how things can change but remain the same. An easy entry to the topic can be found in Feser’s The Last Superstition. Anyway the only reason why you would deny teleology exists as part of the natural world is because your philosophy tells you so. It’s not only morality that becomes problematic but also how we understand the natural sciences, natural regularities and causation.

    Why is it good for humans to fulfill their nature?

    If for example we draw a triangle. A triangle will be good to the extent that it instantiated the ideal. That’s just what it means to be a good triangle. Humans are the same. But in naturalism you don’t have an ideal, all you have are lots of individual things that we lump together under the nominal definition of human.

    Why ought we do that anyway?

    The ought is provided by the numbered argument.

    Most sciences rest on propositions and axioms. If you try to tell someone about the value of science, you are ultimately going to have to rest your appeals on his willingness to accept reason. What if he will not accept reason?

    Yes we presuppose that our senses can give us accurate information about an external reality, logic etc but the claims you are making are way above those base claims. There are major holes in a naturalistic worldview that require resorting to brute facts and lots of assumptions if you want to get any argument off the ground. For me that is just further evidence of it’s inadequacy. Why should I grant you latitude that I don’t grant myself?

  266. Bill L.,

    Maybe I am saying that at some point we need to stand on reasonable foundations. What else makes sense? Again, what kind of an argument could I give someone who says he just does not value logic?

    Because what is being disputed is not logic or rational thinking. You think it is because you’re unwilling to dig below what you think are the foundations. There’s stuff under there is you would just be willing to look.

  267. Oisin,

    Maths is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality. Health is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality. Morality is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality.

    Good, we are in agreement then What aspect of external reality is morality representing?

  268. What aspect of external reality is morality representing?

    Physical changes in the brains of conscious creatures.

  269. @Melissa in 303 in reply to Bill L:

    Notice that you are trying to claim that the practice of medicine does not have an objective basis in its definition of health. Despite this “problem” you are drawing our attention to, medicine still does what it sets out to do, it heals illness and repairs damage to the body even though health is poorly defined and hard if not impossible to measure. A science of morality would work in this same way and maximize flourishing and minimize suffering, so unless you are trying to say that doctors are committing some sort of philosophical fallacy then I don’t see how your point refutes this definition of morality.

  270. SteveK and Melissa,

    I will have to step away for a bit (other obligations I’m afraid).

    I will try to get back to you, if not today or tomorrow, later this week. That you all for the conversation. It is interesting and challenging.

    Have a happy New Year!

  271. @Oisin:

    Maths is not an objectively real thing, it is a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality.

    Mathematics is emphatically not “a representation in the mind of the measurement of external reality”. And Mathematics is emphatically “objectively true”; it is objectively true that “2 + 2 = 4” (for the mathematical pedants out there: fix whatever tiny fragment of first order Peano arithmetic you fancy) whether anyone agrees with it, or even whether there are any human beings around to be in agreement in the first place.

    This does not mean that I am committed to believe that numbers say, are substances; I am not — but this is a notoriously vexing and difficult question.

    Not that it matters much in the current discussion; you have just conceded the major point.

  272. But I’m disappointed you totally passed by “measurement:” the implication that measurement of external reality is what math is about (or maths are about, depending on where you do your measuring).

  273. @Bill L:

    I can talk about more than one topic. I’m not slowing down on the other. Why does everyone seem to want to avoid this? Why not just be honest? If you don’t know the answer, or don’t care about the suffering of animals, just say so.

    No one wants to avoid it; rather it is you that want to foist it; once can only speculate on your motives. I for myself have not answered for two distinct reasons: (1) that is not the topic of discussion (2) if we are claiming as a reductio, that naturalists have no rational basis to justify an objective morality, what could it mean to someone like you how we are to treat animals? Suppose for the sake of argument, that either or both of the two options (not knowing the answer or not giving a damn about animals — and here might I add that already in the OT it is said that the righteous man cares about his domestic animal) are correct; so what? The only commentary is the following very apropos adagia of Wallace Stevens:

    The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe it willingly.

    I will even add a third reason: (3) Melissa gave a perfectly good answer and it is somewhat baffling why you are not satisfied with it. Practical reasoning, the sort of moral reasoning we engage in, is reasoning that has for proper object the good and an ordering of means to ends. But since it is *practical* (as opposed to abstract), it is necessarily entwined with the particular circumstances, so any answer to what we ought to do in any scenario you concoct can not be naively read off from such general, self-evident principles as that good is to be sought and evil avoided.

  274. In fact (logic question here), while mathematics can very obviously be used for measurement of external reality, there’s something in me—I can’t put my finger on it—that balks at the idea that mathematics could be about the measurement of external reality. It’s a rabbit trail, but still maybe someone can help me articulate the problem there, or else tell me I’m all wet.

  275. @Tom Gilson:

    In fact (logic question here), while mathematics can very obviously be used for measurement of external reality, there’s something in me—I can’t put my finger on it—that balks at the idea that mathematics could be about the measurement of external reality.

    I am not quite sure what you have in mind, but I would guess that yes, the claim is either circular or incoherent.

    Imagine I posted the following comment — I will even blockquote it:

    Here is a proof that 1 + 1 = 1. Take two glasses of water. Pour the contents of one glass into the other. You end up with one glass of water; ergo 1 + 1 = 1.

    The obvious retort is why is pouring the contents of one glass into the other count as addition? It is just an equivocation. This is fine as it is, but the more correct retort is that the whole comment does not even make sense. Numbers say, are not concrete objects (*), they are not localized in space-time. No one has ever stubbed his toe in a 2, and if he has, I suggest a medical consultation — with a psychiatrist, not an orthopedist. So no physical experiment can tell us anything about mathematics (this is not to say that there is no fruitful relation of mathematics with the physical sciences, of course there is). My imaginary comment already presupposed a *theory* (in a loose sense) which mapped mathematical constructs to physics; but of course, theories *themselves* are no less abstract than numbers are.

    Furthermore, the operative test for good physical theories is its predictive success. But prediction relies on deduction: In a nutshell, the theory T entails p; we look at reality, is p true or not? Yes? Goody goody. No? Back to the drawing board. It would be absurd, that upon finding experimentally that p is false, we started claiming that it is logic that was at fault; for then we could not even so much as say that p was entailed by T, with the consequence that no theory T could ever be falsified. Similar remarks apply, if we replace logic by any other part of mathematics as in my imaginary post.

    (*) Naturalists and their allies of course dispute this and must find some way, either to dispose of mathematical objects altogether (all the varieties of anti-realism) or find ways to accommodate them (several attempts, in no particular order: Penelope Maddy, David Armstrong, Hartry Field, etc.) — they usually suffer from one or more fatal flaws.

  276. BTW and FWIW, this post might win the prize for the lowest ratio of the amount of original writing in the OP to the amount of discussion following!

    I finally won something! 😉

    Bill seems like a nice guy with genuine interests that I enjoy discussing so it’s rather easy to do.

    (2) if we are claiming as a reductio, that naturalists have no rational basis to justify an objective morality, what could it mean to someone like you how we are to treat animals?

    I thought about responding that way too. Definitely appropriate.

  277. And, of course, there is the question of why mathematical abstractions are so effective at describing the properties and dynamics of space-time, matter-energy, i.e., the “laws of physics”, in such a hierarchical (scale-dependent) fashion.

  278. @Oisin in 307 in reply to Melissa in 303 in reply to Bill L: [ha!]

    Notice that you are trying to claim that the practice of medicine does not have an objective basis in its definition of health.

    Wise up. Nobody is disputing the objectivity of what medicine does to the human body.

    A science of morality would work in this same way and maximize flourishing and minimize suffering, so unless you are trying to say that doctors are committing some sort of philosophical fallacy then I don’t see how your point refutes this definition of morality.

    Yes, you don’t see Melissa’s point.

  279. @ Tom and G. Rodrigues,

    My guess is that Oisin has not really considered the question of how these things exist and what relation our thoughts have to external reality. It’s good that he hasn’t drunk the kool-aid yet and embraced anti-realism. I figured give him a bit a latitude, maybe he’ll decide to think a bit more deeply.

  280. Oisin,

    A science of morality would work in this same way and maximize flourishing and minimize suffering, so unless you are trying to say that doctors are committing some sort of philosophical fallacy then I don’t see how your point refutes this definition of morality.

    This conversation is going round and round because neither of you understand the point if contention. Either I’m very bad a making my point or you and Bill L. Do not want to see the problem. My guess is that it is both.

    The question: where or how does the standard of good and bad exist? Yes we can measure various properties of human beings but what are you comparing them against to determine whether one is better than the other?

    I don’t know how I can be clearer than that. If someone would like to help me out and show me how I could be plainer with what I mean feel free to help me out.

  281. Melissa:

    You want another authority to agree to your definition, this is why wellbeing and suffering are not good enough standards for morality for you.

    where or how does the standard of good and bad exist? Yes we can measure various properties of human beings but what are you comparing them against to determine whether one is better than the other?

    The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. Do you agree? If not, then I do not understand your position. If so, then this definition of morality is true because everything moral is better than the worst possible misery for everyone, and has a standard against which we can compare different situations.

    If you think that the worst possible misery for everyone is not necessarily bad, or needs further explanations for why it is bad, that kind of claim doesn’t make sense because such a claim would be immoral. This is a definitional move about the meaning of ‘morality’, to argue against it you need to argue that ‘morality’ has a different meaning, and would need to provide an example of the use of the word in such a way that has no recourse to wellbeing and suffering.

    This is a completely different understanding to the way people who believe the Bible is the direct word of the creator of the universe saying that the Bible is an example of divine command and its prescriptions are moral due to this command, morality in this sense is a measure of the brain states of conscious creatures and not the word or law of a higher being.

  282. Oisin,

    You want another authority to agree to your definition, this is why wellbeing and suffering are not good enough standards for morality for you.

    No I do not. You are reading what you think I want into my words. Look at what I wrote. Respond only to that. I want to know where or how the standard of well-being exists.

    The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. Do you agree? If not, then I do not understand your position. If so, then this definition of morality is true because everything moral is better than the worst possible misery for everyone, and has a standard against which we can compare different situations.

    It depends how you define misery. If misery is just defined as feeling bad or not having desires satisfied then it does not necessarily follow that the worst possible misery for everyone is objectively bad. If misery is defined as the experience of what is objectively bad then your statement amounts to: the experience of what is bad is bad. It brings us no closer to an understanding of what it means for something to be bad for humans.

    If you think that the worst possible misery for everyone is not necessarily bad, or needs further explanations for why it is bad, that kind of claim doesn’t make sense because such a claim would be immoral. This is a definitional move about the meaning of ‘morality’, to argue against it you need to argue that ‘morality’ has a different meaning, and would need to provide an example of the use of the word in such a way that has no recourse to wellbeing and suffering.

    You are confused here. I’ve explained the problems with what you wrote. I am attempting to get you to fully define your terms. What I’m asking for is a definition of well-being that is founded on objective features of reality not feelings or desires which are subjective.

    morality in this sense is a measure of the brain states of conscious creatures and not the word or law of a higher being.

    Firstly your morality ignores all those who are asleep, unconscious or unborn. Secondly brain states can neither be right or wrong, good or bad they just are. If you mean brain states that correspond to pleasure or pain you still haven’t given any reasons to think one should be preferred or ought to be sought over the other or even whether these “brain states” tell us anything at all about objective reality. You’ll need to spell out how morality “measures” brain states. What does it measure? How does it measure it. Thirdly (and for the umpteenth time) my claim is that the proximate source of morality is human natures.

    To sum up, I agree that human well-being is good for humans. What I want to know is what objective feature of reality are we comparing individuals to to determine whether they are doing well or badly.

  283. Conversation with a naturalist…

    Q: What I want to know is what objective feature of reality are we comparing individuals to to determine whether they are doing well or badly.

    A; Brain states

    Q: What does a morally good brain state objectively look like – how do you recognize it as good rather than evil?

    A; We record the brain state of a happy human and that becomes the objective standard of moral goodness.

    Q: So unhappy people are themselves morally evil – or they have a morally evil brain state?

    A: No

    I’m confused.

  284. Q: What I want to know is what objective feature of reality are we comparing individuals to to determine whether they are doing well or badly.

    A; Brain states

    Q: What does a morally good brain state objectively look like – how do you recognize it as good rather than evil?

    A; We record the brain state of a happy human and that becomes the objective standard of moral goodness.

    Q: So unhappy people are themselves morally evil – or they have a morally evil brain state?

    A: No

    Close: No, the consequences of actions are immoral, so causing suffering is immoral.

    Morality is the measure of the well-being/suffering conscious creatures, so people are immoral if they cause suffering, not if they suffer.

  285. Oisin.
    Every action results in consequences. How do you objectively know if a particular consequence results in diminished well-being? That’s what Melissa is asking you to explain. What do you objectively compare the consequence to?

    Take the consequence of suffering. You compare suffering to some real thing and that comparison leads you to a moral conclusion. What is that thing?

    As an aside, your comments cause me a slight amount of suffering. Are you immoral and should you stop doing this?

  286. Firstly your morality ignores all those who are asleep, unconscious or unborn

    Any wellbeing/suffering is consciously experienced, regardless of whether one is asleep or awake, which is why bad dreams wake us, or happy dreams can induce lucid dreaming where one consciously experiences dreams.

    What I’m asking for is a definition of well-being that is founded on objective features of reality not feelings or desires which are subjective.

    Wellbeing is defined as every thing a conscious creature wants, e.g. happiness, safety, having beliefs that are true reflections of reality, etc. These are physical needs at the level of the brain, defined by our evolutionary history developing these needs due to natural selection. These needs are objective, physical facts about brains.

    Suffering is the opposite, everything humans do not want, e.g. pain, delusion, dissatisfaction, etc., again as physical facts of the brain.

    If you mean brain states that correspond to pleasure or pain you still haven’t given any reasons to think one should be preferred or ought to be sought over the other

    Humans are driven by their brains to seek out things that increase our wellbeing, these are what we call “good” things. Our brains also drive us to avoid things that cause suffering, and we call these “bad” things. Since its a question of the collective measure of the well-being and suffering of conscious creatures, morally good things increase wellbeing across the board, immoral things or morally bad things cause suffering overall in conscious creatures. If this is not what we mean when we talk about morality, then you need to present an example of morality devoid of any value for the experience of conscious creatures to prove this.

    You’ll need to spell out how morality “measures” brain states

    We do rough calculations of morality using our empathy and compassion. This knowledge of the contents of the minds of other humans comes from the mirror neurons in our brains, which are activated to copy the imagined emotions of other conscious beings and make educated guesses about their wellbeing/suffering levels. A more accurate measure would be brain scans noting the action of each neuron, but this technology is completely underdeveloped as of yet in the field of neuroscience, other ways involve self-report by humans collected quantitatively and statistically analysed to extrapolate to a wider population in the field of psychology and sociology.

    What I want to know is what objective feature of reality are we comparing individuals to to determine whether they are doing well or badly.

    Brain states, which are physical facts about an objective reality which can be studied as such. Human beings are nearly genetically identical, so their needs are (for all practical purposes) identical, so the needs of each individual can be measured the same way (though of course some small genetic differences may crop up the percentage would be minuscule). Neurons are merely cells, but together they make up tiny supercomputers that think and experience, this is what human nature means, so I think we may agree on this definition of morality.

  287. SteveK:

    How do you objectively know if a particular consequence results in diminished well-being? That’s what Melissa is asking you to explain

    I hope my above comment covers that.

    You compare suffering to some real thing and that comparison leads you to a moral conclusion. What is that thing?

    We compare wellbeing to suffering, we want suffering and do not want suffering, suffering is bad in comparison to wellbeing.

    As an aside, your comments cause me a slight amount of suffering. Are you immoral and should you stop doing this?

    Not just an aside, a very reasonable critique, why should we value logic and reason and forming true beliefs over the prevention of suffering? The suffering is caused by cognitive dissonance, which is a type of pain one experiences when one socially encounters beliefs that directly conflict with their own. This is a transient pain, and is derived upon resolution of the conflict, ie coming to a conclusion. We can avoid cognitive dissonance when our beliefs do not come into conflict, for example I see this as a series of valid questions about this thinking system that I can answer to make the ideas more clear, rather than true attacks on the position (as these questions do not make the system vulnerable to logical attack). With the Bible, some questions do not have good answers (e.g. why does God seem to endorse slavery in the Bible?) and, anytime things the Bible says that cause conflict with our inner moral impulses, cognitive dissonance and suffering are caused, so if I cause dissonance in an occasion in which I may potentially be able to relieve one of the type of dissonance that occurs with their current belief set, overall the net wellbeing, especially over time, would outweigh any transient suffering. Of course, if I am wrong I get to change my opinion and avoid any dissonance the wrong opinion may induce, as of course this conflict also causes me some suffering and dissonance. That is why discussion and debate are supremely moral acts, disagreeing with someone is simply caring about their wellbeing to the extent that one will risk cognitive dissonance in the effort to help someone avoid this dissonance in future. For which I thank you, your concern, compassion and logical questioning are great appreciated.

  288. Oisin,

    Are you for real? Do you read what you’ve written before you post it? This is just more of the same, irrelevant, question-begging and question-avoiding twaddle, souped up on semi-scientific jargon to give it the appearance of being evidence based. I’m not sure where to begin …

    Any wellbeing/suffering is consciously experienced, regardless of whether one is asleep or awake, which is why bad dreams wake us, or happy dreams can induce lucid dreaming where one consciously experiences dreams.

    Why must well-being by consciously experienced? And there are times in our lives as human beings when we are not conscious.

    I wrote:

    What I’m asking for is a definition of well-being that is founded on objective features of reality not feelings or desires which are subjective.

    To which you responded:

    Wellbeing is defined as every thing a conscious creature wants, e.g. happiness, safety, having beliefs that are true reflections of reality, etc. These are physical needs at the level of the brain, defined by our evolutionary history developing these needs due to natural selection. These needs are objective, physical facts about brains.

    Suffering is the opposite, everything humans do not want, e.g. pain, delusion, dissatisfaction, etc., again as physical facts of the brain.

    So you defined well-being in terms of subjective desires and feelings!!

    Conscious creatures want all sorts of things. Not all wants are needs, nor are all wants good. To illustrate: Wellbeing is defined as every thing a conscious creature wants, e.g. happiness, safety, having beliefs that are true reflections of reality, having sex whenever they want it regardless of consent, torturing the cat etc.

    Pleasure, pain and desires, are all, no doubt accompanied by brain states and we are preprogrammed by natural selection to seek the things that we want, which I guess is what you’re trying to express in the next section. I agree the brain states accompanying our desires are objective facts about brains.

    Humans are driven by their brains to seek out things that increase our wellbeing, these are what we call “good” things. Our brains also drive us to avoid things that cause suffering, and we call these “bad” things.

    Humans seek out many things, some of them are harmful and decidedly not “good”. So from your first paragraph and this paragraph. Humans are driven by their brains to seek out things that the human wants. We call these things “good”. OK that hasn’t resolved the problem of how to distinguish good desires from bad desires (unless your argument is that everything humans desire is good and everything they avoid is bad).

    Since its a question of the collective measure of the well-being and suffering of conscious creatures, morally good things increase wellbeing across the board, immoral things or morally bad things cause suffering overall in conscious creatures.

    The problem with this is that you are beginning from a premise that will not generate an ought for the person who doesn’t desire maximum well-being for others. Whereas everyone desires what is good for themselves (even if they are wrong about what is good for themselves), not everyone desires what is good for everyone else.

    If this is not what we mean when we talk about morality, then you need to present an example of morality devoid of any value for the experience of conscious creatures to prove this.

    You keep presenting this as if it is an argument to support your definition of morality but it is not. A woman doesn’t want her unborn baby so she has an abortion. Her wants are satisfied, so according to you she made a good moral choice. I argue that she killed an innocent and in the process not only killed her unborn child but damaged herself. I think you need an argument to support your definition. No one thinks that morality is not concerned with human well-being, but there is more to it than that.

    Brain states, which are physical facts about an objective reality which can be studied as such. Human beings are nearly genetically identical, so their needs are (for all practical purposes) identical, so the needs of each individual can be measured the same way (though of course some small genetic differences may crop up the percentage would be minuscule).

    Brain states can be studied therefore … pretty much nothing that you’ve written follows from that. Brain states correspond with pleasure, pain and desires. There is nothing in the individual brain states that allows you to distinguish between good and bad desires or which desires are for “human needs” and which are not.

    Neurons are merely cells, but together they make up tiny supercomputers that think and experience, this is what human nature means, so I think we may agree on this definition of morality.

    Computers do not think and experience and that is definitely not what human nature means.

  289. Why must well-being be consciously experienced? And there are times in our lives as human beings when we are not conscious.

    Can you give an example of how wellbeing or suffering could be unconsciously experienced? Conscious beings are merely beings that have a brain that can experience states of wellbeing and suffering, they have this brain regardless of whether they are sleeping or in a coma. The rights of comatose people are morally problematic, but of course these rights were problematic for doctors anyway, with regard to just how long we should keep the functionally alive in this in-between state on life-support, etc., and the question will be resolved with recourse to the well-being/suffering calculations involved.

    So you defined well-being in terms of subjective desires and feeling

    Are you saying that wellbeing should be defined without recourse to brains? Are there not objective facts about the activity in brains that result in states of wellbeing which can in principle be known? “Wellbeing” need not to be defined any better than the word “health”, it’s a suitcase term. You are implying that human needs vary from person to person, which is an unjustified claim. We are nigh-on genetically identical, so the motivational drives at the level of the brain are for all practical purposes identical, with disagreement about how to meet these needs that can be resolved with empirical evidence.

    that hasn’t resolved the problem of how to distinguish good desires from bad desires (unless your argument is that everything humans desire is good and everything they avoid is bad).

    This is obvious, I don’t get why you couldn’t answer this yourself. They are good or bad with respect to the well-being/suffering they induce in others, to behave morally one must act on their desires in such a way as to maximize the well-being of conscious creatures and minimize suffering.

    Humans seek out many things, some of them are harmful and decidedly not “good”

    You have smuggled in a concern for wellbeing in equating “harmful” with “not good”, you are saying causing suffering is morally wrong, which is what I am saying.

    No one thinks that morality is not concerned with human well-being, but there is more to it than that.

    People do, it’s a field called deontology. What more is there to it? Be aware that I will argue that anything else entered into it would reduce to maximize wellbeing and minimize suffering, because defining it this way leaves nothing out of the moral equations that anyone ever discusses.

    Her wants are satisfied, so according to you she made a good moral choice. I argue that she killed an innocent and in the process not only killed her unborn child but damaged herself.

    You are saying she caused suffering and got the result of an overall decrease in wellbeing for conscious creatures. Arguable. Someone who has an abortion is claiming that the birth of the baby would result in a decrease in wellbeing and an increase in suffering, long-term, for all parties involved, especially the child, and it would be immoral to allow the pregnancy to continue. The answers, though, will rely on empirical evidence of the well-being and suffering involved, if the baby has a soul that suffers because of this the results are greatly skewed into immorality, but at the moment it seems that small clumps of cells without a nervous system cannot experience suffering or wellbeing, which is an empirical claim.

    There is nothing in the individual brain states that allows you to distinguish between good and bad desires or which desires are for “human needs” and which are not.

    You mean morally good and bad desires? I think I’ve explained that one above. Are you asking with the second question how we distinguish the important human needs from frivolous, transient desires? That doesn’t really matter to moral questions, if a behaviour does not cause suffering to conscious creatures it isn’t immoral.

    Computers do not think and experience and that is definitely not what human nature means.

    I guess I phrased that badly. Human brains are incredibly complex computations devices, the computers we build are also computational devices. The claim that human brains can be understood by computational principles, like computers, is similar to the claim that bird flight can be understood using principles of flight and aerodynamics, like planes. Humans don’t need to operate like computers, just like birds don’t need to fly like planes, for the equivalent principles to apply.

    The problem with this is that you are beginning from a premise that will not generate an ought for the person who doesn’t desire maximum well-being for others

    That’s called psychopathy, and results in immoral behaviour. If someone doesn’t value morality, how can we convince them to value morality? Does their lack of value for morality change our definition of morality at all? Of course not.

  290. Oisin,

    Wellbeing is defined as every thing a conscious creature wants, e.g. happiness, safety, having beliefs that are true reflections of reality, etc. These are physical needs at the level of the brain, defined by our evolutionary history developing these needs due to natural selection. These needs are objective, physical facts about brains.

    Suffering is the opposite, everything humans do not want, e.g. pain, delusion, dissatisfaction, etc., again as physical facts of the brain

    Once again you’re giving us a definition. You’re not telling us what real, objective thing you are using to form your conclusions about morality.

    We know suffering has a real opposite. “High” is opposite of “Low”, but notice that this fact doesn’t tell me which one – if any – is immoral and ought to be avoided. Maybe neither one has anything to do with morality. If I look at a tall mountain, does that tell me if “High” has anything to do with morality? No.

    In the same way looking at brain states doesn’t tell me anything about morality. How do you know suffering is related to morality at all? Maybe you are pretending to know.

    We don’t know how you arrived at the conclusion that suffering is immoral and ought to be avoided. Suffering can only be “less well” in relationship to some objective reality that is considered “perfectly well” and that we are obligated to pursue. This objective standard cannot be ‘well-being” for the same reason that “High” cannot be the standard in my example above.

    When will you tell us what this standard is?

  291. Once again you’re giving us a definition. You’re not telling us what real, objective thing you are using to form your conclusions about morality.

    How do you know suffering is related to morality at all? Maybe you are pretending to know.

    That second bit is quite insulting, upsets me a little.

    We understand the definition of words due to the way they are used in conversation, I am making a claim that this definition of morality covers every possible way it is used, because every discussion of morality is by necessity a discussion of collective wellbeing/suffering, otherwise the discussion is not about morality. The claim needs no deeper justification, as words are defined by convention. Notice that you have no reason to say that this claim is wrong, you are instead trying to undermine the foundation of the claim, but the foundation is merely in everyday usage of the word.

    How do we know the definition of the word “health”? Wikipedia says: “Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism”, but they do not cite a source or justify this definition over any other. Why is that? Maybe they are pretending to know that health is related to functional and metabolic efficiency?

    This objective standard cannot be ‘well-being” for the same reason that “High” cannot be the standard in my example above. When will you tell us what this standard is?

    You are looking for the standard of perfection against which we can judge every state of wellbeing and suffering against, yes? You are looking for something that we can call God to throw into the mix?

    The way we compare states is in comparison to the worst possible misery for everyone, in which every conscious creature suffers as much as is physically possible for as long as is physically possible and never experiences anything which contributes to their wellbeing. The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. This is an assumption, but one that cannot be disagreed with with a straight face, a value judgement that people are free to disagree with but would lose their position in the conversation if they did. If someone thinks the worst possible misery for everyone isn’t inherently a bad state of the universe, they simply are not making sense in moral discussion. If one’s actions bring the universe closer to being the worst possible misery for everyone, they are immoral because the WPMFE is bad, but if one’s actions bring the universe a step away from the worst possible misery for everyone, they are moral because the WPMFE is bad and moves away from it are therefore good.

    My understanding comes from Sam Harris’s ‘The Moral Landscape’, a great book, and has some fantastic lectures up on YouTube if you want an in-depth description of the position, he has a TED talk on it which is about 20 minutes long and has many articles replying to critics on his website. He had a conclusion running currently in which people are invited to criticize this moral premise, and the best critique wins $2,000. If the critique changes his mind, you win $20,000.

  292. Oisin,
    Pay attention, please. It will save you a lot of typing.

    I’m not disputing what suffering factually is. We all know what it is. We know what health is. I’m asking you to explain how you make the leap from suffering/health is some biological fact to suffering/health is immoral/moral and ought to be avoided/pursued by all human beings.

    You need something other than biological facts to make that leap and I’m asking for your real, objective reference point. Refer back to my High/Low example if it helps.

    I don’t think you would argue that lack of height, or “Low” is some fact that is immoral and ought to be avoided by all human beings.

    As a naturalist, what fact can you reference that allows you to make that leap regarding lack of health or lack of happiness?

    The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. This is an assumption, but one that cannot be disagreed with with a straight face, a value judgement that people are free to disagree with but would lose their position in the conversation if they did.

    Without some objective and rational reason, I am free to disagree with a straight face – and that’s what I’m doing. I’m playing the role of a naturalist and so far you haven’t offered me a naturalistic reason to think that lack of health is any different than lack of height.

  293. You should also pay attention, you are missing the point.

    You have just made the claim the the worst possible misery for everyone is not bad. This excludes you from moral discussion, because, without valuing the experience of conscious creatures, moral discussion is impossible. Therefore morality must by necessity be predicated on collective wellbeing/suffering, because without that it cannot be talked about. This is what i mean by making a definitional move.

  294. You have just made the claim the the worst possible misery for everyone is not bad.

    I have not, Oisin. I am disagreeing with your rationale as a naturalist. You haven’t given me a reason to think that a human being existing in a state of the worst possible misery is any different than a human being existing in a state of the lowest possible elevation.

    Why ought we “climb out” of our state of misery, but not out of our state of low elevation?

    In what objective reality do you find the reason to be obligated to do one, but not the other?

  295. Are you asking for a justification for avoiding personal suffering and maximizing personal wellbeing? This is merely a description of how humans work, you do not have a choice on this, by definition we seek things that maximize our wellbeing and minimize our suffering. This is not a “value”, this is physiology.

  296. This line of questioning is absolutely astounding me, it seems like you have little experience of biology, chemistry and physics which is the only way i can work out how you think elevation and suffering are comparable from a naturalistic point of view. (i may be wrong)

    Please read ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins if you still can’t find an explanation for my perspective on brains and minds and the facts involved. We are made of DNA coding for the building of complex machinery and I am talking about facts about this machinery. Look to Sam Harris’s ‘Free Will’ for the deterministic explanation of minds, Steven Pinker on any of the details of the facinating machinery science has discovered as giving rise to certain aspects of our minds, the scientific answers to these questions are comprehensive and empirical and strangely beautiful.

    I’ve spent enough time on this, please please please find out about how naturalism answers the kind of questions you ask, there are so many fascinating, satisfying answers.

  297. Oisin,

    This is merely a description of how humans work, you do not have a choice on this, by definition we seek things that maximize our wellbeing and minimize our suffering. This is not a “value”, this is physiology.

    This is fine if all you are arguing for is individual, subjective morality based on what an individual seeks and how they seek it in order to maximize wellbeing and minimize suffering for themselves. But we aren’t talking about subjective morality for individual humans.

    You are arguing for an objective morality that governs *all* humans regardless of their opinion. You are arguing that some descriptions of how some humans work are descriptions of dysfunctional humans, rather than humans with different natural abilities. You are arguing that some human physiology are defective, not simply naturally different.

    How do naturally evolved beings, evolve a defective and dysfunctional physiology rather than a physiology that is simply naturally different?

    A related question is how do we determine which is the naturally evolved feature and which is the defective feature of this natural world? These are questions you need to explain.

  298. SteveK:

    Biology and medicine have answers for each of the questions you asked there about physiological defects, if you are interested please look it all up, your mind is so inquisitive that I would hate to think that you were under the impression that science has not got the answers you seek, I hope you ask as many probing questions of theists. In short, genetic mutations are one source of physiological defects, but there exists mountains of studies of different defects in various organs from brains to eyes to livers, psychopathy is one “defect” that is much studied (arguably an adaptation and not a defect): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy

    http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html

    The objectivity of morality comes from its collective measure. The measurements exist in principle because brains in these states exist physically, these facts are not reducible to opinions.

    Good luck on your quest for truth, I hope you find satisfying answers to the questions you ask.

  299. Oisin,

    Biology and medicine have answers for each of the questions you asked there about physiological defects

    Umm….no they don’t. Ask any biologist how a natural function differs from a defective natural function and I guarantee you they cannot answer without assuming (a) that the difference didn’t create a new kind of biological being because there is an objective thing called human essence that we all share even though we are all different; and (b) that natural functions have a purpose to them that ought to be maintained. Both (a) and (b) are not part of the study of biology so we look to naturalism for the answers.

    Naturalism says nature no purpose and hence no biological function that ought to be maintained – there are only biological functions that change as things evolve into new things.

    So the correct answer from any naturalist/biologist worth her salt is that defects aren’t really defects, they are different natural biological functions that result in a different biological reality.

  300. Oisin,

    Are you really arguing that biology can provide an “ought” for moral purposes? What biology provides is the classic “is”. Given that evolution means that biological realities are constantly changing how could they provide an “ought”?

  301. Oisin,

    Can you give an example of how wellbeing or suffering could be unconsciously experienced?

    Not if you define well-being as experiencing conscious states of pleasure and pain, but the would just be begging the question on your part.

    Are you saying that wellbeing should be defined without recourse to brains? Are there not objective facts about the activity in brains that result in states of wellbeing which can in principle be known?

    Yes I am saying well-being can be defined without recourse to brain states. There are objective facts about brain states, these brain states cannot be linked to well-being without a further step. You need a criteria with which to judge. If you are judging them against human desires and wants then the criteria is subjective not objective.

    You have smuggled in a concern for wellbeing in equating “harmful” with “not good”, you are saying causing suffering is morally wrong, which is what I am saying.

    My position is that teleology in the form of natures and natural ends, Independent but not necessarily unrelated to our conscious desires is intrinsic to the whole natural order. Good and bad flow out of the metaphysics. So there is no smuggling going on at all. The ironic thing is that you on the other hand deny natural teleology and so you need to smuggle value into your system.

    “Wellbeing” need not to be defined any better than the word “health”, it’s a suitcase term.

    Well ring and health can both be well defined with the correct metaphysics in place, the fact that they can only be defined in relation to subjective human purposes and value in your philosophy is a suggestion that something is lacking.

    How do we know the definition of the word “health”? Wikipedia says: “Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism”

    Efficiency cannot be measured objectively unless we know what a thins is meant to do. Either what a thing is meant to do is intrinsic to it or imposed by us. If imposed by us then it is not an objective feature of reality.

    We are nigh-on genetically identical, so the motivational drives at the level of the brain are for all practical purposes identical, with disagreement about how to meet these needs that can be resolved with empirical evidence.

    It does not follow from the fact that we are nearly genetically identical that our motivational drives will be practically identical. Empirically all you have are lots of individuals with lots of different desires and nothing ground your claims that underneath all that our desires are really all the same.

    I guess I phrased that badly. Human brains are incredibly complex computations devices, the computers we build are also computational devices. The claim that human brains can be understood by computational principles, like computers, is similar to the claim that bird flight can be understood using principles of flight and aerodynamics, like planes. Humans don’t need to operate like computers, just like birds don’t need to fly like planes, for the equivalent principles to apply.

    Mind is not the same as brain and their are good reasons to think that thought cannot be reduced to physical brain states.

    My understanding comes from Sam Harris’s ‘The Moral Landscape’, a great book,

    Yep. Read that. He smuggles in value just as you do.

    That’s called psychopathy, and results in immoral behaviour. If someone doesn’t value morality, how can we convince them to value morality? Does their lack of value for morality change our definition of morality at all? Of course not.

    All it amounts to in your system is someone who doesn’t value the same things you do. They can’t be objectively defective, just defective in comparison to what you value which seems rather unfair and egotistical of you.

    This is what i mean by making a definitional move.

    In other words you are declaring by fiat what morality means and trying to shut down discussion of how that definition intersects with objective reality.

    If you are going to make a useful contribution to the discussion you need to provide answers to these questions:

    How is an ought generated?

    Can you define well-being solely by reference to objective facts about humans without smuggling in your subjective values?

  302. Oisin,

    Citation needed for (a) and (b)

    Are you for real? You’re the one who claims that biology can show us what is defective. How about you give us a citation where a biologist shows something is defective without assuming first what it’s purpose is.

  303. Oisin,
    You won’t get a citation from the biology department because they don’t study purpose or essence.

    All we need is a proper understanding of the term defect to establish (b). Defect means: shortcoming, imperfection, fault, wrong, flaw, error, mistake, etc.

    Can an objective mistake/error/defect/flaw/imperfection come to exist in a formation of molecules when the formation itself has no objective purpose to it? Of course not. That’s naturalistic biology.

    If you can show that I’m wrong, please do. That is your claim after all – that defects can exist in biological formations that have no objective purpose. Go for it.

  304. All natural, purposeless formations have functions/abilities but none of them have purposes. So all a naturalist can say is that a functional change occurred to a purposeless formation or that it changed into something else – like when oxygen (O2) turns into ozone (O3).

    So when a human brain develops a blood clot due to genetics and environment, a defect did not occur in such a way as to frustrate the purpose of the brain. The brain has no objective purpose, only an objective function at any given moment in time. What happened is the clot changed the function of the brain. This is how naturalistic evolution works.

    Medicine can reverse that change, but it’s not correcting a defect in a biological formation that *ought* to be maintained for some purpose.

  305. Evolution perfectly explains why apparent purposes arise in nature. We can talk about the purpose and function of various parts of an organism by reference to the reason the traits evolved in the first place, what it was that gave them increased chances of surviving.

    If a vein which evolved to transport blood around the body gets clogged up, its function of transporting blood is failing. Doctors know humans want to stay alive so they assume all the functions are for survival, when one is broken they compare it one in a person that is surviving just fine to figure out how to make it work again or at least prevent death.

    There is a profound lack of scientific knowledge on display here, it makes me so sad that you have decided on the answers to these questions based on deductive reasoning, rather than observing the evidence and checking to see if you are wrong. Science has answered dualism and spirits, science has answered the apparent purpose in the universe, science is well on its way to telling us how to live the best possible life so that we achieve the most possible wellbeing (most meaning, joy, value, everything you could possibly want) and avoid the most suffering.

    I really hope you both open your minds and start asking “how does naturalism answer this” instead of asserting without evidence “naturalism cannot answer this”. Good luck.

  306. It seems to me that what is on display here is differing interpretations, not necessarily a lack of scientific knowledge. But perhaps instead of making general accusations you can specify a couple of big misunderstandings? I’ve not been keeping track of this thread so perhaps you can help me out.

    Also, what is your background in science, Oisin?

  307. @Oisin:

    There is a profound lack of scientific knowledge on display here, it makes me so sad that you have decided on the answers to these questions based on deductive reasoning, rather than observing the evidence and checking to see if you are wrong.

    Yeah, I had already noticed as well that your comments are profoundly ignorant of science, mathematics, etc.

  308. Bill L @ 256: I’ve been away on holidays, and will be again next week, but am still interested to know your response to my scenario. For the purpose of the exercise, use your own moral intuition – I’m interested in understanding how you come to your conclusion and what it is, not whether you can ground your conclusion in some absolute, relative or otherwise philosophy of morality. 🙂

  309. Oisin, there’s a profound misplacement of epistemology here. Science is not the only road to knowledge. And the majority of your interlocutors on this thread are scientists.

  310. Science has answered dualism and spirits, science has answered the apparent purpose in the universe, science is well on its way to telling us how to live the best possible life so that we achieve the most possible wellbeing (most meaning, joy, value, everything you could possibly want) and avoid the most suffering.

    These are easy to assert and, I think, hard to explain. Care to give us your take on any one of these?

  311. Evolution perfectly explains why apparent purposes arise in nature.

    Evolution can’t take purposeless natural formations and give them an objective purpose that ought to be maintained. Your statement changes nothing.

    There is a profound lack of scientific knowledge on display here…

    Agreed. A community college can help you, if you have one nearby.

  312. Oisin,

    We can talk about the purpose and function of various parts of an organism by reference to the reason the traits evolved in the first place, what it was that gave them increased chances of surviving.

    I’ve been doing this. Let’s go over it. Naturalism tells us that a series of blind, purposeless events playing out in a causally-closed system is the *entire* reason why some humans have traits that give them an increased chance of survival. This is the beloved blind watchmaker thesis of naturalism.

    But notice that this same reason explains why some rocks have evolved certain traits that give them an increased chance of remaining whole rocks and large piles of dirt that have evolved certain traits that give them an increased chance of remaining large piles.

    When the evolved traits of rocks don’t hold up and they get cracked and crushed or when large piles of dirt get eroded or leveled we don’t think something went wrong that ought to be fixed. For some reason you think that naturalism holds humans in special regard, that their evolved trait of consciousness makes them special. Naturalism says they aren’t special.

    Now, if the beliefs of naturalism seem very anti-realistic to you, I’m glad you’re finally waking up to this fact. It’s great! I suggest you abandon it in favor of a worldview that makes good sense of the way reality actually is – where humans actually are special and are worth fixing when they break. Christianity does a fine job of that.

  313. Oisin,

    Evolution perfectly explains why apparent purposes arise in nature. We can talk about the purpose and function of various parts of an organism by reference to the reason the traits evolved in the first place, what it was that gave them increased chances of surviving.

    Apparent, not real. Any conclusion you draw from these “apparent” purposes will also be apparent not real. That is the crux of your problem, I hope you get it now.

    There is a profound lack of scientific knowledge on display here

    Yes, well I would be rather embarrassed by this if I were you.

  314. Oh my goodness, where to start?

    Well, let me say that I hope everyone had a good New Year holiday. I spent mine enjoying enjoying traditional Irish music.

    I have skimmed through the comments since I left off. I will say that for the most part, I agree with Oisin, right up until the conversation started to devolve – somewhere in the 330’s.

    I just don’t know that much more can be said on this right now. It looks as though Melissa has read Harris. So I imagine we are all following subsequent articles and conversations about the idea(s). It’s always amusing how two sides look at the same arguments and still wonder how the other can not see his or her position. It sort of reminds me of arguments I used to get into with Creationists. I don’t think there is much I can say at this point that will open any minds, but I will mention a few things below.

    So I have decided I will also soon bow out of this. I never intended for it to go on as long as it has. Sorry Andrew W. I will turn down the offer for now; perhaps some other time. I am more interested in exploring other issues that I find intriguing thanks to this blog… namely, the historical evidence that many here have talked about as evidence for Christianity. That’s really what I want to try to explore as open minded as possible.

    SteveK you asked me about what I think about your post #269. I feel that for the most part what I and Oisin had to say has covered it. But let me know if I have really missed something important. I still think that if we dug into the morality presented here we would ultimately find circularity. I could be wrong.

    Alright, it seems like the major issues for most people are the issues of objectivity and values. This is where I previously said that this system could only offer a morality that is as objective as something like a science of medicine. Melissa says that Harris (and we) smuggle in values… true enough. But we have argued that we have done so on the basis that well-being is the only thing that can be reasonable valued in an objective morality. Even in the morality everyone here has presented, that is what we are talking about. No one ever did give a scenario where well-being was not of importance. Where does the standard of good and bad exist? It is in comparison to one another. It is about states of the brain it is the subjective part that allows us to relate our states to an external reality of well-being defined by things like lifespan or by the external reality that we can measure in the brain of another. There is a point that we are coming to in neuroscience where we can look at subjective feelings and quantify them objectively thus beginning to bridge the subjective-objective divide. A subjective purpose like wanting to live a long and prosperous life can form a meaningful ought that can then be measured objectively.

    So I have said that there must be a foundation to work with. This foundation is bound to be somewhat circular; I admit that. But I also don’t know how to make someone see the value of science with out appealing to the scientific values of reason, empirical evidence and logic. Hence, if you want something that is more objective than this, I can not provide it, and I will concede defeat on this issue.

    So, as I understand objectivity, it was not intended to be a term that was so cut and dry as I think many hold it today. All information that comes to us about the natural world, comes via our senses acting on our brains, as well as any “hard-wired” functions in the brain. There is a sense of moving towards objectivity in it’s more original usage. We are striving for objectivity in our knowledge systems. Can we ever get there? Maybe some of you will argue that we can not. And that’s fine. But It seems that this is what a knowledge system like science is doing. Once, phenetics sought to discover a divine plan or a plan of nature. But that plan of nature later came to be thought of as a plan that only represented the evolutionary history. Systematists found that by adding as many traits as possible to their system, it gave more consistent results and these were later verified by modern phylogenetic techniques. Perhaps this is something that could be done with well-being.

    Maybe everyone here already has a better understanding of objectivity and subjectivity than I do. But I found this book useful:

    [http://www.amazon.com/Objectivity-Lorraine-J-Daston/dp/189095179X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388698883&sr=1-1&keywords=subjectivity+and+objectivity]

    But why value well-being at all? I again argue that nothing else makes sense. It is like saying why value science or logic? I say it is the only thing that makes sense foundationally. What about human nature as previously described? Why should we value that? What about a divine command? Why should we value that? The answers will ultimately come back to the well-being of sentient creatures as the only things that can in principle care about morality. What about people who disagree? Well what about people who disagree that science and logic are good ways to understand the world? Rational people simply ignore the opinions of the irrational.

    I’m a little disappointed that no one wanted to talk about animal cruelty. It seems like a good reality check for practical ethics and a way to illustrate how Christian ethics are applied. But I’m not going to press the issue even though I was hoping the conversation would be more than one-way. If you do have a chance, I’d like you to take a look at this short video (it is NOT graphic) that takes a look at those last moments of life for animals raised for meat.

    http://freefromharm.org/animal-cruelty-investigation/saddest-slaughterhouse-video-ever-shows-no-blood-or-slaughter/

  315. Interesting comments, Bill L. The crux of it is right here:

    But why value well-being at all? I again argue that nothing else makes sense.

    That assumes that something has to make sense, and that something must be valued. That assumes that it’s possible for sense-making and valuing to exist.

    I haven’t been part of this for a lot of reasons. I wish I could have been.

    Let me just throw this in, though, even if you’re leaving.

    Let’s posit this, which I think is uncontroversial: without consciousness there is no sentience, or if there is sentience it’s a very strange and odd form of it. Also, without moral freedom, the idea of moral responsibility is strained, at best.

    I’ve seen many valiant efforts by materialists/atheists to make sense-making make sense, and for valuing to have real meaning, on atheism. The best effort I’ve seen for the former was Daniel Dennett’s, and for the latter, Sam Harris’s.

    Both of them, however, deny free will. Harris does so outright and emphatically. Dennett (Freedom Evolves) allows for a version of free will but it’s not agent free will: you as an agent do not make choices.

    Both of them have strained views of consciousness. Harris acknowledges that it’s real and says it’s an utter mystery to him. Dennett explains it by, in effect, explaining it away.

    So as these thinkers have grappled with two central aspects of humannness, both of which seem to be important to morality, they have come up with answers that are strained, difficult, force-fit, Procrustean.

    Other atheist thinkers, including Ruse and Joyce, have argued that there is no fit at all: there is no morality on atheism.

    So at best, morality’s fit within atheism is strained; at worst it’s just impossible. (I’m trying to put as positive a face on that for atheism as I can, for I side with Joyce and Ruse.)

    Christian theism, on the other hand, is right at home with the reality of morality, and moral reality is right at home with Christian theism.

    It appears that no one is going to show that one side wins this debate hands-down. But if atheism wins, it crosses the finish line gasping for air like an asthmatic downwind of a smoky peat fire. If theism wins, it wins with more wind in its lungs than an Olympic sprinter running a 5-meter dash.

    That, at least, ought to cause you to continue considering theism.

  316. Bill L,

    Just to add to Tom’s above. It has been, I believe, the majority view of atheists that objective morality doesn’t exist. No one was more conscious of this and explained it better than the existentialists. Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche all were quite open about this being the logical conclusion of the denial of God. That’s why I always wonder about the atheists that come here and argue for the existence of morality. Have they not read most influential thinkers of their own beliefs. It’s really not Christians that atheists should be arguing with about this. It’s other atheists.

  317. Tom,

    I will continue my consideration.

    BillT,

    I have read Sartre and Nietzsche (not Camus). And I do also argue with atheists.

  318. Bill L.,

    Good luck with your search. I know to you it seems like the circularity is unavoidable, which it is if you refuse to acknowledge the immanent purpose in the natural order, but I’d encourage you to have a look at possibilities other than the naturalism proposed by Harris. I think ultimately it is incoherent … that is I haven’t come across any presentation that avoided incoherency, even for those that deny objective morality.

  319. Since Bill can’t get back to it, I want to prod Tom at least with the point of my hypothetical: the core of the argument about slavery is that it is morally wrong for one human to have full authority over another that the other did not voluntarily agree to. If this is true, then slavery is indeed an abomination in any form, but I contend that it actually proves way too much, and that it puts the posit-er on the back foot for many other situations that he/she morally tolerates.

    If such authority is not absolutely wrong, then we’re actually arguing about specific practices of slavery, not the concept.

  320. Andrew,

    No one denies that slavery is morally wrong in any form. Two things about that from a Christian perspective. First, the only reason that everyone believes that slavery is morally wrong in any form is because of the influence of the Judeo Christian ethic as introduced in the Bible and put to practice based on Biblical teaching.

    Second, the reality of the world is that it’s a broken place. Slavery is/was a reality in this broken place. The gradual elimination of legalized slavery over the course of human history follows the course of God’s progressive revelation and God’s gradual redemption of the world. God just doesn’t snap his fingers and change things. He works through one person at a time to see His will revealed.

    Thus, slavery took time to eliminate. That doesn’t compromise the Biblical stand on it because of the time it took to get there or the position the Bible took towards it at any one specific time. When God’s full will was understood, legal slavery was eliminated and His complete moral position revealed.

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